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This one time at journalism camp (Yes, there is such a thing.), a white friend that I had been bonding with for the week, leaned over and confided that until last year’s camp experience, she had been certain black people had tails. That same summer, another camper expressed her extreme dislike for rap music and then turned to me apologizing so profusely you’d think I was Kool Moe Dee himself. I’ve been “the only” in so many situations from childhood until today that when I spotted comedian Franchesca Ramsey’s new video, “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls,” I almost squealed. Man, could I relate! In college for four years in Iowa, I heard half these things four times between the shower and my morning class. For me, Ramsey’s entry into the “Shit ________ Say” meme was not only funny, it also contained important social commentary. But not everyone is laughing.

As the video exploded across the Internet, some folks, particularly white women, including ones who deem themselves liberal, anti-racist allies, pushed back. A cruise through comments over on Huffington Post, Jezebel and Facebook reveals some unhappy responses, including 1) This is reverse-racism/stereotyping! 2) Everybody says dumb racial stuff equally. Guess what this black girl said to me once? 3) Nobody really says this stuff. I mean, maybe in the South/Flyover States… 4) How come this is okay, but “Shit black girls say to white girls” wouldn’t be?

Sigh.

You think talking about “big” racial issues like loan discrimination and redlining and police brutality against black men is hard? It’s often a lot easier than discussing race-based “microaggressions.” Microaggressions is a word coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, meaning “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.”

The discussion is hard because it requires good, well-meaning people to admit to and examine their own racial privilege. It requires those who may think of themselves as anti-racist allies to do more than tsk tsk along with black friends about some madness, say, Rick Santorum said, and recall the things they personally (and perhaps innocently) may have done to make friends, family and co-workers of color feel othered. That’s tough. And it’s not just tough for the “white girls” mentioned in Ramsey’s work. It’s hard for everyone who has any kind of privilege, be it educational privilege, sexual privilege, gender privilege, etc. (All microaggressions aren’t tied to race. Just check out the Microaggressions Tumblr to see the many non-race-related ways this can play out.) But “Shit white girls say…” is centered on racial privilege and that is what much of the push back seems to ignore.

Look, individual black folks say plenty of stupid stuff about race, likely some of it to non-black people they know. This ignorance is neither right nor good. Nor need it be tolerated by white friends. But it is not microaggression. The difference? Power, racial privilege and historical context.  In an essay about reverse racism, anti-racist educator and author Tim Wise explains:

As a white person, I always saw the terms honky or cracker as proof of how much more potent white racism was than any variation practiced by the black or brown. When a group of people has little or no power over you, they don’t get to define the terms of your existence, they can’t limit your opportunities, and you needn’t worry much about the use of a slur to describe you, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it’s going to go. What are they going to do next: deny you a bank loan? Yeah, right. So whereas “nigger” is a term used by whites to dehumanize blacks, to “put them in their place” if you will, the same cannot be said of honky; after all, you can’t put white people in their place when they own the place to begin with. 

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348 Comments

  1. A fantastic and must-read article. Thank you for this, Clutch Magazine, Tami Winfrey Harris, and Chescaleigh. <3

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  2. Cant say I care that those cunts are offended. On YT they all whioned “I wonder what would happen if a white girl did the same to black women”..who the phuck is stopping yall? Hypocritical twats.

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    • tinfoil hattie

      “cunts” – that is insulting. A hilarious video parody of things white girls say? Not so much.

      But “cunts” – that’s bad.

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    • Mission accomplished, tinhat hattie

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  3. This piece is incredible. One of the best I’ve read yet. Thank you so much for getting it and sharing your experience. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m honored to have opened the door to start the conversation with friends, accentuates and co-workers with a laugh.

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  4. complexity

    To anyone that says this only happen in the south, well I predicted some of these and have heard many of them and I am from the midwest. This was an excellent article. It ties in to the larger social context in which these comments arise.

    I think being curious and awkward around those of different races is going to happen if you are having actual dialogues with someone, especially for the first time. I’ve said some stupid stuff around my Latina and Asian friends. I don’t fault people for being uninformed. But, as this article says, we need to examine ourselves and our privileges. Black girls too. Some of us have heterosexual privilege, class privilege, Christian privilege, living in America privilege, etc.

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  5. I’m am in extreme LOVE with this online magazine…and even more in love with its writers!..Tami you have spoken like a true genius. I actually like to define racism as Prejudice plus Power, so when the argument of reverse racism is really moot to me. Quite frankly issues of white microagressions towards black people have to be addressed since we also have a whole slew of issues WITHIN our community to grapple with after that (i.e. color complex-moving from white skin privilege to light skin privilege)….As the article insist “The least we can ask of anti-racist friends is that they be willing to sit with the discomfort of analyzing their own racial privilege.” I am less optimistic about this proposition as this country consistently assists in the wiping away of black history and stands unapologetic about slavery doting it as a thing of the past (I even hear black people saying this today) and we wonder why we can’t find solutions to our problems (we no longer know where we or our problems came from)..smh!

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