On hijacking the racial pain of others, or why we white folks need to stop thinking about “race issues” as if they were external from ourselves

Here’s something that just happened on Facebook. One of my friends, a woman of color, shared an article that named 10 Conversations the author wanted to stop having with white people. In response to her post, a white male Facebook friend of hers left a bunch of comments in which he shared personal experiences of having been the target of racial prejudice, and lamented the unfairness of people judging him just because he is white. And from that point, everyone, including myself, thus became engaged in an extended back-and-forth with this guy about his self-proclaimed victimization as a white man. He was able to do something I think happens quite a lot, which is when a person of privilege ‘hijacks’ a discussion which in some way calls out their privilege, changing the focus from the unfairness of the privilege, to soothing the feelings of those who are privileged. Which demonstrates how privilege allows us to escape from the implications on injustice.

Here’s the thing: white people should be processing our pain which stems from racism. We should certainly bring to light our feelings of sadness and discomfort and grief and shame and all else that dwells just under the surface of our white skins, sure as the nose on your face, despite our best efforts at suppressing all that shit. We should be processing these and other issues precisely because they get in the way of our relationships with people whose skin and privilege do not look like ours. We should process these and other issues precisely so that we aren’t inappropriately trying to process them on other people’s turf, or in the midst of other people expressing their pain.

We tend to do stuff like hijacking racial teachable moments because we don’t create these other, more appropriate outlets for this kind of racial processing. That stems from us thinking about race only insofar as it applies to others, but not ourselves.

Talk about it, white people. Don’t just horn in on other people’s discussions about race and racism. Let’s get together – on our own time – and let the whiteness tumble out.


3 Responses to “On hijacking the racial pain of others, or why we white folks need to stop thinking about “race issues” as if they were external from ourselves”

  1. dominiqueatchison Says:

    Amen! This is an important word and ministry Rev. Ryberg! And there is a way that this sort of “teaching” can only be seen as legit when it comes from the mouth of a white man. So keep up the good work. Keep speaking even when you’re not being heard… it’s important work my friend!

    • Tom Ryberg Says:

      Pastor, I so appreciate your encouragement. Truly, “I need you to survive.”

      You speak that “there is a way that this sort of ‘teaching’ can only be seen as legit when it comes from the mouth of a white man,” and that rings true at a deep level. What is so unfortunate about that truth is that when I, as a white man, articulate a truth that gets heard precisely because I am a white man, this happens still inside the existing, flawed paradigm of racial dominance. There is white privilege in being seen as a (more) credible voice on matters of race; part of that credibility comes from embodied experience as a white person, which is legitimate, but part of that credibility comes from the disembodied unwillingness or inability to hear difficult truth that is articulated from someone who is not white or male. And that is not only illegitimate, but deeply wrong. Moreover, it perversely undermines my own self-work along the way, because I sometimes end up feeling “special” or “important” for proclaiming truth which didn’t originate with me but for which fallen systems give me disproportionate power and credibility.

      Anyway. I appreciate you very much. For the sake of my own soul, I selfishly pray that I might remain grounded and accountable to others beyond just my community of privilege.

      Peace to you,

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