“White People Fatigue Syndrome”

Apr 23, 2013 @ 10:24 am | By TheFeministGriote | 33 Comments
Cacunissimo March 2013 cover

Cacunissimo March 2013 cover

 

I have recently come down this condition called “white people fatigue syndrome” it is a term I am borrowing from bell hooks essay “Representing Whiteness” that can be found in the book titled Black Looks. Truth to be told, I am not the only person of color who suffers from this condition. POC if they’re honest will admit that sometimes it takes entirely too much energy and patience to support white people in their process of being an ally. The weight of being “colored me” in a white supremacist hetero patriarchal capitalist culture has become too heavy.  I am tired of always having to prove to whites that racism exists (and it should be noted that ten times of ten my energy is being expended on self-proclaimed whites who call themselves POC allies). I am tired of whites trying to prove to me that they’re aren’t racist, but as soon as it is time for them to interrupt oppression on my behalf, I am on my own. Needless, to say this “mule of the world” is weary!

I recently attend a luncheon with some members of my non-profit agency. I would have much rather stayed in the office, but I obliged. I showed up to this shindig where I was one of maybe ten Black people (I am being very generous with this guesstimation) in a room filled with 100 people. The shindig was at a country club in a part of town that was made up of affluent whites and Latin(a) folks. At my agency table, I was the only Black person. My co-workers are either white or identify as white Latina/Hispanic.

While the ceremony was under way a woman starts passing out a magazine called Cancunissimo a Spanish language magazine. The cover of the magazine catches my eye. The extremely pale white woman being juxtaposed against this extremly dark woman is not something one can easily ignore. As I am investigating the magazine further, I realize that the model isn’t Black. I continue to look inside the magazine to see this non-Black woman, in Black face, in bright color clothing, and in what looks to be a high fashion pictorial spread. I visibly shame my head,  put the magazine down, and proclaim to those around me that the picture is racist. A co-worker who was sitting next to me says, “what’s racist?” and proceeds to look around the room looking for that racist thing. I don’t know what my colleague was looking to find. Not sure if she was looking to find a burning cross in the middle of the ballroom floor, a table filled with white people in their Klan uniforms, or whatever in her mind she considers “racist.” When I told her that I was referring to the magazine cover and that it was racist she fell silent, deathly silent. Another co-worker who at this time entered the conversation said, “but the pictures are beautiful.” To which I responded, but its still racist! that's racist

Now there are several things that need to be dissected in that brief story. The number one thing being the obsession that fashion has with having white women don colored women costumes and calling it high fashion.  In the essay “Selling hot pussy” by bell hooks, hooks writes:

“In contemporary postmodern fashion sense, the black female is the best medium for the showing of clothes because her image does not detract from the outfit; it is subordinate…much fuss was made about the reluctance of fashion magazines to include images of black women, it was assumed that the presence of  such representations would in an of themselves challenge racist stereotypes that black women are not not beautiful.”

That essay was penned in the 90′s when there was a huge surge of Black supermodels and Black models still do exist even now. However, fast forward to 2013 white supremacist fashion houses have found something better than a Black supermodel, they’re now making white women wear Black face and makeup, and presenting it as the new and improved negro supermodel. Therefore, the belief that the more of us that infiltrate an industry or “make it” will somehow make an industry less racist is an epic fallacy. There is no shortage of beautiful Black models, but they’re being substituted with white models. These white women get to appropriate the all beautiful aesthetics of Blackness without the cultural and societal baggage.

The second layer of the story that needs to be deconstructed is the fact that both of my co-workers failed to validate or affirm my feelings. Mind you, I am the only visible person of color at my table and it was clear that I was offended. I guess since it was a magazine cover no one other than me viewed it as a tool with the ability to cut me raw. These same co-workers moments earlier mustered great compassion towards my vegan co-worker who couldn’t eat at this shindig because the food being served was an affront to her diet. But the magazine cover which was an affront to my personhood was ignored and here lies the crux of the problem.

Black women are always viewed through the lens that we are super strong, superhuman, always ready to curse somebody out, and impervious to the ills of this racist sexist world. At that very moment, I needed an ally. I needed someone outside of me to say, “yes that shit is racist and disgusting and more importantly ask me if I was okay.”

