Monday, February 25, 2013

Why can't you just be nice?

Why can't you just be nicer?

This is a question I get often. Whether it's from some Nice White Lady whom I've offended with my uppity Negress take on whatever racist bullshit has gone down that day. Or the people who say, OH it's just words ignore them, shine on blablabla.

There is a going theory I hear mainly from White people that if only I personally was kinder, nicer and less angry about everything, nothing would hurt and everything would be okay.

These are the same type of people who after reading something I've written about racism, will come back at me with MLK and Ghandi quotes.

These are the same people who will tell me to be both physically and verbally non-violent like their model POC, don't be threatening. Don't be loud. Don't be angry.

First I'm going to tell you where being nice and trying to be non confrontational and understanding got me.

For years I would never just tell someone to shut their racist asshole mouth.

I spent hours, days and who knows how long trying to gently steer and teach. I would offer up things like, could you please not say X thing around me?

For instance.

When I was young I had White "friends" who would do things like, if they suddenly smelled something sweet or fruity would look at me, wrinkle their noses and say things like:

"I bet that's some Black persons hair grease"

"Ew why do Black girls wear so much perfume/use cheap lotion."

At which point one of them would make eye contact with me, smirk and say in one of those saccharine sweet tones,

"oh but we don't mean you."


"you're not like those Black people."

Sometimes it wasn't race but size. I remember vividly a good friend calling a girl who was point of fact far thinner than me a cow, then when I asked her fairly politely if she thought I was a cow too, she blew it off with the ubiquitous but you're not fat comments and back handed compliments.

These folks are what us pros call microagressions.

As an adult I call these things passive aggressive bullshit.

At the time, I would try to excuse any ignorance spewed by people who supposedly cared about me. I told myself that they just didn't know anybody, afterall they weren't talking about me. 

And then at one point I realized yes they were.

I remember all too often especially going to school in a pretty White place, that I heard all manner of Anti Blackness from people who supposedly didn't know better than to say it, but sure knew what to say to hurt.

I expended a huge amount of energy trying to hide my tears, trying to talk to people who would look at me like I had asked for a kidney and their first born when all I had in fact asked for, was for them to think a little bit or at least save their comments for when I wasn't around.

Guess where that got me?


Here's the big problem I have when people tell me to be nice to racists, sexists, homophobes, fatphobes etc etc.

If the only thing you get out of an emotional (and no emotionalism does not negate the point) rant or whatever thing I've said, is that I'm angry and need to calm down, what are you doing?

You are pointedly ignoring what I've said.

Wait let's put it in another context.

If I came to you and said, hey friend this person punched me in the face and I"m scared and don't know what to do. If I were angry about being punched in the face would that be okay with you? If you had punched me, and I was firm and yes aggressive about why I don't want you to do that again and the repercussions of you doing it again, would that be okay?

It is very telling when you tell someone that they should drop their boundaries to make you feel comfortable.

When White people tell me that they are uncomfortable with my tone when I talk about racism, I see what's important.

It's not important to you that I am okay, it is not important to you that when I state clearly and yes aggressively that I am not dealing with or okay with someone say, telling me that because I'm fat I should die for instance, that it's more important for you to be comfortable.

When you tell people not to be angry or emotional, or strident about things they are passionate about you are missing the point entirely.

You are ignoring the pain of the person speaking, ignoring their experience and doing to them what we as a society abhor doing to people who are abused.

If you assume that if I stay very calm and ask someone very nicely not to behave badly towards me, that the person who is acting badly towards me respects me enough to say, oh jeeze sorry about that.

It would be nice if that's how my world worked but it's not.

Most people are too invested in being right, too steeped in their own privilege and entitlement to acknowledge that they may have behaved inappropriately. Most people, if they are willing to get their racist on in my presence while looking me in the eye, or telling me that they hope I die- those people are not willing to respect me as a human being.

Someone explain to me in clear terms how that is okay?

For all of the people over the years who have taken issue with my tone in my blog when I talk about certain subjects, or things that have actually happened to me not one has ever had enough respect for my humanity to come back and explain their position.

Too many "Allies" have come here patting themselves on the back for reading a blog written by a fat black queer woman and believing that they are perfectly within their right as allies, to tell me how to express my pain or my joy.

In any other instance, if I were a Nice White Lady wouldn't we call that abusive?

For instance.

I've talked about this before but last year there was an incident where a carload of grown white men not only cat called me but, when I told them No fuck off. They came back around the block screaming racial epithets at me and had my bus not come I believe they were going to get out of their car to harass me.

As many times as I have talked about it (sometimes calmer than at other times) every time several people have taken the time to contact me to tell me to calm down. That, Seattle isn't racist so it must not have happened that way or I took it out of context.

Do you know how many times I've been called nigger or nigger bitch to my face?

Do you know how many times I've had White people tell me to calm down about it, to be nicer, to "ignore" it, or my perennial favorite that it wasn't "meant" that way?

I've asked on many occasions and not one of those people could tell me how someone calling me a nigger bitch to my face, could possibly be "meant" that way.

No one has ever given me a good reason.

