White People: We Don’t Have Solutions for You

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picture of pandas asking “Do you ever like think like… why? Ya know?” “Totally.”

A few days ago, I was chatting with a colleague and we somehow landed on the topic of white people being lazy in their social justice and racial justice work. We sighed and chuckled as we recalled how well-intentioned and well-meaning white people get so exasperated and frustrated when they realize they don’t have all of the answers in talking about race.

They sometimes know the basics such as listen to pocs, show up, know when to step-back, etc. but they stop there. Inevitably what comes out is “tell me what to do – tell me what to read and how to learn this.” What I hear is: I’m tired of being wrong, I don’t like being uncomfortable with not knowing or not being right, I don’t want to sound or look stupid or ignorant, I don’t want to mess up, and I want you to like me. I get it, no one likes feeling that way, but if you are human and engaging with the world all of those emotions, possibly shameful feelings are part of life (at least according to what I’ve read in the Brene Brown books).

This may sound counter to what I’ve written before and what other BIPOCs may have told you, but here it is: BIPOCs don’t have solutions for you. We often say stop and follow Black and Brown people’s lead, listen to us, and stop coming up with solutions to fix poc problems. I still wholly believe in this message, but here is where I want to nuance it – stop asking us to think and come up with YOUR solutions for your work and problems. On Monday my friend and colleague Vu wrote about Solutions Privilege – how privileged (white) people don’t want to accept or do the hard work of looking for solutions to problems. He points out the same problem through a slightly different lens.

I can’t fix your problems and my BIPOC friends can’t fix them for you either. In some cases, we’ve tried –we’ve explained, broken down examples, expended emotional labor, given data and in the end things stay the same. I can’t fix others, the only person who can change is the person who is ready to change.

It is time for white people to put in some deep thinking and work around finding solutions to your own racist problems. There isn’t a worksheet developed by people of color that will teach you how not to mess up, there isn’t a manual or a TED Talk that will easily bring you to woke-ness. Tools like worksheets and reading articles and listening to NPR’s Code Switch podcast will help you learn but you must be willing to put in the time thinking, analyzing, talking to others and being willing to be humble to learn.

Stop Looking for Easy

Expecting others to spoon feed you solutions is too easy, like being given a grade school reading primer before reading chapter books. You’ll learn something from the easy books, but you won’t learn how to think for yourself, nor will you acquire the skills needed to have a deeper analysis around race.

We’re all thinking people who are capable to doing more than just accepting what is told to us. Racial equity work requires us to contextualize what we are learning and to humanize it. We can learn to hold multiple versions of stories and develop empathy for others. No single workbook or TED Talk will give you that, take the time to do some deep thinking and reflecting around race and power.

There also isn’t one way to gain this skill except to constantly practicing and asking yourself questions about race. As an example, today I was talking to a friend who teaches adults. She said in one of her classes she assigned students into several groups by race since the lessons were around identity work, the white students were evenly dispersed into the groups. The BIPOCs enjoyed the conversations and delved deeply into the session. The white students didn’t even notice the racial formation of the group. My friend said she was disappointed with the white student’s racial blindness. She’d been pushing them for several weeks to be more aware of their surroundings and how race plays into it. It also showed how the white students expect to be comfortable in most settings.

Do Some Harder Work

Start being conscious of how race impacts people’s daily lives. As an example, spend one day or one week recording where you spend your money. At the end of the day or week categorize where you spent your money – was it at predominately white owned businesses, who were the workers at the businesses – who is in management and who isn’t at the business, what neighborhoods did you shop in, if you shopped online why did you choose that business over another that is poc owned. Questions like these force us to think and examine how race impacts our lives. This isn’t a hard thing to do but it is uncomfortable forcing ourselves to slow down and really think about our choices in life.

There are many other ways to do harder work and harder thinking, but I’m not going to give you all the ways to do it – that would be the lazy spoon fed way of servicing your needs. Go think and enjoy the harder thinking.

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