The Power Of Rich White Folk And Why Gandhi Was Only Half Right

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

That’s what we tell ourselves.  We say that what matters is what we do, and maybe what we teach our children to do.  We talk about taking responsibility for what we put out into the world, reminding ourselves that our efforts to do good matter as much as the efforts of those who would do harm.

But I think we are only half right – and that half right, sometimes, is simply not enough.

My sophomore year in high school, I had a big problem with bullies.  There was a “We Hate Britt” club formed, made up of people I had once considered friends and people whom I had never even talked to.  Groups of angry teenage girls would show up at my house and bang on my door, insisting that I come outside so that they could circle around me and hurl insults at me.  It was, as anyone who has ever been bullied can attest to, absolutely awful.

My first instinct was to make myself as invisible as possible.  I tried desperately to avoid doing anything that would catch their attention for fear of inciting another attack.  “Just ignore it and it will go away,” people told me.

I tried to ignore it, and it didn’t go away.

When disappearing didn’t work, I tried to fight back.  I “stood up for myself” the best I knew how as a sharp-tongued kid.  I responded to their verbal insults with verbal daggers of my own.  I fought to prove I wasn’t a victim.

I stood up for myself, and it didn’t go away.

My feeble attempts to fight back were as futile as the flopping of a hooked fish that lies at the feet of mighty fisherman.  The harder I fought, the more obvious it became that I was powerless to face them on my own.  They laughed at my ridiculous attempts to match them, my obvious insignificance only fueling their sense of superiority and entitlement.

Throughout all of this, people stood beside me.  Quietly.  They pulled me aside in the hall and slipped me carefully folded notes that explained how “stupid” they thought their friends were behaving.  They apologized for what I was going through and expressed their deep hope that it would all go away sooner rather than later.  They smiled at me when no one was looking, and quietly resolved not to get involved.

They resolved to be the change they wanted to see, and still, it didn’t go away.

And then a group of older, more popular, well respected girls decided to stand beside me.  They didn’t have to hurl verbal insults or resort to “stooping” to anyone else’s level.  They were better than that.  Stronger than that.  Stronger than I could have ever been on my own.

They simply stood beside me, calmly, and said “Enough.  No more.”

And finally, change happened.

I read a blog post recently about the racism that still exists in the world today and I was reminded of how many times I have stood by, quietly, while someone else stood up for themselves.  Kelly, a self-described light-skinned, black woman, talked about the horrendous comments she’s been privy to because she could “pass” as a white woman.  She quoted some of the words and phrases that I, as a white woman, have heard hundreds of times in my own life when I was in the company of other white people, people who assumed that I was in on the Secret Code Of The Fortunate Majority.

Things that I have heard… and often ignored.

Because I am not a racist.  Because I would never say such hateful things or pass on racism to my children.  Because I am leading by example and being the change I want to see in the world… and surely, that is enough.  Except, as Kelly reminded me, it’s not.  It’s not enough because when I sit at family functions or with friends I’ve known since childhood, and I hear people who are otherwise very good people make ignorant, racist remarks, my silence is interpreted as acceptance.  Validation.  A quiet seal of approval that this is just the way things are.

And just like that, I have become part of the problem – regardless of the otherwise “good example” I set in my own life.

And the sad truth is, I have more power to stop racism than Kelly does, simply because I will never find myself a victim of it.  When she speaks out, her voice is tainted to those who need to hear her most.  She touches me, surely.  But it is not my heart that needs to be softened or my mind that needs to be changed.  The truth is that in order for some people to hear Kelly’s voice, they need to hear mine as well.

It is not enough for me to simply walk the high road in silence, while Kelly continues to struggle to have her story be heard.

By all means, let’s be the change in our own lives first.  But then… but then…

Slavery did not end because owned men and women stood up for themselves.  Slavery ended because free people stood beside owned people and said, “Enough.  No more.”

The Civil Rights Movement did not succeed simply because African-Americans finally stood up for themselves.  It gained traction and power when nine powerful, affluent, un-oppressed white men used their power and privilege and position to say, “Enough.  No more.

