I had the great fortune to read a stunning essay by Tanya Steele about privilege in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. You can (and should!) read her original here: Black Folks, It’s Time to Stop Taking Care of White People.
Among many moments of her grief-informed brilliance is this:
We have to demand that white people speak up in discussions on racism, not race – racism. While we tell our thousandth story about being accosted, turn and ask a white person, “What are you learning from this? How will you change as a result of hearing this? How has the verdict impacted you and your life going forward? What will you do differently in your life, as a result of this verdict?” Something. The parade of black grief while white folks sit and stare has to cease. We did not create the conditions for our suffering.
This rang so true with me, because as a feminist I’ve been saying this for years about male / male-pattern violence—enough with talking about how rape hurts US. There was the time when women believed that saying “this hurts” would change something, and we spoke with clarity and passion and tremendous courage. And then the culture of violent porn exploded, and we realized that the perpetrators KNEW it hurt and GOT OFF ON IT. So the focus had to shift to making men responsible, making them understand what they were doing was not how the world is but rather abnormal, bad, evil, etc. This has now been happening slowly, with great social change campaigns like the “Don’t Be THAT Guy” ads in Canada, the truly radical My Strength is Not for Hurting campaign or the posters flooding Facebook with the items like “If a female friend is drunk, DON’T RAPE HER.” All of these make it clear that as a society we need to be telling potential rapists not to rape than telling potential victims how, maybe, they could not be hurt if they just behaved themselves.
So I, and plenty of other White folks, have been having a conversation about how our attitudes are the real problem, not someone’s skin tone or language or culture. It’s a hard conversation, both when you first start and as your knowledge gets deeper and deeper. But many of have experience with this. We know that race is an invented concept, not a biological one, and that it is about power and privilege, not about skin color or hair or facial features or language. We know the issue isn’t race, but racism, same as we know the issue is femininity but male violence.
So it’s time to just start saying this a million times a day in every situation to everyone we encounter: The issue wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s “race,” it is George Zimmerman’s racism — and the racism of the entire legal structure that gave him the gun once, and now has given it back.
We have looked the problem in face, and it, White Folks, looks like us, not like Trayvon Martin.