Dear White People, You Scare Me
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
An open letter from my heart to yours
It’s time we have a heart-to-heart—the kind you have with an intimidating boss who will likely fire you once you politely tell him what you actually think of him, the kind that proves to be incredibly triggering and drudges up the pain some of us bear for so long we think it is forever etched in our DNA. Lately both of us have felt the burden of harsh truth spill out onto the streets of Charlottesville, from the mouths of the Leader of the Free World and a bunch of hate groups, as well as the love activists. But that’s only half the story.
There are those of us out here working hard to create a new narrative for ourselves and our people. We are Black Women, Black Mothers, Black Writers, Black Educators, Black Artists, and Black Love Activists. We are the ones you see in the classrooms teaching poetry to the youth. We are the ones who build nonprofits for people who have been victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault. We are the ones politicians call on when they need the people to know they are liberal and progressive. Raising our kids for a life off the plantation. Trying to arm ourselves with self-compassion and the determination to live empowered lives, when we are constantly told our lives don’t matter all that much. That the brutal hurt of racism will be drowned out by “making more money than we’ve ever made” because the President is “bringing millions of jobs.”
Now before you get all defensive and accuse me of pulling the “race card,” it might surprise you to know that I do not hate white people. My heart is wired to have love and compassion for people, whether they can reciprocate the same for me or not. But to me, having love for people is radically different from condoning their behaviors and actions. I can approach the situation with compassion and empathy, even when I notice you are scared of me. Even when you are condescending to me when you tell me how articulate and/or talented a speaker or writer or artist I am. When you assume I’ve learned my gifts in school or that a college degree measures my intelligence. I listen to you assume things about me that aren’t true, even though I am always having to remind you that my narrative isn’t the one you know. I have spoken up for you in no uncertain terms when folks accuse you of being coldhearted. Untrustworthy. I’ve been looked at sideways and accused of self-hate for forgiving some of the worst offenses by you—everything from asking if you can touch my hair to being called every “black n***er b**ch” in the book.
I get it. You were taught to hate people like me, and the only thing you ever really learned is that you should fear me. You’ve been trained to believe that I am angry and aggressive. That you should be concerned when you see my son walking down the street and always worry or expect me to be rolling my neck, picking a fight, or blaming you for anything that has gone wrong in my life. It’s no surprise then when you commit mass murder, whether in a school or church, you feel justified. At the very least, when you are found guilty of a crime, you’re considered a disgrace by your own. But death is often the last resort tactic for you. It is likely that a police officer who catches you will gently ask you to “Put your gun down, son,” and remind you that you have so much to live for. They may even tell you it’s not your fault. Yet we are thought to be an eminent threat, monsters, animals, and criminals, evidence or not. If I’m behind the wheel and notice an officer driving behind me, I cringe in fear. My heart races. I am instantly intimidated—not because I’m a criminal but because I know I have only a few seconds in which to try and convince him I’m not what he thinks I am. You have been socialized to believe we are less valuable, less worthy, less deserving than you.
It’s not the white supremacists whom I fear most. It’s those of you who live by this code and don’t even realize it. Those of you who clutch your purses, insist we write paragraphs on the spot to prove our literary and writing skills require no help. Those of you who hire us at much lower salaries than our white counterparts. Those of you who assume I should behave a certain way or listen to a particular kind of music, hang out in places or have affinity for things you consider to be “down.” A very dear white friend of mine once asked me, “Verse, why don’t you talk ghetto?” Another one described me as “sassy” when I asked her to name a character trait of mine, and a woman I once worked for told me after hearing me mention Whole Foods in a staff meeting that she was left wondering, “What does she know about Whole Foods?” All these are true stories by the way.
