I came across an article about marginalization at work written by a white, male professor. The picture for the article and the example within the article was that of a white man being marginalized by a woman at work. White people are increasingly uncomfortable with BIPOCs voicing their experiences and oppression. There is an insatiable need to assert that anyone can experience anything a Black person can experience. We experienced this when the Black Lives Matter movement began. NonBlack people wanted to point out every other groups’ lives mattered. They argued that Black people were being divisive, even racist, by only asserting the importance of Black lives. Doing this diminishes the urgency and power behind the message. Suddenly, the message is diluted by all of these supposedly equally important messages. One may reason that the intention is not to detract from the statement Black people are making; they simply want to draw attention to their own cause. The truth is that the piggybacking on movements or slogans made by Black people shows resentment for the attention given to the movement. If the message were attention-worthy, it would stand on it’s own merits; it would not need the supporting credulity that comes with equation it to a Black movement.
Within the disabled community, I’ve noticed two disturbing trends related to this; white people flashing their marginalized status while ignoring the status of the person they are speaking with and white people making false equivalencies with their marginalizations and Blackness thereby ignoring that Black people have compounded marginalization. It seems that white people have discovered the perceived power of declaring marginalization by observing the perceived social capital BIPOCs possess and have carved out a niche of their own, in effect reinventing themselves as marginalized.
I am not declaring that marginalization of specific groups cannot exist if a person is white. There are gay people who are white, disabled people who are white and gay disabled people who are white. I am specifically addressing the phenomenon of white people who belong to a marginalized group reminding a Black person they (the white person) are marginalized as if that is an immediate shield against criticism or a perceived attack. In effect flashing their marginalized status while pretending the Black person is an oppressor.
An example of shielding that I have experienced is a white woman with mental illness that insisted the labeling of white, male, mass murderers was only ableist. She claimed that this labeling put white people with mental illness in eminent danger. We know this is not true because white, male, mass murderers are overwhelmingly more likely to be apprehended alive compared to a Black man who is deemed dangerous on site. This label of mentally ill is dramatically disproportionately used to excuse or garner more compassion for white offenders while Black murderers are labeled criminal and unredeemable. We see time and again white, male, mass murderers are given empathy or even viewed as sex symbols. I tried to explain to her on multiple occasions that the labeling of white mass murderers as mentally ill was actually a function of racism. If a person is mentally ill, as society sees it, then they are not accountable for their actions in the same way as someone who is labeled as inherently criminal as Black people often are. The mentally ill label is not actually placed on white murderers in an effort to criminalize mental illness; it’s used to rationalize how a white person could possibly do something unthinkable. The white woman became furious and accused me of not caring about mental illness as if reminding me of her marginalization and negative experiences made my correction inappropriate. I had to remind her that I am mentally ill and advocate for fair treatment of mentally ill people but even with us both being women, I will never receive the level of understanding and compassion that she would.
Another example was during election season, a white woman became increasingly frustrated with statistics that show white women overwhelmingly vote for republican, white men. She tried reminding Black women that she was a woman and therefore marginalized, reminding us that her sexual orientation was marginalized and that her mental illness was marginalized. In the course of speaking with her over several weeks, she tried to establish geographical distinctions from other white women by claiming racism and voting for racists was a southern problem and not a northern problem. Not even statistics, articles, and lived experience form Black people who had experienced that racism in the north were enough to convince her that she was included in the statistical group. She never realized that her defensiveness was an indication that she did, in fact, belong to the group of white women who were oppressive towards not only Black people in general, but also Black people who belonged to her marginalized groups; women, LBGTQ, and mentally ill.
