By TaRessa Stovall @taressatalks
Photo by Jurien Huggins on Unsplash
First thing to know about me: I’m not interested in “talking about race.” I see no point in it. Nor have I ever seen, heard, or been aware of any such conversation actually making a difference in the presence or prevalence of racism.
Second thing: When I say racism, I focus mainly on the systemic institutionalized kind that impacts our options and quality of life. Racist thoughts, feelings, and individualized random acts are important of course, but I prefer to concentrate on addressing it at the institutional / policy level.
Now that we’re clear, the point of this post is to say that it’s time we flip the script to talk about racism in a different way. Many of us—self included—have fallen into the habit of lamenting the ways in which Blackness is viewed, targeted, and responded to in this world. Each incident, from annoying to infuriating to tragic, tends to be described along the lines of reminders of how how dangerous and frequently deadly it is to #BreatheWhileBlack #JogWhileBlack #PlayWhileBlack #WorkWhileBlack, etc. The list is endless and always growing with yet another example that racism is based on the premise that we re never seen as or considered fully human.
So when I saw the Facebook post below, it hit me upside the head (in a good way) and helped to clarify an immediate change that we can ALL make when we talk about racism:
Reading this post from Maisha Ongoza gave me the same kind of aha! moment I had years ago when I first saw a meme saying that instead of focusing solely on teaching girls how to avoid rape, we should teach boys how not to rape. (Side note: I’m aware that sexual violence happens between all genders. That narrative needs to change as well…so that we’re saying we need to teach people how not to rape).
Back to the main point: There is incredible power in changing the narrative, especially when we are shifting the focus from victims to perpetrators. There is strength in the specificity of language that we use to describe our experiences and perspectives. And there is great energy when we work collectively to create these shifts.
So when we describe and depict acts of racism, we can frame them differently to provide the accurate and appropriate context and focus and emphasis. The problem is racism. The issue is the racists. Not the Blackness of the victim’s skin. Not their speech, their body language, or their culture. Not whether they raised their hands too rapidly or too slowly or seemed to be reaching for “something.” Not their hair. Not their skin. Not their nationality. Not their politics. Not their religion. Not their heritage. Not their attire or their stance or their perceived “attitude.
And the systems and institutions that were created and exist to maintain it.
It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of framing Blackness as the problem, the reason, the probable cause. Made even more tempting because most media and entertainment encourages that flawed and dis-empowered narrative. Even some Black media, quiet as it’s kept.
But we can make this change! Let’s use our influence to empower ourselves and each other. Now!
It’s never the fault of Blackness.
Only White racism.
Every. Single. Time.
And while we’re at it…
Let us please take this opportunity to follow Layla Thee Ancestress’ suggestion. Let’s resist the constant urge to prove the humanity of Blackpeople, of Blackness. Let’s keep shining that spotlight on the inhumanity of Whiteness–NOT White people. Systems and institutions–NOT individuals. This is a critical distinction in all references to, conversations about, and depictions of racism.
While these suggestions might seem like linguistic nit-picking to some, I assure you that they are not at all petty or insignificant. I hope we all come to recognize and embrace the power of specificity in the words we use to think, to speak, and to write about our experiences.
The energy that is behind language is sent into the world with every word we think, speak, and write.
Please join me in shifting our language. We can flip the script and change the narrative. We can continue to grow our own consciousness, and encourage others to grow theirs. No effort is insignificant. Every tool and weapon we can wield in the fight against racism is worth considering. Each step forward counts as a victory.
As my favorite James Baldwin quote reminds us: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Let’s use our language to face the truths of racism while we work for the change we deserve.
TaRessa Stovall is an author / blogger / identity activist. Her hot new memoir, SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA is garnering praise for its bold, insightful take on how a Mixed-race girl grows to be a Black woman while honoring all of her Ancestry — living “AND” in a world of “EITHER / OR.” Check reader reviews here. Enjoy a FREE sneak peek of SWIRL GIRL here.
Connect with TaRessa! TaRessa Stovall @taressatalks @taressatalks