by Jasmine M. Pulido
Catering to whiteness has been a survival mechanism that’s difficult to put down.
It was why I hesitated in anxiety before I sent that email to the white woman coach who was using my stories as a Person of Color to profit, thereby showcasing herself as the white ally doing good. I told her she no longer had permission to use my testimonial and to stop using POC stories like mine for her white benefit. I feared what she might think of me or how she might respond, the way I always did when I considered confronting whiteness.
Consequently, it took me a year from the genesis of these thoughts to send this message, and only after a Black friend told me that she was undergoing an equivalent experience with this same person. I knew then that I needed to speak up so my Black friends could take a break from the emotional labor of doing this work. I needed to take action so they could return their focus to safety. They needed spaces to recover from the trauma of seeing the murders of their sisters and brothers. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened to her at all if I had spoken up earlier.
I repeated a mantra to myself, “Black lives matter more than white feelings.” I pushed Send.
I got an email back with an apology and a written commitment to not use my words or story. I felt unsettled about this response, even though it was a much better reaction than I expected. I didn’t know why until I logged onto my Facebook and the first post I read was from a Black friend. It essentially said, “Apologies are just words. Show us real action.”
In my response, I pushed for more, not for my sake, but for the People of Color after me who would interact with this person. I made a specific suggestion on action — pay a POC consultant so Women of Color clients aren’t doing the emotional labor of racial truth-telling for free.
“Having this action executed holds so much more value than any personal apology or any right words.” I felt conflicted about continuing to respond in such a bold, direct way. For a young Filipina American girl to own her voice in such a way wasn’t just inappropriate growing up but utterly disrespectful to her family and culture. Because of this ingrained belief that my voice has no value, there’s cowardice in me that attempts to convert my action into inaction.
I inhaled and held my breath for a second. “Black lives matter more than white feelings.” Send.
This is the first of many racial microaggressions I’ve pulled out to confront. I don’t like it. I don’t want to revisit these many instances again. I would rather put them behind me and say to myself that having these conversations will only do more damage to me and walk away.
Maybe they will.
But it isn’t about me anymore. It’s not about a singular small experience between two people. It’s about the relentless message that in some way you aren’t valued by almost every white person you interact with. Each of those white people are blindly doing this to other People of Color and inflicting more damage without ever knowing it. If I can point it out to even one white person with increasing specificity, I have a chance to hold them fully accountable and stop a cascade of future racist acts.
Speaking up against white microaggressions does not block my Black peers from physical harm. It isn’t stopping police brutality. But it is mitigating spiritual and psychological harm. It is leveraging my own power to deflect a small amount of the racism my BIPOC friends are facing on multiple levels. It is me saying, “I see it too” and acting as a buffer from the white impact that is constantly bombarding them.
Let’s be truthful too. The work that I am doing is not much compared to what Black folks are experiencing in this moment and throughout history.
What I am saying is that Non-Black People of Color need to be doing our part in understanding the racial dynamics that impact us as POC and speaking truth to power whenever we are capable of doing so. Not when it serves us individually, but at the times where it is crucial that we back up our BIPOC peers, co-workers, and colleagues.
As an AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander), I find this especially difficult. Culturally, I have been taught that the qualities that make me morally good are taking care of others, living a conflict-avoidant life, and assimilating quietly into white culture. In those messages, I am promised a paradise full of personal belonging, economic success, and spiritual harmony. When I speak up against whiteness, I feel an internal flood of shame in all the ways I am acting as a difficult wife, mother, and daughter. When I don’t speak up, I feel a river of guilt in all the ways I’ve let my BIPOC peers and myself down for not standing with conviction behind my own experience.
These parts of me are constantly colliding. These old white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial messages with these modern awakened truths. These new pieces of me ask me to rise up to a higher collective calling, require me to risk a piece of me for potentially no individual gain.
But here’s all it really comes down to — when I choose to cater to whiteness, my action or lack thereof states that I care more about white feelings than Black people and their freedom. It doesn’t matter what words or thoughts or feelings I have, that is what my action is saying. That is what my action is contributing to the Bigger Picture.
No. I’m not fucking doing that. Not anymore.
Black lives matter more than white feelings. Period.
I hope they matter more to you too.
Jasmine Pulido is a Filipinx American writer in Seattle, WA. You can find her blog at “Shameless Jas,” where she discusses all the topics people are too ashamed to talk about, alongside unapologetically airing anything else on her mind. She enjoys forest bathing, nerdy topics, and racial-social justice.
Featured image by Carolyn Bick.