Black people have to constantly battle false equivalencies of marginalizations made by people who ignore that Black people have compounded marginalizations. NonBlack people want to position themselves as “just as oppressed as Black people.” The most common form of this is white and nonBlack people pointing out how they grew up poor or are currently poor. The argument goes, “I lived in a Black community or a poor white community therefore I understand the oppression Black people experience.” The person may even relate stories of being pulled over by the police, having been to prison, being followed by a store detective, or not being able to get a job. The person ignores the truth that while they have experienced all of those things, their ability to thrive is still greater than that of a Black person with more money, education and none of the stereotypical Black problems. The mere fact that certain circumstances are considered that of Black people shows the extent of systemic racism.
Many people will acknowledge hearing a nonBlack person in distress exclaiming they are being treated like they are Black. The repeated references to women as “the nigger of the world” will never be appropriate because there are Black women. This begs the question; are Black women double niggers? No. White women have never had to deal with the same prejudices that Black men have and most definitely nowhere near the oppression of Black women. Many white women will point to Black men being able to vote before white women or what they perceive as other advantages that Black men have by virtue of being men, however, Black men are still niggers at the end of the day. Black men are shot by the police and do not benefit from many systemic privileges that white women do.
NonBlack disabled people and otherwise marginalized people compare their difficulties to being Black with absolutely no regard to the fact the Black people can belong to any marginalized group that nonBlack people do. Making this false equivalency in effect negates the experience of Black people. I have even seen white people saying they are being lynched and even posting people hanging from trees and saying that is what’s happening to them. NonBlack people argue with Black people who have the same illnesses trying to negate how race adds an additional barrier to access to doctors, tests, diagnosis, medication, and treatments. In addressing all of these, I have experienced nonBlack people chiming into conversations telling people Black people how to feel about this erasure. By negating the preponderance of the marginalization of Black people, nonBlack people are, whether knowingly or unknowingly, bolstering the efforts of white supremacists trying to mask the opression of Black people. While some white supremacists are overt in their speech and actions, some white supremacists pretend to want unity by saying they don’t see or acknowledge differences in people. They are actually intentionally hiding and continuing the marginalizations of groups by pretending the marginalizations don’t exist. They call it “identity politics” when a person acknowledges commonalities in experiences amongst people in various marginalized groups. They actually just want to end all acknowledgement of identities altogether because if we don’t acknowledge differences, we don’t have to deal with discrimination. The discrimination will not disappear by not acknowledging it; the oppression will actually get worse while being masked by surface unification. Many white people, and even BIPOCs, either subscribe to this ideology altogether or they want to only acknowledge the existence of marginalizations that include white people. For instance; stating people with mental illness are marginalized and equating that with the Black experience and not acknowledging that it is exponentially worse for a Black mentally ill person not only erases the experience of Black mentally ill people, it stifles the possibility for Black people with mental illness receiving the improvements they need. A belief of white supremacist is that a win for everyone is a loss for white people.; white people must always receive any attention, needed services and resources without BIPOCs receiving the same.
While many marginalizations are innate and many marginalized groups have exhaustively tried to get people to understand that, the way that white/nonBlack marginalized people have tried to position themselves as basically Black because of their marginalization actually does more harm than good for their assertion of marginalization. It not only disrespects and creates angst with Black people who do not share marginalizations with them, it creates internal conflict within the marginalized group because Black people within the group are disrespected and their experiences are erased. It creates an environment in which Black people are unable to ally with the people doing this and therefore creates segregated, less powerful marginalized groups that would otherwise be combined. Often, the Black people within the group who are vocal about these white supremacist behaviors are called divisive and trouble makers and are shunned. NonBlack and Black conformists never address the white supremacist attitudes so this behavior continues unchecked.
As someone who speaks out against these attitudes and behaviors, I have no choice but to believe that many white people are collecting marginalizations like trading cards and weaponizing them against not only Black people but whoever it’s convenient to use them against. If they took their marginalizations seriously, they would recognize the need to support everyone within their marginalized group instead of allying with racists and perpetuating racist attitudes. Real unity is not achieved by allying with white supremacists that are less bad than other white supremacists. Real unity is only achieved through acknowledging oppression within marginalized groups and seeking true equality.