White Fragility Is Not My Problem – Valeria Pelayo

With the Taco 6 and the CC elections, plus all of the micro-/macro-­aggressions we have dealt with before and will continue to deal with, during and after those events, I imagine the Latin@ community at Williams is far too swamped to fully express themselves right now. I only find myself able to because I’m lucky enough to be abroad. Disclaimer: I represent no one but myself in this. If others agree/identify with what I have to say, so be it. I’m writing under the assumption that every word of this will somehow be ridiculed or disregarded, but here it is:

Dear White Martyrs

Let me start off by saying that I’m not racist because I have plenty of white friends. You probably have a mental list of ‘friends’ you’ve collected like baseball cards and are ready to put on display whenever you need to prove you’re not racist.

The events in question today might be considered old and therefore irrelevant, but racism doesn’t have an expiration date. At the time, you were certainly ‘educated’ enough to do better. At the time, you were certainly old enough to know better. A generation whose lives currently span from the era after the Rodney King riots to Darren Wilson’s state­-sanctioned execution of Michael Brown cannot blame its actions on a ‘different time.’ You should have known something like this was going to come back and bite you in the ass eventually. I think apologizing now would be pointless. You are not truly sorry; you are only sorry that you got caught.

Since you seem to have some sort of chronic and automatic entitlement to the compassion and accommodation of those whose feelings and lived experiences you consistently disregard, let me clarify a few things you’re not used to hearing: You do not deserve my empathy. You do not deserve my understanding. You don’t get to have my consideration. I do not owe you any of my time or conversation.

I’m not here to enrich your experience. I am not your model minority. I don’t exist as a walking encyclopedia on how all Latin@s think and feel. I’m a first-gen student of immigrant parents. Even within this category I have several privileges that many of my peers do not. I’ve been doubling up on lab courses so that I could go abroad. I’m helping save up so my parents and brothers can come to commencement next year and witness the first college graduation in our family’s history. I sleep somewhere in between rugby, volunteering, and social engagements. I’m in fact an actual student and at Williams I’m super busy just like everyone else. Why should I have to make time for this shit? Why should I have to make time for your shit?

Dear White Supporters of the White Martyrs

First: for the love of God stop opening your defensive statements with “I understand, but…” because you can’t. You never will.

You expect me to treat these things like isolated incidents. You expect me to accept a yet non­existent apology and undeclared feelings of true remorse for something that is only going to happen again and again. You expect me to stay ‘civil’ after being attacked repeatedly. It is clear that this student body is more ready to empathize with the actions of the incredibly offensive than with the reactions of the incredibly offended. In that case, room to mess up is a luxury I will no longer be granting to those who already have everything. To those among you who cry ‘cyberbullying’: it seems like you are just trying to steer attitudes towards empathy and understanding in hopes that you won’t be treated as harshly on the day that you slip up on the act and let your true self out. To those among you who cry ‘public shaming,’ it’s pronounced “accountability.” If nothing else, then maybe it will make past and potential perpetrators think twice before deciding on a party theme or putting on a racist costume.

I’ve pretty much heard every excuse, but my favorite one is ‘It’s not my fault, I’m just a product of my environment.’ This is a paper-­thin argument. If I had allowed myself to become a product of my environment then I wouldn’t be at Williams. So what’s your excuse? If you grew up in a first-­world country and had access to the internet, then you have had the power to use it for something other than looking up cat videos, posting your Ice Bucket Challenges, or belittling an entire people. In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.

This ignorance only makes me angry because I love myself. Whenever something like this happens, the suggested solution to my anger invariably includes some form of me having to do more. I should be more empathetic. I should be more unconditionally understanding. I should be eager to allow these people into my precious and safe social sphere for their benefit. People like me are in short supply here, so I shouldn’t be so selfish with such a scarce resource. I clearly cannot be trusted with it.

So, by all means, tell me how I should feel. Tell me how I should react. Tell me how I should not react. Tell me it’s up to me to educate the ignorant. Tell me to give them another chance. They clearly haven’t had many. Tell me I shouldn’t single them out in public. Tell me I should drop everything I’m doing to start a dialogue. Tell me I’m overreacting. Tell me all about their redeeming qualities. Tell me to empathize with people who show no empathy. Tell me that they can mock an entire culture because they didn’t really mean to. Then tell me that’s not white supremacy.

