February 26, 2011

fezzik on hostility and privilege

Fezzik? You mean Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride?
I recently replaced my copy of The Princess Bride DVD, and for some reason when I watched it, I really identified with Fezzik. I even looked up some tropes to figure out what made Fezzik so compelling. It wasn't until I reflected on a few recent interactions that I made the connections.

At one point in time (until fairly recently, if you follow this blog fairly regularly), one of the things that consistently irritated and saddened me when it came to That Conversation was when people would accuse me of a hostility that I didn't feel. Vehement, yes. Passionate, yes. Intense, definitely. But never hostile. There was nothing malevolent about anything I said, yet I kept being treated as though I was pretty much telling people to go die in a fire, even though I feel I exercise great restraint compared to what I've witnessed in other people. It's pretty confusing and frustrating to deal with, especially when you see other people say far worse without getting called on it.

For the longest time, I thought it was simply derailing or projecting the Angry Black Woman stereotype onto me because I spoke my mind without going my way to express myself in a conciliatory or equivocating way so as not to offend people more privileged than me (ie, not all White people, not all men, I don't mean you, etc.).

But now I believe there is more going on than that.

Back to Fezzik
Here you have this character, a giant, with immense physical power, who has to be careful with how he navigates the world around him lest he cause harm to others. I am like this when it comes to words. Whether I intend it or not, the words I use carry tremendous power. You would think that'd be obvious, but it really isn't. Unlike Fezzik, a good chunk of the time, I literally don't know my own strength. I never thought of myself or the way I expressed myself as particularly powerful. Truth be told, I'm very introverted (almost withdrawn) and rather shy (especially around people I don't know well). Nevertheless, a love tap from Natalie Portman wouldn't feel the same as a love tap from George Foreman. So I've resolved to be a bit more careful in my approach, or at the very least give fair warning.

I honestly don't know what to feel about this. On the one hand, it's always good to affirm something empowering about yourself. As someone who faces marginalization due to race, gender, sexuality, and class, it's hard not to internalize the barrage of messages telling me how powerless I am (and how good it is that I remain so). It's difficult to describe what kind of effort that takes, but it's very similar to what survivors of abuse go through.

On the other hand, it sucks that something that should be positive - in this case, a power with words - becomes a liability because of those same forces that seek to undermine my sense of my own power, even as embodied in the same people who endeavor to oppose those forces.

Power versus privilege
It's quite a paradox. But that's how it goes for pretty much any empowering trait coming from marginalized people. Any attempt to claim your own power without paying your dues (so to speak) is always met with resistance. Speaking intelligently, and with passion and clarity, without apology, is not praiseworthy in anyone except well-off straightwhitedudes.

Don't believe me? Go to any social justice blog or website (like this one) where a marginalized person states an opinion without coddling the privileged. You won't have to dig very deep to find somebody acting like that person just said, "FUCK OFF AND DIE MOTHERFUCKER!!!" Even if the "meanie" is responding to something fucked up that someone else said. Even if that person does not use all caps or any exclamation points. Even if that person does not make a direct accusation against anyone.

If you're feeling up to it, try prodding a bit. Say something like, "Really? Where did s/he say that?" If you don't get a bunch of projections and assumptions and conjecture, you'll get them saying something about the tone*. Note who it comes from. I'm willing to bet money that a good chunk of the time, when someone objects to "tone"**, it's coming from a place of privilege.

* That's not to say anybody from a marginalized identity has a carte blache to be an asshole. But they don't have to be polite to you when you reinforce ugly shit. When it comes to the deliberately obtuse or willfully ignorant, my personal preference is to say something sarcastic then disengage.

** If the bulk of your objection can be, "Watch your tone," please don't say it. It's what you say to disobedient children, not adults who you presume to treat with respect. Even if you think they're being immature, don't say it. If the issue you're talking about is important to you, and the person you're talking to is someone whom you otherwise respect, it's not worth destroying that to take a few pot shots at them.

So what now?
Speaking for myself, it would help a great deal to ask rather than assume. It's pretty hard to read intent on the internet at the best of times, so it would probably not be remiss to clarify before proceeding. Even - scratch that - especially if you think you know what's going on. There are tons of conversations that could have saved a lot of turmoil had myself or other participants simply asked about where everyone was coming from before rushing to attack or defense. And when it comes to discussing power and privilege and oppression and the myriad forms they take, it comes at a great cost to the people on the shit end of that stick.

