Woke Men Only: White, privileged softboys
24 Feb 2017
After nine months of no contact, I received an unsolicited, unnecessary and unwelcome Facebook message from my ex-boyfriend, who is problematically Eat, Pray, Loving his way around India. Yes, he has read Edward Said. He still believes he is doing the world a noble favour.
He was not happy with my previous article, “woke men only“, which was inspired by his belief that racism is not interesting or important. His message is a treasure trove of offence; a treatise for spoilt entitlement. Gems include comparing racism against black women to plants (it’s not a drill) and admitting he used to purposefully irritate me on issues of race because I’m middle class with upper middle class white friends – negating any right I have to comment on the state of race relations in Britain.
I replied to the message in the manner that reflects a common thread lacing the disparate parts of my personality together: a desire to make people feel comfortable and prioritise their feelings above my own. But it’s 2017, and I’m done. No high ground here – I’m dragging him from the long grass into the savanna; exposed but still with plenty of shade.
I thought about annotating the message to bring out clearly the most outrageous parts for our communal derision. But Oscar Wilde wrote that “art was a form of genius, because it needs no explanation”. This art speaks for itself. Read in full below and please share. And watch out for softboys.
“Heyyyy… It’s been a long time I know but when I woke up this morning I felt like writing you a message for some reason. I suppose I haven’t really felt like getting in touch ever since you wrote that article [woke men only] about me a while ago. I thought it was fair enough to write the blog but I thought it was unfair to share it on Facebook where ppl who know me were gonna see it. I obviously read the blog but I can’t remember now exactly how it went. I suppose really if I look deep inside there has always been part of me that was irritated by the way you think and feel about prejudice, racism and discrimination. With this irritation came an almost unconscious desire to irritate you whenever we were on the topic of prejudice, racism and discrimination. So unfortunately many of my opinions on the subject that I shared with you were corrupted by the desire to irritate you.
I have to ask myself the question… Why did I become irritated when we were on this subject? Well a part of me kind of thought “well what does she know about the struggle of minorities… She’s well educated, doesn’t struggle for money and 99% of her friends are upper middle class white people. what’s to moan about?” but I know that this misses the point and is an unfair and judgemental [sic] perspective. Another part of me is irritated by the tendency to to [sic] view discrimination and prejudice through the lens of race or gender etc. For me (from my perspective of… Privilaged [sic] white male) discrimination is an inherent quality of the human mind. It is hard for me to look at a plant, for example, and see that plant as completely unique and to see it exactly how it is. In looking at the plant my mind will always start to drag up things I’ve learned in the past about plants, my experiences with plants and any emotions that the concept of ‘plant’ brings about. I then view the unique entity through these various filters which my human mind has applied. The fact that we do this with absolutely everything is an inescapable fact. So from this perspective I see everyone as being inherently prejudiced. With this in mind I do feel that a life of shouting down racists, homophobes and sexist men would be futile and hypocritical.
Often in focusing on the prejudice of others we ignore our own. For me I would like to spend my life cultivating an indiscriminate and unconditional form of love which penetrates absolutely everything, animate and inanimate. I think that if you would be able to do that, people would take notice and this would be a positive way to bring about change. I feel that shouting people down only creates friction and further divisions. That said I’ve learned that I’m neither wrong nor right and it takes all kinds of people to make a world. If people want to bring about change in different ways, I’m gonna trust that they know what they’re doing and that they are doing the right thing for themselves. We do need people to shout about injustice. We also need people who strive for a quiet inner revolution. You can ultimately only follow feeling and intuition and if you’re behavior and actions are aligned with these deeper forms of knowledge, then you’re doing the right thing.
Something that has also come to my attention lately is how grateful I am to you for treating me so well and being there for me when I was essentially being a bit weak and pathetic. There was that period when I was stuck in stoke [Stoke-on-Trent] and I was looking for work and we’d Skype each other every day. I’d be really stoned and just generally quite uncommunicative and I was feeling really sorry for myself. You did a really good job of being there for me and you put up with me just being a bit of a dick really. I can remember when we were on holiday and I said to you something like ‘Ahh I’m sick of only having you for company’ and you started to cry. I still feel really guilty about that now and I feel so bad for taking my bad mood out on the person I was closest to at that time and I’m just grateful to you for putting up with me at that time. I suppose I’ve realised this since I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of behaviour myself recently and it is difficult to deal with. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you and let you know that you’re such a force for good and just that I’m grateful in general. Hope you’re good anyway…”
Hey [name of ex] – I hope you’re well and finding the inner peace you’ve been searching for.