POC Supporters of the White Martyrs

You are the worst form of tokenism. You make all of this okay in the minds of the oppressors. You make everyone else look like they’re overreacting when it is actually you who are under­reacting. If you refuse to pay attention to what’s really going on and you’re absolutely fine with the way things are, then there’s no need to mention it proudly and publicly; it does more harm than good.

À Mis Herman@s

I am incredibly sorry that you have to deal with this barely three months after the last photo leaked. I’m reaching out to both vent my frustrations and send my solidarity to the other side of the Atlantic. I would also like to give some words of advice. Do yourselves a favor and delete YikYak. Be merciless with the ‘unfriend’ button. If a classroom full of white people tokenizes you for what they think is your universal opinion, BS something and watch them nod. If a white hook­up tells you they’ve never been with a Latin@ person, then tell them that they never will because you’re leaving or kicking them out. I will personally love to join you for Snack Bar afterwards. If you ever feel like you have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the world, remember that your ancestors invented chocolate: Mother. Fucking. Chocolate.

You are not a commodity. You are not a baseball card. You are not a bucket-­list item. You are a student at a 2.3 billion dollar institution. Your parents are more proud of you than you will ever understand. I am more proud of you than you will ever understand.

You are what happens when you mix a people who conquered half the world with people who fought them off in the end. You are what happens when those people choose to start from scratch in a country that does not want them. Our culture is more than just a box we tick off on legal documents. It exists outside of a weekly meeting on Thursdays. And contrary to what those with money may think, it is not for sale.

28 thoughts on “White Fragility Is Not My Problem – Valeria Pelayo

  1. “So, by all means, tell me how I should feel. Tell me how I should react. Tell me how I should not react. Tell me it’s up to me to educate the ignorant.”

    Just to clarify, is your letter to “POC Supporters of White Martyrs” not telling them how they “should” be responding in the light of these issues?

    • Anyone care to guess the probability that we’ll get a response from the writer of this incredibly racist tirade on this?

  2. Hi Valeria,

    Thanks for writing this, some thoughts in response:

    “I’m writing under the assumption that every word of this will somehow be ridiculed or disregarded.”

    No, I’d even venture to say that you should expect every word of it to be read carefully. I’m a bit of a list-form thinker, so I’ll keep it point by point.

    “Dear White Martyrs”

    No, I’m not offended, but I do think your language is unnecessarily inflammatory. I just don’t get what that accomplishes. Personally, I’ve never been able to convince somebody of something by shouting at them or ridiculing them. More often than not, they’ve walked away more convinced than ever that they’re in the right. Of course that’s shitty, but it’s how I’ve known people to react to anger.

    “I think apologizing now would be pointless. You are not truly sorry; you are only sorry that you got caught.”

    What’s your point, then? Are you saying that the person in question has wronged you beyond repair? Doesn’t that sound a little ridiculous? I apologize if that sounds harsh, I just don’t believe you.

    “You do not deserve my empathy. You do not deserve my understanding. You don’t get to have my consideration. I do not owe you any of my time or conversation.”

    See above. Do unto others… something along those lines. Trying to show that the “enemy” is unworthy of empathy is something you see in wartime propaganda posters. That’s a little ridiculous, too. First off, there is no enemy. We’re all Williams students. That really is the bottom line. We all have diverse backgrounds. White and not-white is such a shitty way to split it. Second, what do you do with problems? You fix them. How do you fix a social issue? You talk about it. You know what, maybe not. Maybe that’s not a good solution. But I don’t know of a better one.

    “It is clear that this student body is more ready to empathize with the actions of the incredibly offensive than with the reactions of the incredibly offended.”

    In the instance I assume you’re referring to (Taco 6, correct me if I’m wrong), you’re right. I also think that being offended is not an excuse to escalate. You’re probably going to question my word choice. Escalate. I didn’t use it because somebody was called out on Facebook for doing something patently ignorant. I used it because of the language that was used to call them out. There’s stupid, and then there’s malicious.

