TUESDAY, APR 1, 2014 07:45 AM EDT
My white liberal frenemies: When Twitter exchanges reveal untrustworthy allies
Once again, the Colbert flap reminds us that it’s not just white conservatives who traffic in supremacy online
See this, libtards! You can’t point to white racists as them. You are them! You aren’t so above the rest of us, as Brittney helpfully reminds you.
Still, one of the things that liberal people of color whisper to other liberal people of color when no one else is listening is that white liberals can be worse than white conservatives. Between the paternalism, the #whitesplaining and the refusal to accept that acknowledging racism and supporting civil rights does not mean that you have done the deeper structural and psychic work of disengaging from white supremacy, sometimes white liberal people who seem like friends turn out to be enemies. Or maybe frenemies.
I’m reminded of my first boss, an older white liberal principal at the school where I worked during my year off between college and grad school. We served an urban populace, and she had a long history of success with educating black and brown kids who had been throwaways of the educational system. One memorable time she bragged about how the children dubbed her an “honorary black person,” because she was prone to put a bit of swivel in her neck when correcting them.
When tensions erupted between white and black faculty members, brought on in part by the lack of cultural competency training among the white faculty members, my boss brought in a diversity educator. It was an admirable move, until she told me self-congratulatorily, “He really told them, didn’t he.” Them? I was thinking. You are them. Yet, she was completely unaware of her own racially problematic attitudes. And that made her an untrustworthy ally. Allies commit to living lives of vigilance around addressing privilege; it’s hard, brutal work, and it requires a great deal of humility. Most people succumb to the pressure of these rigorous standards, and at most become situational allies.
Yes, allies need to suck up even harder! It will never be enough! On your knees liberals! Show some real allyship!
And I do know that white liberal bullying often masquerades as endless calls for civil discourse. When I saw Colbert’s defenders on Twitter calling me stupid (I didn’t get it), and racist (how dare you say white men need cultural boundaries), and reactionary (stop tripping about every little thing!), I realized that though they were less polite, the arguments sounded remarkably similar not only to those of folks on the right but also to Colbert’s more sanguine, civil defenders. You couple self-congratulatory liberalism with the narcissistic persecution complex that Law & Order’s B.D. Wong diagnosed Colbert with in the show’s response to the controversy on Monday night, and you end up with a large amount of white people who “just don’t get it.” “Colbert” the character closed down the offending Foundation, but Colbert the man and creative force behind the show needs to cancel the Ching Chong Ding Dong character entirely.
Liberal folks like Stephen Colbert are supposed to be a bulwark against the kind of conservatism that we all agree is running the country into the ground.
But in cases like this, it turns out that I cannot always trust that the enemy of my enemy will be my friend.
Brittney Cooper is a contributing writer at Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @professorcrunk.
MORE BRITTNEY COOPER.
Shut up, YT! If you’re a guilty liberal and an ally to People of Color, that is.
Of course if you’re a regular old YT who despises liberals, say whatever you please. Brittney Cooper can’t stop you.