February 22, 2011

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) describes life without Planned Parenthood

If you see Justin Bieber, let him know about this:

Note how our Congress reveals its contempt for poor people (especially poor people of color). Hey, Josh!

And Bloomberg is worried about poor folks buying soda!

February 17, 2011

Voice, critique, and QBWL poiesis

A couple of days ago, I gave this response to my viewing of Flux Theatre Ensemble's production of Dog Act, and through that I placed voice as the central element of this paradigm. Gus, being the generous, thoughtful guy he is, responded with this post at the Flux blog. Here's a snippet that I found particularly interesting:
Often, the critical response focuses on the form and execution of the play, and rarely on what the play is actually about. Shawn's post is a nice reminder (Sean Williams' response to Lesser Seductions is another example) of how satisfying that difference can be.

It's interesting that he found that most noticeable about what I wrote. Honestly, it comes naturally to me. I've never really understood the need to come into a theatrical experience carrying a sort of Platonic Ideal Of Great Art that all individuals works must measure up against in order to ascertain their worthiness. I pretty much do my best to experience a piece on its own terms (or at least admit my own warped sensibilities - such as finding most horror movies hilarious). As a result, I tend to enjoy most of what I see on some level, even if that means I get more out of it by what I bring to it than what's actually there.

For instance, one of the things my mom and I like to do together is go see a movie every Sunday. Yes, every Sunday. When there was still a video store nearby, we'd also rent videos to watch on a weeknight. Mom and I are not what you would call passive consumers. Part of the fun is responding to what we're seeing.

* We'd be great to have on DVD commentaries. Imagine watching a horror film, where the virginal female lead is going back into the house to look for the monster/killer/alien/ghost, and then hear someone say, "Look at this ignorant motherfucker."

To be honest, we've had more fun talking about movies with no redeeming aesthetic value than by watching critically acclaimed films with Academy Award Winner already plastered on the Special Edition DVD packaging. I think it has something to do with being broke. When you can't afford to waste money, you're going to do whatever you can to make your entertainment worthwhile, even if you have to add it yourself.

Which brings us back to the star/thumb/grade model of reviewing. Very often, they read more like consumer reports than the reactions of a real human being communicating their experience of a film or theatrical performance. In and of itself there's nothing wrong with it, but we need more than one way to engage with the work that's out there. But how can we go about doing that in a way that does more than say something like, "I enjoyed the costumes"?

Allow me to take a detour. It'll seem out of nowhere, but it's actually closely related to what I'm getting at here.

If you pay attention to business and marketing trends, there are a couple of themes that keep cropping up lately. The first is authenticity. The second is distinction. The struggle for businesses these days is not to be the biggest and baddest mofos on the market, but to be the little guys everyone roots for because what they do is different and interesting and important. With so much out there bombarding you day in and day out, what's going to grab and hold your attention? The things that have something of substance to communicate in an interesting way.

It has nothing to do with technical proficiency or special effects. Flux Theatre Ensemble will never do a straight-up production of Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark. Just as Nosedive Productions is unlikely to do slice-of-life naturalistic stuff that takes itself way too seriously. There's more to distinction than simply, say, everyone dying their hair purple or speaking Klingon. Those are simply gimmicks. It might work for a time, but if what's beneath it is the same thing that's beneath more conventional fare, it'll be treated just like any other distraction.

In the same vein, voice is not simply style, although style is (or at least should be) directly linked to it. The ways people speak in Dog Act and Finding Harlem Dawn differ from the ways we speak in everyday life. There's more to voice than words, though. It includes every aspect of a performance. And that means something about the worlds these plays invite us to inhabit, which, simply in the act of contrast, says something about the world we live in today.

But there's more to voice than what we put out there. It's also what we bring to it. In today's market, the difference between success and failure is not quality and/or price, but what a product or service or company says about who buys it. People don't buy your stuff because of what you say about it, but because of what buying from you says about themselves. Where have we seen a point like this before? Oh yeah, in theatre!

The audience doesn't come to see you. They come to see themselves.
--somebody important

So the thing I'm interested in exploring with you is: what are the questions we need to ask when responding to a work from a position of making voice primary rather than something tacked on after plot, character, and spectacle?