    “…to those who already have everything.”

    Do I have to explain why that generalization is a little far fetched? I’ll explain a bit later on in this comment.

    “…just trying to steer attitudes towards empathy and understanding in hopes that you won’t be treated as harshly on the day that you slip up on the act and let your true self out.”

    That’s one hell of a way of looking at life: people suck. Even the ones who don’t suck. They just haven’t been caught sucking yet. Again, given my limited experience of how people function, I can tell you that it isn’t like that. But maybe I’m just saying that because I haven’t slipped yet. You can build a bomb shelter with that logic. If A, then B. If not A, then B, just not quite yet. So B.

    “You make everyone else look like they’re overreacting when it is actually you who are under­reacting.”

    Have you considered the possibility that some people didn’t take it personally?

    “If you refuse to pay attention to what’s really going on and you’re absolutely fine with the way things are, then there’s no need to mention it proudly and publicly; it does more harm than good.”

    Yes, if you don’t agree with me, don’t mention it proudly and publicly!

    Ok, sorry. Those last two, I’ll admit, did less to further the conversation than I hope some of the others did. I think an appropriate note to end this ludicrously long comment on is a bit about me. I’m a first generation immigrant from a family of very limited means. I’m from a country where some members of my family weren’t allowed to go to school because they were Jewish. I’m incredibly privileged, but not because of my background. I’m privileged to be here, and to be here on the school’s dime at that. I don’t think any of that is relevant. I don’t think I fit the Greenwich to Exeter to Williams to Wall Street stereotype you seem to attribute to a disproportionate percentage of this campus. Further, I hope that all of the above would be taken at face value even if I matched that stereotype perfectly.

    Now, why am I posting anonymously? Because I think there are people at Williams who would say that parts of what I’ve written are racist. I don’t. But I don’t want to take my chances with it. Given the environment I’ve seen social discourse happen in at Williams, there’s no benefit to me attaching my name to this. I think that’s a little upsetting.

    Best,

    Anon

  3. Dressing up as another culture or subset of another culture for Halloween is not racist, and it should not be offensive. By all means, dress up as a rural cowboy, dress up as a greedy wall street banker, dress up as a chain wearing rapper, dress up as a nerdy silicon valley programmer, dress up as a mariachi. People who are offended by such costumes are WAY too sensitive. For one, dressing up as a mariachi does not make a value judgement about mariachis the same way that dressing up as a nerdy silicon valley programmer makes a stereotypical, arguably negative value judgement. But, and here’s the kicker, it’s ok to poke fun at someone else’s culture! It’s ok to satirize, stereotype, exaggerate. In my opinion, satire is especially important when dealing with powerful cultures based off unproven fact, such as religions.
    Taking the piss out of cultures is how we have fun, how we learn, how we evolve from tradition to rationality.

    • Yeah… no.
      It’s not up to YOU to decide if something is offensive or not. Its not up to you whether or not *I* can be offended.
      If something is sacred to my culture (and yes, mariachi are a sacred cultural symbol), of course I’m going to be mad if people–they don’t have to be white, but it’s usually been white–misuse a symbol, craft, or out of its original context.
      Of course I’m gonna get mad if they make fun of it and make money off of it.
      It’s great to be us until it’s time to BE us, isn’t it white man?

  4. Man, my gut reaction here is to say that if I don’t deserve your empathy or understanding, then why the hell do you deserve mine? Like begets like. Rant all you want, it doesn’t make anyone want to change ther actions. Hell, you might’ve just made me a little bit more racist.

  5. The term “White Fragility” seems pretty racist to me. This is a wholly unproductive article with very little value.

    You are at Williams College and along with your fellow students have a fantastic opportunity. Learn new things, explore yourself and classes. I mean you preface this article as being on a luxurious abroad program. It does not seem like you are suffering.

    Think about ways you can address the suffering of people less fortunate than yourself in tangible ways instead of running witch hunts and accusing already sympathetic Williams students of racism. This type of article gets us nowhere.

    • This is what she is referring to when she uses the term “white fragility.”

      https://www.academia.edu/7784054/White_Fragility

      “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress be-comes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

      It is a really eye-opening paper. Please give it a read.

