Recently an acquaintance on Facebook unfriended me because she believes race is all I see. She also believes that I talk about racism and White privilege to impress people and to fit in.
From my point of view, if I wanted to impress people or make them like me I sure wouldn’t go about doing it by talking to White people about race, racism and privilege! Talking about these things makes me unpopular with many White people. Of all the responses I get from them to the various things I post online, or conversations I start in person, about half tell me that they’re pissed and I’m an idiot. The other half appreciate or are at least interested in what I’m sharing (though some of them are pissed at me, too). The vast majority, however, don’t respond at all.
As for People of Color, my intent for having these conversations must not be to impress them or to make them like me. I have never started nor participated in a conversation hoping to impress a Person of Color, at least not consciously. Over time I’ve been taught in no uncertain terms that “cookies” are not the point of why we do this work. You know what cookies are, right? Cookies are the bravos & high fives you hope to get for doing something you should have been doing anyway. The Angry Black Woman has a good post on cookies and the comments are incredible. In this context, a cookie would be a Person of Color telling me how awesome I am for “getting it”. (You're supposed to, you low-expectation-having . . .)
Each time I’d see or hear cookies discussed among friends, I mentally noted that they should not be my motivators . . . yet, being human, I still sometimes feel the pull, the desire, the need for cookies. COOKIES! I don’t need to be told what a Fine And Shining Example Of Anti-Racism I am. If I feel, however, that I’ve made a mistake or been misunderstood in a conversation about race with a Person of Color, and they don’t communicate to me some semblance of, “It’s ok, we’re good”, I can experience anxiety. Does that make sense? I don’t do this looking for popularity but when I do it, I want to do it correctly. If I feel I’ve made some mistakes, I sometimes want reassurance that my mistake hasn’t caused me to be written off as someone who “doesn’t get it”.
I’ve thought about where this comes from, this desire for assurance. Some of it probably comes from having seen friends cut hurtful people out of their lives, and the fear that I might make a mistake that would cause them to do this to me. On one hand, I think my close friends will be more forgiving than that – and I’ve certainly already made mistakes, they know I’m not perfect. On the other hand, what if something comes bubbling out, something I didn’t realize was inside of me, and I say or do something that hurts a friend beyond repair? This can, of course, happen in any relationship – and conflict in my other friendships freaks me all the way out, too. These fears have been strong motivators for me to explore the depths of my own racism.
So – do I talk about race to get cookies from People of Color? No. By now, I know not to expect them and not to put too much importance on them if I get them, because I promise: one person can give a cookie and another can snatch it right away. Just because one Person of Color thinks I’m the bees knees does not mean All People of Color Everywhere feel that way. I’m learning to chill when I feel anxiety about a conversation and to think hard about what I think I did or said that was problematic or hurtful. If I feel uneasy about it, that's a sign that there is probably something there that needs to be corrected.
I do have a few friends who express gratitude that I speak up about these issues, but by far, most of my friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and online acquaintances who are People of Color do not give me cookies. Maybe they don’t give them out on GP or maybe they think I’m doing a crappy job and they don’t want to give me any. At any rate, if getting cookies was my motivation, I’d have given up a long time ago.