This will be kind of long, and I hope it doesn’t land doesn’t land with a great big thud, which it might.
So on Friday I put up a post with Amanda Gorman’s guest essay from the New York Times. (cue Baud: the NYT is garbage. though in this one case they are not.)
It was a lovely essay. The comments about Amanda Gorman were overwhelmingly positive and the essay was exceedingly well received. Various people pointed out sentences or phrases from the essay that particularly moved them or struck them as notable. One person was blown away by the last sentence in this part:
On the way to the Capitol building I recited the mantra I say before any performance: I am the daughter of Black writers. We’re descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and they changed the world. They call me.
I was struck by it, too. So powerful.
Then I started composing, in my mind, a mantra that I imagine plays for some without their realizing it:
I am a mediocre white man, more deserving than everyone else, entitled to everything…
And then my mind jumped to the first guest post I put up from The Thin Black Duke. It was about Ahmaud Arbery, and one of the very first comments asked why Balloon Juice wasn’t reporting on something the Proud Boys had done. For the next hour or more, 1/3 of the comments were related to that. (Side note: I am not bringing this up to call out that commenter in any way; instead I’m attempting to make a larger point.)
At #70, Woodrow commented:
And yet, a Black man is trying to speak. Was given the floor, here. We’re not seen in a lot of these debates and discussions to begin with…
That’s the kind of crap that made Dr. King, over half a century ago, yell about “white moderates” — and more than once. When the debate/discussion becomes about nothing but White reactions to White Supremacists, which is exactly what the Rittenhouse discussion has become in many spaces, it risks pushing out what the Black voices (in all our own beautiful diversity) are trying to say.
It’s an example of centering not the Black experience in this, but the White one that isolates its allyship from the very people they claim to be concerned about.
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person to do it, but it does mean you’re risking — risking — implying that you know what’s important to pay attention to, over the Black man who made a critical guest post. And at a point where a lot of Black folx are in pain.
There was more to that great comment from Woodrow, but that is the part that feels most relevant here.
If my brain hadn’t jumped to those points that were made 2 months earlier in the Ahmaud Arbery thread, I would have derailed my own thread! Not only would I have derailed my own post, where not a black man, but a young black woman, someone good, someone inspirational, was speaking, but I would have taken the floor away from this brilliant and brave young black woman to make a point we have made here a million times about the privilege of the mediocre white man. (#NotAllWhiteMen)
How often do we do this? Those of us who are white surely do this far more than we know in regard to race. With two new great, but very different, voices on the front page, I hope we can all begin to catch ourselves if, and more likely when, we start to do this.
And just as surely, we do this related to politics.
How often do we shift the conversation from great voices or great accomplishments on our side and turn it into venting and outrage about what the other side is doing? These are tough times; we all need to vent. At least I do.
So I will end with some questions:
When we do that too often or too much, when that’s our go-to instinct even when we’re discussing something good that the administration has done, are we helping the other side?
Are we giving more oxygen to the lies instead of talking about what’s true?
Are we good allies? To one another? Even to ourselves?
We have a big fight ahead of us between now and November, and beyond. We have to bring our best game.
How can we be better, do better?