Race, Writing

Don’t Read the Comments

Recently, I was invited to write a piece for The Everygirl. I titled it, “Dear White Friends, Here’s What I Need (and Don’t Need) From You.” My intention was to address race relations, white privilege, and Black emotional labor in the context of our current racial climate.

As of today, the post has earned over 18,000 likes on Instagram, has been shared at least 300 times on Facebook and Twitter, and has resulted in meaningful conversation amongst people who I’ve never even met. Basically, the post was wildly successful. So why, instead of focusing on that, was I focused on the few negative comments the post received?

When I wrote the article, I knew I was taking a risk. Normally, I write fiction. Writing fiction feels safe to me because even if parts of me are right there on the page, I can always default to, “it’s fiction,” whenever anyone tries to dive too deep into personal meaning. But this piece was far from fiction. It was me speaking from my heart, saying things that I usually only think to myself. I was honest and open and vulnerable. I was saying: here I am…. take it or leave it. And to my absolute horror: some people chose the latter.

Writing is deeply personal work. When I write, I am sharing more than just words. I am sharing myself, in the way I know how to express myself best. And if I can’t be understood that way, then how can I ever be understood?

Again: publishing this piece was a risk. A risk I decided to take, because even if it helped just one Black person feel seen and heard, just one white person learn something about being an ally or being antiracist… well then, it would be worth it.

What I didn’t expect was how deeply hurt the negative comments would leave me. Not because I hadn’t prepared myself for the possibility that someone would respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” And not because I didn’t understand that some people, no matter how hard I tried, would not be in a place to receive my message. But because it was me. My words, my thoughts, my heart. A Black woman, coming forward vulnerably and humbly to say: here is what I need. I didn’t expect people to tell me I was wrong. To tell me my feelings were not valid because “not every Black person feels this way.” I didn’t expect to be called racist. Or to cry about all of these.

It was terrifying and exhilarating to have my piece out in the world, stirring up conversation and emotion. Before I could stop myself, I read every last comment. And then allowed myself only one response. Later, I responded again, and would’ve responded again and again if I wasn’t stopped by people who love me. What I didn’t know, when I’ve said to other people in the past, “Don’t read the comments,” was that it would feel impossible to not read the comments. What I didn’t know is that those comments would cause me to question my validity as a writer; would cause me to question my own perspective.

What I did know was that I was tired. Tired of watching helplessly as Black people were killed in the streets. Tired of keeping quiet about racial injustice, because that’s how I’d been taught to survive. Tired of answering people’s questions. Tired of worrying about other people’s feelings on my feelings. Tired of explaining how it feels to be Black right now. Tired of speaking for my entire race. Tired of not speaking up at all. Tired of talking but also tired of biting my tongue.

And so, I wrote.

“What a time to be Black in America.

As you read this, Black people are disproportionately dying from two pandemics: COVID-19 and racism. After witnessing the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, Black people have had enough. These names are only the recent additions to a long list of names in the Black Lives Matter movement. A movement that is now producing protests and demonstrations around the world; which, again, are disproportionately targeting Black people with arrests, labeling, and violence.

As tensions heighten, I’ve noticed an increase in communications from my non-Black friends who have reached out to show their support. Many of them have asked me the question: what can I do?

In my attempts to respond, I realized that there is more to answering this question than just answering this question. And since it is a question that many non-Black people likely have but might be afraid to ask, I figured I’d take a moment to provide some resources to non-black folks who want to support their Black friends, but simply don’t know where to start.

So, this is to my white (and non-Black) friends. Here’s what I need, and don’t need, from you right now.”

Click here to read the full article on The Everygirl.

1 thought on “Don’t Read the Comments”

  1. Dearest Kai, thank you for this article and for showing up in such a vulnerable and human way. Also thanks for your link to the origin article which I will definitely read! As you also teach, I know you recognize the tendency we have to focus on the “bad apples” or people who bother us and not to focus enough on the supportive ones. I totally get why you would read all the comments, but some people don’t know when to keep their trap shut, sadly, or to self censor. Especially in these times, it would be good if they would listen and not talk at all. Sending you tons of love and light, you very brave woman :).

    Like

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