A few weeks ago I got a long email from a white woman who didn’t like a proposal I had put out to a group to start a new project. I’m new to the group and don’t have a lot of established relationships within the group. The details of the project are not relevant, but I will say it involves money and asking the group to think of money and resources that challenge very long-held norms.
I worked with a few leaders to shape the draft of the proposal and it got sent out to the group. We also announced an online meeting where members could learn more or ask questions. Several people emailed right away to say they understood the proposal and to count them in. A few were tentative and said they would attend the online meeting. A few, mostly white people, were quick to criticize the proposal and challenge the assumptions in it.
This is where I need to pause and acknowledge a few things. First, anytime you put something out into the world it is open to criticism — fair game. Critique and thoughtful criticism or feedback lend important pieces of information and perspectives we may not have. Sometimes it is important to listen to the feedback and consider it carefully.
However, I’ve had to sit through a lot of sessions and read a lot of emails over the years where opinions from people who feel they have a stake in the conversation. They feel they have more expertise or want to voice their thoughts because that is how attention is sought and given in American/Western cultures, but really they are not that important to the overall conversation. If you need attention there are healthier ways to fulfill that need than making comments on everything.
Your Opinions are Valid to YOU
Your opinions are valid to YOU, but not everyone else all the time. Unless we are in a relationship or in a community grounded in accountability and trust I don’t always need to hear your opinions. I’ll give an example. Very rarely are anonymous comments in newspapers or blogs worthy of the time it takes to write or read them. People use that space to rant or throw down empty statements. To the person writing the comment, their thoughts and feelings are valid, but to many others who don’t know the person who wrote it the comments are not interesting. Often, the comments are hurtful and mean.
As a person of color, I hear and see criticism directed toward people and communities of color. It is an entrenched system of thinking where people with privilege, especially white privilege, feel the need to comment on anything race related. Sometimes the comments are veiled and coded. They come off as questions but questions that are used to point out faults, sometimes they are comments to center themselves and their needs thus taking away from the POC cause, sometimes they are mean comments we have to tolerate because we are told to “assume best intent” from the speaker, and there are the comments where people like to tell others what is best for others because they know better, or the speaker has the solution even if the person didn’t ask for one. I’m guilty of this too, I am trying to be aware of it and curb my instinct to solve problems that aren’t mine to solve.
Your comments may be valid to you, but many times many of us do not need to hear them. We’ve heard versions of your opinion many times in different ways. If you want to talk about your opinions please seek out someone you know and have a relationship with where you can also hear their feedback. You need to hear their thoughts so you can learn too. Over time when people are in a community or relationship built on mutual trust, then you can share your opinions.
To circle back to the story at the top about the person who wrote me a long email about her feelings and thoughts, I took a week-long pause before replying. I hope I was polite, but I have a feeling my reply was met unsatisfactorily and the message quickly met the delete button. The person who emailed me is not accountable to me nor vice versa, thus it isn’t my job to explain my positions to them nor to educate them on race, defend my positions, or invite them into a dialogue. I sincerely hope they do find a trusted friend who can help them understand race, but that isn’t me.
Why I wrote this: To share a perspective on feedback and opinions. (Apologies for forgetting to put this line in over the last few weeks, opps.)
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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawai’i; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.