Tag Archives: white privilege

Leigh Anne Tuohy Update: One Of The Teens Responds

19 Dec

One of the two teens involved in Leigh Anne Tuohy’s recent social media stunt has spoken out on Instagram (his name has been blurred out for privacy):

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Person One aka Teen Leigh Anne Tuohy approached at KFC:

Yeah people don’t know what really happened because I actually had money I have a job and have had one for over a year I was gonna pay for my brother the other guy in the picture but he was insisting on waiting on his uncle but his phone was dying so we were charging it which is the reason we were in KFC in the first place.and the game was only a 3 min walk up the street I don’t see why she said bus fare that kinda ticked me off a little but the way she worded it is making us sound less fortunate and that isn’t the case at all & when she came over to us she never mentioned her initial reason was because of her friends comment im just now finding that out

Person Two:

May I ask how she asked for the photo?

Person One:

Yeah she never actually asked for it as she was handing us the money she was like “hey you know what I think this would be a great picture” and everyone with her was yeah totally so we just kinda went along with the situation like sure why not your Michael Oher’s mom but the whole time I was thinking you know why’d she come up to us in the first place I was still clueless up until she posted the picture on social media and stated “the person with me said I bet they’re up to no good.”

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a Black teenager, especially a boy, just trying to exist in a public space. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to constantly wonder what white people might find threatening about you, and try to adjust your appearance and behaviour accordingly. There’s no right answer, of course – there’s no actual magic formula that Black people can apply in order to not trigger a racist reaction from a white person. It’s like trying to hit a moving target – once you think you’ve got things figured out, the earth shifts again under you and you have to add yet another must-not-do to the extensive you already have. Ijeoma Oluo recently catalogued 25 things Black People Shouldn’t Do Around Cops, and I know that this list is by no means exhaustive (nor does it just apply to cops). It seems like every day there’s something new to add to it – apparently the most recent one is “don’t charge your cell phone in KFC.”

For anyone defending Leigh Anne Tuohy, I want you to consider how absolutely mortifying this must be for those kids. Think about what it would be like to have some white woman come up and pepper you with questions about who and what you are while you’re just sitting there trying to mind your own damn business, and then think about what it would be like to wake up the next day to find your picture being used by a quasi-celebrity as some kind of race parable. Not only that, but in the picture you are being misrepresented – instead of a middle class kid trying to charge his phone, you’re a have-not case, taking charity bus fare to get to a basketball game. And now think about all the comments you get to read from racist white folks making assumptions about where you got your necklace from and why you were loitering in a KFC in the first place and you were probably just going to use that money to buy drugs like every other Black kid and look, honey, here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with Black people today, they’re always hanging around wanting hand-outs.

All of this because you dared to be Black in public.

In response to all of the uproar, Tuohy took the haters-gonna-hate route and shared the following image on Instagram:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 3.38.47 PM

I’m not here to disagree with any great Greek philosophers or anything, but I’m willing to bet that even Aristotle would have a few words to say about the value of criticism. Criticism isn’t fun, but it’s what helps us grow and learn – it challenges us to change our perspective and be better people. I’m not saying that all criticism is valid, and of course it can be challenging to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to people calling you out, but it’s incredibly vital that we learn how to do so. In this case, I would really encourage Leigh Anne Tuohy to take a hot second a listen to all of the Black people explaining why her actions and words have been hurtful. Because if your end goal is racial equality, then a good starting point is treating People of Colour as equals who deserve to be heard and not just objects in need of your gracious white help.

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Leigh Anne Tuohy, Racism, and the White Saviour Complex

15 Dec

Leigh Anne “That Nice Woman Sandra Bullock Played In The Blind Side” Tuohy recently posted the following picture and caption on her Facebook and Instagram accounts:

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We see what we want! It’s the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said “I bet they are up to no good” well you know me… I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it… They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We have to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people! Don’t judge a book by its cover or however you’d like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stoping seeing what you want to see!!!

The comments on both posts are full of people praising her – telling her how awesome she is, how open-minded, how kind. Reading these responses is completely baffling – like, did these people and I all read the same words?

Let’s break down what happened here:

1. Two teenagers were sitting alone and completely minding their own business.

2. A white woman decides that based on the fact that they are “huddled” in corner “nose to nose,” they must be “up to no good.” Because obviously whenever Black people (especially Black men) gather in public, it’s bad news for the rest of us!

