I’m Black. I always will be. No matter what else about me changes, I will always be Black. I love being Black. I love my melanin. It’s beautiful, but all that beauty comes with a price—a set of struggles that I will face in every scenario, in every setting, for each and every day of my life. This is what makes being me difficult; the constant trouble that I face as the result of being Black. Struggle touches every aspect of my life and sets the tone for every interaction I have with anyone—whether it’s within physical, close-proximity communities or online.
Sadly, in a community that is as open, as knowledgeable and as “woke” as the sex and sexual health community, Black bloggers, influencers and educators are still dealing with racism, well-meaning “allies”, and the constant drowning out of our independent voices.
It’s not shocking, is it? I mean, People of Color (PoC) have been dealing with all of these things throughout human history, and non-PoC have had these toxic traits and outlooks all but spoon fed to them by both the permeating system of racism and by the White-Savior attitudes rife within progressive circles. Yes, it needs to be said! It comes from both sides. It doesn’t matter whether a person is trying to overtly oppress Black people or trying to “help” them by undermining their voices—the sentiment is the same. White people have the voice. Even when they are trying to be allies, they are totally unwilling to hand the mic to someone else, or admit when their voice isn’t the right one for their message.
I guess it’s the fault of the system. We don’t want to admit that the system is present and active in progressive circles, but it is. The system needs to change. It’s never too late to unlearn “bad habits”. It’s only hard when a person isn’t open to change, when they’re unwilling to own their problematic behavior.
It’s never too late to change. It is never too late to unlearn the things we’ve learned from our broken society. It’s never too late to stand down, sit back, and shut up. It is only ever too late when a person is unwilling to change, when they are unwilling to give up a moment of space to a more experienced voice, when they are not read to hear that they are wrong. That’s the problem though. Allies rarely want to truly hear where they’re fucking up. They’d rather sit comfortably in their false sense of giving a helping hand, listening to that self-talk loop of, “I’m not like other allies, I really help PoC.” When approached about the problems that they’re causing, they instantly plug up their ears and cry out the unfairness of it all. Instead of changing, they lament about how they try so hard to be helpful but it’s “never good enough” for us obviously ungrateful folk.
As a Black woman in the sex community, this is one of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced. It’s not just the white bloggers, influencers and sex educators who think that using their voice to speak about Black issues is wanted. It’s not just self-righteousness that comes out when they’re called out. Or how they of course, have many Black friends (which you never see them interact with) who have educated them thoroughly on all Black issues.
It’s the unwillingness to accept and change their flawed behavior.
Problematic behavior is bad, but when it’s addressed, accepted and redirected, being called out on problematic behavior can be the aha moment that leads to real learning. But when a PoC finally stands up and airs their grievances, no one wants to listen. Everyone wants to cry victim and say that we’re too sensitive. Or maybe they would have listened but we were too abrasive. All I hear is that we’re too much and not grateful enough. Admit it, we’re just too Black, aren’t we? Is that why we can’t be trusted to speak for ourselves?
Many argue that people have the right to feel angry that us PoC aren’t grateful for whatever scraps of help are given to us, and I have to call bullshit. Countless times, I’ve seen people play the White Savior card in sex blogging and sex educator community. They’ll stand up on their soapbox and scream about how us PoC feel and how things need to change. They’re celebrated as “transformative” and an ally for us. When truth be told, that behavior in itself is problematic.
We aren’t children. We are fully capable of speaking up for ourselves when something angers, saddens or generally upsets us. And we have the right to do so. Allies think they’re doing us a huge favor by “using their voice to speak up for PoC”. (More like speak for PoC, right?) When our chance to speak or have our voices lifted is taken away, it infantilizes us. It makes us seem like we just can’t talk for ourselves when that just isn’t true. Black stories deserve to be told in Black voices.
Instead of taking the soapbox and using Black issues to boost your voice, why not try using your voice to point people in the direction of PoC who are speaking out about these issues? Why must we be pushed to the back and silenced in order for our stories to be heard? Why should we lease out our stories to white people who are using us to rake in traffic and then thank them for their help? It simply makes no sense.
And there’s the problem.
Too many people want to say they’re “woke”. Too many people want to be viewed as an ally instead of actually being one. Being an ally is more than just yelling. Being an ally is more than just saying something isn’t fair. Being an ally is making a space for PoC at the table—letting us raise our own voices, letting our anger be ours.
Being an ally, I feel, is no longer about support in this community. It’s about popularity. It’s about who can do what the best; who can have the most PoC friends; who can seem the angriest. It’s no longer about being equal and making places. It’s about who can just be the loudest, the most woke, and the angriest person in the room—and you know what? It’s not fair or progressive. It never was.
PoC have worked so hard to get the little bit of recognition we have. We’ve had to deal with injustice after injustice before we get angry, out of fear of seeming like another angry PoC. And notice I say PoC. I don’t just say Black. I don’t just say Native or Latinx—because the injustice and smothering of voices isn’t just limited to Black people. It envelopes all who aren’t white. Time after time I’ve seen non-white people shushed, and people contact me who aren’t just Black, but of another race and who are hurt by the fact they just can’t be heard.
White people, you have to do better.
It might wound you and hurt you to read that, but imagine how much it hurts to have to write that—to have to be the one to say that. You have to do better. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the people you so willingly scream for. You need to see that we are capable. We are more than able to defend ourselves. We can cry for ourselves. We can show hurt for ourselves. We can shout to the skies for ourselves. And that is our right.
This isn’t to say that you can’t be hurt with us. It’s to say let our tears be seen too. Don’t whitewash our pain and complaints. Society does that enough for us, we don’t want that from our peers as well.
Sitting back and thinking about the injustices that PoC face every day, one would never think that an injustice we faced would be people not letting us speak and be angry for ourselves, but it is. It’s just goes to show that it’s hard for the privileged in society to let go and step back and let someone else have the light for once.
Yes, I said privileged.
It’s a privilege to be able to talk and be heard. It’s a privilege to be able to cry and be seen. It’s a privilege to be able to scream “injustice” and have it be righted without hundreds of others needing to yell the same thing before a change is seen. Privilege, as you know, comes in all different sorts of shapes and sizes and this is just another one. However, I think by recognizing this, it’s the first step in fixing it. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I am saying it’s going to help.
When you find yourself in a situation where you feel like a PoC is being talked over and talked about instead of listened to, step back, look at how you can help uplift their voice and then take the steps to uplift it. That might mean retweeting their tweets, linking back to their posts, or simply asking “Is there anything I can do to help you feel more heard?” I can’t tell you how grateful I would be if someone, anyone, just stepped back and asked me if there was a way to help me be heard by myself without them also talking over me.
I’m sure others like myself have lists of ways our voices could be uplifted without anything being taken away from them. I’ve sat back and watched people think they were helping just cause more damage, and that’s not what allies are here for.
An ally, a true ally, will understand when it’s time to be quiet and let someone speak for themselves. They’ll understand we don’t want them to do things for us. We want them to do things alongside us. Allied together in fixing a problem—and if that means linking back to our articles, our tweets, our whatever, instead of repackaging them in a white voice for performative allyship, then that’s what it means.
White people, you need to do better, and I believe you can do better.