This civil rights lawyer sort of put my thoughts into words way better than I could’ve. It’s really true. Maybe some people are getting facts wrong. Maybe some people are saying facts don’t matter. But the point is this; sometimes facts and labels make for great talking points. They make for great ways for people to express their side of the story. They make for great ways to force people to acknowledge the problem, or hide behind their points of view. But on the ground, in the day-to-day, the facts don’t always matter. The emotions matter most when it comes to automatic reactions. Those have to be addressed, in a non-factual but actual basis. This is HypheNation’s mission, in a nutshell–to help all people process their thoughts and emotions, as influenced by the facts AS THEY SEE THEM. Everyone can have the same facts and still come away with a very different opinion, based on their perspective, which is usually based on their personal life experiences. Only empathy–the willingness to open your mind and really HEAR another person’s experience, without waiting to respond but really just listening–can solve this problem. Empathy could cause an officer to understand why a Black person may be acting in a way that frightens them but is really not threatening at all. Empathy could cause a Black person being mistreated by the police to understand that the cop’s racist actions are more a product of fear and mis-teaching, rather than intentional racism.
Now, Black people. I know we’re tired. We’re always empathizing, we’re always putting ourselves out there, making ourselves uncomfortable so that everyone else will be, and the moment we don’t, we earn titles like “animal” or “angry” or “uncivilized” and now it’s our time to be hurt and heard and empathized with. But I ask, and it’s A LOT to ask, I know, that you empathize with privilege. Take a moment in your life that you’ve had privilege in some area and didn’t empathize. Where you’ve had mental health and a roof over your head and a stable group of friends and family, and then shied away from that crazy, smelly homeless guy. Because, safety. Because, you didn’t understand him. Because, well, he was crazy. It’d be nuts for someone to expect you to put yourself at risk to help him or give him the benefit of the doubt, right? Not that we’re the same as crazy homeless people, because we have different struggles (except for those of us that don’t have great mental health or a home… then we are them, and those people are us, too). But a lot of White people, even subconsciously, see it the same way when we’re acting in ways that they find unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s a safety thing for them, because they don’t know, and don’t understand. Is it prejudiced and racist? Hell yeah. Is it intentional? Do they think they’re being racist? Usually, no. It’s systemic, not personal, and it needs to be changed. Stop unfriending them, unless you’re someone who’s not talking about this at all. Not having your posts in their newsfeed won’t help them see a view that’s other than their own, and you’re taking away what may be the only person who they could even come to if they wanted to ever ask a question. Hide their posts if you need a safe space. But engage them, respectfully if you can, when you have the strength. Empathetically, even. Recognize that, bullshit though it may be, you are a challenge to their way of life, their thoughts, and their day-to-day with your very justified anger.
White people. Black people are individuals. We don’t all do the same things, think the same way, listen to the same music, have the same pathologies, or jobs, or not-jobs, or lifestyles, or homes, or whatever. Just like you and your friends and their parents and their siblings, some of us are crazy. Some of us are shiftless. Some of us get into trouble. But most of us just want to live our lives. Lots of us are university educated. Lots of us are gainfully employed. Lots of us make simple, stupid, illegal decisions, like racing through the light that just turned red in our BMW on the way home to a crying child who wants dinner with Mommy and Daddy. Lots of us also have daily experiences that your privilege has shielded you from–no matter what privileges you’ve lacked, you still have white privilege. Trust me, you do, and if you don’t believe it, please read this and this and this. Lots of us would do better if there were someone with a different mindset that said we could. That someone, usually, should not be you. Please don’t get White Savior Complex. It’s real, and if you don’t know what it is, please check Google. But be an ally. Just be an ear. Don’t discount our experiences, or even our point of views on the facts. It doesn’t have to be an argument. If you think that what someone has said is ridiculous or unreasonable, rather than challenge it, ask WHY that’s the point of view we have! Instead of saying it’s stupid and ignorant (because usually it isn’t, it’s just differently informed), ask WHY. Realize that maybe, in this case, YOU are “stupid and ignorant” (aka differently informed) and maybe you just don’t have the same set of common sense. Try to gain it. Empathy can bridge all of these gaps. And ask respectfully. Don’t expect that you have the right to an immediate answer. Say that you’re trying to understand, but you know that you don’t have the right to the intimate details of someone else’s pain, anguish, or experience just so you can learn a little bit. But you want to learn, so if they’d oblige you, you’ll listen. If they can point you to some resources, you’ll read them. You may not change your mind. But at the very least, maybe you’ll understand someone else’s a little bit more, and even if you think you’re still right, you’ll at least know how to better approach someone else, because you’ll have a better idea of where their mind may go, making us less… well… unpredictable.
And please, view and listen to the original NPR piece that prompted the words this piece is comprised of. Thanks.
(Also, if you found this piece worthwhile, I’d appreciate comments and sharing!)