It is not enough to quietly be the change in our own lives and hope that our dignified silence will drown out the deafening noise of racists and bullies and bigots and extremists.

It’s not enough to be quietly supportive of your homosexual friends, while saying nothing when your straight friends make homophobic jokes.

It’s not enough to quietly cast a vote representing your carefully thought out conservative ideals, while saying nothing when extremists in your party incite violence in your name.

It’s not enough to treat your own wife and daughters and sisters with dignity and respect, while saying nothing about the violent fights you overhear from your neighbor’s house.

It’s not enough, sometimes, for people to stand up for themselves.  Sometimes, people who stand up for themselves need good, strong, decent people to voluntarily choose to stand up beside them.

Change happens when voices who already possess power and respect dare to speak out.  Change happens when people who are safe and untouchable lend their credibility and protection to those who are not.

Change happens when we become the change we want to see in the world, and then say to the rest of the world “Enough.  No more.”

Kelly, I am so sorry for all the times I have had the opportunity to stand up for you and chose to let you fight alone, instead.  I promise to lend you my voice, even when you’re not around to hear it be used, whenever you may need it.  I promise to spread the word.  “Enough.  No more.  This door not open.

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  1. avitable says:

    I think the best line in this whole post is “Change happens when people who are safe and untouchable lend their credibility and protection to those who are not.”

    History has shown that this to be very true.

  2. Amy says:

    “It’s not enough to treat your own wife and daughters and sisters with dignity and respect, while saying nothing about the violent fights you overhear from your neighbor’s house.”

    Ok, then what should I do?

    I suspect that my neighbor is being beaten by her husband. She showed up at an event sporting a black eye and a bruised cheek. She has that “beaten puppy” way about her so common to abused women.

    My daughters (4 and 3) play with her daughter (6), and her daughter is welcome here, but I won’t allow my kids to go inside their house (because of what I suspect is going on there).

    Other neighbors, who live directly adjacent to the house, have seen and heard violent fights. The police have been there in the past. I know that she has left him before.

    The husband is Pakistani, and the wife is American. I understand that there may be cultural differences at work here that I am not sensitive to, however that doesn’t make it ok if what I suspect is going on is going on.

    She came over the other day to invite us to her daughter’s party, and I asked leading questions about intercultural marriage, and said several things like, “it must be really tough…” hoping to draw her out. She didn’t tell me anything.

    How involved can I get, without being an overly nosy neighbor? Not much more involved than I already am, is my gut instinct. I don’t want to bring a violent man’s wrath down on my family – especially since we own our home and can’t easily move if things get horrible. What exactly do you suggest I do?

    My point, and for a change I do have one, is that it’s really easy to write “you can’t just sit there,” but when you find yourself and your family in a situation EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE YOU DESCRIBED, getting involved isn’t exactly cut and dried. I can’t risk the safety of my own family to try to help another woman – an adult who should be able to help herself. For God’s sake, there are plenty of community resources to help women like her. Is it my responsibility? Even at the possible expense of my family’s safety?

    I’m not being a smart ass, I’m really asking. What do you think I should do?

    • FyreGoddess says:

      @Amy, domestic violence is one of those things that you can’t fix. I don’t care who claims differently, it’s a situation where the beaten partner needs to stand up for him/herself and you can’t force that.

      You can call the police, but until she’s ready to leave, she won’t press charges. The *only* thing that you can do in that situation is to be her friend and let her know that if she needs ANYTHING, you’ll be there for her.

      But that? You can’t stop. You can’t stop him from doing it and you can’t stop her from letting it happen. In cases of domestic violence, you are entirely helpless until the beaten partner decides that s/he has had enough.

      So, yeah, in that case, you have to just sit there and wait it out. Because anything you actually do will not be welcome.

      I’ve been through it with too many women to believe that you can ever save someone from herself. All you can do is be there when she needs a friend, and try not to judge.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Amy, you stand beside the women who are ready to stand up for themselves.