I would really recommend you do some reading on intersectionality – I think it would be useful for you to understand how oppression works. Of course I am an extremely fortunate person and hierarchies are complex. That means I can experience racism and sexism but still overall, my life is probably better than the majority of the country and certainly the world. This does not mean that I do not suffer from these things. But I do suffer less than others. It also means that I have problems that my other friends do not. I was speaking to [mutual friend] the other day and he said that it must be hard for people to understand that I have problems that are unique to black women when I have what others may see as an enviable life. Equally, I shouldn’t have to spend my social life explaining this to friends, and he was sorry I had to keep doing this. This is why I’m now signposting people to books and literature because it’s exhausting and what I do for work all day – talking about race and equality. I can’t do in my free time too – I need a break. I’m working for a Race Equality think tank so it’s race all day. This is a one off because it’s you!
Subjecting me to unfounded arguments you didn’t necessarily support to get a rise out of me was quite cruel tbh [name of ex], and really shows that you have absolutely no idea what prejudice is like. Nowhere in the world are people that look like me treated fairly. And it’s sad. And I feel it every day. I cry every time someone dies at the hands of the police, every unequal trade deal with the global south, but every win feels like mine too. But progress has been so incremental and now it feels like we’re going backwards and I’m getting ready for the fight. And it’s not even happening directly to me most of the time. Imagine what it would be like if I were poor. I haven’t been poor for a really long time, but it fucking sucks. And even then we had the welfare state. And now more than ever, fighting against racism matters. It isn’t some joke. Thank you for admitting that trying to get a rise out of me was wrong. I wrote the blog for myself but I shared it without feeling because of you trying to get a rise out of me – I no longer cared how you felt because it seemed clear to me you didn’t care about how I did. I got messages from random people saying it helped them, so I’m glad I wrote it. One guy said it helped his relationship with his Indian girlfriend and she also messaged me. I guess I hoped it would make you reflect too.
Everyone is a product of their environment and see things through the lens of their own lived experience. People inherit prejudices and there are many. Shouting at people won’t change hearts and minds – strategic, measured communication does. But these things don’t impact you directly. In my new job I’ve already been tweeted that I should be repatriated from the UK. And they’ll be more to come. Comment sections tell me that we all commit crimes and look like monkeys. And that was just yesterday. You do not know what this is like and knowing these people exist makes me very upset and furious. Sometimes you just need to shout at someone and I’m entitled to be angry at this injustice. It’s easier to stay calm and see the good in people when it’s not happening to you. The approach you want to take to life – the unconditional love that transcends and permeates everything is a good thing. But that isn’t how I want to channel all of my energy if I’m honest.
Empathy isn’t unlimited. I want to concentrate mine strategically so I don’t burn out. It reminds me of the story of a Black man who has spent the past 25 years [sic – not sure how many years] befriending KKK members and through kindness convincing many to leave. This is extremely admirable, but can you imagine how exhausting that work is? The risk he is under? And white racists are putting in 0% effort to change and all the responsibility is on this one guy having to demonstrate that he is perfect, in hope that people who don’t even see him as a human being will eventually see the value in him. I will not sacrifice my life in this way. I’m not a martyr. I will try and make change the best way I can and love as much as I can. But it is simply unsustainable to do that for everyone and everything without your own mental health suffering. Emotional labour is work. And there is no guarantee it will work.
Your approach is only plausible if you are privileged. And my job is only available to me because I am. We are both incredibly fortunate.
You can afford to not look at prejudice through a race and gender lens because you are a white man. It’s ridiculous to be angry at me for being drawn to the lens’ that impact me – that is how environment and experience shape who we are and what matters to us. Of course other injustices exist and are important. Homophobia, class and poverty are equally important – for some people all of those things are affecting them at once.
Discrimination is learned, it is not inherent in the human mind. A fear of the unknown and difference may be more base. This can be overcome in about 41% of the general population in the UK for most issues. You have to provide new information that can be understood within the context of people’s previous experiences. You can change how people see plants. I believed there was a God for 20 years. And now I do not. But changing minds takes a lot of time and often, money. You’re right – shouting it won’t work. But sometimes people are so frustrated they need to shout. Frantz Fanon is another good read for this.
Thank you for apologising for your behaviour at the end of our relationship. I really appreciate that. Honestly, it was not easy. I deep down thought you were being whiny and unreasonable. The same way my critique of racism irritated you because I’m privileged, your attitude infuriated me because you are privileged and I just wanted you to get a grip. But I loved you so I didn’t say those things if I could avoid it. It wouldn’t have been helpful and everyone is entitled to be down sometimes. It was just an overreaction to the circumstance. Sadly, I don’t know if I have it in me to be that person anymore. After you, Vicky pretty much drained the bulk of my empathy well. It’s made me significantly happier but not as kind. Share your love and empathy wisely.
I hope you are well. I feel India will be the closest you’ve been so far.