February 15, 2011

Dog Act and the power of naming

I recently had the chance to see Flux Theatre's production of Dog Act. Long story short, you should go see it while it's still playing (until Sunday, I believe).

There are plenty of people giving great reviews for Dog Act. I don't believe I can add much that hasn't already been said, so I encourage you to read those for a good idea of what works in the play and why.

Instead, I'd like to connect Dog Act to my ongoing project: a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis.

I think it took actually seeing theatre to solidify some of the more nebulous ideas that have been floating around in my head for a while. It's already been established why it's necessary to have a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis (yes, even for straightwhitedudes). What has been fuzzy thus far is what such a poiesis would look like.

The comments in this thread touch what I think is something that will (hopefully) become a major breakthrough somewhere down the line. Ursula K. Le Guin hints at possibilities in her essay, A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be. From an aesthetic point of view, I can see the poiesis I'm trying to create veering towards yin.

[...] we must return, go round, go inward, go yinward. What would a yin utopia be? It would be dark, wet, obscure, weak, yielding, passive, participatory, circular, cyclical, peaceful, nurturant, retreating, contracting, and cold.
--Ursula K. Le Guin, A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be

Speaking of circular, back to Dog Act.

In Dog Act, the voices at the end of the world sound like the voices at the beginning (at least, the beginning according to how Americans reckon it, during that once upon a time in the Old West when there was a guy named Shakespeare and everybody talked funny).

As such, the dominant aesthetic element of a queer Black womanist liberation theatre is neither plot nor character, but voice. Of course, voice is not merely what is said out loud (or rendered into words via ink or pixels). It's the unique expressions of those experiences, memories, dreams, fears, and hopes that root individuals to the source(s) of themselves. Plot, character, theme, spectacle - all these are but aspects of the voice.

Even as all the characters in Dog Act share a similar situation on both a local and global scale, they each have very different voices, from the fuck-laden quasi-Shakespearean tongue of the scavengers, Zetta's straight-outta-movies Old West talk, the ambiguous veracity of Vera Similitude, Dog's plain English plus canine, to Jo-Jo's twitchy and manic storytelling style that's part doberman and part spark plug.

The most potent use of voice is the power of naming. Through naming, we not only identify but manifest what is possible. Naming, of course, is not a moral process. Its power can be used for good and/or ill, to oppress and/or to liberate. An oppressive use of naming acts as power over - especially as manifest as power over others. A liberating use of naming is more like power of - especially as manifest as power of oneself. In Dog Act, for instance, there is power over dogs but power of story. It's a subtle but crucial distinction. Both in the play and in life, power over brings ignorance, enslavement, and suffering, whereas power of leads to the potential for wisdom, freedom, and happiness.

Yet there is more to voice than naming. Or is there? Let's try this exercise. Take the word "spoon." Now imagine it from the point of view from each of the following:

  • Someone who collects rare antique spoons
  • Someone who was regularly spanked with a spoon as a child
  • Someone who has no spoons
  • Someone who makes spoons
  • Someone who eats with their hands

Another exercise. This time let's use the word "dog" and examine it from the perspectives of:

  • Someone attacked by a police dog during a civil rights demonstration
  • Someone who had many beloved canine pets
  • Someone raised by wolves
  • Someone allergic to dogs
  • Someone who eats dogs

Now what do you get?

So we come to another aspect of voice, something I'll call resonance. Resonance is linked to the associations people make to their named experiences. For example, a person who has nothing but contempt for canines would not say "dog" the same way as one who truly believes them to be man's best friend. And they certainly would mean something different when they called a person a dog. Say, "Men are dogs!" vs. "You're my dog, man!"

What makes voice really interesting, though, is when one act of naming creates two or more areas of resonance. People who've been attacked by dogs have also had them as beloved pets. People allergic to dogs may also admire them. Consider how often the love-hate relationship (romantic or otherwise) features in contemporary media.

But there's more to voice than either naming or resonance. It's something more internal, which I am too tired to name properly at the moment, but has something to do with the nature and temperament of the individual who shares similar frames of resonance. An impulsive, aggressive person who's been bitten by a dog would react differently to a strange dog wandering the street than one who is patient to the point of passivity.

Both resonance and this other thing I'm talking about are not limited to characters. It includes every person involved in the process of creating the performance - actors, directors, writers, designers, and even the audience.

So this is where it gets really tricky: How do we unify all these elements into a single voice? Is that even desirable?