      Unfortunately, “good, strong, decent people” can’t go lending their voices to people who don’t want it. In political terms, that’s called Imperialism. :-)

      You don’t have to pretend like it’s OK, though.

    • @Amy, I like what FyreGoddess has to say, and I want to take it just a little further. Many women who are abused believe that they are alone, stuck, and on many levels deserve what they’re getting. I was emotionally and verbally abused for years, and I knew my neighbors knew and did nothing. It only ended up reenforcing what he was saying and doing to me. It’s true, I needed to leave when I was ready, but I would have done it way sooner had I known that my voice had the voices and strength of others who knew me and cared about me backing me up.

    • Mojo,NC,USA says:

      @Amy, If you’re familiar with the site Violence UnSilenced you may have seen this article that addresses the very question you’ve raised. If you’re not, then I highly recommend it. The whole site illustrates the premise behind this post actually — not where racism is concerned specifically, but in a related way.

      • Amy says:

        @Mojo,NC,USA, I had not seen that article, even though I read Violence UnSilenced. Thank you very much for bringing it to my attention.

        The same woman I posted about was recently involuntarily committed (!!!) by her husband and her mother for being schizophrenic. I’ve seen her in the neighborhood since then talking to herself, laughing inappropriately when no one’s around, and generally acting crazy.

        Obviously it’s a complicated situation. Maybe he socked her in the eye that time because she was about to hurt their daughter, who knows? Clearly the whole family is in crisis, and at least they’re getting help in some form now, if she’s in counseling for her mental illness. Hopefully her counselor is competent and will draw her out if she is being abused and get her the help she needs.

        I really appreciate your reply to my comment. Thanks!

  3. Robin says:

    My entire life I have been The Doormat, no matter how hard I try not to be. My entire life I have been the one picked on, I’ve never been a bully. That being said it is really hard for me to stand up to others because so often people jump at the chance to break me. I will say that in high school I was teased pretty much daily, mostly sexually harassed. I remember one guy was picking on this kid calling him gay and all those other kinds of words. I stood up for the kid and they all turned on me. Once and a while I have the balls to stand up but I think I’ve been beaten down one time too many.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Robin, I think it’s really, really hard to stand up for someone else when you’re still struggling to stand up for yourself. The fact that you even have the balls to try is admirable.

      But, yeah. The rule about oxygen masks and what not. ;-)

  4. Colin B. says:

    I love you. I have been trying to be more vocal about my disapproval of racist comments too but sometimes I feel that even that is not enough. I sometimes wish I could show people what it feels like to be in the receiving end of such comments. I need a magic wand or something.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Colin B., I know it feels like it’s not enough. And all by itself, maybe it wouldn’t be. But a whole lot of people doing the little bit of everything they can? Well, history says that DOES matter.

  5. Nanna says:

    Seriously. This is an amazing post. And YOU? Have some spectacular friends. I’m so proud to know you, Britt.

  6. Kat1124 says:

    Be prepared for your white friends with the racist jokes and comments to turn on you, and to lose friendships. Just saying…I don’t miss anyone I’ve lost by calling them out but some people aren’t prepared for that.

    To the lady with the abused neighbor, I feel your dilemma. I think you had the perfect opportunity, when she came over to invite your kids to the party, to tell her that you weren’t comfortable sending your kids because you hear the violence at her house. Not exactly that way but you had an opening to talk to her about it pretty directly, and that may have given an opening or you to tell her she has alternatives.is it a difficult conversation? Yes, but better than ignoring it. I understand your fear for the safety of your family, but if you ever get an opening to talk to her again, try.

    • Amy says:

      @Kat1124, the party is not in their home, so I didn’t think to use it as an opening to discuss what I suspect.

      @FryeGoddess, I agree with you. If she has left before, she knows how to leave. I hesitate to say, “If you need anything, come over…” because what if she does, and he follows her, and suddenly my kids are in the middle of a violent situation? Wasn’t the mayor of Milwaukee beaten last year or the year before because he got in the middle of a domestic dispute?