  6. I stopped reading after “Darren Wilson’s state­-sanctioned execution of Michael Brown.” Figured one stupid remark would be followed by more. Based on the comments it looks like I was right.

  7. Valeria,

    This comment worries me: “You do not deserve my empathy. You do not deserve my understanding. You don’t get to have my consideration. I do not owe you any of my time or conversation.”
    Empathy is the most productive quality for bringing people together. That’s the goal right, to bring everyone on campus together? To foster a welcoming community? I think it should be. And I don’t think steering the situation toward conflict will achieve that goal.
    Who has had the most effective approach to bridging racial gaps in our nations history? —In my opinion, it’s Martin Luther King. Doctor King took empathy to a new level. A beautiful level. He taught love and understanding above everything else; he never allowed himself to hate because hating is too easy, and it will never bring us closer together. King’s dream was of colorless unity, a vision of a future in which his kids could be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Maybe you are of another school of thought. That’s fine by me; I cannot tell someone else how to think. I just want to say that Dr. King’s approach has been the most fruitful. It softens and dissolves the harsh, ignorant opinions of his opponents rather than hacking at them with a machete (this word choice has nothing to do with the machete’s linguistic origins in Central America; it’s just an image, some things are like that). Whether you agree or not with Dr. King’s approach, try to recognize the beauty in his vision. I think that no matter who we are, as long as we love ourselves and think ourselves to be good, we would prefer to be judged by the content of our souls. You love yourself, and I know you to be good—I can tell from your strong sense of justice, from your yearning to fix what’s wrong in the world. Now imagine that dream of Dr. King’s: a world where people see through the bullshit construct of skin-color. Isn’t it beautiful?
    Judging from your post, you have not been living out this vision. You have categorized people into whites and POC. This method of thinking stresses the difference within our community when we should be focusing on our universality as human beings. As human beings we do not want to hate. It is a defense mechanism that arises when we feel threatened, scared, or isolated. You have felt these things, and as a white male, I will never claim to truly understand your feelings. I can only claim to try. And I’ll keep trying in the hope that you will try just as hard. Reciprocating in the same way when you feel wronged may strengthen your resolve temporarily, but it will only perpetuate the cycle of hate and keep us from progressing towards the dream together. Think ahead, way ahead, to the time your kids will be living in. What kind of society do you envision? I am an optimist, and perhaps too much of an idealist, but can we even have a chance to reach that beautiful future if we don’t have an idea of it now?
    When truly getting to know people instead of assuming and generalizing, we find similarities in common with others that we never imagined existed. We inch closer. In case you’re still reading this, I want to tell you a tiny bit about myself. I am a white male from a middle class background that had never left North America a year ago. Then I went abroad. You and I have this last fact in common. Abroad I spent 5 months in Latin America, and they were the 5 best months of my life. They were incredible for me because I found the culture that I identify with most. This may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. I am ethnically 0% hispanic, but the people I met there played a music that matched my own. I can’t fully explain it, but I know that I’ll be back there once college ends. The laid back attitude, la gente divertida y graciosa, las conversaciones, las siestas, las fiestas, pasé noches bailando hasta las nueve en la mañana y conocí a personas increíbles. And it felt right to me in a way that life here in the United States never had—forget my ethnicity.
    I know what Teddy did was wrong. It was wrong because it hurt people; no more evidence is needed than that. But think hard about your response. Consider what happens when you take a single act of a person you don’t really know and abstract it to fill in their whole persona. You have created for yourself the unambiguous image of a villain. You have stretched a single negative act to its limit and placed it like a mask on the man behind it. (I am not saying this is the only racist or negative act that has occurred at Williams, I’m speaking only about Teddy’s case here). This response makes it impossible to get to know the man behind the mask, to empathize with that man. And honestly I agree with you when you say you don’t owe him your empathy, but dishing a little out can go a long way. He has been trying to do this for a while, sincerely. I can say that he is truly sorry with confidence because I know Teddy. I know the man behind the mask, and he is a good person who cares that he made a mistake not just because it’s blown up on him but because he hurt others unwillingly. You do not have to take my word for it, but if you don’t, I can only ask that you try and get to know the man yourself.
    I hate coming across as a fucking moralist. I usually hail from the let-others-be camp, but I really feel like the view you outlined in your post is counterproductive. I just want you, the next time you look at a white person, to try and resist the temptation to generalize based on stereotypes and painful memories and look through their skin to the content of their character. They are definitely more like you than you suspect.