February 7, 2011

Continuing that Conversation (or: White people, we need to talk)

The most important thing to remember
Transgressive discourse is difficult, even for people who know what those words mean without looking them up. I'm not asking anyone who comments on this post to agree, but at the very least acknowledge and respect the difficulty of the task and not undermine my purpose for doing it. This is not merely a stimulating discussion for me. This is a purpose that has grown from experiences that have shaped every aspect my my entire life. Part of that is speaking candidly about things that I've been trained to be silent about. I am bringing a great deal of myself to bear in this - even the ugly and messy parts - not merely the stuff that makes for a lively conversation. Every time I endeavor to have That Conversation, I am going against my programming. Every time I speak on this issue, I do so despite what I've been taught rather than because of it. Every time I talk to you (I mean you reading this right now), I'm speaking through the pain and fear and sadness and exhaustion to reach you. I still have hope.

Do not make this hope be misplaced.

Owning my shit
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate [...] Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
-- MLK, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I'm a queer Black woman who grew up in the South, so everything I say is coming from that experience. That's not to say other experiences are less important, but I've found that trying to speak for everyone means that I wind up not saying much at all. As a queer Black woman who grew up in the back yard of the capital of the Confederacy, here are a few life lessons I picked up along the way. I'm not saying they're good, or even right, but it's what I bring to That Conversation.
  1. It's far easier to deal with an honest bigot than with Well Meaning White Liberals.
  2. Most White women cannot be trusted with anything important - not my beliefs, not my values, not my feelings, not my humanity.
  3. Black men often love but do not respect Black women.
  4. Black women are often better at hating Black women than either White people or men.
  5. White people do not know how to treat Black women with both respect and compassion; it has to be one or the other - pity or fear.
  6. To most everyone except other Black women, to be Black and a woman (not merely female) is an oxymoron.
  7. In every interaction with White people, I am on guard for racial microaggressions they don't even know they perpetuate.
  8. My deepest and most enduring scars come from ignorance and indifference, not hatred.
  9. A lot of people really do believe that a Black woman's life is a public service.
  10. White people (particularly White men) need to be right, even if it makes them do wrong.
  11. By and large, I am afraid of White people (especially White women).

Where I'm coming from
We renounce no friendship. But it may be the part of a friend to rebuke a friend's folly.
 --JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion

About 2 weeks ago, I did a post on having That Conversation, where I laid down some guidelines on how to make That Conversation one that's worth having. I included a lot of stuff applicable to anyone who is participating in That Conversation. But now I want to focus on White folks for a minute because, in my experience, when That Conversation turns to shit, it's because of something a White person said.

I'm not talking about one of Those Other White People, either. I'm talking about White people who live in blue states, have dartboards with Glenn Beck's picture on them, march and protest against issues that harm people of color, and even maintain anti-racist blogs. But that doesn't stop you from fucking up.

Telling you that you're fucking up is not about hating you. It's not about making you feel guilty or ashamed of being White. Guilt-ridden and shame-filled White people are fearful White people. Fearful White people are angry White people. Angry White people have never been good news for Black people. Also, it doesn't make any sense. White guilt does not improve my situation in the least. As a matter of fact, it's more likely to make it worse because resentment doesn't live too far away from guilt.

As I said before, I'm not in this as a way of improving human relations. I am not from the Can't We All Just Get Along School of Racial Justice. I'm in this to transform society. This is my way of doing that: by changing the ways we relate to one another everyday without even thinking about it (see above). It has nothing to do with Good Guys and Bad Guys duking it out for the Fate of the World. It's about making our homes, families, neighborhoods, cities, and world a better place for everyone, including those who are not straight, White, and/or male. It's about becoming the change we want to see.

Oftentimes, having That Conversation with White people is like having an alcoholic in your family. You can't keep mopping up the puke, washing out the piss, making excuses for why they miss work, or explaining away destructive or abusive behavior because they were so drunk. You love them, and they're wonderful when they're sober, but things can't go on like this. Sometimes, the most loving thing you can do for them is to stop enabling them. Sometimes, the loving thing to do is hold them accountable for what they do. Sometimes, you show someone you love them by telling them what they don't want to hear. That's the point where I'm at now when it comes to That Conversation.

Think the alcoholism metaphor is a stretch? It isn't.