3. Another white woman, one Leigh Anne “I Adopted A Black Boy So I Can’t Possibly Be Racist” Tuohy, decides that White Lady #1 is wrong. Which is actually the correct assumption for Ms. Tuohy to make, so I guess this is where some people are getting confused because we see that her intent is good, and that makes us want to believe that the action that follows will also be good. She’s at a crossroad here – two roads diverged, etc. Had she taken the road less travelled, Ms. Tuohy might have said to her friend, “Wow, you’re being really racist right now! I’m not comfortable with how this conversation is going.” Instead, she decided to confront the teenagers who, as a reminder, have done absolutely nothing wrong.

4. Leigh Anne Tuohy walks over to the two boys and sits there in silence. I’m sure that wasn’t scary for two Black teenagers at all, especially given recent events.

5. After what was certainly the most awkward ten seconds of those boys’ lives, Ms. Tuohy asks what’s “happening” at the table. Like, other than two teenagers sitting there talking like anyone sitting at a table might do? Some kids are hanging out and chatting. That is what’s happening.

Unsure of the correct answer to this question – other than “we are two friends sitting together and not causing any trouble,” which probably seemed too obvious for them to point out – the boys remain silent.

6. Leigh Anne tells them that this is her store and they need to “spill.” Again, these kids have done nothing except be in public and be Black.

7. After being interrogated by this woman, and probably afraid that at the very least she’s about the call the cops, the boys show her their phones. This part just breaks my brain, like, these two kids had to show this woman evidence that they are doing exactly what they seem to be doing: sitting at a table and having a conversation.

8. Apparently satisfied with the evidence the boys have presented her with, Leigh Anne Tuohy gives them bus fare and money for popcorn, but not before she has White Lady #1 take her picture with them.

9. Ms. Tuohy then posts this picture to social media and receives thousands of responses lauding her for being such a good person.

Leigh Anne Tuohy profiled two Black kids, invaded their privacy and interrogated them, but somehow people are behaving as if this is some kind of wonderful social justice moment. No. Not even a little. This is some fucked up racial profiling combined with white saviourism, and it is racist as hell. Assuming that those kids were doing something bad was racist. Assuming that she could take up space at their table was racist. Insisting that they talk to her was disrespectful and racist. Wanting evidence that they weren’t up to no good was racist. Treating those boys as props to make her look good and then posting this picture publicly (and honestly, I wonder if the boys consented to that) is incredibly racist.

Also, can we talk about how problematic using the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is when it comes to talking about race? First of all, it begins with the assumption that the “cover” (or in this case, skin) tells you something unappealing about the contents of the book or person. It also implies that there is something unattractive or bad about the “cover” (or, again, skin). I can’t believe that I have to say this, but: there is nothing wrong or bad about Black skin. Black skin is not unpleasant or ugly, and to imply that dark skin might devalue someone is really, really fucked up.

Black people aren’t things. They don’t exist just so that white people can make a point about themselves. These are two real kids who not only had to endure this woman’s microaggressions but have now had their image splashed all over social media – the Facebook picture alone has 150,000 likes and over 12,000 shares. Step away for a hot second from this white woman’s narrative, and think about how those teenagers must feel – having their privacy invaded, having assumptions made about them based on their race, and now having a white woman use their images to get praise for herself.

Now tell me again about how Leigh Anne Tuohy did a good thing.

UPDATE:

One of the two teens involved has responded on Instagram (his name has been blurred out for privacy):

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Person One aka Teen Leigh Anne Tuohy approached at KFC:

Yeah people don’t know what really happened because I actually had money I have a job and have had one for over a year I was gonna pay for my brother the other guy in the picture but he was insisting on waiting on his uncle but his phone was dying so we were charging it which is the reason we were in KFC in the first place.and the game was only a 3 min walk up the street I don’t see why she said bus fare that kinda ticked me off a little but the way she worded it is making us sound less fortunate and that isn’t the case at all & when she came over to us she never mentioned her initial reason was because of her friends comment im just now finding that out

Person Two:

May I ask how she asked for the photo?

Person One:

Yeah she never actually asked for it as she was handing us the money she was like “hey you know what I think this would be a great picture” and everyone with her was yeah totally so we just kinda went along with the situation like sure why not your Michael Oher’s mom but the whole time I was thinking you know why’d she come up to us in the first place I was still clueless up until she posted the picture on social media and stated “the person with me said I bet they’re up to no good.”

Talking To Small Children About Race

5 Sep

Hey y’all! Here‘s an article I wrote for the Washington Post about being a white parent trying to explain racism and privilege to my white kid. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, but in light of what’s happening in Ferguson it now seems incredibly urgent.

