I’m Shutting My White Mouth about Race.

Via Amanda Christmann
on Jan 25, 2016
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silence quiet

I sat down to write a story about race.

I wanted to talk about the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, and the fact that white lives have been about the only things that have mattered for so long that it is about time people of color (any color besides white) had a voice.

I wanted to discuss white privilege, and how, even though I don’t believe I am racist, I have unknowingly taken advantage of a system that has given me access to education, role models, and opportunities that are absolutely not afforded to many people of color in this country.

I wanted to make a point of the fact that police brutality exists against people of color, and that supporting law enforcement and recognizing there are problems are not mutually exclusive propositions. As the former wife of a police officer (who is still a close friend), I was ready to plead the case that there are a lot of really wonderful men and women who are serving us by doing the difficult job of enforcing our laws, but that their exemplary service does not excuse the ones who need to be held accountable for bullying, profiling, discriminating, and killing people.

I wanted to talk about the gun-toting rednecks who took over federal land in Oregon and compare their relative comfort and lack of consequences to the rubber bullets, riot response teams, and violence that Black Lives Matter protestors have incurred in different parts of the country.

I wanted to point out the fact that one in three black men will be jailed in his lifetime, and how that number is absolutely, unequivocally not because black men are committing the majority of crimes.

I wanted to share studies about inequality in sentencing for the same crimes, and the fact that it has been scientifically proven that black men and women are sentenced more harshly than white men and women who commit the same crimes.

And I wanted to talk about the fact that when black men do commit crimes, they often are simply conforming to a self-fulfilling prophecy after years of being pigeon-holed into the role of “menace to society” projected upon them by educational systems, public servants, and white people like me who clutch their purses tighter and squeeze our children’s hands when young, black males pass us on the street.

I wanted to make the point that I have been to West Africa and toured the castles where slaves were held by imperialists before they were forced to come to the United States. I wanted to say that those slaves, whose lives were stolen in the most cruel, inhumane ways possible, were a big part of why our country is successful today. I had a need to tell everyone how they not only built the economy that has allowed us all to maintain our independence, but also to thrive, and that they forcefully sacrificed their families, their tribes, and their cultures to do so.

They didn’t receive rights to even go to the same schools as white people until just one to two generations ago; we cannot expect them to walk away saying, “Oh, well. No big deal.”

I wanted to talk about my home town, where a “No Niggers Allowed” sign was posted along the highway when I was small.

How one of the only black men who grew up in my area, and who is not much older than me, told me he was not allowed in certain stores and was harassed, cursed, and treated like an unwanted, flea-ridden dog when he was young. I wanted to say that we cannot expect people like him to “get over it” just because we now have a black president.

I wanted to mention that, in the next town over, three black teens beat up a white teen last week. I wanted to say that my very best friend from high school called me and angrily proclaimed that, had they been white kids who assaulted a black kid, they would have been all over the news. And I wanted to say that, if they had been white, people would have said it was an isolated racist incident; but because they were black, the (white) public assumed they represented their entire race.

I wanted to write about so much, but I realized something as my letters turned into words, and my words turned into sentences, and my sentences turned into paragraphs.

The truth is, I am white, and I have no idea what it is like to be black or brown or any other color in America.

Sure, I have had some tough struggles in life, and sure, I have worked for the things I have, but the rest of the truth is, I have been granted privilege because of my skin color since the day I was born. I have no idea what it is like to be anything other than white, and I have no business speaking on behalf of anyone who does.

But there are millions of people of country who have the ability, and the right, to say it better than me because they have lived it.

And so, as I began to write, I realized that I the very best thing I can do is to shut the hell up about race. And instead, listen.

Because that is the only thing that will create change.


Author: Amanda Christmann

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Ket Quang/Free Images 



About Amanda Christmann

Amanda Christmann is a freelance writer and editor who loves good words, good wine and good times with friends and family. She travels the world as a human rights advocate and activist, particularly on issues that involve human trafficking and women’s empowerment. She is an avid cyclist and runs with scissors, whenever possible. In addition to elephant journal, her work has been featured by Women For One, Tattooed Buddha and ImagesAZ magazine, among other publications. Connect with Amanda via her Facebook page.



24 Responses to “I’m Shutting My White Mouth about Race.”

  1. Nicole Cameron says:

    Amanda, I want to give you a big hug for this! Thank you for recognizing our history and struggle, and realizing your place in it. I hope that more people can learn to listen, without trying to justify actions and beliefs that have no justification. Articles like this make me proud to be a part of this community.

  2. Amanda Christmann says:

    Thank you, Nicole! ❤

  3. Ginny Cattermole says:

    This is a perfect piece. When so many want to make things better, to make sense of racial inequality, to find words to express the reality we witness and the dream of rectifying what is still so wrong, this is just perfect. Thank you.

  4. Nikka Mar says:

    While I agree with some of this. White people have been silent about the race problems in this country for far too long. For several generations we have been told to not talk about race issues. We have been told to be told that in order to not be racist we have to be “color blind.” I call bull crap. Not only do we need to see all our colors we need to celebrate the rainbow. We as white people need to talk about race and teach our children to talk about it. We need to stand with our black, brown brothers and sisters or nothing will change. “The inaction is a form of action. There is no neutral space.”