      If I didn’t have young kids, myself, I might get involved on that level… but I do have young kids, and their safety has to be my first priority, even though I feel for this woman, and my heart breaks for her daughter.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Kat1124, in most cases, I know I wouldn’t lose relationships. In the rare case that I would? Totally worth it.

  7. Angel Smith says:

    I have an old friend who uses the n-word, and when I spoke up, she hid behind the tired excuses of, “white people can be N-words too, it doesn’t have to do with race.” But I kept speaking up, and I made it clear that I don’t want my children to hear that word, and she stopped saying it. At least around me. It’s a small change, but one that I brought around, and that makes me proud.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Angel Smith, or the infamous “I’m not saying because they’re black. There’s black people, and then there’s N**.”

      You SHOULD be proud.

  8. Angel Smith says:

    @Amy,

    I’ve been in that situation..not exactly, but similar enough. I just told the wife straight up that I suspected she was being abused, and that if I was right, and she was ever ready to leave, to come to me and I would help. She denied it of course, but I just said, okay then, but if it ever does happen, the offer stood.

    (BTW, so nice to bump into you again!

  9. Finn says:

    You know what? Sometimes this is hard to do. Which makes it all the more important to do.

    Brava.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Finn, yeah, I know. I know this sounds insane, but there are some people I really, really care about who say things like this. I love these people. I know they have good in them. I can’t simply write them off as “hateful, horrible people”. I think that makes it harder to speak up, almost because I don’t want to hurt them.

      • Finn says:

        @Miss Britt, The good news is that change is possible. My stepfather used the n word on ocassion when my mother first met him. Beyond thar glaring exception he was a wonderful, giving person. After years of my mother, brother and I speaking up, I can proudly say I cannot remember the last time he made a racist remark of any kind.

  10. mel says:

    this is an amazing post. I could not agree with you more and have recently started living my life by these lessons and work everyday to instill a sense of compassion into my kids.

  11. Sarah says:

    Britt while I agree with most of what you’ve said, I disagree that you will never be subjected to racism because you’re white. I’m white also and let me tell you there are plenty of racists of all colors where I live. I’m called a cracker, white devil or rich white bitch daily. I don’t use the N word because I have some self respect and while rich white bitch isn’t the N word, it still hurts. Also having a group of people at work exclude you because you’re too white to be down sucks, but when they make you the butt of their jokes, yeah that sucks more. I am no where near some snotty white bitch nor am I rich by any means. So while I agree racism sucks, it’s not just white people who are guilty.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Sarah, for what it’s worth – the racism I would experience as a white woman in America cannot even compare to the racism that’s been perpetuated by white people on minorities. Doesn’t make ANY racism ok, obviously. But I can’t pretend the two are equal.

      And – no, there will not always be cases where I’m the respected, safe, voice. I’m a woman. I’m young. I’m not rich. Etc, etc, etc. But there are people whose voice mine CAN help – and I’m committed to do that, whether I have to experience racism at someone else’s hand or not.

      • Sarah says:

        @Miss Britt, I wasn’t implying you shouldn’t do what you think is best. I’m saying that more than just white folks are racist. I don’t like how people forget that when they go on these crusades to help the underdog who is most times just as guilty in this day and time. This isn’t the past and prior to my birth date I assume no responsibility for it, just as I think those who hold on to it should let go prior to their birth dates. I didn’t do it and they didn’t experience it, is all I’m sayin’.

  12. Jessica says:

    So happy to have found your blog.

  13. Raven says:

    The hardest place I have found to get traction in doing this, is with my teenage son and the use of the word “gay” it’s flung around so nonchalantly within his set of friends and within his school. I am constantly on him whenever I hear it from his lips. I explain how it’s not acceptable to use someone’s BEING as a SLUR.

    How he can be different from his friends, how he can show them a different way, a more intelligent way to rip on someone that has nothing to do with that or any other slur. How a roast is about humor and not pain and stupidity.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Raven, I have that same problem with a lot of the men in my life – of various ages. *ahem*

      My new tactic is this “OMG, he was acting so gay the other day in the store -” “What did he do? Start having sex with another man in aisle 12?” That seems to force a rethink real quick. ;-)

  14. Debra says:

    I really wish I had written this. It’s perfect.