Everyone has their specific soapbox and the issues that they ‘stan’ for.  If the cover of the magazine was homophobic the entire table would be up in arms because there was lesbian at the table. If the cover of the magazine was anti-immigrant the table would’ve been up in arms because there were many immigrants at the table. If the magazine cover was misogynistic in nature the table would’ve been up in arms because 99.9% of the table was female. But because the magazine was racist not only did no one other than myself notice it no one cared when the issue was brought to the light. Because all too often people fail to realize how all isms and oppressions are interrelated and depend upon each other to thrive.

Audre Lorde said it best, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we don’t live single-issue lives.” We all have some type of privilege be it white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis-gendered privilege, able-bodied privilege, American privilege, Christian privilege and the list goes on. Use your privilege to interrupt oppression not to co-sign oppression!

You may also like: “My thoughts of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s colorblind society”, “Black beauty who is truly worthy of wearing that crown”

 

33 Responses to “ “White People Fatigue Syndrome” ”

  1. I think this piece is a melodramatic overreaction to an innocuous incident, and works very hard to maintain you in the role of victim so as to elicit sympathy.

    If you are constantly pointing out examples like this, it is no wonder your allies sometimes doubt whether racism impinges on your world at all. This is not racist. It is also no wonder that they do not see it as such, and I am not surprised that this makes them feel the need to constantly re-affirm their non-racist solidarity with you when you bring up subjects like this.

    I have no idea what you mean by “having white women don coloured women costumes”, but the following quote is utterly disingenuous; to cite the lack of black models for decades as oppression, and then, when black models become more prevalent, to see their very presence as oppressive – this seems like a desperate attempt to cling on to victim status.

    I do not believe that the photo shoot you show on the cover and talk about within the magazine is racist at all. It is an aesthetic and artistic choice designed to produce a particular effect. If the photographer had wanted to photograph a black model, or a white, or a blonde-haired, or a ginger-haired model, I am sure he would have done so. He chose those particular models, and dressed and painted BOTH their bodies to present a particular monochromatic effect. That you choose only to see the alteration to the darker figure speaks only about your preconceptions, not about the photographer’s intent.

    Again, if none of your colleagues read the picture in this way, why would they jump to affirm your reading of it?

    You complain that black women are seen as being always ready to curse somebody out. Perhaps this is just observation at work. You are doing a fine job of berating all of them, all of the attendees at this industry luncheon, and the entire editorial staff of a magazine here.

    Rather than draw your conclusion about the reason none of your companions objected to that cover shot, I’d rather extend your own line of reasoning – if it had been homophobic, anti-immigrant, misogynistic, they would have stood up for the people representing those groups at the table. So IF it had been racist, perhaps they would have stood up for you, too. Doesn’t that make more sense? Isn’t that a little less paranoid?

  2. That someone can see a woman in blackface and not think it racist (as Ian has above, and as your colleagues did) is appalling to me. Because that shit IS racist and disgusting and fucking indefensible. You don’t need some random internet person to validate that in you, obvs, but I just…idk, wanted to say I agree?

    I have one question – you say that if the mag cover had been misogynistic (/homophobic/etc) the others would’ve spoken up. You know your colleagues – if you say they would’ve then you’re obvs right about that. But it feels a bit…idk, a bit minimising of those other oppressions? I see the same thing happen in convos about eg transphobia, ppl comparing it to racism and saying ‘you’d never say that about a Black person’ and it always upsets me bc it makes it sound like those other oppressions are more solved somehow. Does that make sense?

    (There’s every chance I’m overreacting here, my apologies if that’s the case.)

    That aside… this is a great piece, and we white ppl NEED to read this, need to be fucking told to speak the fuck up. So thank you. And I’m sorry.

  3. “Because all too often people fail to realize how all isms and oppressions are interrelated and depend upon each other to thrive.”
    This line pulled from the above blog post should be proof that I don’t believe in oppression olympics. I clearly stated that they are all interrelated which means there is no hierarchy. The whole entire point of this 1000+ word blog post is to get people to see the bigger picture of oppression and not just the myopic one they’re comfortable in seeing. If I didn’t make it clear in the post here is my second attempt at it.

