People of Color Behaving Badly

By Erin with help from Heidi


Art credit:

The Fakequity team has been tossing around the idea for this blog post for several years. Over time we’ve collected stories of people of color (pocs) behaving badly. While there is a general code of not undercutting or talking shit about other pocs or airing problems unnecessarily, sometimes we have to be able to talk about problems if we want to fix them. I’m also attempting to write this in a way where I’m not calling out individual people, but more general behaviors and patterns.

To our white allies a few things for you to keep in mind: I’m hoping you don’t read this and use it against people of color, that just isn’t cool. If you are ever tempted to use this against pocs, think about what is your role in causing bad behaviors. Many times, it is the white power structures and white built systems which leads to the bad behaviors and pit communities and people of color against each other, create scarcity models, power plays, etc. We need allies to work to undo racism which will lead to less bad behavior by all.

The disclaimer we always give… These examples were collected over time and are not attributed to individuals. Collectively the fakequity teams have decades of experience and have seen and heard a lot. If you think it is about you, it isn’t just about you, but maybe you should ask yourself if you perpetuated some of these things in the past and more importantly what you’ll do to not do it in the future.

Bad Behaviors

PoC Know it Alls

No one likes a know it all, and really a poc know it all isn’t any better. Just because you’re a poc doesn’t give you a free pass to be a know it all who needs to be at the top and use information as a weapon against other pocs. Being a poc doesn’t mean you understand every poc experience. And being a poc doesn’t mean others have to grant you some magical status because you’re a poc. I’m not saying you don’t face racism or others have unfairly used the 31 flavors of oppression (h/t Kirk for the phrase) against you, but like everyone else you don’t get a poc badge that allows you to be a know it all. Playing into this dynamic is a reinforcement of systemic racism.

PoC Entitlement

This one is a callout to my Asian sibs (trying not to be gendered here). As Asians we are pocs and we face racism and all sorts of crap. At the same time, many of us have learned how to navigate society and have a lot of privilege. With that privilege comes a sense of entitlement. Let’s keep that entitlement in check.

Just being an Asian doesn’t mean we should do things that give us or our kids an advantage over others, especially over other pocs who may not have the same access, information, or ability to navigate systems. Instead of fighting to get yourself or your kid a special privilege, use your influence and push to make this a reality for others who may not be able to advocate. This is one way you can work on centering people who are more impacted by racism.

PoC Spokesperson

Like the poc Know it All, the PoC spokesperson is equally annoying. Speaking up and using your position as a poc to proclaim a position on behalf of pocs isn’t cool. PoCs aren’t a monolithic group.

I’ll give a concrete example– standardized testing. People of color, just like white people, fall on both sides of the debate – some feel it is an important way to gauge if students are learning, others believe standardized test are harmful and shouldn’t be used. Listening to just one poc voice or spokesperson on this debate is shortchanging all of us. There are leaders of color who can use their positions to say testing is bad, and there are leaders of color who believe standardized testing is necessary to exposing achievement and opportunity gaps. If we listen to just one poc spokesperson what part of the debate are we missing? You can find this in almost any debate or topic – yes listen to pocs and work to diversify the pocs you hear from because poc experiences and thoughts vary.

If you are a poc spokesperson, please watch your messaging and say “I don’t speak for all pocs, I am here to represent [fill in the blank].” Own your privilege of speaking and don’t squash others who may feel differently than you– create space for multiple truths.

PoC Fighter and Grandstander

The poc fighter is the person who blames and shames everyone, white people to other pocs who aren’t ‘woke’ enough. Some people call this bullying behavior. The poc fighter likes to be right, and needs to let everyone around them know they are right. I get it, my day job is to fight injustices and inequities, if I didn’t fight I would suck at my job. That said sometimes as pocs we need to fight and sometimes we need to turn off the instinct to fight and build relationships to help people understand where we’re coming from. This doesn’t mean we have to become their mentor or teacher or bffs – not unless they pay us for this service.

The poc grandstander falls into this category too. The grandstander is often passionate and has a lot to say. They will stand up and give a very long statement proclaiming their position on a topic and reiterate the injustices they faced or try to rally people in ways that center themselves. The line between sharing a point and grandstanding is a fine one, we should never silence someone. That said make your point and allow others to share their points. As Heidi wrote in the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know.

Poc Keeper of the Status Quo

This shows up as the poc who doesn’t want to rock the boat, either wants to move fast to keep things moving while other pocs want to slow down or vice versa, asking for more data, etc. Many Asians and other poc leaders, because we were acculturated and told to assimilate to reach our positions and status, may fall into wanting to keep things as is which holds everyone back. It doesn’t give you or other Asians a special status by maintaining the status quo. This is feeding into systemic racism. Instead, we should use our positions and power to changes that make it better for other pocs too. Change is hard but in the end it is better than being stuck in a racist crappy system.

PoC Manspaliner

The poc mansplainer is very much like the white manspaliner. It is ok to not speak, it is ok to turn off the need to be overly masculine. Poc women can speak for ourselves. Thanks for explaining things again, but we’re cool, I understood things the first time.

We also need to change the culture where boys of color can learn how to be ok too, we don’t need them to always be strong, gendered, or masculine. Mansplaining comes from a culture of having to show off and prove something; this is isolating and I imagine it isn’t easy for men either. Like I mentioned earlier from the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know. Learn with the community and work to create a community where we all belong.

As a personal note, I apologize if I do any of these. I probably have and probably will in the future. I’ll try to be better, and hopefully with some grace and kindness from my community you won’t kick me out for sinning on these.

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