Something has been bothering me the past few days. It’s something I have to just type out, I suppose, to get it out of me. Over the past few years, I have been determined to be a white ally. As white allies, sometimes we are faced with tests. Unfortunately, I failed one recently at the library.
In the Age of Covid, most of my weekly work hours are spent sitting in the lobby of the library counting and managing the patrons who come into the building to ensure that we don’t go over capacity. A few days ago, an older white man came entered the building after having passed a Black woman who was exiting. I greeted him kindly, as I always do.
“Let me ask you something, does my life matter?” he asked.
I didn’t understand the question. He was pointing at his appropriately masked face, so I thought maybe this was going to be a discussion about masks and rights or whatever, which have been happening a lot.
“I”m sorry?” I said.
He responded. “Does your life matter? Don’t all lives matter?”
And there it was. That key, racist phrase. I insisted, “I am not interested in this conversation.”
He continued yelling something about white lives or all lives or whatever other bullshit, and I kept repeating myself, telling him that I was not interested in the conversation. He finally walked away and entered the library.
So, how did I fail? I failed because I fell into that old white habit. It’s a habit that many white people have been taught, especially those of us who want to stand against racism. We’re taught to be polite. Even in the face of blatant racism, we’re taught to be polite and to not “escalate” the situation; maintain a level of calm, and don’t raise a fuss over some fool saying something racist. This nasty habit has helped get us to the current horrible state we’re in with racism and fascism on the rise in our country.
It’s been bothering me for days, because I’m simply ashamed of myself. Like I said, this was a test. I failed the test, because I fell into the polite statement of “I am not interested in this conversation,” which allowed that man to go about his day with the possibility that I agreed with what he was saying but perhaps I just wasn’t allowed to discuss “politics” on the clock. My responsibility as an ally was to let this man know that I absolutely did not agree with his statement and that for him to say it is wrong.
Yes, I was at work and I have to be careful with what I say. But I could have said, “What you’re saying is offensive to me,” or “please don’t say offensive things like that in the library,” or any other phrase that would have been fine to say as a representative of the library but that would still have gotten the message across.
I promise to keep trying to be better, and I hope that the next time I am tested, I pass. Fellow white allies, remember; sparing the feelings of racists is not worth allowing this racism to continue. Don’t be polite in order to keep the peace, because it does not lead to peace, as we can see all around us.