  4. You’re right. I’m sorry. I was taking what you said and making it about me/my experience, which isn’t okay.

  5. I feel this blog speaks to the resurgence of neo anti-black (skin colour,cultural identities) in both the ‘fashion’ world and beyond.

    My WPFS has shifted toward engaging new strategies and tactics. Many white folks and folks of colour from different backgrounds may not view the cover as racist. I think those of us whose lived experiences are negated, or belittled as hysteria (as Ian’s bullshit comments reveal) when we dare to articulate how these ‘fashion’ representations impact our lives.

    Two things have to happen:

    Economic consequences within the fashion media and spaces for the perpetuation of systemic racism.
    A deepening of an intersectional

  6. Continued from my previous post.

    2nd point:

    There needs to be a deeper critical intersectional analysis by folks on all sides.

    I appreciate that you are writing about the impact of media images on the complexities of being a Black woman. As a Black woman with intersecting identities I have dealt with the ‘I don’t see racism or discrimination/exclusion folks’ at work and in various settings. My responses to their misrepresentation of my lived experiences has varied. However, I am consistent in taking a boarder approach to the issue by reflecting their perspective back to them. In the end, they need to figure it out, take action, and move forward. I need to nurture and heal wounds, and reground.

    Tomee

  7. Ian – I’m going to go out on a limb here and insinuate that you’re a white male, only because you’re coming from a ungrounded and privileged point of view, at least that is what your response reveals. Contrary to what you may assume I do agree that the photographer/creative director of the shoot didn’t have the intention of producing racist images; however I believe theFeministGriote is not referring to the intentions but rather the way those images are received. Furthermore, the photographers/creative director’s ignorance of the negative impact of those images that appropriate people of color and even more devastating, the ignorance of her coworkers — who all work in advocacy — illuminates the need for community amongst all oppressed people and their “allies,” as well as the ignorance of those with fellow oppressed people.
    It’s simply not enough for trans-folk to be the only advocates for “trans-rights” just like it’s not enough for Black people to be the only advocates for racial equality. I do believe this could have been a learning lesson for her coworkers, however that is the overriding problem outlined here: Educating the privileged majority (and yes Latino/as are the PRIVILEGED majority in Miami) is very much taxing, especially if, like theFeministGriote, you are a intersected minority and you have to explain your oppression to every group that doesn’t have to deal with your problems. I think the only problem with her article is that it’s called White People Fatigue Syndrome, rather it should be Considerably More Privileged People Fatigue Syndrome.
    I say all that to say this; the catalyst of the ignorance nestled by you, her colleagues and obviously any and all persons who had something to do with that RACIST fashion story is this, the narratives of the oppressed is disgustingly under-told. That is why, people like Miley Cyrus are ignorant to fixing their eyes in slanted positions as to imitate Southeast Asians, why people like No Doubt can don honorable and sacred Native American apparel for the sake of “ART” and it also why someone like you can sit in front of your computer/laptop/ipad/whatever and tell a Black woman that something like, a non-Black woman painted in Blackface is not racist.

  8. I can’t make sense of Ian’s clueless response.
    It is similar to what I see a lot of these days, that being,
    a total denial that racism is still pervasive throughout society.

    Sometimes I think the people in denial think that racism magically disappeared because the Civil Rights Act passed so many years ago. Or that since Obama is POTUS, that is definitive proof that we live in a post-racial society.

    “They’ll choke on smugness, deluded by privilege believing they’re “for equality.”

  9. I agree with everything you have said, and constantly work to not be so ignorant in my approach to being an ally. Even when things are hard to hear I always appreciate the efforts POC, QPOC and trans peeps put in to educate white cis queer women like myself. One suggestion I would make is that you have a button on your blog that allows you to instantly delete comments like Ians above immediately after he has painstakingly taken the time and effort to express such utter drivel on your site.

  10. “The second layer of the story that needs to be deconstructed is the fact that both of my co-workers failed to validate or affirm my feelings.”

    Perhaps they disagreed with you. Is that allowed?

