As a white person, I feel like any opinions I voice on race need to be heavily discounted. As a white person, I’m not sure I have the right to say much of anything at all. The thing is, because of the social circles I’m in and because one of my jobs is at Capital Community College in downtown Hartford, I find myself frequently involved in discussions about race. At least I’m present for those discussions. My level of involvement varies greatly depending on whom I’m with. With just my writing partner, Jamil, I’m as verbal as I get. (Although that’s not very verbal.) I know that he knows that whatever I say, even if it’s wrong, is coming from a good place. And I know that he won’t treat me in a “white people are so stupid” kind of way. He will fill in my knowledge gaps, and there are plenty of those, but never in a condescending way. With everyone else, there’s a sliding scale. I’ll answer any direct question I’m asked. I likely won’t volunteer anything else. I always err on the side of keeping my mouth shut.
There are two things that I worry about. One is that when I’m the only person not talking, I’ll come off as aloof or arrogant. People sometimes mistake quiet for judgey, when I’m honestly just being quiet. The other thing that worries me is that maybe I should be talking more. We’re always hearing about open dialogue and exchanging ideas. Am I doing something wrong by not sharing my thoughts? Am I interrupting the open dialogue? Am I inhibiting the free exchange of ideas?
My instinct is that I’m not interrupting or inhibiting anything. I’ve heard white people talk about race. I’ve read what white people have written about race. The one conclusion I always draw is that white people are so, so, so, so, so stupid. Even the well meaning allies come off as pretty darn stupid. As a general rule, I like to avoid being stupid.
I think we’d be better off if more white people were like me. Whenever possible (which is almost always), defer to the people with actual lived experience of the situation. Remember that there’s no need for more opposing viewpoints. There are more than enough already. By keeping our mouths shut, we allow others to speak. And by listening to those others, we may all learn something.