Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ally School Va: The Overwhelming Silence

Responding to my last post, V.V.F. said.
As a POC, I can say that I have never been paid any heed when I've tried to tell a Caucasian friend when they've said something that isn't okay with me. And I'm talking face-to-face conversations here. 
Not once has anyone ever said, "Oh, I didn't mean it like that, I don't mean to upset you, etc." My words are just laughed off and dismissed. Sometimes, even by invoking the approval of other POC they know. As soon as I speak up, my feelings don't count anymore. So, even if these rhetorical friends are real, I'm sure they know that any complaints they might make would fall on deaf ears too. 
A few months back Pythia Theocritos (and several commenters) discussed some of the issues she has faced in dealing with white Pagans:
[U]nless I am willing to be the Mammy to another’s Scarlet, my presence is threatening. I can smile, laugh, offer witty comebacks with a hint of “sista-speak”, but never, ever, disagree or venture to correct.
Not only have I heard many similar accounts, I've seen this firsthand. POCs are welcomed (or at least tolerated) so long as they act like living proof that Nobody Sees Color Anymore. But as soon as they mention race things turn sour.  (I was going to say "things go south" but decided against it). It doesn't matter how mild the criticism, how egregious the offense, how liberal and tolerant the audience. Suddenly these once-beloved embodiments of Diversity are just too militant. They see racism where none exists. They misunderstood and we tried to explain but they just wouldn't listen, why are they always so angry?

Alternately, their complaints are simply ignored.  I've seen POCs talk about their issues with the Pagan community. They describe being followed around vendor rooms like potential shoplifters. They complain of being challenged as to why European gods would have African followers.  (Let the same POCs suggest African gods don't want European followers and cries of "reverse racism!" will echo throughout cyberspace alongside assurances that deity sees no color).  They provide reasons why they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome and give us plenty of information we could use to alleviate some of their concerns.

I've then seen white readers enter the same discussion and offer their own theories, argue amongst themselves, or declare they have no idea why they see so few black people at their events.  I've complained before about white people who are fascinated by black spirituality but uninterested in finding black teachers.  In this case nobody needs to learn a new language, engage with a new community or travel to a new location. They don' t even need to do a Google search: these comments are right there on the screen from whence they post.  Yet even with all that we still get a conversation about black people where black voices are ignored.

I have been watching this series of entries to see where it goes: depending on interest I may turn it into a website or even a book.  I feel almost guilty for spending all that time to convey the great secret, "listen to what people have to say and take their concerns seriously."  But it really does appear to be just that simple.