What almost never happens
Let me tell you about an encounter I had in a grocery store. I was picking up a few ingredients for the dish I was bringing to the next Community Dish meeting. Grocery Store Dude and his girlfriend(?) Grocery Store Chick were standing in the aisle chatting right next to the canned tomatoes, which I needed to look at to find what I was looking for. The guy tells me to go around them. I say, "Actually, I needed to get these," reaching for the petite diced tomatoes, and make my way. I am genuinely upset by this because I do not go out of my way to be rude to people. In fact, I'm usually excessively polite even when someone doesn't deserve it (like a neighbor playing loud ass techno at 2AM on a weeknight). My roommate -- one of the geekiest-looking, Starbucks-drinking, Macbook-carrying, NPR-listening, most good-natured Wonderbread motherfuckers you'll ever meet -- has cursed out more people than I have. I tend to internalize a lot of my aggravations and irritations. So Grocery Store Dude is now Entitled Asshole. I'm trying to shop, and this shit has been bothering me. Now I get in the line, and I see GSD/EA.
ME: Excuse me? Sir?
HIM: Sir? Who? Me?
ME: Yeah. Do you have any idea how rude you were to me back there.
HIM: Rude to you? What did I do?
ME: I was trying to get a can of diced tomatoes. You were talking to your lady, who just happened to be in the way, and you gave me some smartassed one-liner.
HIM: Oh. I didn't mean anything by it. I apologize.
ME: Thank you.
Now he's Grocery Store Dude again. I leave feeling a lot better because I stood up for myself and had my experience acknowledged and validated.

If only it happened like this with That Conversation.

Whenever I have That Conversation with a White person, and I talk about a particular kind of behavior that I see a lot in White people and what that says to me as a queer Black woman, it almost never leads to a White person saying, "Damn, I do that. I thought I was [doing something else] but looking at it that way, yeah, that's kinda messed up. Hey, if I ever did that to you, my bad. I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. I'll be a lot more careful about this from now on."

What often happens is some variation of, "Fuck you! I'm not racist! I majored in African American studies! I fucked a Black person once! I voted for Obama! I watch Tyler Perry movies! I adopted an African baby! How DARE you call me racist!"

Wanna know how many times I actually called someone racist when having That Conversation? Zero. Even in the rare instances when I directly said, "Soandso is racist," I was talking about Mel Gibson, Dr. Laura, and that guy 99Seats cursed out last year.

What you usually do -- and what it does to me
When you grow in a racist, patriarchal, homophobic, classist, sexist culture your way of thinking becomes infused with ideas that are necessarily counter to freedom and basic human respect. Even the most conscious amongst us will continually revert to patterns of behaviour, thought, or speech, that are counter to our stated beliefs. Due to a constant desire to privilege our experience and our existence over another often we do not even recognize these lapses.
--Womanist Musings, "Get Your 101 On"

When you do things like this, you look a lot like Oedipus. Trying to avoid a prophecy, he does everything that makes him wind up killing his dad, fucking his mom, and gouging his eyes out. Despite all his efforts not to be called a patricidal motherfucker, that's exactly what he became.

We're storytellers here in theatre blogosphere, so let's tell a story.

You are an actor. You've got your MFA from Yale. You did Juilliard. You were personally instructed by The Great So And So. Finally, those years of preparation paid off! You've been cast in the lead role for a new play by Hot New Playwright. Throughout rehearsals, you're thinking and reading about this character. You are really living this role. You even keep a diary from the character's point of view. On opening night, you give your performance. There is applause. The next day, you read a review in The Village Voice, and the critic has slammed your performance. He calls it cliche, self-indulgent, and lifeless. All that work, and this what he has to say! Who the fuck does he think he is? Does he have an MFA in Acting from Yale? Did he go to Juilliard? Did this asshole study with The Great So And So? Did they keep a daily diary from the character's point of view? Did he see how the audience responded to you? No! So fuck him and his bullshit plebe aesthetics (hi, Josh). But those voices are still in your head. Am I really any good, or am I just fooling myself? Did I truly give a compelling performance? Was my audience engaged with how I portrayed this character? Were they just clapping to be polite? What if The Village Voice is right? What if I failed? Will I be able to land a leading role ever again? Am I really any good?

If this fictional performance were the same as That Conversation, the actor would have rallied the other actors in the show, gone to the critic's birthday party, cornered his at the bar, shoved his resume in the critic's face, and demanded a public apology for the unflattering review (complete with groveling, preferably on broken glass).

