Why *I'm* No Longer Talking to White People About Race

I would like to preface this article by saying that this is by no means a new take — countless people have said what I’m about to say, but I want to share my story.

I was inspired to write this article after reading Raini Eddo-Lodge's book, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. I read the book right before coming to UMass, a predominantly white institution (PWI), and about two weeks into the semester, I understood on a personal level what Eddo-Lodge writes about.

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There was a constant feeling of  “otherness” as I walked through the halls. The color of my skin was somehow so much more visible and so much more important than it ever was. There is something that needs to be said about the constant thought of  “is this person staring at me because I’m brown” that many POC children internalize because it affects their relationships throughout their lives. You’re hypervisible but at the same time feel so invisible. It is uncomfortable to be the only POC in an all-white friend group not only because no one can relate to you, but because many children grow up seeing white as something to aspire to. And sometimes it’s just a matter of safety, both emotional and mental. 

But more importantly, it is extremely exhausting to be around white people and have discussions on race that truly challenge any power structure, specifically the white power structure, because you feel you have to constantly educate other (white) people on very basic concepts surrounding race dynamics. The infantilization of white people, specifically in America, in and around conversations around race consequently put the burden on people of color (POC) to constantly relive the trauma and fight for their lived experience to be heard while simultaneously being unable to steer the conversation around race in any meaningful way. 

I have also found that the only person of color in a group of people, even friends, not only tokenize you and your experiences but somehow makes you the spokesperson for every person that may look like you (and oftentimes they don't even look like you...iykyk).

But here is something I never expected to feel and I do not think that white people consider. I often hear racist or insensitive comments, in class or in passing, where I am not fully able to articulate my feelings in a manner that I think will be effective. The problem is that POC internalize these comments and carry them with them for a long time after, or even for the rest of their lives. 

For example, when someone told me that POC only get into “elite” colleges because of affirmative action, and nothing else — somehow insinuating that POC are not smart enough or creative enough to accomplish great things on their own merit — I was not able to defend myself. And yes, often time, when POC speak on topics regarding race or any other social issue it often feels like you are speaking for the whole community which is just another burden to shoulder. I know that the white person in my class who made that comment probably forgot what she said. But I did not. And there are still many days where I think about this, think about what I could have done or said. I should not have to say anything; I should not have to educate anyone. I later read that legacy children and white women benefit most from affirmative action.

silver alarm clock on a pink and blue background Photo by Icons8 Team from Unsplash

Another time, when I was speaking about Hinduism, specifically cultural appropriation and commodification of this very ancient religion, (white) people decided to take the fact that I was speaking about race and culture and make it all about them. I was asked if certain actions (such as wearing a hijab as a non-muslim or tattooing African words on your body) are culturally insensitive. But I am not Muslim. And I am not African. But somehow, white people feel a need to explain or describe in detail their past racist actions, their friends' past racist actions, or ask if something is racist or culturally insensitive even when it may not relate to the person they are asking. It may not seem like such a big deal to white people, but it is a constant reminder that you will never be seen as American, or you will be “othered” for most of your life. It reminds us that the color of your skin does matter because the color of your skin puts you at harm. 

White people so easily and readily center themselves around conversations in which they do not belong in. It is not our job to educate you, it is not our job to provide you with resources to help you unlearn the racism and bigotry that is so ingrained in our everyday lives.  White people center themselves because they do not know what it feels like to have to make space for yourself, what it feels like to make that space and still not be listened to, and what it feels like to be silenced.  Photo by Michelle Ding from Unsplash

Additionally, I have found myself having to tiptoe around topics that touch on race, around socio-political events that disproportionately affect marginalized groups (oftentimes BIPOC individuals) because white people so easily get offended and try to defend themselves as if they do not take part in a larger system of oppression and benefit from it every. single. day. White fragility and the infantilization of white people ultimately hurt POC because young children of color have to experience racism and understand that this world we live in is not equal. It hurts the larger cause; those who need to hear it the most (white people) shut out our voices because it hurts to hear our stories. It hurts. And as a white person, if it hurts to hear it, imagine what it feels like to live it.