After the hideous murder of George, the messages of supports towards the black community have been pouring in -or, shall we say, flooding social media-.
In many ways, that’s a good thing.
It shows people are empathetic, and that some of them want to see a better world.
But from a power dynamic point of view, we can see a different story to it.
And from a mental empowerment point of view, those messages can actually be harmful.
Let’s dig deeper.
Sympathizing with colored folks for purportedly being oppressed only confirms a two-classes world. Progressive folks and empowered people of color alike do NOT think of themselves as victims.
The Power Dynamics of White’s Sympathy
On this website and, in more detail, in the Power University course, we talked about hidden power moves.
Hidden power moves are words or actions that on the surface are friendly and supportive.
But that, on a second level order, hide a power relationship where the person being friendly and supportive is actually disempowering the receiver.
Example of hidden power moves are:
- “Sorry for not picking up your call” (= you were not a high priority for me)
- “I’m sorry that you had to wait for me here” (= I have the power to let you wait)
Those above examples are kind and sympathetic on the surface. And the speaker might even mean well.
But they also hide a power dynamic where the speaker is disempowering the receiver and pushing him down the hierarchical ladder.
Offering support works in the same way.
Offering support indirectly says that someone needs your support because, apparently, they are not doing too well in life (and you are).
Attention, with that I’m not saying that most white folks are consciously disempowering black folks.
Many people are being warm and welcoming and many of them really feel empathy and want to help.
Some others, of course, are riding the SJW wave.
Many public personas and the starlets belong to this category (Emma Watson example):
Emma Watson “stands with you” (“you” who?)
Even our beloved virtue signalers might in the end be OK persons and somewhat well-meaning.
But still… Even if they mean no active harm, virtue signalers’ support still re-affirm a power dynamic that empowers them and disempowers the subjects of their “support”.
Virtue signaling is to the benefit of the signaler, and rarely if ever of the receiver.
The duality of wanting to help but actually harming is something that other researchers have noted as well.
Take linguist researcher Deborah Tannen, for example. Tannen says that asking someone “where are you from” as a first question can be both an attempt to connect and a power move, as it can both seek to connect and pin someone down.
And the same can be said of gender relations.
Kim Scott for example says that men treating women with kid gloves at work might have wanted to be nice, but they were actually relegating them as second class citizens in the office.
That type of kindness, she correctly points out, is damaging women.
Men who are nice in fear of hurting women are also indirectly saying that women are not strong enough to play within a level playing field. It says that women need that help. And that men are the powerful ones who need to dispense that help.
It’s the same for the sympathy expressed by white folks to black folks.
The support and sympathy of white folks towards blacks also indirectly say:
“I am (somewhat) superior and more powerful”.
Or, at least:
“I am a somewhat higher class citizen”.
There is also another element that disempowers “black folks”. And it’s addressing them as a collective.
Don’t Let “Black” Stifle Your Uniqueness
It’s great to offer support to individuals as individuals.
But it’s disempowering to support individuals for their (supposedly) group of belonging.
Because when people address you by your group belonging, you become “a black person”, and they disempower you of controlling and telling your own story.
You become “a (random, nameless) black person”, with all the stereotypes attached to it. And it strips your uniqueness away.
The same happens when people frame you with other groups of belongings, like with nationalities, for example.
And it’s the reason why when people ask me “where are you from”, I give a fuzzy answer (“Originally, from there, but I studied abroad, I live there, and travel all the time… So I’m international, really).
I do that because I don’t want any fucking one to pin me down with Italian stereotypes. Don’t get me wrong: I like being Italian, but I am still an individual, I carve my own path in life, I write my own story, and I present my own story, unencumbered by stereotypes.
Finally, framing a single case of brutality as a “black people issue” also serves to confirm the status quo.
Indirectly, it confirms that indeed society empowers a certain ethnicity and disempowers another.
And while there might be some truth to it, when you keep repeating it, you also make it more real, and you contribute to keeping it alive.
And that’s an unhealthy worldview to internalize. It’s dangerous to internalize that being black is such as huge handicap (and it’s not).
And white people’s “support” only reinforces the nonsense narrative that blacks are at a big disadvantage in life.
Don’t believe that shit not even for a nanosecond.
