I would like to start by informing you that I am not an expert on getting things right all the time. In fact, I get a lot of things wrong all the time, and I’m constantly working to be a better person myself. Getting things wrong is okay. Choosing to stay wrong is the problem. In this article, I have compiled a list of 10 things you should never say again if you want to be a better person.
You may feel challenged or defensive. I encourage you to sit with those feelings and resist the urge to mentally defend yourself or your actions. Keep an open mind. Challenge yourself. And if you’re feeling particularly indignant, discuss with a friend who will give you honest and objective feedback. Now, let’s get to it.
1.“That’s reverse racism.”
I’m sorry to tell you this. Actually, I’m just going to be honest, I’m not sorry to tell you this at all. Reverse Racism is not a thing. Someone recently told me her story of ‘reverse racism.’ The story went something like she was the only white person in a place and a black person was mean to her and said they don’t like white people. That’s not racism. In fact, if racism just meant white people didn’t like me, but there was no consequence behind it, I actually wouldn’t care at all. I’m past the point in my life where I give a shit about people liking me.
However, racism is much bigger than just not liking someone. Prejudice is “dislike, hostility, or unjust behavior deriving from preconceived and unfounded opinions.” If a black person doesn’t like you because you’re white, you experienced prejudice. That’s a real thing.
Racism is prejudice + power. It’s actual systems of oppression in place that have a negative impact on people. There is systemic and institutionalized racism that POC face in this country that are simply not experienced by white people, nor do POC have the power that is required for white people to be the victim of ‘reverse racism.’ If you are actually interested in learning more, may I suggest my favorite resource — Google.
2. I don’t see color”
Unless you are medically colorblind, please refrain from ever saying these words. It’s a lie. You do see color. My new favorite when people say this to me is to make the most shocked look I can, fain surprise, and say, “so all this time you thought I was a white woman?”
The answer is always well, no of course not. Well, okay then, can we please refrain from making the statement, “I don’t see color”. What I think people are trying to say when they make this ludicrous statement is that they don’t treat people differently based on the color of their skin. But saying, “I don’t see color” is actually quite offensive. You are erasing people’s identity. I’m proud to be black. I want you to see and acknowledge my blackness. However, I still want you to treat me with the same dignity and respect as you treat your white friends. I don’t want you to pretend I’m not black. That’s just silly.
3. “I can’t be racist. I have a black (friend, boyfriend, sister, cousin, great uncle twice removed)….”
Ugh. This is probably my least favorite thing to hear people say. Please listen to me closely. I don’t care how many friends or boyfriends or play cousins you have that are black. That literally has nothing to do with if you are racist or not.
This argument is just ludicrous. I happen to know plenty of misogynists who are married to women. That doesn’t mean they aren't misogynists. Donald Trump hired Ben Carson and Omarosa. He’s still a racist.
Your proximity to black people has no bearing on if you are a racist or not. And to be honest, anytime someone uses this statement, my first thought it, ‘aww shit…you are definitely a racist.” Is that wrong? Probably. I never claimed to be perfect.
4.“I support your rights to protest, but just not like this”
This is actually a personal favorite of mine. I would love for every well-meaning person who says this to tell me what exactly is the right way to protest. People have said this about actual marches, they have have said it riots, they have said it about pretty much every way black people have ever tried to protest in the entire history of protesting.
Most recently, they have said it about silently kneeling, attempting to make it an issue of patriotism. I actually find it quite comical that the same people who wear American flag bandanas, t-shirts, and swimsuits are now so concerned about the sanctity of the flag. Whew chile….the hypocrisy.
Silently kneeing during the national anthem in protest of policy brutality and the unjust treatment of POC is not unpatriotic. James Baldwin said it best, “I love America more than any other country in this world. And exactly, for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
The same people who disagree with Colin Kaepernick will have the audacity to reference Martin Luther King, Jr and his peaceful protests. Newflash! MLK was not a hero in his day. He was more hated that Colin Kaepernick is now because he was disrupting the peace and the status quo. Let’s not forgot the man was assassinated. So if you don’t like Kaepernick disrupting your precious football, you don't know the real MLK, (again I’ll reference you doing some actual research on Google) and you wouldn’t have liked him either.
5. “Why can’t we make jokes about race anymore? Comedians can do it, why can’t we?”
It pains me to tell you that someone I know actually said this. Out loud. On the internet. Since it was public, I did responded and informed this individual that it’s actually never ok and that I would snatch all of her edges if I ever heard her making racial jokes about black people. I know what you’re thinking (or maybe not). Non-black people don’t have edges so that analogy doesn't really work. Listen. I said what I said. Or you may have been thinking that I wasn’t very nice. I don’t owe anyone niceness— especially when it’s something I literally should not have to be explaining. Said individual never responded and instead unfollowed me while still touting themselves as intersectional feminism (insert eye roll to the actual back of my head).
