We all step in it sometimes. Social faux pas after social faux pas. As a big talker — hello @bigmouthdiva — I step in it all the time. I get unfriended and unfollowed on social media quite often. As someone who cracks jokes and has big opinions and tries to put myself at ease with patter I do have a tendency to offend. But I think it’s okay. It’s better to step in a mess than avoid it altogether.
I’m not suggesting white people go into black spaces and take over, but didn’t I learn a ton about USA life by attending meetings of African-American organizations over the years? Did I go with an open heart and try to lend my ear and then signal boost the message I found there? Was a large chunk of my social identity not formed by the marginalized voices of America?
It was starting out with a bit of an advantage as I was an outsider as the French kid in a New York school and later a Yankee in a southern school. Already ostracized in some ways and literally told to “go back where you came from” on a regular basis I was free to move into any social groups I wanted to explore. I’d always be the freak. The group that was the most welcoming to a drama queen like me happened to be the LGBT+ community and from there I learned self acceptance in the face of all opposition. Self acceptance even in the face of hatred from ones own kin. Freaks must develop a spine of stainless steel.
That lesson, one I learned young and leaned on during dark times (a lesson of self love that keeps me grateful to the queer community in more ways than I can count) is also what allowed me to listen to the voices of other marginalized groups and to absorb those messages of acceptance in the face of racism.
But then there was white guilt among my own people. White guilt when they talk about being fearful of stepping on toes or offending or getting crushed by call-out culture. These are all perfectly legitimate fears and yet they’re bullshit. That guilt is really fear of being uncomfortable and it prevents most people with social capital from attempting to understand people they don’t know as well as their own community. Most often their own community is one comprised of folks that look and sound and earn like themselves.
Embrace your otherness. Visit communities where you do not fit in. Listen and learn and set aside your discomfort. Do not ask your black friend to guide you, go it alone and know what it’s like for marginalized groups when they’re expected to operate in the dominant culture. Feel it in your bones. Sink into your otherness. See what you can learn from communities that are not like your own.
So no matter how many people I offend I will continue to try with my whole heart. From the first time I worked as the only white person at an all African-American nonprofit when I was sixteen years old and then a TV show about a local subculture followed by even more places where I did not really fit in, until the near future where I am somehow helping to teach white kids about our local indigenous community (Me? Yeah, okay, sure.) I’ll keep putting myself out there. Because guilt is useless if it isn’t occasionally set aside in favor of healing action.