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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. I grew up in the Northern Midwest and I am now living (and raising my daughters) in Southern California. I have to say THANK YOU for this article because it is something that I too have experienced, but when I’ve talked about it, I get stuff like “You are over-reacting” or “I’ve never seen that happen” (implying that it’s, therefore, not true.) In High School, I was one of a handful of students of color (and I am biracial which opens a whole new dimension) and it was odd what some would say as if it were common place (especially about my hair being “good.”) College was even more interesting as it seemed I was not black enough for the blacks, so I had very few black friends in college. Thankfully, things are much different here in SoCal! I am glad that I found this mag!!

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  2. Aaminah

    I am a non-Black woman of color, and I have heard every single one of the things said in this video said by white “liberal”/”Feminist” women to Black women my whole life. Over and over. There was nothing “new” in what was presented, so white women need to stop denying that this stuff goes on constantly throughout this entire country (and I believe in many/most other countries as well). We can’t stop these microaggressions from happening if we won’t admit that they are real to begin with, and I do know plenty of proudly IDing women of color who say the same sort of things about/to Black women as well.

    This is an excellent article that I hope can reach the ears that need to hear it most.

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  3. Shinobi

    I loved this video! I’m a white girl, I’m not offended. But I’m probably not offended because I DON”T say any of the stuff in that clip. Why on earth would I want to touch someone else’s hair? It’s hair. Silly white people.

    (Oh except for the thing about having a racist grandma, because damn, my Grandma is a big racist. This is where it gets into this whole awkward thing where I know a lot of racist people, and I call them out on their racist crap. I realize it is probably not helpful to mention this to my minority friends and I usually try not to, but it does sometimes come up, and then I feel bad. Sorry friends!)

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    • I’m also white and also not offended, but definitely guilty. I’m not dumb enough to touch someone’s hair who I’m not very close with in the first place, though (thank goodness). My problem is that my mouth gets away from me because I’m trying so desperately to be liked (and thought of as not racist). This applies to all races, but especially minorities. I can hear the words coming out of my mouth and all I can think is “PLEASE STOP, YOU ASS.” Up until now I never knew what to do about it, apart from keeping my mouth shut in the first place, a tactic that clearly hasn’t worked thus far. This article has helped me, though. I may have had some difficulty in my life, but I’m still white and I absolutely cannot deny that I have experienced privileges that come with that, and that’s gross and not right. Historical context is not something that should be ignored. Apologies for being long-winded, I’m pretty sure it’s genetic.

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  4. iQgraphics

    The only thing wrong with Checa’s Vid was this:
    When white girl picked up the gold bag and said “this is so ghetto”, the next shot should have been of her trying the bag on or purchasing it.

    Because they mock, they they copy and claim it for themselves.

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  5. Tammy

    I’ve never seen so many hypocritical statements in my life.

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