I hope this finds you well and enjoying spring! I have been growing and learning in some new directions over the last few months and I am excited to share with you as we all move forward in this essential work together.
Today, I’d like to discuss one of the stuck places for white people in anti-racism work, which is (subconsciously) seeing BIPOC as objects to collect or to serve us in some way. It is very easy, when we make choices about the communities we live in or the schools we send our children to, to see these decisions as ways of showing our antiracist credentials, reducing the people in those scenarios to objects in our space that contribute caché and don’t warrant further connection or acknowledgement of humanity.
Unfortunately, the way we describe these choices often takes the perspective of what we get from proximity to BIPOC (besides feeling good about ourselves), which can demote the people who are our neighbors or community members to being objectified rather than individuals with inherent value of their own. It’s a bit like patting oneself on the back when one says “I have a Black friend” or when companies tokenize their BIPOC employees or DEI hires.
A friend of mine wrote a great scenario to consider:
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Take for example the sentence, “I love my daughter’s day care. They have diverse caregivers there. There’s a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf.”
Now, what comes next?
“I’ve always considered converting to Islam, and so I was glad to have a chance to talk to her about her faith in an environment where she could answer my questions better than a stranger could, because of how well she knew our family, having been a caregiver to my daughter for the past year.”
Yeah, that’s probably not what comes next.
But if it did, that kind of statement would reflect a recognition that the Muslim caregiver has a point of view (she has opinions about my family), has autonomy (she has made choices about her faith that I might value and want to emulate), and she isn’t fungible (one Muslim isn’t replaceable with another Muslim in this context, because she has relevant information about my family that others don’t).
What usually comes next after a sentence like that? Maybe nothing really at all, which reveals that there’s nothing to the comment other than the sheer novelty of the situation. If you could substitute, “There’s a dog who stands on its hind legs” for whatever reference to BIPOC or diversity you are making, and the result communicates the same thing (well, I’ll be damned!), then that’s objectification.
Maybe what comes next is a generic sentence like, “and it’s so great that my daughter can learn about other cultures.” Well, your daughter can learn about other cultures regardless of whether this person is there or not. If you could substitute “Look, sweetie, there’s a giraffe, remember, we talked about those” for a BIPOC, then that’s probably a sign of objectification.
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This awareness isn’t just about individual perspectives that might cause individual harm. Even subconsciously viewing people as objects is dehumanizing — it upholds systemic hierarchies of value that devalue some people and uplift others.
If we are only thinking about ourselves (understandable in our culture of hyperindividualism, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” myth, and the consumerism we are constantly breathing), then we are prevented from truly being in community with others and our efforts to connect will be shallow and temporary. Engage with the people in your life not because of the group they might belong to, but because they have inherent individual value.
Let us commit to building relationships, growing solidarity with people of many experiences and perspectives, and taking action in ways that serve the greater good and not just ourselves.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.
- ACLU’s tracker of legislation attacking LGBTQ+ rights
- Supporting the teaching of accurate history
- In.Visible Paradigms created a Social Justice Terms document
- Use the HEAL Together toolkit for community organizing