  15. RW says:

    At some point after Easter dinner Sunday the “boys” will gather in the basement and there will be a few shots of whiskey chased down by a few beers and when they get good and loose my son-in-law or my nephew will start telling jokes and by the second one I’ll walk back upstairs because the content will, as usual, consist of stereotypes and the stuff *everybody knows* about other people. The same thing will happen next Thanksgiving and it’ll happen again at Christmas because it has happened every holiday I can remember since I was a small boy. Some uncle or other holding court and everybody laughing and nobody minding. Except then it was teenage me finding somewhere else to be. If I say something what do we get…? Shouting and a scene in front of all the kids? They already think I’m weird enough. And they’ll learn nothing from me, so I just walk away.

    I don’t know what exists inside of people in my own family, people even younger than me, who like to tell these jokes on holidays we’re supposed to be celebrating some connection to God. I don’t know why they carry it around with them and then when we’re in the parking lot of Sox Park and a black family parks next to us while we’re cooking up some burgers they’re all condescending and doing forced conversations and I just *facepalm* as I watch them.

    Then they wonder why we leave early every holiday. Or maybe they know. I can never tell with these strangers anymore.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @RW, I don’t know what the answer to that is. I don’t think shouting at people rarely “works” to deliver any kind of message. I just don’t know.

      I’m sorry you have to walk away from holiday events – but I think it’s probably more admirable than my “just sit there and say nothing” approach.

  16. Erin says:

    I’m going to first say that this is an awesome post and that you make a lot of great points. :)

    Now I’m going to say that I agree with Sarah and it isn’t always a caucasian person who is racist. Racism happens against white people too and it is just as hurtful and ignorant. I was subjected to horrible racism from kids *and adults* during the years my family lived in Hawaii.

    The larger point of your post, though, is important: it is important to stand up when you disagree with what is happening, espeically if what is happening is happenning to someone who cannot stand up for themselves. And I do agree with that.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Erin, any time ANYONE is dehumanized, for whatever reason, it’s a bad thing.

      I have a knee jerk reaction to the “black people can be racist, too” argument because I’ve heard it used a lot as an excuse from white people who live in mainly white America.

  17. While I agree with you fully, I have to say there are times when we are gasping for air in our own lives and it is perfectly ok to focus on reaching the shore before pulling others to the same. As long as our hearts are set on doing just that.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @TSM-30somethingandcrazy, we ALWAYS have to put on our own oxygen mask first.

      Actually – reading your comment and Robin’s above made me realize just what a big deal it is to find yourself in a position when you DO have a strong, respected voice to use… and what a shame it is to let that go to waste. Because as you’ve pointed out – that’s not always the case.

  18. avasmommy says:

    I grew up in the South, and my grandmother never thought twice about using the N word. I cringed each time she said it. Finally, in my late teens, I told her I would not listen to her use it. I knew I wasn’t going to change who she was – she was well into her 80s by then, but that didn’t mean I had to stay silent and be complicit in her use of it, or her behavior.

  19. Poppy says:

    Well, as we know, I’m one of the people who tells you to ignore it. And you say it doesn’t work, but I think that’s a choice to not let it work.

    And that said, I’m not the source of attacks at the moment.

    If I start to be the source of attacks I will turn off my wireless network on my computer and read a fucking book.

    Yes, Poppy, we know, you’re perfect, you’re awesome, bullies can’t get you, that’s really nice, but that’s not MY situation.

    And to that I say: Stop confiding for now. And stop letting others be your source for strength. You’re your own pillar. You have to work on your personal strength and then the bullies can’t get in.

    Perhaps too much said in a comment.

