For several years now, I have received scores of emails that have asked me for advice on certain situations. As of yesterday, I decided to create a Ask Dr. Breeze section of my Sistah Vegan Blog. Simply send me your questions and Post them to the blog and try to offer a response. The most important thing to remember is that these responses are my take on the situation; it is not the end all be all and simply 1 perspective out of billions. What I can provide is a critical race feminist framework + my own embodied experiences + engaged mindfulness (Ahimsa and Zen Buddhist based) when offering my wisdom.
Here is the first email to kick off the series. At the end, I offered my two cents but also wanted to open it up to others out there who would like to compassionately weigh in. I definitely will not be publishing comments that are cruel and troll-like.
Note: the person who wrote the email below is a Black identified woman.
Since post-Charleston shootings, it’s more obvious than ever that the Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacist based racism and violence for a significant number of Black people living in the USA. But yes, not everyone may have that association/trigger. The man wants to personally talk to you because it’s probably very important to him that he clarify his intentions (i.e. “No, really, I’m not Dylann Roof. I’m not a racist.”
However, this is more about impact than intent. Requesting that you enter that space with him will be a space saturated with the socio-historical dynamic of systemic racism and white supremacy by default. Whether he is conscious of it or not, he would be white-mansplaining the meaning of the flag for him and the impact on your would be negative. If he ‘understands’, it is strange he needs to explain versus simply apologizing for the unintended impact. Many [white] people who display the confederate flag really do believe, “It’s not about racism but just the deep meaning it has to my Southern roots and pride.” Images like the below, sprung up quite a bit, post-Charleston.
He may sincerely feel bad that he wearing it caused you to feel unsafe and perhaps it’s important for him to clarify that he is not a Dylann Roof. He may not have been malicious at all (you stated you experienced it that way), but once again, it doesn’t matter about intent, as one can have good intentions and still have bad impact– especially if they are coming from a place of ignorance and privilege(we all have done that). However, it’s up to you on whether or not you want to enter that space to listen to him. I have personally felt it to be painful and heart-breaking to hear those in privileged social locations explain their beliefs that have negative impact on those not part of that privileged social location. I’ve heard white people explain to me why something is not racist, despite the social science and legal studies research showing the negative impact that ‘something not racist’ has had on non-white groups. I have had cisgender men explain to me why something isn’t misogynistic, despite the rigorous research showing otherwise, in terms of impact. At the end of these
dialogues monologues, I have never felt like that person was being an ally or dismantling the very systems of oppression they were benefiting from; just being apologists.
I’d imagine that most mainstream healing and trauma places in the USA are not trained to handle these situations, unless they really are targeting a certain population (i.e. healing and transformation spaces for Black queer women for example). Most staff don’t have experience in [un]conscious bias training and facilitation around the Big 8 or 9 social identities/processes that comes out of systemic oppressions (i.e, race, class, gender, ability, etc). It could very well be that the interns knew the symbol was problematic but simply didn’t know how to handle it.
I think, if anything, these difficult and painful situations indicate the necessity to not just have a national dialogue about systemic racism/white supremacy’s impact, but how individuals can become change-makers by intervening. Remember, most of us in privileged social locations are not trained or even literate enough to know we are upholding systemic oppression (i.e., racism is lynching black people. It’s not institutional, systemic, or structural. Sexism is a man sexually harassing a woman at work; it’s not institutional, systemic, or structural.)
May you find the right healing space for yourself.
About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project
Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.