Here’s the quick and dirty truth. Making jokes about race and/or racism under the guise of ‘it’s just a joke and people need to lighten up’ is actually just wrong. There are actual studies that show that making racist or misogynistic jokes actually inform people’s ideas and foster discrimination against marginalized groups. It’s actually harmful — not funny or inconsequential. I do not in fact need to ‘lighten up.’
And for the record, Chris Rock (a black comedian) making a joke about black people is different from Becky with the good hair making the joke. Stay in your lane.
6. “People can be whoever they want to be. I just don’t think we should have to accommodate them.”
This was said in regards to a suggestion that public places should have gender neutral bathrooms. Not having access to safe restroom facilities is a real problem for members of the trans community. Imagine having to plan your day around if and when you’ll have access to a restroom. Something that a lot of us take for granted is a major issue for the trans community.
Last time I checked having gender neutral bathroom is harmless. No one is inconvenienced by have gender neutral, single stall bathrooms. In fact, I love places with gender neutral bathrooms because I inevitably always wait a shorter time for the bathroom. Yes, that sounds selfish and is entirely not the point of this paragraph, but still, it’s a fact. It’s an easy fix that makes the lives of the trans community so much easier.
It’s our responsibility to advocate for members of marginalized groups. In the words of Audre Lorde, “I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, whether they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you." Our individual liberation is inextricably intertwined with the liberation of others, and we can’t ignore the oppression of other people simply because it does’t personally affect us.
7. “I liked your body better when…”
If you ever find yourself starting a sentence with these words or any variation of those words or any words at all to give a person an unsolicited critique of their body, just stop. Full stop. Close your mouth. Bite your tongue (until it bleeds if necessary). Do whatever is necessary to refrain yourself from talking about someone else’s body unsolicited.
I can pretty guarantee you they don't want your opinion. Your opinion doesn’t matter. My body or anybody else’s body is not for you. Your preferences don't matter — especially when I didn’t ask for them. Keep your opinion to yourself, and I would even advise that you take it a step further. Ask yourself why you are so concerned with someone else's body and forcing your personal preferences and standards of beauty on them. Sit with that for a while.
8. “Why don’t you have kids yet?”
Well, nosey Nancy, there’s a lot of potential reasons I don't have kids yet. The thing is, none of them are your business. I don’t owe you or anyone an explanation about my reproductive organs.
In all seriousness, this question is intrusive and potentially harmful. Let’s imagine I can’t have children or that I’ve had a couple of miscarriages or that I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for several years to conceive. The last thing anyone needs is someone reminding them of the pain they are enduring by asking why they have not yet popped a baby out of their vagina.
Also, important to note, women are not required to have children. It’s a choice and lots of women choose to not have children because they don't want to. That’s perfectly fine, and it requires no explanation.
9. “I care about immigrants, I just think they should follow the rules like the rest of us.”
Follow the rules you say? Like the original immigrants that stole the land from the Native Americans? Are those the rules you are referring to?
In a poem entitled, “Home”, Warsan Shire writes the following words. “You have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” People are crossing the border looking for asylum. For all the individuals, concerned about people breaking the rules, I hope you never find yourself in a similar situation. If so, I think you would also break the rules to stay alive or to protect your children. I know I would.
And just remember, it was illegal to hide Jews during the holocaust so I’m guessing you would have been equally concerned about those rules too?
10.“It sucks that happened to her, but may she shouldn’t have put herself in that position.”
Ahhh….a good ole’ classic case of victim blaming. By ‘put herself in that position’ do you mean she shouldn’t have been born a woman? Or perhaps she shouldn’t wear dresses? Or maybe she shouldn’t drink alcohol? Or maybe she shouldn’t have been walking down the street at night? In no case of sexual assault or rape is the victim to blame. The person to blame is always the attacker. Perhaps the perpetrator shouldn't sexually assault people. I think that’s the real solution.
Whenever you feel the urge to comment about the victim’s life choices to include their choice to be a sex worker, just don’t. That has zero bearing on on why they were victimized. Save your breath and save the world from having to correct you.
“Why can’t I say the N word? Black people can say it.”
This is really the simplest of the simple. You just can’t and the real question is, why would you want to. The word was used as a racial slur by white people against black people. Black people reclaimed the word for ourselves and use it among each other. Why in the world would any non-black person feel entitled to be able to use the word? I don't care if it’s in your favorite rap song. Don’t sing that part. I don’t care how many black friends you have. You can’t say it.
It’s just like the word bitch. My friends can call me a bitch because it’s a term of endearment, but it’s not acceptable for a man to refer to me as a bitch. That wouldn’t fly. The same applies to the N word. If you are bothered that the word is off limits for you, I challenge to take a long look inside yourself and deal with your sense of entitlement.
In closing, whenever you find yourself about to say anything of these, just don’t. Choose to be a better person. If and when you hear any of your friends, family members, or coworkers, say any of these things, call them in. By that, I mean explain to them why said statement was not ok and attempt to bring them to a better understanding of their problematic behavior. A lot of times calling people in works well. Other times, you simply have to call folks out because they don’t want to be or do better. Lastly, when you find yourself messing something up, own up to it, apologize if necessary, and be better in the future.
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