  8. I just wanted to say, we at Cornell College completely understand all you’re saying. People on my campus have been hostile towards POC as well, but that just means they’re threatened by the amazing things we’re doing. Thank you for writing this! This article was shared many times on Facebook by my Cornell peers and its all we talked about over dinner. I cannot put into words how much we needed your words of empowerment. Take care of yourself. I hope you’re not reading the comments section, there’s never anything of value haters gotta say xD
    IN UNITY,
    Janet

    • “I hope you’re not reading the comments section, there’s never anything of value haters gotta say xD”

      Can’t say I agree (with the quote or with your use of the word “haters”). I think, at the very least, both “Anonymous” and “peace and love” put forth well-thought-out responses. Both of them, incidentally, addressed how counterproductive anything along the lines of the above quote is.

  9. Re: POC Supporters of the White Martyrs

    “You make everyone else look like they’re overreacting when it is actually you who are under­reacting.”

    Except it’s people like you who make it so I’m “underreacting” as you dare say. I personally feel as if POCs who are not Black or Latino have no voice whatsoever at this college, and incidents that involve people of my color, of my culture, are utterly disregarded, while incidents like the Taco 6 are blown out of proportion. We get emails and riots when things like this happen, yet when a Muslim student’s poster was defaced, nobody said a word. And then the issue went away, never to be talked about again. Yet you seem to be bringing up issues from months ago and making them relevant now.

    So please allow me to apologize for having no empathy for your problems, when you never had empathy for mine.

    • (TW: Islamophia and Islamophobic violence)
      You’re one of the few commenters I don’t want to punch in the face for remaining anonymous. Yes, I have a huge problem with your use of the word ‘riot.’ Yes, I also have a huge problem with the phrase ‘while incidents like the Taco 6 are blown out of proportion.’ But I myself am unequivocally part of that huge problem.
      When I read that a Muslim student’s poster had been defaced and tossed aside in Paresky, I did nothing. “The defacement consisted of cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object, and making a cut all the way across the throat in the picture, apparently using the same sharp object. In addition, a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark.”(Dean Bolton’s e-mail) This is horrible. Sure, I had a watered-down version of the feeling I get when my identity is attacked just thinking about all the students who must have felt threatened and devalued, but I didn’t do shit.
      I didn’t go to the prayerful gathering in Paresky to show my solidarity. I thought to myself that 8:30am was too early to fit my sleep schedule. I thought to myself that it would be hypocritical for an atheist to attend anything meant for prayer. I thought to myself that I wouldn’t know anyone else there and would look like a spectator. My excuses were selfish.
      I didn’t personally reach out to any Muslim students who needed support. I thought to myself that at that time they really didn’t need to hear anything from a person who had been raised Catholic. I thought to myself that they didn’t have any use for my potentially unwanted help. I thought to myself that it would be easy for members of such a small campus community to find support within their own circles. My excuses were assumptions.
      I didn’t try to educate myself about the rampant Islamophobia that existed in the US and abroad. I was subscribed in some form or another to plenty of media sources that alerted me about it on a regular basis, but I would look no further than a few headlines. I thought to myself that it would only make me feel worse about the world. I thought to myself that I didn’t really need more negative distractions since midterms were coming up. I thought to myself that it wasn’t my struggle. My excuses were choices, and I chose ignorance.
      My acknowledgement of your strife has been too slow. I should not have waited until after dozens of mosques were burned in Paris and across Europe. I should not have waited until after three Muslim students were murdered at Chapel Hill. I should not have waited until after I began traveling with people who always get ‘randomly selected’ at the airport. I should not have waited until after locals here told me to avoid Marseille because “it is full of Arabs.”
      As a person of color, I have failed you. As a woman of color, I have failed you. As a Latina, I have failed you. As a member of a diasporic culture, I have failed you. As a fellow Williams student, I have failed you. We are all on the same tiny campus for a short four years and in turning a blind eye to your oppression I have wasted three of them and unknowingly taken the side of the oppressor. We have all gotten screwed over throughout history and in the present day. Treating these like unrelated issues was ignorant and detrimental. Our struggles are not competitions. They are vastly different on innumerable levels, but they are something we both have ever present in our lives.