You’re Bigger Than Any Single Trait, Always Remember That
Individuals are made up of a multitude of traits and belonging.
Their genders, skin color, eye color, nationalities, sexual preferences, preferences, skills, attitudes etc. etc.
Reducing them to just one, however visible it might be, is disempowering.
Now let’s be honest: there might be some truth in the “white privilege” thing.
But to me, it’s still BS.
So, white skin might confer some advantages under some circumstances. So what?
Advantages and disadvantages are part of life, and the same is true for all possible traits you can imagine.
From eye color, to amount of hair on your head, to height, to IQ, to… Whatever. Any trait will confer either some advantage or some advantages under certain circumstances.
And you can rise above each one of them.
Stop Babying Others
Telling others that you “support” them makes people feel good.
It makes them feel good because they can feel kind. And because, unconsciously, as we saw, it says that you are more powerful than they are.
Somehow, this often happens about race.
Probably, because race is such an important issue in much of the US. But that doesn’t your “support” any less condescending.
But as much as you don’t publish posts telling short or unintelligent or people that you “support” them, it’s condescending to tell black people that you “support” them.
Me, I don’t think that any race or group as a whole needs my support.
I think there are countless individuals within those groups who are strong and capable enough to control their own destiny, and to far more successful than most individuals in any other race or group.
Addressing the whole group is highly condescending towards those folks.
Here is an example of condescending, borderline de-humanizing support I have recently seen on my Linkedin wall:
Her: I see you and support you
So self-congratulatory, and so offensive. It implies that (most) others don’t see “them”.
Cut the haughty pomp, your black friends and colleagues have names, and they probably don’t know what to do with your condescension.
Experiment: Putting “Whites” in The Condescended Shoes
Some white folks these days are inviting others to put themselves in black people’s shoes.
That’s always a great exercise.
The first part of that exercise, the one that everyone is embracing, is to “feel the pain” of black people.
Now let’s finish the exercise, though.
Let’s add the power dynamics part I’m addressing here.
And put yourself in the shoes of being the subject of your own friendly support.
Here is what other races could tell white people:
- Jew person: I’m sorry there is a pandemic of white people being born with such lower IQs compared to us. Society shouldn’t discriminate against lower IQ. I stand with you, white people.
- Asian person: I’m sorry white people have to be born so asocial and selfish. And so unconscientious, with such poor work ethics. Society shouldn’t discriminate against people with ADHD. I stand with you, white people.
- Asian woman: I’m sorry white girls are so unfeminine and white guys prefer us. It’s not fair that men like feminine women more. I stand with you, white women.
- Black person: I’m sorry white people have no street smarts, have little dicks, and cannot sprint or jump. Society shouldn’t discriminate against any of that. I stand with you, white people.
Albeit these examples might seem exaggerated, they simply show the “other side of the coin” of offering support and sympathy -the power dynamics side-.
How would any empowered white person answer to any of that?
Any empowered wite person wouldn’t even want to hear any of that.
And this is how they might answer:
- Thanks, but I’m doing great. My IQ is fine. And emotional Intelligence matters more anyway: all that IQ didn’t help you avoid a history of prosecutions, it seems (huge one-up back)
- Thanks, but I’m doing great. Western work ethics allowed Westerners to rule the world, so I think we’re pretty fine (medium one-up back)
- Thanks, but I’m doing great. Girls love my dick, and I prefer swimming and long-lasting sports to sprints (mild one-up back)
You will notice that these answers are more on the aggressive aside.
From a framing point of view, they (correctly) read the initial “offer of help” not as a friendly gesture, but as an attempt at one-upping, and they answer with a one-up back of their own.
Answering with a one-up defends your own power, and also serves to protect one’s own mind and self-esteem.
After that, you can move to move conciliatory tones.
However, since messages of support rarely show the true power dynamics so obviously, you need to answer with more tact.
Power-Frames Against Condescending Sympathy
How to answer to all the condescension we’ve just described?
How can a black person answer, without being aggressive, while also defending his individuality and his personal power?
Here is an example:
White person: (chest out, with the pride of the self-appointed savior) You have all my support. I stand with you!
Black person: Thanks. But like “you” who, and… For what? (a simple question that will dismantle his whole self-righteous frame)
White person: For the racism man. That’s disgusting that you guys must go through that so often. I can’t imagine what it’s like
Black person: Thank you, I appreciate your friendliness (don’t call it “support”).