  5. Amanda Christmann says:

    Thank you, Ginny.

  6. artemis133 says:

    All lives matter. I am a white woman, but I've never seen the so-called white privilege that I was supposed to automatically have. I grew up the granddaughter of a coal miner who died of black lung disease at age 52 (I'm 56 now). Our family was working class, and was never given any special favors.

    I understand what this article is about, but we will never be a color blind society as long as we make everything about color. And I will not hate myself because I was born white.

  7. Chris says:

    I don’t like the way you’re words would influence people with low situational awareness. There are so many factors that create such a multifaceted set of dynamics that we can agree and call socialism which best summarizes what we experience in america..

    You might be a nice person. But from a bias perspective , you seem bigoted .

    I’d stick with all lives matter, attack specific mindsets , behaviors , but never segregate or favor any race if you want less racism.

    If you want equality. Start studying the brain, and piezoelectricity in the body and how physical aspects cultivate ones said personality, and beliefs, as much as you’re upbringing, aka, programming.

    I’m going off track here, but I’m not assuming that you may even already know, that more than anything, you’re just building a following in shortcoming .

    I think something that would influence racism more than attacking racism, is making someone thing the lines of a civil service exam requirement to earn the right to vote …. Think about how that might be possible….

  8. Amanda Christmann says:

    Hi Artemis,
    Thanks for taking the time to reply. To begin, this article is not about hating yourself; it's about recognizing that there is a problem of institutional racism in our country, and also recognizing that we need to start listening to, believing and empowering the people whose lives it affects instead of dismissing or justifying it.

    Having said that, I understand your position. We didn't have much money growing up either, so when I first heard the term "white privilege" a few years ago, my defenses went up and I pushed back against the idea that I was somehow privileged—and that I should somehow feel guilty for all the things I was supposedly afforded because of my whiteness. I was angry about it, to be honest, and I thought that, since I wasn't personally racist, I shouldn't be held accountable for something as absurd as privilege that I never felt or recognized.

    What I've learned since then is that privilege is not about money. The fact that you or I can move into any small town and look like nearly everyone else there without standing out is privilege. The fact that you or I could look for a house to rent in just about any neighborhood and not automatically have a strike against us from many landlords because we're black or brown, or anything other than white, is privilege. The fact that our teen or 20-something-year-old sons can go into a convenience store and not be watched or followed as potential shoplifters is privilege. The fact that you and I have grown up seeing people who look like us in positions of power, in leading roles, and in successful business roles—far more than people who don't look like us—is privilege.

    Studies show, and black communities (and Native American, Hispanic/Latino, and other communities of color) have been saying for a long time that *every one of the above things* is a problem for people of color.

    What you are talking about, as far as your own upbringing, is intersectionality. There are many kinds of privilege, and I'm sure you can relate to some of these:

    – Citizenship: Think immigration stereotypes and what new citizens go through.

    – Socioeconomic status: Poor people have been shown to have fewer educational and career opportunities, less access to preventative and/or quality healthcare, and more obstacles to success than people who are financially stable. (I'm sure you can fill in these blanks with more struggles here, based on your own experiences. Me too.)

    – Gender: There is still a pay gap between men and women who are doing the same jobs, and there are still plenty of stereotypes about what women can and cannot do. Also, if you are male, chances are good that you won't get raped, or blamed for what you were wearing if you do.

    – Sexual orientation – If you are straight, you can get married or hold hands with your partner anywhere without disapproving glances or judgment.

    There are more, too, but these are a few of the big ones.

    A straight, white, male born into a middle-to-upper class family is going to benefit from more privilege (invisible or obvious, and regardless of whether or not they act racist) than a poor Mexican female, or a poor gay white male, and so on because of intersectionality of privilege.

    But privilege does exist, and the fact that you and I grew up not feeling it as much as some other people doesn't mean it doesn't.

    It also doesn't mean we should feel guilty about it; we did not cause it. But we do need to recognize that it is real and that we need to listen better to what is happening to people affected by it—just as those with financial privilege need to listen to the struggles of the working poor like your family was—instead of being dismissive and defensive of their struggles.

    And, of course, I'm being metaphorical when I say we should shut up. Once we start listening and begin to really hear, we can be part of the solution through our actions, our beliefs, and our votes.

    I hope that clarifies my message.


  9. Amanda Christmann says:

    Thanks for posting, Chris. I think maybe my above comment to Artemis might clarify some things.

    ~ Amanda

  10. Gayle Fleming says:

    As a black woman who believes in the Oneness of all Beings, I believe you have written so eloquently about a systemic problem, that anyone who refuses to see your message for what it so beautifully says, is simply in denial. Thank you for writing this.

