I Can’t Be Woke For You

I’m trying really hard not to make this post a ranting one or one that is spewed with anger and vilification, but it seems to me like people think it’s the job of POC (people of colour) to not only be privy and sensitive to ALL things racism and ALL things culture and to educate the masses regarding. This burden cannot be carried by the token POC in White lives; that is not fair. Growing up, I learnt about my culture from my mom, family and actually practicing those traditions, I didn’t look to a book for it, because let’s face it- it wasn’t in high supply. But what seems to get my goat is the fact that the predominant culture gets to not only dictate what I have to learn, weeds out what they want to include, but also sits back and claims ignorance on things that make them uncomfortable, but history doesn’t or at least shouldn’t work like that. With statements like, “I didn’t know it was derogatory” or “I don’t/didn’t see colour” or one of my favourites, “it was the way it was back then we just need to get over it“. Nope. Nope. Not good enough. As a Black person, it should not be on my plate to know the history of Europe all the while they’re ignoring the history of my people, it shouldn’t be for me to celebrate people/places and events when it’s always taken from the same pool of people/influencers. So! This week on the blog, I’m ranting (soz) about my frustrations with people thinking it’s my job to be woke for them. Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post in the fall of 2019, and chose not to post it, mostly because I felt it was on the angry side and also because traditionally our blog post re:race never really have any traction, but I have decided that I no longer care to mute myself.

Look, I get it, every time someone mentions something about a Black person, it doesn’t make then racist- does it make them ignorant- yes, Does it make them a bad person? No. Can they be taught to reject their comfortable way of thinking? Of course, but they have to do the work., I try to be very cautious about throwing that word around because I find it tends to shut people down, very similar to calling someone a White supremacist; sometimes all they need is discourse, conversation, but most importantly educating. I understand that and personally, I love a good discussion and especially one when it comes to inequalities and social issues, so I suppose I can appear to be “knowledgeable” or at least open to having said conversations. Those types will always be welcomed, if you come across an article and you wanted my feedback/perspective then I’ll gladly have that conversation with you- but if you’re looking to me to be the voice for all things Black, well, then you have the wrong person. Ringing up your token Black person to tap into how the latest drama makes them feel isn’t fair and it doesn’t make you less ignorant- it’s triggering. An example of this is when it comes to mass shootings, often times if the shooter is that of a White male, we will chalk it down to him being mentally ill or at least having some sort of personal/internal issue. If the assailant is in any ways linked to the Islamic faith, I can almost guarantee that we will seek out the nearest mosque and seek some sort of explanation- irrespective of the fact that religious associations or not, people act on their own accord. This isn’t expected of someone who is privileged to be White, we don’t look to them to explain all things White, so we shouldn’t look to someone of colour to explain all things non-White. Another example is when it comes to a wheelchair user, would you ever dream of walking up to someone and asking them what it was like using a wheelchair and get them to speak on the behalf of all wheelchair users? It’s cringe-worthy to say the least, other than it being a remarkably ignorant thing to say, there is a very big difference in trying to gain perspective and insight as opposed to tokenism. I’ve had people approach me and ask if they can touch my hair and then proceed to be in awe and make comments like “it’s so soft”, “it feels like wool”, “do you wash it like we do?”, “you would look so much better with it straight”, “is your whole body that colour” and even more weird and off putting questions. I can be sure that these aren’t questions a White person receives and more importantly, what are they trying to gain in asking those questions? It does nothing but make you feel like a sideshow freak and that’s how everyone wants to feel on a random Tuesday afternoon.

My skin colour, along with a person’s disability, is not a badge we can wear and then take off; it is with us constantly; I can’t choose the varying shades I want to be on a random afternoon (trust me, sometimes I wish I could). It’s for life, it’s not a trending topic, my trauma cannot be reduced to a hashtag for your easy consumption. Because the fact of the matter is that 9 times out of 10, someone will find a way to remind me of the very thing I’ve known all my life. I’m Black. Shock horror, don’t panic- it’s not contagious. We have blogged about our frustrations before regarding our thoughts and feelings about this very subject, but it seems like I just seem to be finding myself in situations where people seem to feel the need to bring up something redundant or blatantly stupid about my pigmentation that it leaves me stupefied. If I felt it was coming from a place of genuine interest and seeking knowledge then I wouldn’t take it in a negative way, because sometimes people genuinely do not know. For example, I had a woman approach me at work and began telling me that the darker people like my skin colour the deeper our voices, as our skin is linked to the depth of our voices. This was news to me. She also said that she had met a few people like me (her words) and she was pleasantly surprised that we were all quite nice people. (I sat there genuinely stunned at her comment and wondering what I should reply back, but also wondering why she felt the need to even mention it to me in the 1st place). Aware that if I make a sarcastic reply then she may change her massively generalized view of “my people”, but then I kind of felt a bit sorry for her, so I chose to smile and nod through it. Again, I shouldn’t have to even give a balance or a palatable clarification for how many wrongs there are in the constant micro-aggressions Black people are subjected to.

I don’t feel it’s my job to educate you on the ways of racism and I most certainly don’t have to sit quietly while you perpetuate stereotypes and support racist or exclusive ways of thinking. But in saying that when you then look at me with confused looks, it’s not my job to then become an encyclopedia of all things racism for you to bounce ideas off of. Nope. I am quite happy to sit in my limited privilege of knowing better. If you can Google a recipe for supper this evening, then your fingers can go an extra step in the other direction and seek knowledge. Everyone is seeking a hack, a 5 step break down of how to be a better human, let alone anti-racist. They ignore the fact this is literally a lifestyle, the signs are all around us, the structures, the systems and the powers that be have being here for centuries. You can’t reduce it to a hashtag or a Facebook post and on your way. I don’t have that luxury- I am BLACK everyday, not only on the days where it’s trending, but also on the days when it’s the last thing you are uncomfortable to talk about. But let’s be honest, I don’t have it all together and have much to learn, you don’t want me as your source of knowledge. Don’t contact your token friend who falls into the “different” category for the sake of their uniqueness, reach out to them because you want to know better, in order to do better. I recognize that based on the location I lived, I and people like me were in the minority, it’s just that simple, but it gets a little old being the go-to when this is merely a role given to me by chance. We must ALL do the work, read, write, research and read some more, examine and reassess our beliefs, viewpoints and ways of life- how can we ALL do better? How can we ALL stand up against any system which seeks to gain an advantage from the struggles/oppression of others. How do we want to leave this earth? Making what sort of impact?

That’s part of my frustration, but maybe it’s not all a bad thing? What do you think? Should I be more relaxed about people inquiring about racism with me? Should I maybe welcome the fact that they are open to a discussion and have chosen me because I appear knowledgeable? As it’s all about perspective, is there another viewpoint I could be taking in regards to this? Share with us and let us know, I really would like to see it from another perspective and hear different viewpoints on this.


Images from: the “i’m tired” project, Art by Chayla & TeePublic

One response to “I Can’t Be Woke For You”

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