Dear Fellow White People,

Even if I was willing to grant your repeatedly offered point that not every interaction between a black person and a non-black person has to be “about race,” why is it ever so important for you to state that belief now, in response to this case? What impulse compels you to risk your friends’ wrath and shunning just to make this point right here, right now, at this moment? In public, all over every social media outlet available to you? Not next week, not in private, but on the Internet, in direct challenge to people’s expressions of grief and frustration? Do you think it makes people feel better? “Oh, no need to get upset little lady, it might not be as bad as you think.” It doesn’t make people feel better. It makes them feel like their feelings are being dismissed. Because they are.

Do you perhaps feel more empathy for Zimmerman than Martin and his family?

And that doesn’t have a thing to do with race? Not one thing? Fascinating.

Don’t try to explain to me how, because I’m not in the market for that kind of denial. Do you not realize this is what grief looks like, maybe? This is what grief looks like. I am a very good friend to grief this year and we’ve gotten to know each other very well. Grief changes wardrobes often but you’ll learn to recognize her if you’re patient enough.

Yes, it is possible to grieve deeply for someone you did not know — if you knew someone like him, for example.

We may not all be Trayvon Martin, but we may have known him, his parents, his friend on the phone, his cousins, his community. Watch the public outpourings every time a celebrity dies, even when they lived to 95 and died peacefully in their sleep. People can make deep emotional connections to people they’ve never even met, and it is a cold heart indeed that begrudges anybody that.

So tell me: If your friend wailed out her grief to you about someone who meant something to her — and you went “well, but I’m not really sure he died of cancer, though, I mean not everyone with those symptoms dies of cancer,” you might be factually correct (emphasis on might), but you would also be an asshole. You can see that, yes? Would you do that to your friend? Some of you would. We can all be assholes sometimes.

But I think some of you would also realize, eventually, that you fucked up that moment and maybe even try to make amends. “I was wrong” is a good start. Go.

And next time someone is expressing their grief — perhaps in the form of outrage, even — stop and listen instead of rushing in to correct their interpretation of their facts.

Let them have their moment.

Take your fingers off the keyboard for a moment or two and sit with it. Shut up and listen. Show some goddamn respect.

16 Responses

  1. Jonatton Yeah?

    Who on Earth are you talking to? The strawman is strong in this one…

    Reply
  2. Lori S.

    Jonatton, I wish I was addressing a strawman. Oh, how I wish.

    Any casual browsing of Twitter or Facebook or the comments section of just about any news story on this topic will bring more than enough examples of what I’m talking about to light. But I’m not going to do your homework for you here.

    Reply
  3. Jonatton Yeah?

    Yeah, it’s a strawman. Your letter is to “white people”, is it not? But the “white person” you are talking to is a manufactured, distorted, and exaggerated entity you created based around a conglomeration of Facebook and Twitter comments – much of it collected to confirm your bias, I’m sure.

    I am white and I don’t see myself in any of what you wrote. If you want people to show some “goddamn respect” maybe you should show some yourself.

    Reply
  4. Reed

    Sorry your first commenter was a troll. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been thinking the same thing, it’s not even possible to express grief or anger about this without being attacked or belittled.

    Reply
  5. Debbie Notkin

    Jonatton, here’s another piece by an unrelated white person making points similar to Lori’s.

    I think it’s fabulous that you don’t see yourself in any of what Lori wrote. I think it’s evident from the text that she doesn’t see herself in it either, so she’s not making a blanket judgment about all white people. But you know what? Enough of us fit her (and Stephanie Rogers’) description that I’m more than willing to acknowledge that I’m part of a group many of whom have opinions I despise.

    In fact, just about any group I’m part of, larger than the smallest self-selected friends grouping, includes people who have opinions I despise. I can own that and still keep my own opinions.

    Reply
  6. Lori S.

    “I am white and I don’t see myself in any of what you wrote.”

    Then this letter was not addressed to you and you’re free to move along.

    Or, OK, here: “Dear (some) Fellow White People Who Are Really Real and I Could Totally Quote Right Here If You Don’t Believe Me That They Exist”? Does that make you feel better?

    Why is your perceived offense — my “strawman” — so important that you go out of your way to point it out here when you don’t think this letter applies to you?

    Because funny, you’re doing in form precisely the thing I was calling out. Your feelings are prioritized over other people’s grief. Good show. Carry on.

    Reply
  7. Bri

    Hey Jonnaton, she’s so spot on that I had to delete 20 people from my facebook page and drop a group of people I’ve been speaking with for a year. The sheer level of disrespect in the face of this verdict was crushing. People I thought were my friends were so quick to put their finger in my face and say dumb things like “Why are you upset, this happens all the time in America?” or “I don’t see what the big deal was, it’s just a court case?” ignoring the fact that I am in love with a black man, my brother just turned 18, my step father is black as are all of my cousins and uncles. All people who could be judged and harmed. My biological father is actually IN Florida right now. My fears are relevant. Courts just set a precedent that doesn’t value the lives of black men. Should I have a child with the man I love, I will worry if I have a boy and what I must tell him and how I can teach him to survive in a world that doesn’t care about him or his life or his father.