Not one of the people who implore me to be peaceful, nice, change my tone has ever apologized for contributing to my abuse.

On the other hand, watch a Nice White Lady get called a bitch or made fun of, and people come out in droves.

Or, some Nice white Person gets mad about something that happened to me, and other Nice White People suddenly are raising righteous fists in anger.

The next time you are tempted to tell me or anyone else to change their tone to make you more comfortable think about this.

If this person was standing in front of me with a bloodied nose and black eye would I be saying this?

Would I want someone to tell me to calm down and be nice after I have been abused?

If you answer no, you have your answer.

If you answered yes, you are part of the problem.

The bottom line is this.

Do not tone police people. Tone policing contributes to the macro and micro abuses of people like me. When you tone police people, you are hurting them. When the story is not about you personally, how it is told is not your decision. Don't beat people with your privilege. More so if you consider yourself to be an ally.

You want to be an ally and be given cookies and hugs for being decent?

Be decent.

That's all.

Homo Out.


Anonymous said...

Being nice to people who are being mean to you will never work. Then they'll just feel like they've won.
I'll say up front that I do have white privilege. I hate the fact that there's white privilege. I've had incidents of prejudice against me when I was living in a mostly Latino community. I got beat up by the Mexican girls as a child. I'm not sure how, but somehow I understood that this was anger about the fact that I had white privilege, and it really had nothing to do with me. This knowledge kept me from perpetuating the hate.
The thing that we have in common is enduring size prejudice. In the past when smarmy guys would hit on me because they were doing the fat broad a favor in their own sleazy eyes, I would "be nice." No more. They aren't doing me any favors.
Sometimes it's necessary to be a bitch.

Veronica said...

The tone police argument is such a hard argument to win. It seems like people can't or won't realize that you're speaking the way you're speaking, because when you're the one being oppressed it has ceased to be a theoretical discussion, it's personal.

maggiemunkee said...

i promise i'll only hold you back and tell you to be nice if i don't have bail money.

JoGeek said...

"That, Seattle isn't racist so it must not have happened that way or I took it out of context."

Wow, people really think that there's a magical place anywhere in America where people aren't subject to social forces and media messages that happen everywhere else? That people move there and magically become enlightened, perfect beings? I'm all for home-town pride but that takes some interesting mental gymnastics, especially when you're right there telling them you've experienced racial violence there.

Tapati said...

The very same women that tell you to be nice totally get this when it's done to them by men.

Then they forget to apply what they know from their experience of sexism and misogyny to others they claim to be allied with.

I'm so sorry you get this crap. Seattle not racist? Christ.

Michelle said...

This is so important and I'm glad you write (and have written) about it. Sometimes stuff you say makes me uncomfortable because it confronts my privilege, but I recognize that for what it is, and I am trying to own that and take that on as my own responsibility. I get sick and tired of commenters on my blog asking me to manage their emotions for them when I have done nothing except speak from my own experience, and it would be hypocritical of me to expect people whose blogs I read to manage mine. Being challenged and feeling uncomfortable feelings about the unfairnesses of the world is part of growing the fuck up. It is super important and helpful for me, also, to have you as an example of a woman who isn't constantly tripping over herself to gain the approval of others. It's something I struggle with and there seem to be few people I can look to for a better example.

Anonymous said...

Part of this I agree with and part I really don't.

If someone (even a close friend, who I cared about a lot) was telling me a story about how someone called them a bitch once/someone intimidated them once/someone hit them once, and they were telling it really angrily, I don't think I'd react well to it. I'd feel really sorry for my friend, and they would still be the victim, but I ust don't think it's healthy to be carrying around negative emotions like that all the time. Forgiving is important (although really hard sometimes), and I think it really makes a difference to understanding other people and making yourself happy.

In fact, this actually happened with my boyfriend (of 6 years - I really care about this guy) the other day. He was telling me about how a bouncer at a club pushed him into a wall pretty forcefully to make the line look tidier, and when he said to the bouncer that it wasn't okay to push people around, the bouncer refused by boyfriend from the club. And then my boyfriend got super annoyed at the bouncer and started shouting at him (cementing the bouncers image of my boyfriend as someone who deserves bad treatment anyway).

I mean, I DO CARE about my boyfriend. I care about him a lot, and I don't want him to be an angry bastard, because stress isn't healthy and being angry is stressful. And I really think that there are some situations where you can't win, but being really angry is never helpful. Being calm, but firm can be helpful. Saying fuck you can be liberating, but it's not going to help you send any message apart from "I'm angry".

And another thing is, 50% of communication is your responsibility. If there are a lot of other people don't get the important part of the message, then maybe you're not telling it to them in the best way. You have to think about your target audience.

On the other hand, especially on your blog you deserve to be able to write whatever you want to. It should be fine for you to make it as angry as you want it to be, and random anons don't have any right to tell you otherwise. And that's where the target audience ties in again, because you can't write for everyone on your blog. You're always going to offend someone. But when you're talking to someone on the bus or in a group and you sound angry, then maybe anger isn't the best vessel for your message.

To clarify, people not believing you and trying to down-play what happened is totally unacceptable, but that's not always the same thing as people reacting badly to anger.

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