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#SelfcareSundays: Taking a step back from problematic people

13 Dec 2015

“Babe! You look so much like *insert random black or brown person here*!!!”

“I feel your pain on the whole hair touching thing.. I know I’m not a woman of colour but people touch my hair all the time, it’s soooo annoying isn’t it!”

“What you are doing is so cool, I wish I was a woman of colour so I could get involved too. I’m totally intersectional so if you need anything I’d love to help!”

“I just really have a thing for black guys you know, I just can’t help it.”

“When people ask you where you are from don’t you think they’re just really interested? You shouldn’t take it so personally.”

There is only so much side eye one can give and so much time to dedicate to schooling people on what’s what, no matter who they are – friends or family.

Having grown up in predominantly white educational environments, with mainly white friends, my experiences in even acknowledging that it was legitimate to feel uncomfortable when certain comments were made has been a long journey.  The joke about becoming ‘woke’ and not being able to go back to sleep is on the money; it’s as though my radar for racist, sexist and ableist comments is working over time. I’ve become far more aware of how some friends and even family members are seemingly problematic which leaves me with this internal conflict – I never know whether it’s worth my time and energy to lay down the law or to let my discomfort fester and address these problems at another point in time.

I’ve read multiple guides on dealing with microaggressions and other questionable comments from friends, which take a tough stance advocating a zero-tolerance policy on discriminatory opinions. As though you are never allowed to switch off from social justice warrior mode – because in so doing – you are colluding with the ‘enemy’. From my personal experience, constantly calling out such ignorance can be emotionally exhausting and unrewarding. I’ve come into contact with many individuals who simply refuse to engage with people below a certain threshold because attempting to reconfigure years of socially-conditioned ideas may be difficult to contend with. There are certain things which I find impossible not to call out but also things I let slide, depending on who I’m surrounded by and current mood.

The question for me has become: when do friendships become a chore to maintain and at what point do the cons outweigh the pros?

Everyone has a different threshold – I mean, nobody is perfect, right? Many of the girls I’ve spoken to are wary of cutting too many people out of their lives too quickly – for fear that there will be no-one left. I guess the best way I have to assess the situation is whether or not I feel emotionally insecure at a given point in time, around certain people. I’ve often let people’s comments slide on the basis that I must be feeling too sensitive or that they didn’t mean to phrase things in a certain way. But where I’ve constantly had to qualify an individual’s behaviour or actions – letting the first, second or even third comment slide – I’ve found distancing myself from them to be a successful approach. I can’t say that I’ve been so decisive in divorcing myself from people completely and I don’t think that you have to be. Sometimes it’s not even possible.

Even so, not always knowing how to respond is not uncommon; through online people of colour solidarity groups and discussions with my fellow gal-dem, it’s become clear to me that it’s okay not to know how to respond. Having spaces where I can vent and people instantly get it is therapeutic for me – something I would highly recommend. Sometimes we have the time, strength or energy to call people out and sometimes we just need to take a step back because today is not the day. Only you know the nature of your relationships with people and whether there is cause to keep going.

Dealing with family is, of course, a totally different kettle of fish – for me it’s been a case of discovering that those family members I envisioned to be the most lefty liberals of them all aren’t so squeaky clean. But of course it’s not so easy to separate yourself from your loved ones, so don’t beat yourself up – this is still something I’m trying to figure out.