Sometimes I worry I came into my Blackness too late. Maybe that's why I go so hard for my melanin now. I was sitting on the couch last summer, when a good friend read aloud a racist response from a "friend" on his facebook post. Everyone in the room shook their head in disappointment. I navigated over to my friends facebook account, and hopped on the thread. That is where I encountered Austin. I'm sure you have met Austin too, but instead of Austin, their name was Caroline or Drew or Emma or William or something, and they meant well , but they were offensive, misinformed, wrong and oppressive to at least one social identity i.e. racist, ableist, sexist.
Austin says things like; "all lives matter," and requests that you stop complaining because, well, " A Black person can go as far as anyone can go now-a-days." Then, occasionally you'll hear Austin, encourage you by exclaiming that, " You're Black you'll get into any Ph.D program you want. Go ahead, apply!" Ignoring the fact that you have a historical tradition of academic excellence in your scholarly career. Austin will school you on race and culture and tell you that" Race is not a part of culture." Ignoring the fact that for many people of color, race impacts our values, traditions and everyday experiences. Or he scolds you for calling someone a racist, and tells you that "calling someone a racist is serious," and then tests you on the meaning of the word, just to make sure you're qualified to be in the conversation at all. Speaking to you as if you're not intelligent enough to know your own experience. Now that we're all clear on who Austin is, I'll explain what I did for him, for me, for us.
After following and responding to the conversation on my friend's thread, I decided to make a gift for Austin. The gift was a google drive file, filled with articles and infographics to combat Austin's ignorance. I created the drive in Austin's honor, and it has become the gift, that keeps on giving. I created the drive and folder for a couple reasons:
1. I have a knowledge base, coupled with personal experience, that the Austin's of the world don't. I should share it.
2. It's not my responsibility to explain to the Austin's of the world, why the narrative their pushing is dangerous, inaccurate and racist. However, it is my responsibility to share resources if I want things to change.
Below is the thread. The comments were in response to a post about a new Black Student Union building being built at FSU. An exciting experience for all students, but particularly Black students who now have a physical structure that validates their historical commitment to activism, progress and traditional excellence, right on campus. Below is the original post.
I made Austin a google drive folder. The link is below, and it has some resources I thought were important and might at least shed some light, on why myself and the other people on the thread were disappointed by his comments. Check it out and be sure to post in the comments, any other articles you think would be beneficial.
Why this is important
It would be helpful if Austins realized that their privilege is not something to be ashamed of. It is a call to action. It is a reminder that you have a powerful position, whether you asked for it or not. That position requires you work really hard, and be intentional about your perception of the experiences of others.
What is this privilege you speak of?
I am still not super interested in explaining this, but luckily Peggy McIntosh was, and in 1989 she wrote a seminal article on it. She gave some functional examples of what privilege looks like. You should check that out. It's in the drive.
It is also super important to note that, you can be privileged in some categories but not in others, for example; you may be privileged in the social identity category of ability but not in race or class.
Privilege is this really exhilarating thing, because you're constantly walking the moral tightrope. You're kind of happy because your voice is "valued" in that category, but then you're kind of upset because it comes with all these unsolicited responsibilities. In order to not be racist, ableist, sexist ect. you have to be aggressively intentional about valuing the voices of others and humbling yourself. It is difficult a.f, but there is no way around it.
When you have privilege, you don't have the luxury of "just being." I heard this analogy once, and I can't remember where, but it described not being "accidentally racist," by comparing it to an escalator. When your voice is privileged in a certain category, to not be racist or oppressive you have to actively change. It's like going the wrong way on an escalator. You can't just go with the flow if you want to go the opposite direction. You have to be running full sprint the other way. You'll see people going the easy way, the way the "machine," or "system," was designed to be used. They'll tell you you're crazy for wanting to go another way, and that you running full sprint in the opposite direction, is too difficult and not worth it.
You have to work really hard at it, when the world around you, is built for some and not for others. You have to be courageous. You have to have stamina.
I say this to say...
I've met tons of Austin's. I've met Austins on facebook feeds, in high school, at the grocery store, at protests, at work and even in higher education. Austin's who may mean well, but miss the mark more times than not. Use your privilege with purpose; your education, your social class, your influence, your gender whatever it may be, "lift as you climb."