    Do not answer this comment with the word “but” anywhere in it. :)

    • Poppy says:

      @Poppy, or “can’t”. No “can’t”.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Poppy, I know you don’t mean it this way, but it’s kind of hurtful when someone has had their feelings hurt to say “well that’s your choice to let it bother you.” I do believe I know your intent though and you’re right that there is a lot of internal work to be done to build yourself up so that other people have less power to hurt you. But just… be careful with that. There’s a fine line where you start to “blame the victim”, so to speak. (Not necessarily with me, but I just want to put that out there.)

      ANYway – whether or not “ignoring” bullying OR racism “works” – I believe that the most it can “work” to the extent that it may stop happening to you. Unfortunately, that often just means that the original offenders move on to a new target. I’m not OK with that.

  20. Mocha says:

    Where can I possibly begin to respond to this brilliant, well-written, compassionate post?

    I read it this morning when I kept getting hits from your blog (because, for once, I had time to do that!) and, instantly, I wanted to cry out, “Oh, Britt! Don’t apologize! That’s ok!” but I know that wasn’t your mission in writing this.

    So it was this: “And the sad truth is, I have more power to stop racism than Kelly does, simply because I will never find myself a victim of it. When she speaks out, her voice is tainted to those who need to hear her most. She touches me, surely. But it is not my heart that needs to be softened or my mind that needs to be changed. The truth is that in order for some people to hear Kelly’s voice, they need to hear mine as well.

    …this, brought me to my knees. When I say something it’s met with “You’re black. Of course you’d say that.” and yet I’m not the one who started this conversation – well, not the one with the racists I mean.

    Power is a dangerous thing. Take it up, though. I need you to do that. I need all my friends to stand with me and not just the Black ones, but the short, curly haired, wild ones like you.

    Thank you for your voice.

    I love you, girl.
    xoxo

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Mocha, I hate how true that part is. Hate it. Because you are so much more articulate than I am that you SHOULD be listened to.

      And – well – just – love you, too.

  21. martymankins says:

    Very well written post, Britt.

    I am appalled at how far we have come as a diverse society in the way that we have made so many social and human steps forward, only to have many others still wanting to segregate themselves from others, denying rights and just plain being fucking mean and cruel to others.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @martymankins, it is appalling. And it can be overwhelming, sometimes. But still, I believe, there is more good than bad. The good just needs to be reminded to speak up at least as loudly as the bad once in a while. :-)

  22. Becca says:

    I have to say I am guilty of what you have seen. We all know the proverbial joke about how men don’t have a problem seeing two women together b/c they’re turned on, but two guys ewwww! Because I work in a prison I see this a lot. I hear them call our offenders queer or fag b/c they’re not talking to me right? Except that I am a lesbian so if they bash one they bash us all right? Point taken Britt, very good point made. I will say that the times I have tried to defend them I get a lot of that powerless feeling. They don’t listen precisely because I am a lesbian.

  23. damn, that was one hell of a wonderful post. and quite the reminder to all. thanks for that.
    xoxo

  24. Selma says:

    I was also a victim of bullying at school and it upset me to read that it happened to you to the extent that it did.

    I am over racism and people generally acting like dickheads. We’re supposed to be living in a sophisticated society, not the Middle Ages.

    Your point about standing together and saying ‘Enough’ is such an important one. It turns a hopeless situation into a hopeful one. If people are worried about doing something like that I say: ‘Just do it. Jump in.’ With that one act you will have made a difference to someone’s life.

    I try to incorporate your philosophy as much as I can into my life. Sometimes it’s hard, but it is always worth it. Great post, Britt.

  25. kelly says:

    Came here on the insistence of some tweets. Glad I did. This made me think you are not only a very talented writer, but a pretty amazing women, as well.

  26. Robin says:

    “It’s not enough because when I sit at family functions or with friends I’ve known since childhood, and I hear people who are otherwise very good people make ignorant, racist remarks, my silence is interpreted as acceptance.”

    I wouldn’t blame yourself for that – you can’t control what people do or say….you can only try and influence the aftermath, so to speak; which you are trying to do by learning to do better and be better. With that being said however, I would venture to wonder whether they were REALLY good people after all. Maybe I am being a little extremist about this, but I learned the hard (and very difficult and painful) way that “good” people usually don’t spout out racist shit. It’s like saying, “Oh, so and so called Michael Jordan a “porch monkey”, but they go to church, take care of their families and donate to their local soup kitchen, so that makes them good.

