It’s Black History Month.
I haven’t shared many things, because I’ve felt like I don’t have the adequate words to honor what deserves honor, and I don’t want to simply share a token MLK quote; it goes so much deeper than a pretty Instagram quote taken from something much larger.
All during 2020 I kept seeing “amplify black voices,” everywhere, but it seemed to me that the only voices that were truly broadcasted and given a platform were the ones that sounded the same, the ones the media agreed with; and I truly thought that was the majority.
Until I started reading comments from POC whose voices were not being amplified. They were angry because their voices were silenced, or they were “cancelled” altogether.
Calling a different perspective wrong is telling someone that their own experiences, what they’ve seen with their own eyes, is wrong.
This was when I realized, no, not all POC felt the same. And to assume such, to tell black men and women with different perspectives they’re wrong, seems to be truly oppressive. “Amplify black voices” means amplifying all black voices. Even the ones that might bristle a white savior complex. The voices that you might not agree with, because disagreement doesn’t mean wrong, and they still deserve to be heard.
She recently shared an Instagram post about how Black History Month upset and saddened her as a child, because the stories she heard in school perpetuated that narrative in her head that “Black people die horrible deaths.
“Through my own exploration I realized two things. 1. People who don’t care about this country or it’s people wrote Black History books, so generations of people would feel traumatized and ashamed of who they are. 2. It’s another example of how tedious and patronizing these past several months have been when discussing race in our country. So. I’m reclaiming. You and I both need a better narrative. So let’s make one.”
Kaitie has been sharing some very thought provoking posts in honor of Black History Month and I wanted to share her perspective, so I asked her to write a post for me!
Why I Had To Break Up With The “Woke White Liberal”
By Kate Baker-Wlodyka
I would first like to thank Alyssa for reaching out to me. Now more than ever, I am truly grateful to be heard and seen. I’ve been told by some that I shouldn’t have to invoke my own trauma in order to share space or be heard by others. To all those who feel concerned for me, trust I am well rested as I write this. I do not believe I am running the risk of weaponizing my own voice, in order for others to hear me… *insert sarcastic laugh here*
When George Floyd died I, like many others, cried out in pain and horror. Whenever I hear of violence towards Black people in America, my head immediately goes to my father, my brother, my children and the possibility being exposed to violence.
I grieved. This isn’t the first time I felt a wave of sadness and anger come across me, as I hear in the news, “Black Man, found shot, killed someone, robbed someone…” Often, those headlines have sent me spiraling into anxiety about death and violence.
This narrative is something I believe, as a collective, we are forced to co-sign. It perpetuates the notion that has dominated this country for centuries, “Black people die horrible deaths.”
I went to the protest in downtown Cleveland. I made my sign and found various people with whom I connected. We cried the tears and sang songs. It was a cathartic and very healing experience. I stood alongside others and we had an empathic connection. We shared the generational trauma of racism in our country, that ol’ “Here we go again,” feeling, as events unfolded.
As with many other protests I have attended in my time, I knew some of the folks who were there did not understand racial trauma. They did not have the shared lived experiences and the urgency of continuing to uphold civil rights in our country. Their virtue signaling, and false alignments were similarly woven throughout.
What I was not prepared for however, was when I shared my opinions on various movements and dynamics that were becoming more apparent to me, with people I trusted, I was dismissed.
I was told that my opinions weren’t properly formulated.
My feelings weren’t valid and I wasn’t empathetic enough to others who were so vehemently “down with the cause.” Their comments were usually initiated by the familiar line, “But you don’t think Black people are being oppressed?” That’s when I realized the “woke White liberal,” had become a new factor in our national conversation.
It has become embedded into the consciousness of many Americans, that Black people are all the same. We all face impossible barriers to improvement. We all fall short along the same standards, and we all are eventually killed by gun fire. Malcolm X is quoted in saying, “The White liberal is the worst enemy to America. The worst enemy to a Black man.” He goes on to explain the toxicity of the white liberal on the Black community and how they have hindered the advancement and self-reliance of the Black man.
In my professional role as a social worker, I have tried to gain my own footing regarding what is wrong with navigating this narrative in my relationships with others. I’ve become cognizant of how it has impacted me, directly. I wanted to conceptualize and capture my anger into a clearer picture.