      No more excuses; you have called me on so much of my bullshit.

      Don’t ever stop.

  10. How great for all this to happen around the 300th birthday Ephraim Williams celebrations, just when I might have been falling into some nostalgia traps. The cynicism is so familiar.

    Screw Williams.

  11. Oh, fer crying out loud, white people! Get a grip! (Yes, I’m a white person. No, I don’t “hate white people.” I hate bullshit white people say to avoid seeing where the responsibility for racism lies.)

    Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Racism = Bias + Power. (I’m praying some of you have heard this before, with the tuition you’re being charged.) Now, while it is completely possible for a Latin@ (convention adopted to outwit the Web bots, I take it?) to be biased against white people (gosh, I wonder what possible grounds for that there might be), she isn’t going to be racist against white people. On account of _look around_: if you are not blind, you will see that those with their hands on the levers of power are almost without exception white. Valeria has the ability–evidently!–to get under some of our skins, but she’s not going to be able to systematically deprive us of equal access to housing, education, health care, jobs, and justice.

    If you think that’s not relevant to this conversation, you really need to pay more attention to the news. Or to books: I’d recommend starting with The New Jim Crow. Think we’ve arrived at an equal playing field yet, because Obama is the President? Yeah, no. Dig deeper.

    Whatever else, this essay is not “racist.” It is exasperated. It is fed up. It is drawing a line in the sand, taking no prisoners, and making no apologies. But however uncomfortable that makes those of us who are white, that doesn’t make it “racist.”

    Instead, it’s pointing out the obvious: those who created the system of racism–and let’s just be clear about this, and call it institutionalized white supremacism, shall we–are the ones who have the obligation to clean it up. And while at one and the same time we’re not the ones best qualified to judge when a person of color is being “too sensitive” about a joke or a costume or someone following them around in a store to make sure they don’t shoplift–for that, it pays to listen to the experts, those who have experienced race-based disrespect on a daily basis for years–we’re not _entitled_ to have all people of color drop everything in their own lives and become our anti-racism gurus.

    We’re not entitled to their eternal patience, hearing us make the same old cluelessly racism-denying comments again and again. It gets old, I’m sure, hearing “I don’t see race” from people who deny that the fact that there’s a pattern in, for instance, the fact that a young black man is 21 times more likely to be shot by police than a young white man, or the fact that a black man with a bachelor’s degree is no more likely to get a job than a white man with a high school diploma. Or how about the fact that, in one borough of New York, more black and Latin0 young men were stopped and frisked in a year than actually live in the borough? (For the numerically challenged, that means that, essentially means that if you were black or Latin0, you _were_ told to “spread ’em” by a cop, whether you had done something “suspicious” or not. Because under white supremacism, being black or brown _is_ “suspicious.”)

    It’s not “race” many of us are blind to, in fact, it’s _racism_. And that fact is not endearing to those who have to live with racism.

    Some people of color will step forward, for reasons of their own, and offer to teach us what it is like to walk in their shoes. Half the time, we’ll treat them badly for it, when we should be wise enough to be grateful.

    But the fact that our feelings get hurt when the truth, that we live in an unfair and racist society, and that many of us say and do things that are racist and painful (whether or not we understood them to be hurtful as we did them) is not a reason for Valeria to drop everything and make gently soothing our feelings a top priority.

    Seriously? It hurts our “feels” to discover we’ve been acting like racist assholes, or looking the other way while other whites do? Well, I suspect that living with the result of institutionalized racism for a few decades hurts a bit worse than that.

    If you want to grow, if you want empathy, look for people of color and their allies who are actually interested in offering it to you. Oddly enough, they exist.

    But don’t think this writer owes you a smiley face. (And for the love of God, DO NOT invoke Martin Luther King in an attempt to shame a person of color for how they are coping with racism. Have a little shame, people!)

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