Black People Are Not Here to Teach You: What So Many White Americans Just Can’t Grasp

Black People Are Not Here to Teach You: What So Many White Americans Just Can’t Grasp

(Ollyy via Shutterstock/Salon)
(Ollyy via Shutterstock/Salon)

[People of color] are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. — Audre Lorde

(Salon) – America loves teachable moments, those real-life Very Special Episodes of supposed cross-cultural exchange and transracial learning.

The problem with those teachable moments is that the same people always end up doing all the teaching. In matters of race (and sex, disability, gender and sexuality, but let’s stick to race right now), the marginalized are tasked with being educators. That is, people of color (POC), are expected to be patient and polite racial and cultural ambassadors who provide white people new to this whole “thinking critically about race” thing with a “way in.” The role entails charitably and unselfishly engaging questions, assertions and doubts from white people who’ve previously done precious little thinking about racism and privilege, but often have quite a bit to say on the topic.

When POC refuse to take on this dual role of spokesperson and resource library, they’re often accused of having shirked an assumed responsibility. The idea seems to be that we’ve missed an opportunity, that it’s our duty to hold white people’s hands and educate them, that we’re condemning some poor white person to a continued life of ignorance.

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