As a white guy
In 2020 social media covered #BlackLifesMatter quite extensively, in the streets we witnessed Proud Boys vs. Antifa and online it was woke people vs. alt-right, to paint the camps with broad brush strokes. In below article I would like to focus on the online aspects, as calling out racist behaviour is mostly an online activity. It forces people to respond or to protect themselves by showing colour.
Ben & Jerry, published this statement about white supremacy. Basically it implies that if you remain silent about #blacklifesmatter, you support white supremacy. Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, a Dutch British food group, who apparently wants to appeal to a certain audience.
But Ben & Jerry's is not alone in this, Nike has made a more nuanced statement, but still it calls out to people who remain silent. Pepsi tried to jump the same bandwagon with a Kendall Jenner ad that failed miserably.
What is this band wagon? I believe it started with the woke movement, calling people out for either having a problematic view, or for not speaking out at all. This was followed with the cancel culture in which people were urged to boycot, fire or block people that were called out. And no corporation wanted to be called out, let alone cancelled for remaining silent. Hence these seemingly ingenious adverts.
The same is happening in social media and in social groups. It is no longer possible to either not have a definitive opinion or to keep that opinion to yourselves.
The issue I see is however that having an online opinion about #blacklifesmatters is not free from self serving motives, just like the corporation do it to maintain shareholder value, we probably do it to for self serving motives. Plus I see some serious flaws in being dragged into a drama triangle with a perpetrator, a victim and a prosecutor. It is a minefield where positions within the drama triangle can flip in seconds.
But more about that in the end. Care to first sniff our armpits and see what ulterior motives we have?
The discussion on #BLM cannot be partaken by whites, because of their privilege, so they are told.
Yet whites cannot remain silent, apparently.
How is this gonna work?
When the #metoo movement was gaining momentum, I wrote a piece about the possible responses that men could have and invited the reader to sniff its motives for each possible response.
This time #blacklivesmatter is gaining a lot of momentum and recently, a white South African friend of mine and I discussed institutional racism. It was quite refreshing to talk about matters from slightly detached third person perspective, and then lay that blueprint back over myself and my actual situation, including my privileges, prejudices and biases.
My basic stance on race is that I don’t see evidence that differences in race have a genetic origin. Perhaps there is a biological origin, based natural selection (such as melanin in the skin improves chances of survival in sunny places), so race is a cultural phenomenon for me, more so than gender. Am In colour blind or do I dismiss racial differences? No, my deepest instincts are still tribal and when I see someone from another ‘tribe’ (read race), my instinct responds with alertness, only for my thinking brain to neutralize that knee-jerk and relax again.
To be concrete; if I walk around the corner and a guy from another race pops up, I will probably experience an increase in heartbeat and other signs of increasing alertness, before I have assessed the situation and chill out again. Does that make me racist? Yes, and I don’t like it. I would like to see myself as an open minded, non-judgmental person, but I will have to contend with the fact that my reflexes are tribal and quicker than my more civilized prefrontal cortex. But I rather accept my tribal tendencies and work with it than pretend I am more evolved than I am and not address my limitations.
With that perspective, let me outline some of the potential responses and the underlying motives, so you can check if in your responses you are leaning towards one of those categories:
Being dismissive of the #blacklivesmatter post, and explaining your position, defending yourself or attacking the poster. This might sound independent and authentic, but it is fear based and not coming from a place of love. For example:
A guy that feels personally addressed by the callout and rejects being included into a thing that he had no wrongdoing in. White privilege has never been chosen by him and so he dismisses it. In some ways an Explainer still responds to pointing fingers as if he is a young boy. I would say to him: ‘Yeah buts’, have no place in the life of an integrated male. An integrated male will take responsibility for what he does, not for what he thinks other people might perceive him.
That is a stronger version of the Explainer, he is displaying the same victim mentality he fights against. He acts as if the woke movement is out to call out all white people and feels he needs to defend himself. Perhaps they are calling him out, but a grown man knows that any accusation is a brilliant chance to sniff his armpits and if they smell clean, he will leave the perception of others with them, it’s not his responsibility to manage other people’s views.
That is again one step further, probably an Attacker feels cornered, being shamed and emasculated by this post and strikes back. But if he perceives being shamed, and feels triggered by it, chances are that his internalized shame (not being good enough) is being activated and he doesn't own his healthy anger and resorts to violence. There are many more healthy ways to guard your boundaries. Time for him to dig into his own pain, start owning his shit, rather than point the finger so he doesn’t have to deal with his issues.
Being sympathetic and liking the post, or symbolically going on one knee: This sounds very compassionate and empathetic, but first of all, did they specifically ask for your support, perhaps they just wanted to raise awareness, and secondly, what are your ulterior motives?
Someone that feels guilty for what other white people have done in the past, and chooses to not be like other whites. That would show how invested he is in getting approval from the mob and how he wants to show them how ‘different’ he is, compared to other whites. That motoive is needy and unproductive. Trying to fit in will never lead to a sense of belonging.