Excerpt:

“Find books, movies, television shows that feature a diverse cast of characters, and make sure that these forms of media aren’t falling into the trap of tokenism, i.e. having mainly white lead characters with a few background characters of different races or ethnicities. If you notice that some of your child’s favorite books or shows involve problematic depictions of race, talk to them about it and try to have a conversation about what you wish was done differently in this particular story.”

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On Race and Feminism

3 Mar

In the online fallout of The Onion’s vile tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, one fact has become abundantly, dismayingly clear:

White feminists have a hard time talking about race.

And we have a hard time talking about the fact that we have a hard time talking about race.

Jessica Luther has a fantastic post up over on Shakesville about the lack of white feminists decrying what happened to Quvenzhané. And while I think that what she wrote is perfect and spot on and everyone should go read it right now, what I find truly fascinating is the weird backlash that she’s received from other white feminists.

It was the same backlash I saw on Twitter the other day when @graceishuman called out white feminists for not defending Quvenzhané.

That backlash? A whole bunch of white feminists explaining why they, personally, chose not to write about it. And I’m sure that they had some spectacularly good reasons (I’m not even being sarcastic), but that’s not what this about. Not by a long shot.

I have actually never seen so many people miss the point of something all at the same time.

What this is about is the lack of intersectionality in feminism. Specifically, it’s about the fact the women of colour do not feel that they are represented or heard within the feminist movement. As Kirsten West Savali wrote for Clutch, it can feel like the feminist movement encourages women of colour to,

” … shrug off our Blackness for the greater feminist good; the end result being a contemporary plantation tableau defined by Ole Miss and Mammie slaying the patriarchal dragon while the issues of racism and classism are hidden behind the veil of  “progress.”  And while this scenario is about as feel-good as The Help, expanding white privilege — feminist or otherwise — is not equality.”

So how the fuck did it ever get to this?

Is it because we (white feminists) feel that racism is an entirely separate issue from feminism? 

Most white feminists that I know would answer that no, of course it’s not, in the same way that homophobia, fatphobia and transphobia are not separate issues either. They would readily admit that women of colour experience misogyny in ways that white women do not. They would say that of course they care about racism.

But these same women, in their own writing, mainly stick to topics that specifically affect them or women like them. They very rarely address issues that are faced only (or mostly) by women of colour. They almost never talk about racism within the feminist movement. Which is funny, considering the racist history of our movement; shouldn’t this be something that we still talk about, all the time?

Is it because we worry that we’ll be co-opting women of colour when we speak out against something like what happened to Quvenzhané? Is it because we’re worried about making a misstep, about somehow accidentally being racist in our fight against racism? 

I would wager that the answer to this is yes, yes and yes. I’ve heard this same argument from several women as explanation of why they didn’t speak out against The Onion, or why they primarily focussed on the misogynist aspect of The Onion’s tweet and not the racist aspect. White feminists mentioned again and a again that they felt that women of colour should take the lead in this discussion, the rationalization being that white women speaking for others’ experiences was, in itself, a racist act.

And yeah, I guess if you’re a white feminist speaking for women of colour, that’s racist, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t call out racism when you see it. Like, fuck, I don’t want men speaking for me, but I sure as hell do want them to stand up against sexism. We complain so often about having to educate men with regards to feminism, and yet we (white feminists) do so little to educate ourselves when it comes to racial issues.

We make comments like, Well, I don’t even know what to call them, like do you say black or Black or women of colour or Women of Colour or minority or non-white or what? I don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing.

We make comments like, They can write about the issues they face, and I can write about the issues I face. What’s wrong with that?

We make comments like, I thought we were all in this together.

For a group of people who are so hell-bent on (rightfully) pointing out male privilege, we sure as hell don’t like to be reminded of our white privilege, do we?

Which brings me to my next point …

Is it because we don’t want to admit that, as white women, while we do face a lot of overt and insidiously subtle misogyny in our day-to-day life, we face less barriers than women of colour do?

Privilege is comfortable. Privilege is easy. Privilege is invisible and difficult to quantify, facts that make us comfortable ignoring the fact that we benefit from it.

Privilege lead to write a post the other day that I felt was clever and insightful but, as others pointed out, was in several ways flawed and problematic.

I have a lot of privilege, white privilege, cis-privilege, thin-privilege, but it’s easier for me to talk about the privilege that I don’t have. I suspect that the same is true for many other women.

