It’s Time To Be Mean

Racism isn’t really about being mean, but maybe that should be part of fighting it

A fist hits a white man with glasses.
Get to work, white people.

I want to be clear, this is mostly for white people. The rest of you can read this, but that’s not really who I’m talking to. But please enjoy.

So. White people. Listen to me. Some of you have come a long way (in your heads), from understanding that racism is basically nooses and burning crosses, to a terrifying realization that it’s an entire massive system that you can either choose to be a part of choose to fight. (I usually call this system “whiteness” but I’ll keep focused for now.)

I’m glad (some of) you have come along. Great. You should absolutely do what you can to advocate for racialized people, don’t be afraid to say the word “Black” if that’s what you mean, and put your money where your mouth is as often as possible. Racism is going nowhere if the people it’s meant to benefit don’t get uncomfortable, so that’s what you have to do.

A white woman with long hair looks uncomfortable
A white woman with long hair looks uncomfortable
That’s you being uncomfortable, clearly.

But another aspect of that discomfort is how you actually deal with people spitting out racist filth. Again, racism is a system, and is not about mean individuals. With that said, sometimes you’re gonna come across someone who is indeed saying or doing the worst things, and sometimes those people are your friends or relatives. Particularly in my own field of education, if you come across a teacher who is actively harming their students, then the long-term work you still need to engage it won’t do a whole lot to push against them in the moment.

So, although the system of racism isn’t about being mean, it’s high time you started being mean to people who luxuriate in the system, whether or not they’re willing to admit their own guilt. I don’t care if it’s your colleague, your friend, your partner, your mother, you cannot be nice to them. You absolutely cannot. At the end of the day, the systemic changes we need are going to take time, and in the next weeks or months or years, if Racist Husband or Racist Mommy can count on you to show them love and affection, then on what planet would they ever evolve?

I do have to believe that almost everyone can develop and grow, or else I wouldn’t be an educator myself. They can do it. But they need a reason, and a calm, polite cajoling isn’t much of one. You are unlikely to be able to take away their income, but you can take away your affection, and you should do it now. You might lose them, because they might well choose racism and whiteness over you — and I suspect the general reluctance for people to do this is an understanable fear that they’ll lose this competition — but do you really want a conditional relationship based on the tacit agreement that you will accept their loathsome values?

Fact is, you can’t claim to support anti-racism and then go break bread with Racist Dad. You can’t claim to want to “decolonize” something and then have a drink with Back the Blue Sister. You can’t claim to care about Black people and kiss someone with a red cap on.

How will they learn? It’s not your job. You can give them a chance, see if they’re willing to try, and then you’ve got to move on. If you have kids, you’re harming them by exposing them to this garbage, and if you actually want these systems to weaken in power, then you need to sever these bonds.

I’m tired of my friends saying they care about me while holding onto their close connections with people like this. Let them do their learning and growing away from you and your affection, or don’t dare tell me you think Black lives matter, because you really don’t.

Get to work, white people.

EdD student. Race and language scholar. I love my wife, my son, my dog, running, NYC, subways, and the Yankees.