Racism Doesn’t Happen If You Are Nice & Other Racist Myths (a 2-Part Series)

Often after racism results in the death of a Black person, I can anticipate a frantic barrage of white rage fueled posts. Journalists will desperately scour the victim’s social media pages to find potentially inflammatory pictures to utilize beside headlines like: NAME SMOKED MARIJUANA, or NAME HAD A HISTORY OF MISDEMEANORS. Very rarely do we seem the same kinds of organized efforts when white women or men are killed.

As an academic and writer on racial justice and Black racial identity, I intentionally interact daily with other people about the meaning of race in our lives.

A question that Robin DeAngelo utilizes which I also use in my classes asks participants to consider for one uninterrupted minute how their life has been shaped by race.

Often, I receive silence from my white participants.

Understanding how race, particularly whiteness (note the function of whiteness is different than white people) functions is imperative when discussing the nuanced and often insidious ways it reinforces a culture of supremacy.

In the wake of Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, and Ahmaud Arbery’s lynchings, I have been unsettled by how the messaging of niceness continues to pervade and inform white allyship.

Too often, when I share stories of how I have been impacted by racism, I hear responses like:

  • “I’m so sorry…you are like the nicest person I know…”
  • “I’m so sorry…you are such a sweet person though!”
  • “I’m so sorry…I didn’t know people like you experienced racism.”

Pay attention to the semantics.

Oof.

Perhaps you, like me, have noticed the underlying and horrifying ideology that racism happens to “deserving” Blacks. Perhaps you’ve also heard it in dog whistles like: “well why were they talking back to the police officer, why were they jogging, why were they sleeping with someone who had a gun, why did they smoke marijuana…”

How often will a white person instruct Black people that niceness is the only deterrent to racism? And, how often is that niceness also tied to concepts of cursory palatability?

And, perhaps similar, how often does this instruction come from white people who fundamentally rely on their own “niceness” as a way to avoid culpability for racist acts?

Recently, Franklin County’s official website, in a now since deleted page (thanks to Instagram user @trustmeiamasocialworker’s efforts to amplify and call for action), had provided its constituents with a PDF of instructions specifically stated for the African American community on what kinds of masks to wear. Instructions included wearing bright colored masks and avoiding bandanas, gang colors, or masks with scary pictures.

While the PDF included links to contemporary articles on why Black people are generally hesitant to wear a mask, and to the NAACP, the pointed centering of Black communities by asking them to specifically wear items that would make them appear “less threatening” was disingenuous at best and racist at worst.  

But this can be what unchecked white allyship looks like. This can be what niceness culture endorses – another set of rules policing Black bodies.

When I facilitate workshops on allyship, I often utilize journal prompts as a way of engaging participants to think critically and carefully about ways in which various ideologies have impacted their ability to engage in relationships. Below are some helpful journal prompts around niceness.

What does it mean to be nice?

How has niceness culture impacted or impeded your ability to engage in relationships holistically?

How has niceness culture impacted or impeded your ability to enter into racial justice work?

How has niceness culture impacted your ability to share or endorse Black or POC content?

How has niceness culture shown up in your actions?

What would you do or say if niceness culture didn’t exist?

How does niceness culture connect with freedom?

Love Notes to Joy #1

Inspirado en las notas de amor de Mari Andrew a NYC. Inspired by Mari Andrew’s love notes to NYC.

the smell of mom’s homemade oatmeal bread and the always too soft butter in the butter dish that invokes questions like: did someone forget to close the lid? I think this is a knat. Or, did someone use jam and then dip into the butter? What else makes purple stains like this?

believing in sunshine and magic as bare toes wander across fresh cut grass.

running outside to smell the rain on the creosote bushes while a toddler claps at your antics through a neighbor’s window.

surprised by unexpected cats in the neighbor’s blinds

the sound of the softball bat hitting the ground and the team’s cheers after he hits a homerun.

that grassy knoll behind the oak tree above the stream that if you sit at the exactly right spot you can watch the crawdads and still create a dandelion chain.

the aspiring rapper that trusts you enough to share their creation and you need to contemplate a creative way of saying something along the lines of: don’t give up but please don’t ever publish this.

phone calls from small humans that still believe that phones are just magical places to say words like “Hi. I miss you. I love you. Come play with me. Have a good day.”

