When I was a child I let it go when I heard racist or sexist or homophobic slurs from friends and family. When I was a teenager I let it go when I heard racist or sexist or homophobic slurs from teachers and coworkers. When I was in my twenties I let it go when I heard racist or sexist or homophobic slurs from professors and bosses.
When I turned 40 I decided to stop letting it go. This may have caused some loss of friends on Facebook or some alienation in my own family, but it has been well worth it. When I hear something racist or sexist or homophobic now, I say something. And that something is: “THAT IS NOT COOL”. There are days when I am tired and I fall down on saying these 4 words, but I remember how much more tiring it is for people to have to deal with racism and sexism and homophobia in their own lives on a daily basis and it pushes me to be better.
Saying these 4 words might not change the hearts and minds of everyone you encounter, but if you DON’T say these words it makes you complicit. Saying these words might not be enough in the face of real, aggressive, bigotry, but NOT saying them makes you an accomplice. Saying these words can NEVER replace the stories of oppressed people, but standing by while someone spews hatred and staying silent is the very definition of cowardice.
My whole life, leading up to 40, I was afraid of rocking the boat or making other people dislike me in some way and that stopped me from being the ally that I needed to be. It stopped me from standing up for others and for myself. It stopped me from being the person that I am deep down inside. I gave my friends and family a pass when they would say something derogatory because I didn’t want people to be upset with me. But I can no longer stand by when people say horrible things and are not held accountable.
I realize that the deep-seated hatred that is nourished by the white supremecy movement in this country cannot be fixed with just 4 words, but it certainly won’t be solved by silence. So – when you are among your friends and family and you hear something bigoted (however subtle that bigotry might be and, mind you, it can be super subtle) you also need to say something. We need to let the bigots know that this is not okay. It is sad that we are seeing this in 2017 as we should have come much farther by now, but this hatred is not new.
We have had 250+ years to fix the atrocities of our country’s beginnings and instead we have chosen to ignore it. This shit isn’t new and ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. We all need to stand up to those that are bigoted in this country and call out their shit. We need to stand beside our fellow people of color and shield them if necessary. We need to allow people of color to speak their stories and listen (really listen – actively listen – do not talk over or try to ‘explain’ away) to them when they tell us what is really going on. We need to be available to join in the fight, but allow people of color to lead. We need to be willing to get in the way of danger without standing in the way of progress.
We need to be allies by calling out the racism that festers in the spaces where people of color are not present. This is where we have a duty to be vocal and clear. In those places where racists and sexists and homophobes feel like they can ‘be themselves’ we need to speak up. It might be difficult, but it has to be done. Nothing will ever change if we sit back and just let things go. That is what we have been doing for the whole history of time. It is time to change. It is time to be better. It is time to speak up. It is time to call it out.
Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)
PS – Calling it out is step one in the fight to end white surpremecy. White people need to be aware of additional things, beyond just talk, that can and should be done to end bigotry and violence against people of color. For more on that, I defer to this wonderful article by Brittany Packnett. Read up and march on!