You Don't Know More About Racism Than the People Who Experience It

by Lauren Dunn

As a queer woman of color, I consider myself a fierce advocate for discourse on the intersectionality of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality. Being a child of the millennium and following true to form, I often find myself taking to social media as a way to express my frustrations with the microaggressions and oppressive attitudes I face each and every day.

It seems as though anytime a person of color (POC), meaning those who fall under the expansive umbrella of hyphenated identities, attempts to speak on discrimination and systematic oppression based on race or color, they are greeted with some sort of verbal backlash from their white peers.
This kind of response to POC sharing their testaments of oppression often includes the “post-racial society” argument in which one’s color is never the actual root of social and economic inequity. Marginalized groups have reached a point where ignoring the constant berating of our storytelling and political/social movements is no longer a viable option. This exercise of autonomy by marginalized communities has become my safe haven for unpacking the heaviness that comes along with being labeled as “other.”

According to an article published in Salon, New York mental health social worker, sex-positive feminist writer, public speaker, and community activist, Feminista Jones, described Black Twitter as "a collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community ... [and are] proving adept at bringing about a wide range of sociopolitical changes.”

Black Twitter and other platforms of Black social-media allow for a wider visibility of diverse representation of Black identities. Communities of color, black people in particular, have taken to the internet as a means of creating images and content that are representative of the wide spectrum of what Blackness is. In an August 2010 article by American journalist and author Farhad Manjoo in Slate, "How Black People Use Twitter”, he discussed how this type of web accessibility “allows for enough flexibility for uninhibited and fabricated creativity while exhibiting more of the strengths of social media that allow us to build community.”

People of color are not monolithic in our identities despite the tropes perpetuated in mainstream media. The truth is being black in America can be quite exhausting. We often experience alienation, sadness, fear and feelings of unworthiness that are in constant circulation every time we step foot out of the door. These anxieties are heightened when people of color are physically isolated from their communities.

I recently moved back into my childhood home in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Moving back home to my mother’s house in a predominately white suburb of Pennsylvania has been a terribly trying experience. It is draining coming home every night to an environment that lacks any culture, color or warmth. Even growing up I remember being the only person of color on my block and having the burning desire to branch out and meet like-minded individuals whose identities and stories I could more readily connect with.

I have always craved a kind of cultural reciprocity when it comes to my Black brothers and sisters. Platforms that create safe spaces for diverse cultural discourse are necessary in order to connect to a wider pool of likeminded people who share similar cultural experiences. The sharing of stories that take place with Black internet users, ultimately generates a sense of empowerment through community.

I am frustrated when I come across those comments that somehow infiltrate our online communities. Every time a non-person of color invites themselves into an online conversation about race or color in an attempt to discredit a person of color’s lived reality or ideology based on their experiences, they are perpetuating rhetoric of discomfort and white privilege.

After many years of criticism for my posts about race, gender, sexuality and class politics being too “pro-Black” or too radical or being accused of perpetuating racism by simply bringing up instances of injustice, I, myself, have faced based on the aforementioned categories of identity. I learned to adopt a fierce commitment to vocalizing my beliefs without apology. There is no shame in owning the fact that color means something in this country. It means something when a young Black boy is gunned down by a police officer. It means something every time a black body is left lying in the street for hours upon end. It means something when a person is denied employment based solely off of their name. It means something when we treat the indigenous people of this land like less than second class citizens. It means something every time a student of color is ignored inside of the classroom. It means something when inner city schools are provided second-hand resources while their suburban counterparts have access to unused books and desks. It means something when a Black mother cannot grieve for her son without the media's portrayal of him as a threat instead of a child, and it certainly means something every time a person of color is denied equal treatment by the law in court.

The policing of language used in black and brown online spaces that facilitate dialogue on race and uplift communities of color is dangerous to the mental well-being of those communities. By working to discredit these kinds of conversations, white folks are jeopardizing one of black and brown people’s many forms of healing, storytelling.
Storytelling has been a cultural tradition of the Black community since our origin and has always been a way to cope with the maddening heartbreak that comes along with the realities of living under an oppressive society. When non-people of color enter these spaces without any consideration for our stories, experiences or perceived realities, they threaten the very crucial tradition of community preservation and inspiration.

If we are not able to address racism and inequalities based on color, then we will never move the conversation forward in dismantling racist and oppressive ideologies that shape the very fabric of this nation.

Photo: Shutterstock

Lauren Dunn is a freelance journalist who's work is currently grounded in educational non-profits. Her fierce activism for discourse around the intersectionality of race, gender, ethnicity, class and sexuality is directly linked both her journalistic and non-profit work. Dunn received her BA in journalism from Temple University in the spring of 2015.

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