Let’s be clear on some of our fundamental differences: When I say I’m struggling financially, I’m saying I’m one paycheck away from being homeless. When you say it, you mean that you’re one paycheck away from calling your parents. My former boss insisted I write a paragraph in front of her during my third interview to prove I did not receive any help in writing the literary analysis I submitted. It gets better. When after nearly six years of working for her I finally spoke up, she told me I was coming from a place of “privilege and entitlement.” In her eyes, the very act of me speaking up meant I was ungrateful and that perhaps I didn’t know my true place in the world.
Do you understand at all what I’m saying to you? Are you uncomfortable yet? Good. It means I’m appealing to something deeper, something you might not even recognize in yourself. And if you’re appalled at my directness, great, you’re the one I want to speak to the most.
Here’s the deal: We have never owned you. We have never auctioned you off like things. We did not keep you from learning to read or vote, nor did we ever denounce you for looking us in the eye. We did not separate you from your families, rape and beat you senselessly while forcing you to pick cotton till your fingers bled. We have not hung you for looking at one of ours.
You were born free. The world is yours, run and led only by you. We are the exception, and you are the rule. The pure and perfect white lie. This is what we have all been taught to believe, but when we woke up and realized that’s only half the story, you recoiled in angst and fear. Interesting.
I have to say, I don’t blame you for feeling threatened. Our resilience is majestic. See, those of us busting outside the margins you created for us—we know something you’ve never quite been able to accept. The same God you claim this nation is one under created us. That flag? The one you wave so proudly, the troops you so fiercely protect?? We were there, too. I come from a military family, my dad and my brother, frontline soldiers—Vietnam and then the Persian Gulf War. Pledging to the “Indivisible. With Liberty. And Justice. For All.” But you did not protect them. Yet you are angry at and disillusioned by Colin Kaepernick. Have you asked us how we felt about this? Do you even know why he’s doing it? Nope. And let me guess: you think he’s a moron, an idiot. Still, there has been no justice concerning our sons being killed without just cause. That is why you scare me.
Just as sociopaths have no idea they are wired to do harm, you seem to feel exclusively entitled to your righteous anger. Mostly because now that Trump is President, you have a front-row peek of what life has been like for those other than you. You marvel in shock and disbelief, uttering the word, “Still?” Which lets me know you just arrived on the scene. In fact, you probably never realize when we are missing from the picture. Are all your friends white? Yup. That’s really fucking scary.
And then there are those of you who want to have a “White Lives Matter” movement. Why? Do you honestly think we created this movement to persecute you? How arrogant of you to think such a thing, and yet this is exactly why you are scary. Everything isn’t about YOU and YOUR LIMITED VIEW. Ever been turned down for a job or an apartment based on the application? How often have you been the only white person in the room? Please don’t say in Africa. Just please. Don’t. Ever been stared at, feeling as if you don’t belong? You believe there should be a “White History Month.” Have you actually not noticed that you’ve always had a leg up over us, or is it justified in your mind that we stay this way? Seriously, I want to know your truth. As a child I read a book about your favorite Confederate soldier, Robert E. Lee. My mother ordered The Cornerstone of Freedom series published in 1975. Yet learning my own history has been decades in the making. Did you see the movie Hidden Figures released in 2016? I had no idea about that story until then. See my point?
You look at me and expect me to be angry. And of course I’m angry. But love, where does this leave us? You were born with a voice. I had to dig up mine. And I see that avoiding hard conversations with you keeps us all comfortable. And this is no time to be comfortable. The kind of change we are hoping for begins with revolutionary change. Revolution begins in our minds. There is a phrase commonly used: Change your thinking, and your actions will follow. Today, at the very least . . . I urge you to challenge your mind-set. And let’s have a real honest conversation about fear.
Former Solo Mom VersAnnette Blackman-Bosia, ESME’s Resource Guide for Domestic Violence, is a painter, published poet, speaker, and facilitator. Through her business, Soul Revival Healing Arts, she offers original paintings and products, and teaches workshops. Her first poetry collection, Butterfly Spirit, was published in 2015. VersAnnette is passionate about empowering women, eating great food, and traveling the world. She and her family currently reside near Chicago.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.