A White Knight:
A white knight has the tendency to rescue people, and he probably subconsciously thinks that black people should be protected and deems himself the right man for the job. Worse even, if he thinks this is a way to getting approval from the mob. I see a lot of arrogance in White Knights, as underneath the surface he thinks poorly of black people, being helpless and dis-empowered, only to enables their powerlessness by facilitating any victim mentality. He probably also has a covert contract, assuming that he will be rewarded by this behaviour and be included in the movement.
Someone that can feel the pain of the other and focuses his attention on the other. Chances are that he is focusing more on the pain of others than on his needs and desires, or his responsibilities in life. It’s like having a messy house, but wanting to rescue the world, which can be the perfect escape from not sniffing his own armpits. That is not helping any cause and perpetuates his own blind spots. It's all very nice, but I would rather see him get his shit in order, gain personal success, and start up projects that would serve the black communities.
A third response is to do nothing or stay neutral. Not like nor react. This can have several causes that we can address:
So you would like to respond but you want to do it right, and you have no idea how. He is frozen in his response. This is a sign of a Nice Guy, he still looks for approval from others and he wants to make sure everybody is happy. This is impossible in the case of #blacklivesmatter. People will have opinions and disagree. This Nice Guy would be well served by asking himself: “what do I want, if there would be no consequences?”. It trains his desire muscle, a muscle that has been atrophied since early childhood, when he started catering to other people’s needs.
A guy that thinks, so what if this happens? It part of life. Those guys probably feel empowered to do his own things, good or bad and slowly have dropped their empathetic skills, as they don’t need it, being in a place of power. This eventually is a nihilistic place and not a warm place to be in. Those guys are advised to train their selfless side a bit more, power is dry and unfulfilling if you don’t serve a higher purpose.
A guy that empathises with each individual person, but also can switch perspective and ends up responding to each situation differently. I would say that it is a sign of wisdom, if sweeping statements are being avoided and he acts on his knowledge of the facts and his gut feelings or deeper knowing, a place where there is no doubt. He probably sees that this is a campaign for awareness and thinks that if he is asked to help, support or respond he will consider it. This can only be a good place if he knows that he can take action, take positions and stands where and when needed, otherwise he might still be a Freezer or an Indifferent.
Basically, I have pointed out possible responses and then generalised it a lot, for the sake of giving men a guide to check their motives. The reality is infinitely more complex, but I like using the world around me as a mirror, see patterns, and this was one of such cases.
Here is how I respond on the #blacklivesmatter posts and protests. I support black empowerment, as there is institutional racism, racial profiling and an over representation of underprivileged among black people. The causes are numerous and too complicated for me to understand, and I think the way out is one of building solidarity, community, a sense of ownership and responsibility, by using black role models, community initiatives and inspirational people.
However, I have a big but… Any post or protest that only feeds and preys on the most negative emotions, such as anger, fear, shame and guilt, I will completely ignore. I believe it creates antagonism, it celebrates victimhood, and it perpetuates the drama triangle by introducing the Rescuer, or what I call in this piece the Judge. For whom the drama triangle is new: The drama triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur among people in conflict. The triangle of actors in the drama are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.
In this case the black community is painted as victims, the police as Persecutor and the movement as Rescuers. Problem with the triangle is that it does nothing to empower the victim, it does nothing to invite the oppressor to a more constructive space and the persecutor/rescuer is only forcing the actors into the trenches.
Even more so, if the Rescuer starts persecuting the Persecutor, then roles are switched immediately, thus creating a new spin in this merry-go-round of blame, shame, guilt, fear and anger, followed by endless cycles of persecution and defense. Think of a situation in which the #blacklifesmatter incites violence, the police are being threatened and observers condemn the threats and all roles have switched, like a toxic musical chairs.
I would prefer to see a alternative initiative that aims to keep black people proud of their heritage and shows everyone that they can reach their highest goals. I love to see people being empowered, rather than seeing black people put opposite of white people, using an oppressor, oppressed narrative.
Emotions can be placed in a certain hierarchy, for instance shame and guilt are the most negative, pride is average and compassion and love are positive emotions. I have tried to read White Fragility, a book about White Fragility, which is written by a white person, and it was one long tirade on how I am being racist, even if I try not to be and how if I acknowledge it, I am doing it from a place of privilege etc. There was no escaping the fact that I should be ashamed and hand over my privilege.
For me it is feeding on the same emotions of shame, guilt, remorse, and insecurity, and I refuse to slide down that slippery slope. The next step is that I am in a race to the bottom, with my fellow humans on who has the most reason to raise the victimhood flag. Nope, not me. I rather be in a race to the top against myself, with the aim to reach my full potential. Comparison is futile.
It also gives me great pleasure to watch other people reach their fullest potential, especially underdogs and pepple that have had to struggle for their success.
To provide a contract against #blacklifesmatter, I love to watch people like Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, fighting for human dignity for and solidarity within the black community.
I wish all you guys lots of wisdom and love in how to react or not react, let me know if you agree or not, or if you have anything to add.