I started thinking about problematic relationships. I realized how they can erode a person, by causing them to feel inferior, and ultimately, they find themselves struggling to define their own independence.
Here are some areas I think fit into my experience with the “woke white liberal,” and why I needed to move on.
There’s a complete imbalance of power:
The general discussion I’ve noticed lately is there is only one way to “be” in this country. You support the benevolent government who is bringing relief to our nation. You are atoning for some egregious act or thought process that made you inherently racist and anyone who disagrees with these thoughts is somehow in denial of their own racism.
Hmmm….”but what if you’re Black or Latino and voted conservative?” What if you grew up in the Jewish faith and felt wildly offended by remarks senators have made regarding Israel? What if you read up on some of the legislation passed and felt it was more aligned with your own religious practices?
The power dynamic has shifted in this country. No longer is there space for differing opinions. It is seen as a personal attack for someone to believe or think something that may vary from others. Words like social justice, bigot, xenophobe, racist, fascist, liberal, conservative are meaningless words today. Used as verbal warfare, rather than honest descriptions.
“Intent to deceive,” as Orwell said, these words serve to support someone’s agenda rather than to create understanding. We now abuse each other with jargon that has lost value.
Any argument with the “woke white liberal,” can jeopardize the relationship. It’s a lonely place to be, to disagree with the majority on various topics. I have often stayed silent on issues I care about, because I feared negative conversations would risk me losing someone.
I have found myself quick to apologize and ask forgiveness for disagreeing, knowing if I didn’t cover up my true feelings or thoughts, they’ll lose interest in me. All the while, by not being honest, the rift in the relationship was already there.
You feel worse when you’re with them:
When your nearest and dearest is the “woke White liberal”, at times the conversation should seem more in depth, than what it is, right? “These folks are my friends, they saw something in me that is valuable and worthy.” Right?
They read “White Fragility” or “How to be Antiracist” so they are more prepared to have conversations with you than other folks. Right? Clearly, I should feel empowered and uplifted to be around them? Shouldn’t I?
But, in my experience, the conversations have often been one sided and often go nowhere. Vague requests for how “they can change for you in meaningful ways,” only for some redirect to some unknowable entity that hinders such change.
What is really requested, at these conversations, is for me to listen and validate. I have felt, in many instances, the attention is not on me as an equal. Whether it is tokenizing or some unconscious need to be reassured they aren’t racist, many times I feel worse when I am around them. I have felt more microaggression, reminders of differences and am often left wondering, do they think I’m inferior?
You don’t feel like yourself around them:
Yep. It’s true. I have played the “Mad Black woman,” many times. I have said things I didn’t mean, and blamed those who I shouldn’t have. For what? Because the media has slandered someone? Because I should be angry at someone else in power, rather than taking responsibility for myself and how I impact my community?
Truth is, I am not a mad Black woman. I have tailored myself to someone else’s expectations of me. I’m angry with myself that rather than defining myself better, I caved. I don’t like myself when I am around the” woke White liberal”, who tells me that “there’s work to do.” Who am I working for? Why?
On the other side of this break up, I have found myself again. I have opened up to the possibilities that I knew were there all along. I am not just another monolithic Black vote, a palatable minority that is “safe” to be around or a parody of myself to make others laugh.
I have never unquestioningly accepted whatever some person in authority suggests merely because their title might suggest that I should. I take pride in trusting my intuition on things, and I don’t have to second guess myself anymore.
Clearing toxicity from my life has allowed me to be more open to healthier relationships as well. I have had the opportunity to meet others with similar experiences. I’m working on extending mutual respect, and understanding. Truth is, it’s not trendy to disagree with liberal thought. It’s not supported in our society, and you certainly run the risk of being completely ostracized from most of your community.
One thing that I find most exasperating is the underlying condescending tone of the “woke White liberal”. I sense they think somehow minorities in this country are inept and completely incapable of succeeding in America without some liberal do-gooder there to advocate on their behalf. When all the while history has shown they have done more harm than good.
This month is Black History Month. The opportunity for voices to be heard and our history to be celebrated. I admire those who stand for our country. I do this because I believe in the human experience, genuine and beautiful that it is.
So, I guess to the “woke white liberal”, it’s not you. It’s me.
Thanks for reading friends! I’d encourage you to connect with Kaitie on Instagram and follow along as she highlights some amazing Black men and women this month!