  11. Just looking at that magazine cover thumbnail, before reading any commentary, my impression was that the white woman was depicted in a crouched, eyes-straight-ahead pose that evokes an animal-on-the-prowl male sexual fantasy, and the “black” woman was in a more cool-classical-statue-of-Athena type pose (another male sexual fantasy, but one I’ve more often seen attributed to white women in pop culture). Learning that the “black” woman wasn’t really black made me think, “If they want 2 very different skins for the aesthetic appeal of that color contrast, why not find, and pay, someone who already has the desired skin color instead of creating one artificially?” That they did not is absolutely racist as an industry practice. I don’t find it racist that pale-white and dark-black bodies were sought after for a fashion spread – my understanding of fashion photos is that every aspect of the model’s body is airbrushed, depeliated, made more artificial through various oily substances on the face, hair, and other exposed body surfaces, and otherwise manipulated to the point that the body is no longer itself but a mere instrument of whatever artsy idea is in the designer or photographer’s head –usually an artsy idea that involves unnatural thinness in most persons depicted. Color contrast is something a lot of artists use in this medium as in others, and as long as the poses and props don’t reproduce racial stereotypes, I don’t see racism in an artist producing a photo shoot based on strong color contrasts. That’s what I’d have said if I’d seen the magazine at that lunch. Or maybe rather than saying all that I’d just have asked you, If the “black” model were actually a model whose natural skin tone was as depicted, would it still have been a racist cover? What is your read on the poses chosen for the two models on the cover? But maybe now, having read this post, I’d have at least started by saying “I’m sorry,” as in, “I’m sorry to have put this offensive object in your space.” I would ask those things not to question your pain but to figure out where I can rely on my own instincts about what’s racist and where I need to become better at seeing racism that will hurt you and avoid reproducing it. I’d also ask what you thought of the Chicago History Museum’s exhibit on the Ebony Fashion Fair, which I enjoyed for the beauty of the models and (some of) the clothes as well as Eunice Johnson’s story as a black leader in the fashion industry. I can see where me as a non-black person probing your feeling of being wounded by racism and trying to understand it better would have been exhausting for you, yet I still don’t think I’d have held back from having it, knowing me. Past time for me to shut up so I will.

  12. Another Halocene Human | July 24, 2013 9:09 pm

    Jeez, the negative comments on this article make me want to vomit. Okay, so the OP is angry, frustrated, and emotionally exhausted. But once she relates the anecdote WHO WOULDN’T BE?

    Anybody, any country–and no, I’m not excusing AllBlacks fans–who thinks strutting about in blackface (or yellow face or red face *cough* *cough*) is acceptable in this day and age deserves a boot broken off in their arse.

    It’s bullying, plain and simple, and ugly as ugly can be.

    Not sure I followed everything the OP said about fashion magazines but given that in their world both the women and the clothes are merchandize to be used and discarded it’s not surprising that Black supermodels haven’t proven to be the progressive breakthrough once hoped for. However, seeing “grotesque” models of various racist in the mass market, down market supermarket aisle publications like Women’s World probably does say something. Although O is (unremarkably) much better on that front.

  13. Another Halocene Human | July 24, 2013 9:13 pm

    Cripes, I meant *of various races, guess I had racism on the brain. Well, I know a racist person who buys Women’s World, so there’s that. Actually, she’s pretty mean, petty, and judgmental in general. Hope she’s happy. //

    I also know someone who’s super into Tibetan buddhism and thinks of herself as happy go lucky is also pretty darn racist. She’s one of those progs who justifies her distrust of Obama “becuz drones”. No, it’s because you never trusted a Black person in your life.

    Fuck it, I want my AHCA, and Obama is my fucken hero. He can drone whoever the shit he wants AFAIC.

  14. I am an african man working in the fashion industry and I can attest to the feeling of exhaustion and isolation the op is talking about. Often, I am the sole black person in the room and more times than I dare count I am used as the “black friend” that justifies people around me are not racist. It is a soul crushing expirience to deal with all this foolishness on a day to day basis and the ONLY reason I stick it out is because I love my job although lately these expiriences are making even that love sour. The fashion industry is racist. I can be sure that when the casting was done for that magazine no black models were considered. Things like this happen all the time, even on mainsteam magazines and there is no one to be held accountable because of the way we view fashion in the society. It is seen as an innocuous instead of something that has cultural, economic and political ramifications.