Really, White people, what do you expect to happen when a person of color tells you that something you did smelled a little fishy?
THEM: That shit you just did sorta raised my racism red flags.
YOU: What the hell are you talking about? I [insert Not A Racist Credentials].
THEM: Oh. Well, now that you put it that way, forget everything I said. It was completely baseless. Carry on.
Want me to shut the fuck up right quick? Act like you have nothing to learn about racism. Want me to stop talking to you? Keep doing it. Don't be fooled. It's not because you convinced me with the power of your argument. It's because you've proven that you cannot be trusted with That Conversation. Frankly, it leaves me with the pain of being silenced and doesn't mean a fucking thing to whoever does this. It's very difficult to describe what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this. How about I share an experience of mine? One of the few cases in my life where I burst into tears in front of a crowd of people and started crying uncontrollably was when White person (a sociology major!) told me (about racism, mind you), "We already know this stuff."

I am incapable of responding rationally to that shit. When you do shit like that, this is one of the things you're triggering for me. The response would be similar to what you would get if you told a sexual assault survivor that you know about rape and sexual abuse because you used to work at RAINN. If that's not what you're going for, don't do this to me. If you have done this to me, you probably owe me an apology because you hurt me more than you think you did and definitely more than I trust you enough to tell you.

(And before somebody jumps down my throat about not comparing the trauma of racism to the trauma of sexual abuse, do not fucking go there. I speak from experience, and that's all the fuck you need to know.)

Just tell us what to say! Tell us what to do!
The problem of course with White men is we've just got to have an answer. We never just say, "Hmm, I dunno, let's look that up. [...] We're the authority. "I'll tell you even though what I'm telling you is total crap."
--Tim Wise (at 1:21:10)

As HAL 9000 would say, "I can't do that, Dave."

Which of the following is more likely?
A. I'm deliberately keeping this information secret.
B. I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to race.
C. I lack the drive to find out how.
D. There are no simple rules or simple answers.
In case you were wondering, the answer is D.

I have a vested interest in getting White people to stop doing some of the shit I talked about before. I have a powerful, personal stake in White people getting a fucking clue. If there is a magic combination of words and body language that would get you to that point where I can talk about racism with you and not worry about when you're going to fuck it up, I would use it. Trust me on this.

On "false accusations" of racism
Sometimes, even after you’ve given it serious thought, you’ll come to the conclusion that a criticism was unfair. Great! Now please let it go. Don’t insist that everyone agree with you. Don’t enlist the people of color in the room to certify you as Officially Non-Racist. Don’t bring it up again and again, weeks or months after everyone else has forgotten about the original discussion.

You would think that, for a White person, the main question they have about participating in That Conversation would be: How do I not fuck this up?

But it's not.

The question they usually want answered is: What do I do if a person of color -- fuck it, let's be honest -- what do I do if one of those evil loudmouthed Black bitches says that I did something racist?

I honestly don't get this. I mean, if I were cleaning your house or cooking soul food, you'd listen to me about without a problem. But when it's That Conversation, suddenly everything I say is suspect? When it's That Conversation, White people seem ready and eager to write us off as crazy, stupid, lazy, and/or evil. It won't be those words, of course. But that's what the arguments would boil down to.

It sucks to be accused of doing shit you didn't do. Nobody's denying that. Innocent Black people have been accused of wrongdoing too, with consequences way more serious than our feelings getting hurt (Ask my uncle why he doesn't have front teeth). I had a classmate in middle school (a White girl) threaten to kick my ass because someone else played a prank on her and said I stole something from her purse. So I know what it's like to be accused of doing stuff I didn't do and made to feel unsafe because of it.

Yet, sometimes I do the wrong thing. Sometimes I'm careless. Sometimes I hurt people. I don't mean to. I'm not a sadist. It still happens, though. At that point, my responsibility is to acknowledge the impact of my actions, not to defend my honor or prove my innocence.

The vast majority of the time, that's what a "false accusation" of racism is -- someone reminding you that what you just said or did brought something hurtful, even harmful, to their interaction with you. At that point, it's not about That Conversation being productive for you but for you not causing pain to another human being.

And that's what it's all about, really -- being better at being whole human beings. It's hard to do that when we keep playing the same roles and the same rules.