I suppose some policemen see some races with more animosity than others, in limited cases (reframe the problem as localized, instead of general).
But hey, I’m Alex (shrugh shoulders, as if to say “I’m me”, and distance yourself from the group, reclaim your power as an individual).
And personally, I’m doing great (reclaim your power as an individual 2).
I see life as a world of opportunities, not threats (frame yourself as a high quality man, not as “a black dude”). This is a life of opportunity for those who want to take them (swtich the tables: maybe he could use some of your support, instead?)
The Danger of Sympathy: “Poor Me” Thinking
What we’ve just described so far is bad enough.
But there is a pernicious, deeper danger of constant sympathetic messages.
And unless you’re aware of the power dynamics, it can go unnoticed.
Sympathetic messages frame you as “poor you”.
To me, there is nothing more offensive, and nothing that angers me more quickly, than a “poor you” frame.
If you don’t question the “poor you” frame, you can start believing it, and it can become your reality.
The danger of accepting people’s support without questioning it is the internalization of the belief that you do need support because the deck is stacked against you.
The danger is that you internalize that “poor you”.
When you internalize that, you are also accepting that you do are indeed a second class citizen.
You should be worried and afraid of internalizing that belief, because it’s terribly dangerous.
When you internalize it, you start believing it. And you start to act accordingly.
The consequences are two, and they stem from the same internalization of the “poor you” frame
- Learned helplessness: whatever you do, you can’t win
- Lashing out in anger and becoming anti-social
Two very different scenarios, but both being the consequence of believing that it’s too difficult for you to win in this society.
And white people’s “support” is reinforcing the idea that you can’t do anything to succeed in this society:
So is this implying that a black person “cannot have a cellphone”, or “go jogging”? Don’t let this BS virtue-signaling sway you. You CAN do anything you want in life!
There is a good scene from the movie “Menace II Society” that well shows what I mean.
The black protagonist, Caine, is talking to a close girlfriend.
The girlfriend is encouraging him to move, pursue self-development, and leave behind small-timing burglaries and drug dealing.
I found the movie, and edited so you can see it:
Caine: Ain’t nothing gonna change in Atlanta. I mean, I’m still gonna be black. Just another nigga from the ghetto
He internalized the belief that there were no chances for them.
What a fucking tragedy.
This is called learned helplessness in psychology (Seligman, 1991), and it’s the belief that no matter what you do, you can’t win.
Virtue signaling messages contribute to creating learned helplessness among black folks.
It’s ironic, but the sympathetic messages that want to offer support can do more harm than good.
That’s why I recommend black folks to put up shields against superficial and general support and sympathy.
Stand guard to the gates of your mind, friends.
You’re the first-class, top 1% citizen, if you want.
Think it, believe it, dress it, act it.
How to Come Out This: Building Bridges
The other problem of generalized white sympathy is that it tends to vilify police.
Again, the issue is the same: support “blacks” as a whole and vilify “police” as a whole.
Bridges and healthy individualism are the answer.
Some cops are racist and scum.
Some protesters are thugs.
Unluckily, when we tend to paint everyone with broad brushes, we only flame the fires of hatred.
And we’re only more likely to get hatred.
Probably, most cops are good and/or normal people worthy of respect.
And the same is true for most people of color, and of most random groups you want to pick.
To get over this, be the first to condemn the bad apples within your group of belonging.
Then, build bridges and spread the love.
And extend some love to policemen as well.
They’re humans, too.
The avalanche of messages of sympathy support towards the black community is, overall, a good sign.
It’s a sign that people care.
However, there is one potentially disturbing element of support:
- Generalized messages of support towards blacks de-individualize them, and places everyone under the “black guy” yoke
- Constant messages of sympathy indirectly say that people of color are second class citizens
If people of color allow number 1 to happen, it will disempower them. And if they internalize number 2, it can harm their all lives.
That’s why, ultimately, I would advise people of color to distance themselves from that support.
Politely say “thanks”, but immediately reclaim your power as an individual.
And never think of yourself as moving in a world where you can’t win.
Fuck anyone who implies you’re a victim. You make your own world, my friend.