  15. So glad I linked through to your artcle and thank you for writing it. I know exactly what you’re talking about, having experienced it. good to know it’s not just me

  16. [...] * Ally-phobia: On the Trayvon Martin Ruling, White Feminism, and the Worst of Best Intentions. White People Fatigue Syndrome. [...]

  17. Hello,

    I found your article I am suffering this syndrome. It wears me out. I have white female friends that truly believe racism is a rare occurrence. I live in Australia. They fail to see how they just by their whiteness have opportunities I have to fight for and life seems to just slop together in an all predictable fashion for them. I try not to dwell on the moments I experienced racism however today I have had enough the idea that people of colour in 2013 can be represented as black faced women hits a new low in representation. I stopped watching television a decade ago and rarely go to the cinema as I don’t see anything that vaguely represents myself or sensibilities spewed out of america. I understand that the latest word for me is person of colour, before that I was black, before that coloured I have been called all sorts of things aboriginal to nigger yet I was born in south africa. When I was growing up there were plenty of white guys that said any woman but a black woman is beautiful my society does not represent woman of colour as beautiful so when i see ads I see slender uber white women air brushed beyond belief with their dyed blonde hair and fake tans covered in makeup telling me this is what beautiful is I am tired of the media and advertising brainwashing everyone into bland white banality. I get worn out it gets me down there are many things that sicken me in this modern society I just tired of seeing this hypocritically society reward their own empower themselves to empower others like themselves to represent and reinforce negative stereotypes of what a person of colour is. I get tired of this old story.

  18. Blackface must D.I.E | July 28, 2013 4:48 pm

    Wow, I did not notice at first that the woman was in blackface. Thus, I can forgive the coworkers for not initially understanding how the photo was racist. Once the blackface was pointed out, it should have been a no-brainer why blackface is racist:

    A)Blackface reduces blackness to a mere fashion statement or accessory, stripping our culture, identity and pain in the process. Blackface is a hideous, racist tradition that must DIE.

    B)There are countless real black models who could have easily sufficed in the shoot.

    Normally I do not consider myself to be overly sensitive, yet if you cannot see why blackface is racist you are fucking stupid. There is simply no easy or diplomatic way for me to phrase that.

  19. Oh Ian Jade, go jump off a cliff.

  20. I’m sorry that happened to you. I would have been uncomfortable too, though my experience would not have been the same as yours. I can’t believe (well… I can believe, but I wish I couldn’t) that even after you pointed it out, people defended it right to your face. That’s a big dollop of rudeness on top of a big slice of racist pie.

  21. I agree with Ian Jade.

  22. [...] ironic that earlier in the day I’d been thinking about “white fatigue” and feeling pretty tired [...]

  23. The racism of the cover pic is awful. Shame on your coowerkers for not speaking up.

    “I showed up to this shindig where I was one of maybe ten Black people (I am being very generous with this guesstimation) in a room filled with 100 people. ”

    That’s actually pretty close to the actual percentage of african-americans within the USA.

  24. There is something so insidious about white privilege and the way it invades our consciousness. We have become so willing to play dumb when racism is made visible because it displaces the impetus to understand racism. This is something that seems to be another dimension of racial oppression, where social burdens disproportionately accumulate on the shoulders of women of color, who are forced to give up their time and energy making white people understand. I think this shows that white folks need to step up and engage these problems head on, rather than look around the room dumbfounded when someone points out racism.

    I loved this piece. Thank you for sharing this.

  25. […] Feminist Girote suffers (or suffered, it’s an old post; maybe she got over it. NOT!) from White People Fatigue Syndrome:  [emphasis […]

  26. Please don’t ever use [insert your oppression/frustration here] + fatigue syndrome. Its an ableist appropriation/co-opting of a devastating and debilitating medical syndrome (chronic fatigue syndrome) in which sufferers (of all races and genders) have been punished and trivialized by the surrounding social structures to the point of being driven out of social participation loss of individual and group identity and often basic physical, psychological and emotional needs for survival.

