Two days ago, I was at the gas station when my friend and column collaborator Veronica Roltgen messaged me, overwhelmed in frustration and pain, from yet another encounter she had with a dreadful racist online.
Except this time, it was a fellow parishioner at her parish—a woman she knows and sees in real life. A woman she tried to reason with, acknowledging her personhood.
Well, you can imagine well how that went. Veronica sent me the chilling, infuriating screenshots, and I’ve included them below. (Bear with me, because its long. But it’s like a 50 story building on fire—somehow you just can’t bear to look away.)
CW: Racism and dehumanization of marginalized peoples
So here is my message for you, Ms. Karen, whomever and wherever you may be:
“‘Don’t fight hate with hate’ is an example of subtle gaslighting, where our legitamate hurt & anger at the injustices we suffer is equated to the bigotry and abuse of our oppressors. Being angry doesn’t mean you are being hateful, it means you love yourself to get upset at your own mistreatment.“
And honestly, that’s literally all that needs to be said.
But for your benefit and for that of all those white folk who right now are feeling all kinds of uncomfortable feels about being victimized by the Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, and all other movements demanding reparation for racism, I’d like to get a little more in depth. Because the reality is, white privilege does exist, and I have benefitted from it all my life, so I’m going to take a moment, do what POC folk have begged us to do for generations, and use my voice to advocate for theirs and defend them against the evils of racism.
So, listen up, Karen. (Can I call you Karen? You do seem like a Karen. It suits you.)
May I just ask you straight up, what would possess you to believe this behavior counts as a compassionate system of beliefs that emphasizes the dignity of all humans and their image of the God you profess to love?
Look, as a white woman myself who has never ever suffered discrimination or hate due to the color of my pasty, corpse-like, vitamin D-deficient skin, let me try and use my privilege to help you understand how horrific your views are.
To start off with, yeah: I’ve been discriminated against on a near constant basis for the entirety of my existence, too.
So, honestly, I get it—I also used to stomp around spewing my white fragility like projectile vomit all over the room. I do know what it’s like to be in your shoes.
And in a sense, you’ve got the barest sliver of a point. Like you, I have been marginalized, abused, and discriminated against. As a female gay abuse survivor who lodged herself stubbornly wedged within the heart of the Catholic Church, I too understand what hurt, hatred, bullying, and discrimination are.
But I truly fail to see the logic behind claiming that my pain invalidates the horrific pain another person, and particular another entire demographic of persons, have suffered. I don’t see how my experiences of profound suffering mean I should tell other survivors to “suck it up, we were supposed to grow some balls on the playground as preschoolers.”
Like, I don’t know, maybe I’m just queer (get it? I’m queer? I’m so clever), but my own pain has helped me relate to the pain of other oppressed persons, and has inspired me to spend every waking our of my day defending them.
But that’s not really the most important point I need you to understand right now, Karen. This is:
I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED HATRED ON THE BASIS OF MY SKIN COLOR AS A DISENFRANCHISED MINORITY.
And that is the ONLY VALID DEFINITION in existence for what racism is and what suffering from it looks like.
Yes, I have experienced deep harm from others. And yeah, I do believe you when you claim that you have suffered similarly. I do. But you will never find me supporting and defending those abusers, yours, mine, nor anyone else’s.
And, more importantly, neither you nor I have ever suffered a day in our lives.
I will never EVER pretend to believe, in some perverted, desperate grasp for some kind of power, that my abusers, bullies, and oppressors were JUSTIFIED in their abuse. Because they weren’t. And I will come for anyone who dares to claim otherwise. Trust me, I will not hesitate to get ugly. (I did just explain, a mere 3 days ago, that it is now officially Gay Rage Month, and that we were done being silent. Well, guess what? That doesn’t refer just to gay people. It refers to all disenfranchised, marginalized, and abused people. Always.)
Now, let’s apply this to the true targets and daily victims of ACTUAL RACISM.
(aka, not the whiny white snowflakes appropriating that term. Just to be explicitly clear.)
Let’s take a look, for just a quick second, at what the term “racism” really means. Karen, you pay attention, now, because this is important.
Can you possibly imagine being born into a world in which merely the color of your skin, a genetic trait you had no control or agency over, is wielded as a weapon against you? Can you imagine your ancestors, recent and ancient alike, being lynched, burned, raped, enslaved, unjustly imprisoned, and gleefully murdered for a mere chemical in their skin? Have you ever had to had a conversation like *this one* with your child about slavery (which, quick reminder, was only abolished in the US less than a century and a half ago). How about a conversation like *this one* about the inevitable reality of police brutality for every living POC child? Or how about that one on twitter a few weeks back, in which a POC parent tried explaining to their small child why the BLM riots were happening—and then their child asked if they would be sent back into slavery?
(P.S. to my readers, I spent nearly an hour searching for this tweet, and still couldn’t find it. If you do, can you send it to me so that I can properly credit it? Thank you.)
Well, Karen . . . have you? No?
Then sit your lovely white bottom down, kindly be quiet, and humble yourself to actually listen for a red hot minute.
Oh, wait, you only like reading Catholic media, don’t you. No worries! Here is an account by a fierce POC Catholic writer! It is even published by a Catholic media platform! We got you covered!
And if you are still too fragile to take either of those brilliant, righteously wrathful Black woman at their word this just yet, we even made it easy for you. You can check out Publius’s article, right here at The Shoeless Banshee, published earlier today. He’s a white cis man, so his words shouldn’t feel threatening to you, I should hope.
Oh, wait, you’d prefer to hear a white cis woman’s take on all this? We still got you, boo! Here is the legend herself, Brene Brown, at your service. And here is even more from her on the topic.
See, despite what you think, I really do get how overwhelming it can be when you don’t even know where to start.
I’ve definitely been there. Well, now you have unlimited resources on that, right at your fingertips.
Consider these resources your own personal primer for how white cis folk like you and I can learn to recognize the countless ways in which we have tacitly participated in, and directly benefited from—since the moment of our births (or, if you prefer, our conception)—the systemic evils of racism, colonialism, and oppression upon which our country was founded.
And how you and I are personally responsible for making reparations for it.
You should know that word, right? Penance? Because our Church has a Sacrament rooted around it. Pretty sure you use it in the Act of Contrition every time you kneel inside a confessional.
So if you don’t . . . you should probably go look that up. I’ve run out of time to do any more emotional labor for you tonight.
And honestly, Karen? I don’t believe in hell anymore, but if I did, I would firmly believe it is full of abusers, racists, and all those who cling selfishly to these awful prejudices—prejudices which have zero place in the hearts of anyone who claims to love Christ.
Ponder that, lest you be found guilty of using the lord’s name in vain it’s true traditional sense.
But as I said, I do not believe in hell any longer.
At least, not in the eternal sense we are told about at Sunday School. I believe in a radical, unmerited grace, which will somehow, some day, soften your heart to recognize and feel the crushing, suffocating weight of your hatred and pride.
And when that day comes? They will still be here: the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the abused, the disenfranchised. The other. And I pray you will still have time to make amends by finally joining your voice to theirs as an advocate.
Rather than eternity as just another generic, white, privileged, racist.
Screenshots provided to me directly by Veronica Roltgen. Used with explicit permission for this post.
The brilliant Breonna Taylor cover artwork was created by Tea Ho on Instagram. It was used with her express permission.