As much as I am personally invested in daily discussing race, class, sexuality, and gender honestly, openly, and as generously as I can, I still do not do it on demand or even on request.
Because I do speak very openly about race in particular, I receive a lot of inquiries to help or to teach or to give guidance to white people (in particular) about how they can improve their hiring practices, their dating mojo, their etiquette, or their organization’s racial skillfulness, among other things.
This is extremely challenging emotional and practical labor which I do not enjoy nor wish to volunteer for. Furthermore, I often experience requests for that kind of assistance as an experience of entitlement that is, in itself, racially loaded. These days I don’t want to even respond to these requests with a conversation about why the answer is no. It is hard to hold my boundary around it and explain it all skillfully, compassionately, and empathetically to some dear friend or well-meaning acquaintance when I’m feeling triggered. That is tricky, complex labor that I am not volunteering to do.
When I am speaking across difference to someone in a position of greater power than myself about the particular experience I have as a person in a more marginalized position with respect to that particular power, it is complex, intricate, nuanced, and often wearying work. I do it when I wish to and when I am in a strong place and/or when I am feeling generous and willing, and mostly, I do it on my terms. Love you as much as I do (and I do), I do not do it to benefit your business or your sex life or your conscience.
I imagine there are people and books and organizations and websites that are devoted to helping folks develop these skills. I hope that you will kindly pay good money to some individual whose chosen work it is to do this labor, and not just reach out to me (or others) as your one black (or whatever category you’re looking for support with) friend to ask all the questions you are wanting to know the answers to.
I am afraid this message sounds unfriendly. I think my tone may be sharp when it comes to this, because I think it isn’t understood what the cost of the interaction is. The cost is significant to me. The reason you may be met with silence when you ask this labor of me is because I have not found a friendlier way to talk about it. My silence is friendlier than my words about it would be.
Sometimes it comes up in another context – with myself and an intimate partner – and here it is more complicated. My white friends, lovers, and partners have asked me to let them know if they say or do something that is triggering on the basis of race, in particular. Sometimes, I am going to be able to do this. Oftentimes, I am not. Even when I would wish to. Sometimes, it is just too hard or too slippery to talk about or I’m feeling alienated or unsafe and the safest thing I can do is to pretend that nothing happened while I regroup and try to remember that you are not a stranger and are not an enemy but a friend who, like myself, is the product of profound amounts of conditioning. I haven’t succeeded in overthrowing all of my conditioning, so why should I be expecting you, dear beloved human, to have overthrown all of yours?
This explanation is in lieu of an apology for my silence.
Thank you for listening.