    I’m sure it wasn’t meant this way, but when I saw it, I felt like there was a knife in my chest. My struggle isn’t your easy, cavalier metaphor any more than yours is mine. I hope you can understand and take this with the compassion that I like to believe intersectionality allows us all to have for each other.

  27. […] to the perspectives of other readers. This was the case when I read The Feminist Griote’s “White People Fatigue Syndrome”. I enjoyed the article and the issues it raises, but I also enjoyed reading the different comments […]

  28. Well, take your dumbass back to Africa and starve to death. Trust me, no white people are going to miss your stinky, lazy ass when you’re gone. If anything, the white man should be tired of the low-scale war that is being waged against us, by you sub-human savages. You’re overgrown children, and nothing more.

  29. One of these days, one way or another, you will get your wish. The white man is either going to kill all of you, or otherwise separate ourselves from you. Then you can get back to stewing in your own shit, running around naked, and eating your grandmother. All nigger pastimes.

  30. I am really bothered by the comment from “Tryingtoohard | November 15, 2013 10:58 pm” saying that is is ableist. No, it is not. Since Whites (and usually the claims of ableism come from Whites since they seem to view Black bodies as athletic chattel and “too strong” to be neuroatypical) REFUSE to think about how racism DOES IMPACT our physical and mental health and any claim about it impacting it is thereby NOT ableist. It is debilitating and there is research to confirm it. Until they unpack their White privilege from disability conversation, they will never get it. NEVER. I am SICK of them and ableism claims when their starting point is always that Black people do not experience pain, and research confirms that they think this as well.

  31. You live twice as long living as a parasite off of whitey, than you do living by yourselves in the mudderland. So, stuff that nonsense where the sun don’t shine, or better yet put your money where your mouth is and get the hell down to Haiti as quickly as possible and stay there. The white-man is getting fed-up with being used as an excuse by you evolutionary failures. We’re getting tired of your raping, looting and killing. You’ve got a tiger by the tail, Trudy and if you keep pulling, eventually he is going to turn around and tear you to shreds. Be careful nig-nogs, the fun times are almost over.

  32. Good lord, what is wrong with Mike? Anyone who feels free to hurt others deliberately has negated the importance of their opinion by the very content of their speech. In a way, he warrants pity because only a miserable and wretched creature could ever spew such hatred to another, but try as I may, the only emotion he evinces in me is absolute disgust.

    As for the topic, I’m flabbergasted by both the cover and your companions’ reaction (or lack thereof). Black face has far too sordid a history to be ever be “artfully done”. It just can’t be extracted from its past, even by the most naive. Another example of this sort of thing would be the difference between comparing G.W. Bush to a monkey versus doing the same to Obama. Calling Bush that was purely a physical description, and completely separated from the long and twisted history of equating a race of humans with an animal. (Even ignoring the gross inappropriateness of it, it just strikes me as stupidly unnecessary considering the many beautiful women, such as Alex Wek, with extremely dark complexions.)

    I apologize that your allies have proven so inadequate and I truly hope for their improvement, for the sake of humanity as well as your own. Anyone who considers themselves an ally then talks about their prejudice may think that they’re incredibly introspective, and in a way perhaps they are, but they are also being incredibly myopic not to recognize how they’re being hurtful. In the same way that they would have been up in arms about a magazine cover similarly insensitive to another group, I doubt they would talk about their personal prejudicial behavior with someone in the group about whom they’re speaking.

    It should be our standard to treat all others with kindness and respect, until they’ve given us very valid reason not to do so, and even then, it’s better to walk away unless, like Mike, their behavior is so wretched that NOT saying something would be a greater offense. Also it’s my belief that, for me to have the option to walk away, I must be the one under attack. There have been many times that I’ve spoken up for someone else, even though I have trouble doing the same for myself. Walking away without saying something in a sense gives that person a pass, and if it isn’t directed at me, it isn’t my place to forgive it. (I’m tired and I’ve had a rough day… I hope this makes sense.)

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