Monday, October 19, 2015

The Privileges of Foot-Stompers

Earlier today I read a post on an author blog (passionate, full of truth bombs strategically dropped) that used the example of someone stepping on a person's foot as an analogy to explain what it's like for a person of color to deal with the problematic and privileged things people say, even when the foot-stompers in question are friends.

"It's like someone stepping on your foot and getting angry with you for saying 'um, ow, could you get off?'"

It got me thinking about the different ways white people react to being called out for saying or doing something racist. [It can apply to various types of privilege, of race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, but in this case, we're focusing just on race.]

Disclaimer: I am white, so while this is me trying to understand and frame the issue in a way that makes sense to me, it is also through my observations as someone with white privilege. Hopefully, I get it right, or at least, don't get it wrong in a way that hurts people of color.

Types of Privileged Foot-Stompers:

1. If you're lucky, you meet someone/are friends with someone who, even if they have privilege, walk carefully, so as to avoid stepping on someone's foot altogether. This strikes me as the Informed Ally. They might still step on your foot, but it tends to be a rare occurrence.

2. Then, you have the Newbie Ally. They know they should step carefully, but they don't know the way just yet, so they stumble a lot. They will step on feet, but they tend to apologize, and use the experience to try and avoid doing it again.

3. The Ignorant Ally/Neutral Privileged is someone who thinks they know where they are going and is walking pretty confidently to their destination. They may not be looking for feet to step on, but they also are not watching out for people's feet. They may apologize because they know they should, but they don't tend to look at their behavior, reflect, and change route.

4. The Arrogant "Ally" is exactly that. They think they know everything, they think they are an ally, but they don't really listen. They step on people's feet and say they didn't, or that it isn't their fault your foot was there. Apologies are begrudging, often insincere, and it becomes more about them feeling attacked for being called on the foot-stomping rather than the fact that they stomped on someone's foot.

5. The False Ally claims to care about the daily micro- and macroaggressions POC have to deal with/suffer from/try to survive, but they blatantly say and do things that show they either do not know or do not care. They stomp on feet and not only claim your foot shouldn't have been there, but that you must have put your foot there on purpose, in order to get it stomped. Why, you were probably trying to trip them. How could you do that to them? They've tried so hard to be a good person, and you know, people have stomped on their feet, too.

6. I don't have a good name for this last category. They're bigots. They're deliberate foot-stompers, out to hurt people because…who knows. Maybe they like hurting other people, maybe they were raised to stomp feet and don't want to think about changing, don't want to see that it hurts others, or maybe they are just so afraid of being called wrong that they double-down on their feet-stomping, because if they're louder and stomp more feet than anyone else, that means they're right.

Here's the take-away: Stepping and stomping on other people's feet is wrong, hurtful, and you should not do it. And if you do, apologize sincerely. If you have a moment of thinking, "It's not my fault! I didn't mean to!" keep it to yourself. It happens, stepping on others' feet. But even if it's unintended, you still hurt someone else. It doesn't matter if it was an accident or done out of ignorance. Apologize to them, then take a step back, look at the interaction. Was there something that precipitated the foot-stomping? Something you said or did that changed the interaction from friendly to foot-stompy? Think on it and try to change. But don't put the onus of your change on the person whose foot has been stepped on, they are already in pain, and they have probably had their foot stepped on multiple times that same day.

Words may not break bones the way sticks and stones will, but words still hurt like a thousand papercuts, or a million foot-stomps. Worse, words can sometimes inspire others to become foot-stompers. Think about what you say and what you do, educate yourselves. It's an ongoing process, but why harm when we can try to make the lives of others just a little less painful?