Color Outside The Lines #3 – Where Do We Go Now?

Where do we go now? I won’t go into too much detail with this prompt. I had something on cultural appropriation planned, but that doesn’t seem right after yesterdays news. We’ll reserve that for next week.

There’s much which is being discussed elsewhere on The Avocado about the terror attacks in New Zealand, but I wanted to make full use of this space as a venue for people of color to speak freely.

When you have experienced racism and hatred, either through news stories like this or in real life, what part of that experience do you find doesn’t get represented when white people talk about it? What aspect to living with this is impossible to understand unless you are one of us? Is there anything that you’re too afraid to say in front of white people, either because they might get angry, or because they won’t understand? How do you navigate this experience different than how white people do it?

There’s a concept called emotional labor, which essentially explains that the toll that labor often takes on us is more than only physical, and yet this emotional component often goes completely unacknowledged. The term emotional labor was originally coined to describe the work of flight attendants and their function of facilitating a safe and orderly environment on the plane. Despite having their own stresses to worry about (due to the very nature of their jobs), flight attendants are forced to sideline their own immediate emotional needs in order to manage the worries, desires and anxieties of customers.

Often, I find that we people of color are put through a similar experience after these attacks. White people look towards us to help them process their own feelings of disbelief and grief. Often, our own emotional spaces and personal experiences can feel invaded during incidents like this, as white people struggle to empathize and understand us. Thus, even expressions of solidarity can feel invasive, as we ourselves are struggling to comprehend what happened on our own terms. It can be alarming and disruptive when you live your entire life with this feeling that white people just don’t “get it” (even when they’re decent well-meaning people who’s mistakes are fundamentally benign), and yet suddenly the world is clamoring for solidarity and you feel pressured to sideline all of your doubts.

Living as a person of color can often be intensely dispiriting, and it exposes us to a certain omnipresent negativity. That doesn’t usually take the place of a massacre committed by some white supremacist extremist. Thus, the influx of attention following an incident such as this can often provoke a certain cynicism. When juxtaposed against the profound isolation of our own experiences, the engagement which we are exposed to in these situations often only further highlights the wide gulf between us and the white mainstream. The sympathy can feel hollow, because how could any white person truly comprehend what we go though if it takes this to bring them to a place of grief and despair. For people of color, we live with this uncertainty and disillusionment whenever we step out the door. Thus, it can be difficult for us to interrogate our own emotions in times like this, because we’re too busy helping white people to validate theirs. It’s a particularly brutal form of emotional labor, where we people of color have to set aside our own immediate needs in a moment when we are most vulnerable, all in order to provide for the emotional security of white people. It serves as a reminder that whiteness is a hermetically sealed system, and that we are trapped on the outside.

I created this thread to give people of color the opportunity to say the sorts of things which we might otherwise keep quiet about. After incidents like this, people often react with strong emotional catharsis, which is completely understandable. I want this week’s discussion to be a place where we can engage fully in that catharsis in a way that validates our own experiences, instead of through the performance of emotional labor for white people.

The rules for the thread are below:

1) We ask that only those who identify as people of color participate in this discussion. White Avocados, while valued members of this community, should remain in ‘lurk’ mode.

2) The term ‘people of color’ encompasses a broad range of experiences. We are not a monolith. Therefore, we ask that participants respect each other’s experiences during the discussion, and refrain from promoting one particular experience as being more true to our shared identity as people of color. Furthermore, we ask that participants attempt to voice their own experiences as opposed to generalizing on behalf of the community as a whole. Of course, there are some exceptions. Participants are welcome to interrogate how shared experiences like marginalization help to forge common bonds within our community, but please remain courteous towards others in doing so.

3) We will not set clearly delineated boundaries on who qualifies as a ‘person of color’. As a starting point, this thread uses the definition of ‘non-European heritage of sufficient prominence to affect one’s navigation of a society build on white normativity‘. However, we recognize that there are identities which skirt either side of the divide*. If people feel that they meaningfully experience the identity of being a person of color, then they are welcome to participate.

4) This is not a rule in the strictest sense, as we have no enforcement plans, but we ask that participants remind mindful of the following: we would like to keep this space as safe from white privilege as possible. Even people of color can help to perpetuate systems of white privilege. For example, people who enjoy passing privilege may not understand the experience of being a visible minority. What people of one ethnicity know about people of another ethnicity might operate through the proxy of whiteness. We simply ask that a conscious effort is made to acknowledge white privilege. Likewise, we ask that visible minorities consider the unique challenges of passing privilege when posting. Again, we are only asking that participants keep this in mind while commenting.

5) This is more or less covered by the other rules, but it deserves special attention: nobody on this thread is more or less a person of color than anyone else.

6) Shaming and hateful speech is unacceptable

7) Please keep potentially traumatic content safely behind spoiler tags