Being reminded of privilege makes people defensive – especially when those same people are complaining about the oppression that they face as women. There’s a tendency within feminism to want to gloss over racial issues and say, Well, first let’s fight against the problems that ALL women face, and THEN we can talk about racism, and I think that feels okay to a lot of us because in a fucked up way it feels like equality. In reality, though, it’s not equality at all – it’s asking women of colour to do work that will especially benefit white women, and then having those white women turn around and refuse to address the additional challenges faced by non-white women.

I think that another issue at play is that it can be hard to view yourself as both the oppressed and the oppressor. But the fact is that we do participate in the oppression of others, and our reluctance to examine that is pretty fucked up. Like, white feminists are perfectly articulate about how privilege works when they’re talking about male privilege, but they seem to plead ignorance pretty quickly when they’re reminded of the privilege that’s associated with their skin tone.

So what do we do about all of this?

Well, first of all, we fucking sit up and pay attention when women of colour tell us that they feel that we dropped the ball on this one. Because you know what?

A) They know what they’re talking about, and

B) They’re right

And then, after we admit that we fucked up, we talk about it. We talk about race until we’re blue in the face. Because pretending that this isn’t happening isn’t doing anyone any favours, and continuing to ignore the racial issues within the feminist movement is only going to serve to further divide us.

Finally, we need to change how things are structured in order to see real equality. We need to give more platforms to women of colour. We need to be more willing to listen to what they have to say. We need to be willing to be called out on our racism. Most of all, though, we need to let women of colour lead the way and let THEM tell us what they want and need in order to do that.

Because reaching down and giving a boost to someone who has less privilege than you do is what real fucking equality looks like.

And to those of you who aren’t interested in doing that, I would ask that you please stop using the word equality. You’re not interested in equality; you’re only interested in benefitting yourself.

I don’t want to just benefit myself. I want my actions to benefit everyone. And right now, I especially want my actions to benefit this kid:

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Deconstructing Racism And Privilege

18 Oct

Before we start, let me be really upfront about a few things.

First of all, I am not an expert on racism; I haven’t studied it extensively, and what I’m about to write here is mostly based on a few smart books/articles, conversations with friends, and stuff that I’ve read online. Oh, and feelings. I have a lot of feelings about racism.

Second of all, I’m white. I mean, like, really white. I have the complexion of an anemic Swede. So obviously I don’t fully understand racism and its impact because I will never personally experience it directed towards me. Everything that I’m writing here is offered as the perspective of someone who lives in the land of white privilege.

So with that baseline in place, I want to talk a bit about racism in general and some of the fallout from The Gap’s Manifest Destiny debacle in particular (sidebar: isn’t debacle a great word? let’s all agree to use it more often). I’ve been reading some of the comments left on my blog, on my Facebook page, on BlogHer and on this piece in The Guardian, and many of them are, well, troubling. To put it mildly.

Here’s a small sampling of some of the comments:

“Oh for pity’s sake, must everything be offensive? Political Correctness gone wild.”

“WHAT aboriginal community in the U.S. ? This belief in the U.S. is dead. The only complainers are the very few who were conquered. Conquering is not new to any culture. If the Native Americans weren’t so busy trying to conquer each other, they might have been able to keep more of their land. It seems every culture grew from conquering over a culture for whatever reasons they had. The system is world wide. Just because we finally gave it a name doesn’t mean we alone own it.”

“OMG, and the shirt is black too, with white text. We must read everything into this!”

What I find truly annoying it that creating a fuss over this sort of trivial nonsense only makes it that much harder to battle genuine racism … Instead of fighting actual racists, they find it easier to make normal people, without racists tendencies, to tread on eggshells around minorities.

I think this is absolutely ridiculous that natives feel entitled to stick their nose into everyone’s business because it ‘hurts their feelings’.

We get it, we took your land and you feel a deep entitlement to free education, no taxes and who knows what else. But you know what… throughout history people have been stealing land from other people. You need to stop drawing pity to your people and move forward like the rest of the world.

You are just a bunch of entitled greedy leeches that like to cry out and draw attention to yourselves.”

I think that a lot of these responses are knee-jerk reactions that come from a place of fear. We see something like the Manifest Destiny tee, and we don’t see a problem with it. Then someone tells us that it’s racist, and our reaction falls into one of the following categories:

1. We accept that it’s racist, and work to understand the how and why of it

2. We deny that it’s racist, and then defend that denial

I think that a lot of people choose the latter because accepting that the t-shirt is racist, and knowing that they didn’t initially understand why, means that they are racist. And they’re not racist! They have friends who are people of colour! They would never do/say/think anything racist! So, logically, if they are not racist, then the shirt must not be, either.