    People weren’t just rude, they had the audacity to get loud about how THEIR feelings as middle classed white americans were so much more relevant than my actual anxieties and fears living in areas with these kinds of racially motivated crimes. They just HAD to tell me that my feelings were unfounded, even when I tried to explain how much the verdict had me in tears.

    You sir, unfortunately suffer from the same disease my friends suffered from. Lori tried to explain a feeling and you immediately jumped to how YOU felt and how it impacted YOU instead of taking in the lesson and perhaps eating some humble pie. Congrats on exemplifying the people she was pointing out.

    Reply
  8. Ben F.

    Great point. And to Jonattan. Burn son. Got smacked with the logic stick.

    Reply
  9. Eugene

    Jonatton could not have better demonstrated the entire point of the post.

    “I am white and I don’t see myself in any of what you wrote.”

    I can’t tell whether you’re a troll or a carefully planted shill 🙂

    Reply
  10. Max Airborne

    Thank you, Lori. I really appreciate your voice. I have been struggling with how to address some of the appalling responses I’ve seen from white folks among my “friends” and acquaintances. I am really appreciating all the white folks who are speaking out in various ways, so I can better learn how to do so.

    Bri, you hit the nail on the head: the sheer level of disrespect. In my anger about this, I’ve deleted some FB “friends,” too (and someone told me about an article today that said there was a huge spike in FB “unfriending” after the Zimmerman verdict).

    I am still wondering whether and how it might be more useful to engage these folks, rather than giving up on them. As one friend pointed out, each conversation and each action is a drop in the bucket, and won’t transform anything by itself, but it’s the cumulative effect. So, deep gratitude to everyone who is expressing their outrage, grief, and compassion.

    Reply
  11. Jonatton Yeah?

    My point is that if you were looking for an intelligible conversation about any of this, starting with “Dear…White People” is a pretty fucking inane way to go about it. What I jumped on was not how I felt about this situation or its impact on me; I jumped on an incendiary argument built on strawmen and confirmation bias. If you want to find inflammatory posts on Facebook and Twitter, you don’t have to look too hard. Are there racist, flippant, trolling white people on these social media sites? Of course! Duh. If you look hard enough you could probably find a purple person with those same characteristics. To use those as a foundation for pushing blanket statements and making some sort of point is cheap and weak. I mean, could you not have found just as many comments that are empathetic and supportive of what appears to be the majority perspective on this site? People who understand the pain, the frustration, and the feelings of helplessness that the event, the ruling, and its aftermath brought in many communities? Are some of those people white? Yes? Well, are you not challenging their “expressions of grief and frustration” by lumping them under the banner of your “fellow white people”? It’s not what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it.

    But maybe an intelligible conversation isn’t the point. Maybe this site is a place for people to vent to other people who agree with them. That’s fine. We all need to do that sometimes.

    ‘Burn son. Got smacked with the logic stick.”

    Solid contribution, “dad.” I didn’t realize people still talked that way.

    Reply
  12. Dave f

    “Watch the public outpourings every time a celebrity dies, even when they lived to 95 and died peacefully in their sleep. People can make deep emotional connections to people they’ve never even met”

    Okay, I guess, but aren’t those generally people who have actually contributed to your own in life in some way? And even then the grief isn’t usually as intense as if you lost someone you actually knew and who knew and probably loved you back. It seems dysfunctional to grieve deeply for someone you never heard of until the moment they died. And to criticize someone for being unaware of your rare form of dysfunction seems…..insensitive.

    Reply
  13. Dave f

    You’re in an echo chamber, Johnathon. Only the pleasant sound of voices that sound just like the author’s are appreciated.

    Reply
  14. Seattlgrrlie

    Trying people in the court of public opinion should be illegal. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is. We have a legal system, a jury, and an entire trial for each and every case of possible homicide in this country. Sometimes guilty people get away with murder. Sometimes very racist people kill and don’t get punished. That’s the point of having a fair system that does not convince without solid evidence. When someone dies that you DO NOT KNOW and have NEVER MET and you are NOT ON THE JURY, you should not come to JUDGEMENT because you are not the judge, the jury, nor the executioner. You weren’t there. Boundary issues people. Boundary issues.

    Reply
  15. Lovely

    Thank you Lori!!!! can we be digital friends? you really get it. Thank you for trying to help others get it to. I dont have the energy for that right now. Im in mourning.

    Reply

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