Phone calls from bigger humans that still believe the phones are magical places to say: “will you just stay here with me while I cry?”

  • el olor del pan de avena casero de mamá y la mantequilla siempre demasiado suave en el plato de mantequilla que invoca preguntas como: ¿alguien olvidó cerrar la tapa? Creo que esto es un knat. ¿O alguien usó mermelada y luego se sumergió en la mantequilla? ¿Qué más hace que las manchas moradas como esta?
  • Creer en la luz del sol y la magia mientras los dedos desnudos deambulan por la hierba recién cortada.
  • correr afuera para oler la lluvia en los arbustos de creosota mientras un niño pequeño aplaude a tus payasadas a través de la ventana de un vecino.
  • sorprendido por gatos inesperados en las persianas del vecino
  • el sonido del bate de softbol golpeando el suelo y los vítores del equipo después de que él pega un jonrón.
  • esa loma cubierta de hierba detrás del roble sobre el arroyo que si te sientas exactamente en el lugar correcto puedes ver los crawdads y aún crear una cadena de diente de león.
  • el aspirante a rapero que confía en ti lo suficiente como para compartir su creación y debes contemplar una forma creativa de decir algo como: no te des por vencido, pero por favor, nunca publiques esto.
  • llamadas telefónicas de pequeños humanos que todavía creen que los teléfonos son solo lugares mágicos para decir palabras como “Hola. Te extraño. te quiero. Ven a jugar conmigo. Tenga un buen día.”
  • Llamadas telefónicas de humanos más grandes que todavía creen que los teléfonos son lugares mágicos para decir: “¿te quedarás aquí conmigo mientras lloro?”

Racial Justice Resources for Educators

Artwork from Amplifier by Kate DeCiccio

Growing up, I didn’t have access to many resources about racial justice. Now, as an adult, I am delighted by all of the racial justice resources now available to educators through textual and visual learning resources as well as via web and social media platforms.

Developing this list has been a true labor of love, and I hope you find resources here that continue to enrich your journey.

A few important notes:

*This list is primarily focused on providing Black racial justice resources and is not comprehensive – many voices are missing and I welcome your recommendations.

*While I can vouch for 80% of all resources listed on this list, I did include resources that have been recommended to me as well. Many of these resources helped me to think more critically and carefully about my role as a racial justice advocate and educator. It is okay if what has been helpful to me may not be helpful or right for you or your students.

*Some of these resources are “itchy” resources (or, at least they are itchy to me). I included them because I think they (ie: Chelsea Handler’s documentary on White Privilege, Peggy McIntosh, Tim Wise…) provide an important opportunity for white educators to discuss privilege.

This list has been categorized by the following mediums: Article, Book, Conference, Podcast, Poetry, Scholarly Journal Article, Social Media, Visual Learning, Webpage, Website. (Note: Social Media means that this resource/person can be found on the following social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).

And Genres: Biography, Comedy, Criticism, Documentary, Education, Essays, Fiction, Gender Studies, Hashtags, History, Interview, Non-Fiction, Opinion, Psychology, Race Relations, Religious, Slam Poetry, and Sociology.

Recommendations: If you are looking for racial justice resources, I recommend that you include into your practice looking at the educators and racial advocates that you follow on social media. Check out their “follow” list – this is a great tool to find new resources.

I also recommend following different educational institutions and checking out their class syllabi and required texts. I routinely check Berkeley, Teachers College of Columbia University, Harvard, and ASU for class syllabi on race and education.

Check out the list here.