I had a boss who was racist. Not an outright bigot, of course; her toolbox was more subtle than most. We bumped heads a lot over inconsequential things. She frequently couldn’t keep my name out her mouth. Lot of gaslighting. You know…2018 style. I tried a lot of ways to combat or navigate her issues. None of them worked, and that’s saying a lot because I’m really good at fighting racism. But at the end of the day – every day – she was my boss, I had to deal with her, and that was that. Finally I changed my job. I still had the same boss, but our work was far enough from direct contact that it was almost like not working together. I would still see her every day, but now I didn’t have to contend with her behavior. I was free to do what I needed and wanted to do, and so was she.
I changed the power structure of our relationship because appealing to her humanity was a lost cause and I spent years learning that the hard way. Racism is not about feelings; it is about power. Not being aware of that – making anti-racism work about friendships and tokens and tone – is part of why people get confused about what many black people want politically. We don’t assume you don’t know what racism looks like. And if it turns out you don’t know what you’re doing, we’re often content to just get on with our lives because there are way more of you than there are of us, life is short, and our lives are statistically even shorter. Black folks literally ain’t got time for that.
We’re not out here trying to fix your racism; we’re trying to make your racism have as little effect as possible. Anything else is misdirection, a mistake, or icing on real work already done.
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