#FeministThursday: Ignoring race isn’t the answer

Refusing to talk about race DOES NOT EQUAL the end of racism. I do not presume to know what it means to be a black woman in America, because I haven’t had those experiences. It is also not my place to tell any person how they should react to harassment or criticism aimed at them because of race, gender or sexual orientation.

When the New York Times criticized Serena Williams for her body and others called the criticism out as depending on her race, I was not in a position to deny it. I have no idea the kind of criticism black women face on a daily basis for not conforming to our Euro-centric beauty standards, but I am not about to deny that it exists because there is too much evidence suggesting that it does.

When one commenter agreed with a Huffington Post article that the criticisms were indeed racial she was attacked with a barrage of middle-class white women telling her to get over it. There arguments ranged from saying they don’t see race, to insinuating that she was “fueling race wars” and calling her racist against whites.  It was embarrassing.

Not embarrassing because I am white, but embarrassing because humans shouldn’t treat each other this way. I don’t have the experiences Serena Williams has had, I don’t have the experiences the original commenter has had and I apparently haven’t shared experiences with those in my demographic either because I am not OK telling other people how to feel about an issue that doesn’t affect me.

As women who all experience body-shaming it shouldn’t matter where it is coming from racism, sizism, agism, we should all understand how it feels to be marginalized by a bodily characteristic we can’t control, and yet I see women every day tearing each other down on the Internet, but where I draw the line is telling someone how to react to being shamed.

I am over white people telling black people to “get over it.” If we can’t talk about racism (which is still alive and well), if we can’t talk about race issues and class issues and feminist issues how the hell are we ever going to solve anything? We learn from listening to others, not telling them how to feel.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t have to think about race on a daily basis, but I try to, because others don’t have that luxury. I want to be aware of my privilege because I know it exists. I’m not doing myself or my fellow humans any favors by pretending racial issues don’t still exist.

Whether some are willing to admit it or not, the problem they have with Serena is that she is a champion and she is a black woman and they can’t rationalize those two concepts in their mind because they have been raised in a society that tells them black women aren’t champions. If we can’t talk about that, how are we supposed to break down those stereotypes?

The way our society views it is: you’re already a woman, strike one, and then add another “undesirable” physical characteristic (overweight, racial or ethnic minority, old, clothing choices that deviate from “the norm” and you become an automatic target for harassment. Serena killed it on the court and, instead of getting the credit she deserved, her body was criticized.

It happens to women everywhere and it’s not always about race, but it is always about something. Hillary Clinton is an accomplished woman (strike one), she’s mortal and thus getting older (strike two) and she is attacked for her fashion choices (strike three).

So, the next time you read a perspective you don’t agree with, take a step back, reflect on your own experiences and ask yourself, “would I want someone who doesn’t know what I’ve been through telling me to get over it?” I would venture to say the answer is no, and you should keep that negative comment to yourself and maybe try to understand where someone else is coming from.

Jocelyn can be contacted at [email protected]