If I called JillisBlack an Instagram revolutionary, she would probably roll her eyes. She’s not into labels, titles, or pigeonholes. But labels do seem to like Jill. Militant. Racist. Truth Speaker. Activist. People don’t know what to make of her.
About a month ago, The Echoes Blog featured an article title "Revolutionary Honesty" based on my interview with JillisBlack. I took a journalistic approach-- impartial, un-biased, and neutral. But I promised to write another article telling you what I really thought. First, I have to explain why it is so difficult to talk about Jill.
When You Don’t Want to Be Misunderstood
My friend circle is wide and colorful with brilliant culture. My village (my parents’ friends who love me as their own) is equally as colorful. My parents’ careers and social activities are very public. So I’m always concerned that what I say may affect them undesirably.
I have much more contact with and am more visible to my mom’s friends. So, when she told me that she thought Jill was a little too militant for her, I was caught because I definitely didn’t think so. I know my mom respects that I have my own opinion, but I wrestled with the idea of publicly saying that I agreed with Jill for fear of casting an undesired light on her. But also for fear of being labeled hateful and discriminatory; just like Jill has been marked.
When I talked to my father about it, his only words to me were, “Just know, once you say it, there’s no going back.” So I labored over the article. It took me longer than articles normally do. And then I realized something: This is exactly what Jill is talking about.
The Racial Balancing Act
When JillisBlack speaks of “Revolutionary Honesty,” she points a finger at black people who say things in black company that they do not say in front of white people. I am guilty of tapering my tongue to the race of my audience. There are things I have said of white people that I wouldn’t say in front of my white friends either because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, I didn’t think they were ready to hear it, or they wouldn’t understand.
But it’s that tightrope that keeps us in trouble. For so long, people of color have gone along to get along. We live in what Jill describes as a dual reality. This is different for different people. For me, after working in a corporate position for six years, I was talking to a supervisor about getting braids. She looked at me with wide eyes and said, “No. In this position, that’s not wise. You’d be better just getting weave.” (You can imagine how Bill O’Reilly’s statement about Maxine Water’s hair threw salt in that wound.)
Let’s be honest, if you’re white, you will never understand what it feels like be a person of color. If you’re a heterosexual, white man, the world bends to you. And if you are a white woman, historically (and sometimes currently) many racist tenets were built on and much racist propaganda defended under the guise of protecting you and your purity (see here for examples). And that goes for countries all around the world.
But for so long, the topic of race has been hushed. The plight and worries of people of color have been understood in their own communities but not shared with and/or explained to white people. The every day, matter-of-fact micro-aggressions against people of color are often shrouded in feigned goodwill and innocent ignorance.
At the end of the day, many black people tip toe around their true feelings in order to protect white fragility. Some people aren’t ready to hear how they are participating in the very racial unrest they claim they are seeking to stop.
The Problem of Caucasian Validation
A friend mentioned to me that she was disillusioned when she went to Black Lives Matter marches. While she understood their anger, she thought it was unfair that they didn’t accept her helping hand. “I mean, wouldn’t you want white people there, too,” she asked me, “That helps it. If it’s just black people, it gets called a riot.”
I remember being confused by such well-meaning arrogance. I had a couple of issues I could have spoken on:
The fact that you think your white face legitimizes black anger
The fact that you know that it will be considered a riot and your solution is to show up instead of fixing the root of the problem (which is the fact that a group of white people is a protest/standoff and black people is a riot/looting)
The fact that you’re willing to quit because someone didn’t welcome you
The fact that you expect fairness at a march against people who look like you denying fairness
So here goes. We don’t need white faces to validate our anger. There are legitimate reasons for protest. There are legitimate reasons for anger. And your white face doesn’t increase or decrease that legitimacy.
As Jill responded when we discussed this, if you’re coming to the march for approval, you’re there for the wrong reason. No one’s taking attendance. No gold stars are given. And the fact that you can just stop coming because you didn’t feel welcomed is a testament to your own privilege.
Part of being white and wanting protest to right the wrongs of racial discrimination is recognizing something that I’m sure you’ve all said: all black people aren’t the same. It sounds condescending to remind you of something so obvious. But what that means is that all black people don’t want the same thing. And if some of us do want the same thing, we may not want it the same way.
So how do you, as a white person, navigate that? Easy. Step in when you can. Step out when you’re asked. But don’t stop. Sometimes, the things you can do are things that don’t have to be in black spaces. You don’t have to show up and march with the sea of black faces. Sometimes you’re needed in the white circles pointing out the obvious idiocies you hear. Sometimes you’re needed in courtrooms to help litigate, as witnesses, or as judges. Sometimes you’re needed in dentist office conversations to stop racist jokes. Sometimes you’re needed at family gatherings to correct a family member who tries to pass off stereotypes/generalizations as fact.
But giving up because someone didn’t trust you says to me that you only want to help if it’s on your terms. It says that, even in the fight against my oppression, you want to control how I liberate myself.
At the end of the day, Black Lives Matter is about black lives mattering; not about how white lives feel in the space where black lives don’t matter.
This is one example of many I could have chosen to talk about. I, unlike Jill, have a little more faith in white people joining the protests. Although talking with her made me realize that I need to do better at vetting of some of the faces (white and black) that I let into my circle, I’m a still less skeptical. I still look forward to my white friends going with me to talks about racial reconciliation.
That’s the beauty of my black and Jill’s black. We can be two different people trying to get to one place. And I have faith that if one of us gets there first, the other will be all too happy to reach back to offer a hand.
The Problem of Black Mistrust
What Jill reminded me was the importance of trust. The black community is untrusting. We are untrusting of the justice system. We are untrusting of law enforcement. We are untrusting in our work environments. And there are reasons for that. So, if you are not wanted at one march, don’t take it personally. It’s not personal. But, like many people of color have heard before, you fit the description.
The reason why writing this article was so difficult was less about what she said and more about reconciliation with my own distrust. But one thing Jill did tell me was this:
"If you think that white people can stop being racist, then it would start with [you telling] the truth. You talk about your actual experience as a black person in this country. You stop sugar coating this experience for white people."
So, this is the revolution in my honesty. This is me stopping the sugar coating. This is me being 100% honest because I trust you can handle it. I trust you truly want to help. I trust you are honestly seeking change. This is what trust looks like. What you do with that trust is on you. But I hope to still see you by my side in whatever capacity you are able.