  11. Gayle Fleming says:

    Dear artemis133, no one expects you to hate yourself. It is well documented that many, many white people have lived and still live in poverty and struggle. But although white people were indentured servants at one point in our country they were never slaves. Black Lives Matter does not mean that All Lives don't Matter. I would ask you to try to understand the historic and systemic problems that have led to the racial disparity in this country. Try not to think of this as either/or. The facts as stated in this article are well documented. These problems aren't just black people feeling sorry for themselves. I am black and you are white but we are One. Sending you light, love and blessings.

  12. Gayle Fleming says:

    Well said Amanda.

  13. Tom (Guest) says:

    I think it would be easier to "divide" between "good people" and "bad people".
    Because skin color is not as important as character in my usually not so humble opionion.
    I happen to be labeled 'caucasian' (white) – but one of my role models happens to be Morgan Freeman.
    There`s a couple of freeloading, arrogant, anti-social (beep) in my area – who are as white as they come – and are definately NOT a role model for anyone. Maybe an example of how stuff can go wrong, but that be about it.

    Maybe there is privilege, or maybe it`s a fabrication – i do not know.
    But – if someone is nice to me, whether it`s a he/she/unsure and this person might be black/white/olive or purple with yellow dots – i don`t care- but then i`ll be nice to that person.
    If you`re being rude, expect the cold shoulder.

    That said, people hating others because they happen to be different (in belief, racial background, lifestyle or whatnot) are pitied – they are missing on some great stuff. Think about art, music, and the food from 'foreign' places .. (heaven on earth? A multicultural food party!)

    It`s time for common sense – everywhere – and for people to see who is actually doing the dividing. Media, politics and 'pressure groups' … as a people divided cannot stand, and can therefore be controlled by power hungry idiots.

  14. Amanda Christmann says:

    I agree, Nikka! When I say "shutting my mouth," I'm being figurative. It means it's time to listen and open our eyes to understanding race issues instead of being dismissive, ignoring them, or justifying them, which is what even the most well-intentioned of white people have been doing all along. We are very much on the same page.

  15. Amanda Christmann says:

    Beautifully said, Gayle! Thank you.

  16. Amanda Christmann says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment, Gayle! I appreciate your kindness and wisdom.

  17. Amanda Christmann says:

    Hi Tom,
    I can see that you have a lot of good stuff in your heart, and I love that. Thanks for taking the time to post.

    There is a difference between individual racism (like the hate you're talking about) and the systemic racism that so many black voices are talking about. The dividing is actually being done by all of us through a system that was created by white people that, intentionally or not, benefits white people in all the ways I mentioned in the article and more. My point is that people of color have been shouting from the rooftops that these issues are hurting them, and we're not listening. As white people, we are on the inside looking out, and it is far more difficult to recognize it because we're part of it, whether we want to be or not, and whether we're good people or not. (My reply to Artemis was more detailed about that part, if you want to read it.)

    Yes, be nice to people—all people. That's an excellent place to begin, and it's something I try really hard to do, too. But we also have to recognize the inequalities that exist, and the only way we're going to do that is to listen to black voices that are telling us loud and clear what they are going through.

    Keep on being kind! Love that. We need more of that!

  18. Kobie says:

    How about instead of writing a long article about how you shouldn't be writing about race as a white person, how about instead pointing folks to the many people of color who have already written about this time and time again?

  19. Amanda Christmann says:

    Hi Kobie,
    That's actually what I was saying in the article. We need to be listening to black voices.

    If you have some articles you think are really great, I'd love some suggestions! Most of what I've learned has come from private discussion groups on FB where people are encouraged to talk about, and listen to, issues about race and racism. I can't share those discussions, but I can share some of what I've learned—which is where the inspiration for this article came from. I'd love to see what resources are out there.

    Thanks for the comment.
    ~ Amanda

  20. lambfamilyadopts says:

    WOW. Being a white woman and saying you have never experienced white privileged is an example of it right there.

    Wake up! Can you walk in a store shopping and not have a store work follow you, ask you to see what is in your pockets, etc.? If so, that is white privledge right there. How many times have you been pulled over for "driving while white"? If you have children, did you have to tell your white children they are not allowed to play with toy guns, NOT ever!? You seem articulate, have you even had anyone act surprised by the fact you can write and speak properly? Are you able to wear a hoodie in public and not be called a "thug" because you remind them of Trayvon Martin? Have you ever been labeled a terrorist b/c of the color of your skin?

    These are just a few examples of white privilege I know that I experience all the time. If you took time to reflect on this, I'm hope you will realize you experience white privilege every time you leave your house.

  21. lambfamilyadopts says:

    Chris, saying "All Lives Matter" is stupid. "Black Lives Matter" is not saying "Save the Rainforest" but screw all other types of forest. Think about it.

  22. RosieLately says:

    Thank you Amanda, this warms my heart, thank you for your understanding.

  23. Gayle says:

    Kobie, Amanda used an unusual tactic or writing technique to make her point. She was pointing out facts, while at the same time letting the readers know that she understands that knowing the facts are not the same thing as being black and EXPERIENCING the facts. As a black person I welcome the voice of white people who actually get it and can articulate it.

  24. Amanda Christmann says:

    Thank you, Rosie!