    Bullshit.

    These same “good” people think nothing of throwing around racial slurs at people simply because they have different skin tones – I find that not only sad, but downright hypocritical….regardless of what color they are.

    Some people in my family pull this shit all the time, and when I call them on it, they try to explain away, saying that that “we have an excuse to be racist” because we’re Black and continuously go through the struggle. That may be true, but considering there will always be racism and discrimination in the world, I also have a choice in whether to participate in such things and associate myself with people who do.

    My choice is not to.

    By the way – if you can, you should catch this PBS special: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/reports/episode-two.html. It will have you looking at the civil rights movement in a different light. If you get to watch it, e-mail me and tell me what you think.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Robin, not everyone I know who has said used a racial slur is a good person. Some people are, unfortunately, just hateful.

      But some people are also… ignorant. Lazy thinkers. Uneducated and unaware of the power of their words.

      I don’t say that to excuse that behavior, and I also don’t say they are good people because they go to church or “do good things”. I say this because some of these people I have known my entire life. I know their hearts, and I know how much good and love there is inside there, somehow living right beside the bigotry. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make sense to me. But having seen it, I can’t pretend it’s not there – either of it.

      And thank you for sharing that link with me.

  27. Now that I have children who are not white, children who get discriminated against, I always speak up. However, in some ways that makes me voice tainted too. However, it is such a shame (and really I consider myself a disgrace) that it took me to have it in my life to start speaking up. I turned my eyes (or my ears really) when I heard things that made me uncomfortable. I was silent. And now I am ashamed of that. This is an awesome post!!

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Upstatemomof3, it’s never a disgrace to take time to learn or “get” something. Man, please don’t say that about yourself.

      • @Miss Britt, Well, maybe that is a little harsh – I tend to be hard on myself. I just mean I wish I had gotten it before. I wish it had not taken it being directed at my kids for me to see that sitting back and not saying anything is wrong.

        And I want to say again I truly love this post!!

  28. pixielation says:

    Excellent post. By doing nothing, we often do others harm. Having a silent opinion is like having no opinion at all.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @pixielation, “Having a silent opinion is like having no opinion at all.” I wholeheartedly believe there are many times when that is true. Not always, maybe. But lots.

  29. Instantly I’m reminded of a Flobots song: “Stand up, we shall not be moved, except by a child with no socks and shoes, if you’ve got more to five than you’ve got to prove, put your hands up and I’ll copy you.”

    I was bullied through elementary and middle school, and it sucked, especially since even my teachers would not stand up for me. The only people who did stand up for me were my parents, who had to fight the principal, who didn’t want to do anything about it.

    I’m a firm believer in standing up. I wouldn’t want anyone in the lonely position I was in.

    • Eep; “if you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove.”

      Sigh.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Elizabeth Kaylene, lonely. Exactly. That’s EXACTLY what it feels like. Like you don’t matter. Like you’re all alone with no one to stand up for you. Exactly.

      And yeah, once you’ve felt that? It becomes really, really hard to knowingly let someone else feel that.

      • @Miss Britt, It also becomes really hard to shake those feelings, even long after the bullying is through. I recently read about two different teenage girls, in two different states, who were bullied before they both killed themselves. And, in my state, a guy who was bullied by his two “friends” was murdered a week or so ago.

        It all completely breaks my heart.

  30. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I worked in a quaker school for a number of years. Studying and thinking about the practice of “bearing witness” forced me to confront that same fact about myself: that I had stood by and not spoken up. Once I acknowledged it, I was harder not to.

    Plus, I turned 40 and don’t really give a fuck who I piss off anymore. especially if it’s a racist!!

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Jane/Well Read Hostess, “Once I acknowledged it, I was harder not to.”

