Community Voices: Why I stopped educating white folks about privilege


Let’s set the scene. I wrote the following as an email to an event coordinator and a person who tried to connect my organization, The Yarn Mission, with said event coordinator. However, the situation applies to many events floating around these days. The edited excerpt is followed by further discussion.

I have to say that this event is not something I would attend. I believe it misses the mark on inclusivity by compromising on values and anti-discrimination. The Yarn Mission builds inclusive spaces by being purposeful about the values that will be upheld in the space. This is the only way to insure that all people can feel welcomed into the space. Inviting people regardless of their values and across the political spectrum especially in a time where we continue to see Black, indigenous and of color people publicly persecuted (legally and by executive order) for their skin color, religion, gender identity and sexuality is shameful at best. I believe that these “unity over all” events suggests that race, sex, etc., are barriers. Yet, race, sex, etc., are not barriers. Racism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, etc., are barriers, and through the “everyone is invited” framing you have done nothing to bar them from this event.

I hope you will not read this as an attempt to start a conversation about this. I believe the information exists that should have alerted you that your event is more harmful by neglecting oppression and its relationship to things like politics than it is “uniting.” It is also available throughout The Yarn Mission’s website and social media posts. Moreover, this email encompasses the entire issue.

At the end of the email, I concluded that the organizer was welcome to talk with the organizer of our white affinity group if she was truly ready to make progress and grow. I stressed that this organizer sits at the intersection of multiple oppressions and that while she is patient with white people’s path to anti-oppression, her time and energy should not be wasted.

I believe that it is noteworthy that I am offended that anyone would think that we, The Yarn Mission, would be interested in this type of event that neglects recognizing the power structures that underlie society. It makes me question our presentation.

I wish that this post was just to share this bit of enlightenment. Alas, no. Both recipients responded. Their responses suggested that they either did not read or refused to accept parts of what I wrote. This was indicated largely by the fact that each acted entitled to my further involvement in their path to anti-oppression.

They told me:

“How are we supposed to learn anything if CheyOnna — or other people of color — won’t talk to us?“

“I admit that I don’t know fully what you’re up to and what you’re for. And, by pushing me away I’m not going to get that either… I won’t get very far or be able to make any kind of difference if I do this in isolation however.”

This insistence on my free emotional labor, energy and knowledge for teaching how to be better white people is why I am angry. I am expending energy through this anger; yet, energy doesn’t disappear so I am channeling it into this post. In the end, I am indeed being the teacher I insist I do not need to be.

I am angry because the insistence that my labor and the labor of other folks of color overvalues white people’s place in liberation and places undue culpability onto us. First, if they don’t realize that this information exists, that none of this is new, they actually are not needed for liberation. I am not opposed to people learning. I am not opposed to the fact that people are beginning to learn very late. I am opposed to the fact that they came to class unprepared and still felt entitled to disregard parts of the lesson. Second, whether or not they make it to this higher understanding they supposedly desire is absolutely not my responsibility or fault. If they are truly interested in liberation, they can be salty about my snub and continue to pursue their higher understanding in other ways. If they decide not to they were never going to make it.

For example, in response to my post about the women marches, a white woman private messaged me about how disheartening criticisms of white efforts by people of color are. I recognize that white people believe that I should be their friend, their neighbor, their teacher,etc. that I should be nice, polite, patient, welcoming first and a Black Woman second. I will always be a Black woman first. Always. I will never leave my identity at a door for the purpose of “unity.” I must live and die Black. I do not have to die nice. And while my skinfolk and folks from other marginalized groups are having their lives and liberty stolen, I refuse to expend my energy on anything else. Since, I do not believe that “well-meaning but unwilling to equip themselves” white folks are necessary for liberation, they do not warrant my never-ending efforts.

I recognize that white supremacy is a great beast and that I cannot blame myself completely. I take these instances as a time to recommit myself to my boundaries, which are essential for my self-care and our liberation.

The Yarn Mission is a wonderful thing; it does not exist to educate white people. It does and can but we knit for Black Liberation. The white affinity group was formed so that Black women and femmes do not have to continue to field these attacks from white supremacy coated in good intentions and “I just want to do or be better.”