For those of you who are afraid of being racist, I’m going to tell you something that will maybe sort of let you off the hook:

If you are white, you are racist.

To be clear, for the purposes of this post I’m defining racism as prejudice plus power. In the western world, in this specific time in history, only white people can be racist. People of colour can certainly be prejudiced against those of other ethnicities, but they can’t be racist because they don’t have the societal power to enforce those prejudices.

Look, it’s not your fault that you’re racist; you’re probably a really nice person and yes, I do believe you when you tell me that you have friends of many different ethnicities. You grew up in a world where you were immersed in white privilege, and that privilege was constantly being reinforced by your education, the media and society in general. You didn’t ask for that privilege; it was handed to you whether you wanted it or not. Given these circumstances, you can’t help being racist.

But believe me when I tell you that you are racist. I am racist. We need to acknowledge and accept this before we move forward.

That fact being established, I want to be really clear on something: it is not for white people to say what is and isn’t racist. It’s not our place to roll our eyes and say, Really, do I have to be offended by everything now?

I’m not saying that there is never any overreaction when it comes to racial issues. What I am saying is, if a person of colour tells you that something is racist, give them the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t understand why it’s racist, ask them to help you understand. If the explanation makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why it makes you uncomfortable.

And for the record, I would rather overreact to something than under-react to it. I would prefer to be labeled hysterical than labeled an apologist. I would rather be hated for being outspoken than look back on a a terrible event and feel like I could have done something if only I’d had the courage to open my mouth.

So remember earlier, when I told you that I was sort of letting you off the hook? Well, here’s the part where it turns out that I’m not letting you off the hook at all. Yes, you are a good person. No, you can’t help being racist. What matters now is what you do with this information; what matters is whether or not you remain blind to the fact that you are subject to prejudices against people of colour, or whether you accept it and say, okay, what do I do now?

To say stuff like, “… creating a fuss over this sort of trivial nonsense only makes it that much harder to battle genuine racism”, is to remain wilfully blind to your own racism. It’s to see racism as a series of overtly cruel acts perpetrated by other people, and not as an inherent part of the invisible systems we all participate in that benefit white people.

To make comments to the effect that what was done to the Aboriginal peoples in North America is ancient history, and that “conquering” is just a normal part of civilization, is to remain wilfully ignorant to the truth of what happened, and how it’s still happening today.

To say that we live in a society where political correctness has gone overboard and to dismiss the cries of racism from people of colour as a gross overreaction is to assert that it is, in fact, up to white people to decide what is and isn’t racist. It’s saying that people of colour aren’t smart enough to know what true racism is, or that all they want is our pity or our land or our money. It’s perpetuating the idea that only white people know what is best, and it’s insinuating that it would be wrong or even dangerous to have people of colour in positions of power where their poor judgment and conniving ways could have a disastrous effect on everyone.

Okay. What do we do now?

I’m going to say something that might seem really scary, but here it is:

Let people of colour have a voice. Seriously listen to what they have to say. When what they say frightens and confuses you, don’t shut them out. Keep listening. Be willing to work with them; be willing to have them tell you that you’re wrong. Spend every moment of every day fighting against your prejudices. When you want to leave a comment like the ones above on an online article, take a moment before you hit the reply button and think, what am I really saying here?

It’s hard, I know. Many (most?) of us grew up in an era where overt racism was very much frowned upon, but the underlying racist structure of society was never talked about. We grew up with books and television shows and movies that were racist, although we didn’t know that at the time, and it can be difficult to cherish the memories of those things while at the same time admitting that they were problematic. We grew up knowing that racism was so wrong, which means admitting that we’re racist makes us feel like monsters.

The hardest thing of all is accepting that society has to change, because why would we want to change things when everything is set up to benefit us? What motivation is there to have anything be different from the way it is?

Well, for one thing, I want Theo to grow up in a better world than I did; I don’t want him to have to have the same prejudices I do. I want to stop feeling guilty just because my skin is white. I want to look at someone and see who they are, instead of first noticing their race.

Most of all, I want to live in a world where everyone is equal. Yes, I know that people will always be born into different socioeconomic circumstances; yes, I understand that some people will always have to struggle more than others just to achieve the same thing. But that struggle should never, ever be tied to a person’s skin colour. A person should not be set up to fail from the very beginning just because they’re not white.

And if you don’t understand that, then I don’t know what to say.