      Sometimes realizations are a bitch for that exact reason. LOL

  31. Ankur Kakkar says:

    Hi,

    interesting post. i agree with overall viewpoint that its not merely enough for the victims to stand up for themselves. However, that must be the first step after which only the second step can follow. First,you must gather the strength and confidence to stand up for yourself and remain undeterred by anything.you must not expect or hope that other more fortunate ones will come to rescue. Only then, will others volunteer once they see your courage.
    So, the litmus test if whether you are courageus enough to take the plunge ? External support is indispensable, but the onus lies with you.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Ankur Kakkar, I absolutely agree that the first step has to be for the victims to stand up for themselves. And, like you said, we can’t sit around HOPING someone will come to our rescue, either.

  32. Manoj says:

    This was a very thought provoking post. As I read it, I found myself going through events in my mind – some of them racist, some of them biased in other ways, and understood how one may view silence as complicity. Nobody deserves to be discriminated against due to skin color, race, gender, cultural background or sexuality. Unfortunately, as a species, human beings are far from attaining such an admirable goal.
    As a child growing up in South Wales, I remember being picked on because I was the only brown skinned person in my class. I remember some very bad times – but I also remember some good times. For example, when a ginger haired snotty little weasel named Jason started cursing at me in school one day, and calling me a f’ing this and a black f’ing that, one of my classmates, a really quiet guy named Steven, who hardly ever spoke to me, picked up Jason, and dumped him in a trash can. He then apologized to me for Jason’s inexcusable behavior. I was flabbergasted, and didn’t say much other than thank you! I guess the point that I am trying to make is that sometimes, while silence can be viewed as complicity, those that remain silent can surprise you in a very positive way!

  33. muskrat says:

    Lots of bad things still exist in our world, sadly.

  34. Sarcastica says:

    Everybody in the world should read this post.

  35. [...] grew up in a small community, I wasn’t targeted like some of the people I know. I had a few hurtful, harsh comments tossed my way regarding my bone disorder and how it was [...]

  36. Zoeyjane says:

    I applaud this revelation. And that you chose to do it, to use it.

  37. mamawest says:

    What an excellent and true post! Thank you. There is just one thing about it that puzzles me. If you feel this way about the use of the “N” word and the use of “gay” as an insult, why are you okay with using the word retard or retarded in that way? What is your response if one of your boys says ““OMG, he was acting so retarded the other day in the store -”? You have written, “Change happens when people who are safe and untouchable lend their credibility and protection to those who are not.” Yet you are comfortable using my child’s disability and “being” as a synonym for stupid or annoying or ridiculous and you say nothing when your friends do the same. Please lend your credibility and protection to her as well because she is certainly not safe or untouchable. And when I, as her mother, speak out against the way the “r” word is used, I am dismissed as being overly sensitive or lacking a sense of humor. Yet I am still saying, “Enough. No more.” For her sake and for the sake of her brother and sister who feel so blessed to have her loving spirit in her their lives. I totally respect and enjoy your blog, but “Clearly, You’re Retarded…” Really?!

    • Miss Britt says:

      @mamawest, you have a very valid point here.

      Sadly, all the excuses I have for continuing to lazily use that word are about how *I* think of it – which really doesn’t compare to how someone who is mentally disabled or has a child who is mentally disabled feels about hearing that word.

      • mamawest says:

        @Miss Britt, Thanks for that! It is a start. I know this post referred to bullying and racism, but it’s hard for me to ignore the similarities. In addition to all the horrible atrocities the mentally disabled have faced in history (the Holocaust, forced sterilization, hidden away in “homes”), there is a very real and current acceptance of treating people like my daughter as less than human and the butt of our jokes. I get it. I used to do it too. And then, there is this horrifying reality.

  38. Jared says:

    “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
    – Hellen Keller

  39. Grumble Girl says:

    What a wonderful post. Good job, lady.

  40. That was a really powerful post. Thanks so much for speaking up. I needed to hear this. As I am living and working in South Africa right now, experiencing poverty and things I consider unjust on a first hand basis regularly, it is so good to be reminded that justice happens when people choose to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves. Thanks for the encouragement to keep speaking up…I needed it! xCC

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