What are you holding?

When discussing things that trigger us, we hold things for different reasons…

A while ago I was in a group discussion and we ended up talking about white privilege. A man who identified as biracial said a lot of things and used Marxism as his crux. One of the things that he said was blacks are racist against whites and that “white privilege” is a divisive tool used against the races.

He was addressed by people of different races, including myself. We pretty much held up a mirror to his Marxist-based ideologies and experiences that he thought were the rule and not the exceptions. Although he said he “agreed” with us, he still couldn’t see what we were showing him. He couldn’t see that his “truths” were fallacies, instead he only looked for ways to negate the mirror, by mentioning labor in the workforce. He looked for smudges and cracks in the mirror, without acknowledging the gunk in his teeth.

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Another example of mirror holding happened the next day, my Asian homeboy texted me saying that a white girl referred to Asians as “oriental.” He stormed out of class and moments later another Asian student left as well. He ran into a few dope scholars and after telling them what happened, they returned to the class. Moments later the other Asian student walked back in with her confidants. The white girl tried to defend herself and the more she spoke the worse it got until a white guy told her to “shut up.” The professor (an Asian woman) said that she didn’t know how to handle the situation so she kept quiet and felt “powerless”…but it’s her class, though.

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She did allow for the Asian students to voice their concerns and have an open dialogue about the derogatory word (which led to revealing that when my homeboy was absent, an n-bomb was dropped and nothing was done about it). The white girl didn’t apologized. Even if she did, I doubt it would have been sincere or if she knew why she was apologizing—it’s more of a crisis management tool that is shallower than a kiddie pool. My friend eventually dropped the class.

In a different situation “hand holding” was brought up. Holding someone’s hand to make them understand something is not a good or bad thing. It really depends on how much you want to invest in the person and the situation. When it comes to race, I have held mirrors and hands. I am more compassionate to younger people who are still finding their way and I sometimes make the effort to meet people where they are. It is very difficult, however, to do this with adults who pontificate foolishness—that’s when the hand-holding filters come off and the mirrors go up. I won’t “baby” someone who can research, read and decipher complex multi-theoretical ideologies and then when it comes to race, they are akin to toddlers learning how to walk. You feel me?

Finally, there is holding your tongue. During the mirror session, I observed one of my colleagues just turn off. There are different reasons for why some people do this, including: not wanting to escalate the situation/being the bigger person, not having enough knowledge on the topic (receipts are iffy), not wanting to invest ones’ time and energy into an argument (picking your battles). I get it, I get it, I get it. I know a little about her and she is fighting injustices in different spaces on a daily basis, so bowing out of this particular incident may have been ideal for self-preservation.

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Recently, I had the luck of having another conversation with the same Marxist and he said that the definition (deterministic language) of a “strong black woman” is having a job—with a straight face. I politely replied that having an occupation may be part of it, but more importantly it is overcoming adversities. My colleague across from me was half stuck-on-stupid at his comment and I decided this guy was not going to raise my blood pressure, nope! My blood pressure deserves better. He then replied and centralized an economic theory to why we use the term “strong black woman.” Huey P. Newton and Harriet Tubman came to mind. To paraphrase Newton, as a leader you never make others feel inferior with the knowledge you have, and Tubman said, “I freed a thousand slaves, I could have saved a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Moreover, which W-2 forms did Harriet Tubman fill out to be a “strong Black woman”?  In conclusion, my less than constructive comments were muted and trying to help him understand was not going to work, so as far as I was concerned, the conversation was over.

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Honestly, what the holding up a mirror or a holding a hand does is reveal how a person mediates their identity in different spaces. I get it. Some people actually want to learn what they didn’t know before engaging in dialogue and we (read: those who know better) have options on how we approach these conversations. What you don’t want is to be angry and lose sleep wondering if you should have dragged them or if silence was better than transforming your anger into a more informative energy? Choosing your responses, really depends on what you’re holding.

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