Recently, I was told by a fellow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color), about how a "toxic, white feminist" decided to write a voluminous letter critiquing a BIPOC group we're both invested in. The story goes that the BIPOC group was leading another discussion about race in the entertainment community. Not only was it hosted by the BIPOC group while fully supported by the union to do so, but the discussion included highly qualified and lauded educators to help guide this critical conversation: one white, cisgender man, and one African-American woman. In a mixed group of white people and BIPOC members, a balance of "approachability" of the experts represented can be used to ease conversations over a difficult topic of race, especially when encouraging truthful conversations. How do you get a group of majority white members to talk about race, racial issues, allyship, inclusivity, diversity, and inclusion of a traditionally minimized group? If you're lucky, there are groups like this BIPOC group, opening the doors towards change and uncomfortable conversations, grounded in educational guidance.
Otherwise, read, read, read, read. Read what experts have to say on race. Google It. There's honestly no excuse anymore, except determined laziness, defensive comfortableness in upholding the white systems, and willful, chosen ignorance.
Check out what author Rachel Elizabeth Cargle wrote in 2018 for her piece in HarpersBazaar: "When you walk into black or brown spaces and 'suggest' how they can more aptly reach white people on the topic of race you are basically mansplaining, only now it's whitesplaining how people of color should approach their own activism." The online BIPOC discussion included "break out rooms," where a much larger group is broken down into smaller groups to deep-dive and focus on how to listen, learn, and help bring allyship with the BIPOC community into the dominant white fold. This is known as "let's all work together to dismantle the white system to which we can all admit we work and have participated in, yet know that's wrong and are determined to change." One cisgender, white woman started discussing sexual harassment in her break out group. "No big deal," you might think. That IS STILL a legit problem in all work places. Except that she didn't refer to sexual harassment under the umbrella of RACE, the whole point of the discussion, as in: "how does sexual harassment affect the BIPOC community?" or "many BIPOC women are subjected to fetishizing--what can I, as a white woman do to step in, help or hold space for an attacked BIPOC member?" These would have been great questions to ask, while relating back to the topic at hand: RACE and the Entertainment Industry.
That is not what happened.
Again, from author Rachel Elizabeth Cargle's article: "There were grand displays of defensiveness, demands that they be acknowledged for all the things they had done for black people in the past, and a terrifying lashing out that included racial slurs and doxing.
The fragility of these women was not a surprise to me."
I want to reiterate that this so-called white feminist has read all the books, including "White Fragility" and "How to be an Anti-Racist." I count that as two books, but maybe I'm nitpicking. My point is, that this white person knew what she was talking about! She'd read the books, and wasn't just some ignorant white person!
It's too bad actually, because these specific questions are conversations that BIPOC women and men do want to discuss, and often can't with our white co-workers and allies, often because the fetishizing of the BIPOC community is not even on a white person's radar, or it's being perpetuated by a white person. Take a look at what writer Janice Gassman Asare says in her piece for Forbes this past February, in "What Is Fetishization And How Does It Contribute To Racism?" or what writer Jason Ve wrote in 'No Asians': Two Words I've Faced My Entire Life That I’m Finally Confronting Today," for MensHealth. (I wrote about this topic through a mental health lens, using Jason Ve's article in "Saying YES to Mental Health Wellness," just recently. Please consider supporting my work by clicking here to subscribe.) Personally, I have been sexually harassed countless times throughout my life based on this fetishizing of the (usually but not always) white male gaze, based on reinforced concepts that are passed along that Latinas are hypersexual women, always ready for sex, always wanting sex; we are fiery hot, where "no" means "yes" due to our supposed coy qualities; all Latinas just love anal sex and beg for it. We dress sexy for the gaze of the "other" and not for ourselves. Being nice or sweet means we are actually flirting. All of which proves how much we want it, how much we want you. When we flip our hair, lift our hair off our necks, purse our lips, make direct eye contact, stretch our bodies, all this is just for you. Give me a freaking break.
What happened during the break out room was the white, cisgender, self-proclaimed feminist, feeling quite justified in herself because "I know what I'm talking about-- my closest friend is black/I work with a black person", hijacked the conversation to talk about her sexual harassment issues at the workplace. But wait! There's more. After the white male educator tried to steer her back to the discussion at hand, RACE--did she want to talk about the important issue of RACE and sexual harassment?--she pushed back, until finally it had to be spelled out to her: RACE is the purpose of the discussion.
But wait! Completely affronted, this "crazy white lady" deemed it appropriate to subsequently write the BIPOC group a multi-page document questioning their choice to allow a white, cisgender man to speak on the issues of race. This ultimate self-expression of self-righteousness of a white woman telling a BIPOC group whom to feature in their own BIPOC-centric discussions, how to think; how she thinks the BIPOC community should really talk about race, is the epitome of white privilege. She's a white victim, fragile, and her voice must be heard! How dare you BIPOC group use a white man to tell me my white woman sexual harassment issues aren't legitimate issues… during a BIPOC meeting about BIPOC issues on RACE??
Rachel Elizabeth Cargle: "White women get so caught up in how they feel in a moment of black women expressing themselves that they completely vacuum the energy, direction, and point of the conversation to themselves and their feelings. They start to explain why race is hard for them to talk about, what they think would be a better solution to the topic at hand, and perhaps what women of color can do to make it more palatable." The Ultimate Karen, she just landed. © Isabel Alvear, July 2021 For more information on this topic and more, please "click" on the highlighted links. Drop a comment below, like, and share. Image by Yvette W and by Schäferle from Pixabay