This past week I published an article at Wear Your Voice magazine discussing Practical Ways White Allies Can Influence Their Communities. It was timely because I could incorporate the Charlottesville situation and responses to it, but it stemmed from some long-standing issues I was witnessing on social media. While the article is explicitly addressed to white allies, much of it can be applied to other types of allied behavior. I write it from the perspective of a Disabled, Queer, Two-Spirit, Indigenous-Black Muslim/witch. It was based on actual things I was seeing happen on social media, particularly Facebook.
After publication, I also created a visual to address one of the suggested points of the article: Creating Facebook lists for white friends, so that conversations can happen where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other POC) do not have to be subjected to the ignorant or hateful comments or 101 level education, including demands for us to provide that labor. The text on the image is a direct quote from the article, but below I want to explain it in more detail and address the responses I have been seeing to it.
It is worth noting, it is advice that comes in a particular context of the article, and I recommend reading the full article to situate it as one strategy of several.
At the end of this essay, I will also re-link to the tutorial offered in the original article, and provide a tutorial of another way of creating lists that I prefer to use myself.
As I said above, I would like to respond to some of the responses I have seen to this particular suggestion. First, let me further explain what Facebook friends lists are. I personally have seven or eight lists right now, including: BIPOCcrew only, CripPowerFolx, QTPOC only, CripBIPOC only, Local Peeps only, TightestClosestCircle only, and a few others. I have these lists because there are times when I want to be able to say something and not have it be accessible to everyone I am “friends” with. There are conversations to be had that do not need white witnesses, for example. There are conversations about my disabilities/chronic illnesses and about ableism that are better had just among people who share that experience. Not every conversation has to be a learning opportunity for “outsiders,” especially not when we are talking about our own marginalizations. I am also aware that sometimes even my closest most loving friends don’t want to have to read through my thoughts/concerns about certain things they just have no interest in or are purposely avoiding for their own well-being (for example, I have friends who don’t want to be a part of or witnessing discussions about addiction or eating disorders for a while, for their own healing from those issues they can’t deal with them on social media). Using lists provides safer spaces for conversations that can be painful or complex, not just for myself, but also for the friends who know they can more safely comment openly because they know of the limited audience.
To that end, I suggest that white allies create a list of just their white friends (and you decide who all even makes it on that list) so that you can provide education opportunities in a safe-to-learn environment, where your white friends feel they can ask questions they might be embarrassed or realize the damage of asking in the company of BIPOC. Lists allow you to pose questions, provide resources, or share your own thoughts — and engage in sometimes painful and even offensive conversations in the spirit of hopeful growth. As already stated, they also make it possible for you to have those necessary conversations without causing harm to your BIPOC friends as we scroll our newsfeeds.
So, what are some of the objections to this that I have already seen? There are several, and I want to answer to them, both so that people fully understand the purpose of this practice, and so that you can readily recognize when you are dealing with someone who is just looking for an excuse to not honor our request.
- Isn’t this just a way to avoid accountability to my POC friends? This is a really great question and I’m glad allies are concerned about this. You can use the list at your discretion. There are going to be times when you don’t want to post something only to white friends, because you do want to allow your BIPOC friends (or other marginalized friends) to engage and to offer perspectives. Yes, you should definitely be concerned to be accountable to us, and to not silence our opportunities to share thoughts. However, you can do both. You can have interesting conversations in which we are a part AND have separate conversations where, as discussed above, we don’t have to be subjected to damaging, hurtful, hateful, or just ignorant comments and thoughts of your white friends. You should consider who is most likely to comment, be honest with yourself about how ugly it might get, and consider who you are even sharing something for. So, for example, you might share the article this strategy comes from and/or this essay here also, saying that this is directed to your fellow white friends, and set it so that only they can see it because you can anticipate that there will be some pushback or argument about the value of my suggestions or about how to best go about enacting them. There are other places and ways that you can be accountable to your BIPOC friends without us having to be constantly subjected to these conversations. I would also argue, if you are genuinely concerned about being accountable to us, consider that this advice came to you from us — and accountability often looks like doing what we have asked you to do.
- But I don’t even know who my white friends are really because I don’t see color / I don’t believe in us being so separated over race / I never think about their identities. Yes, I really saw these reasons. Here’s the thing, if any of those things are true, you have A LOT of work to do on your own racism. I feel even more confident asking you, therefore, to have those conversations about your own fragility, color blindness, refusal to recognize our identities and how important they are to us, or confusions about what racism is with other white people. I sincerely hope some of your white friends will help you get your shit together, but the rest of us don’t need to watch it or do the labor of explaining to you why all of this is so wrong. (PS — The links here are to help you begin processing this. You’re welcome.)
- This is promoting segregation. No, this is promoting that you stop harming your BIPOC friends, that you give a damn about how much constant micro and macro aggressions we are already dealing with, and that you look for ways to limit how many we deal with via you and your social media. Also? When we would like to “segregate” away from white people because of the continual harm, that is not the same thing as white people segregating and avoiding us.
- OMG, that is so much work! Yes, it is. I’m not suggesting anything I haven’t done myself (see above), and I know exactly how time consuming (and for me, painful to my spine) it is. We’re still asking you to please make the time to create the list, and put the thought into when it is best to use the list. If this is too much for you, I’m just gonna straight up tell you, you’re not an ally at all and should do something about that.
- I just delete rude comments and/or unfriend (or put on restricted status) people who leave them. Again, please let me redirect you to the context in which this suggestion of lists is being made: We are asking you to DO THE WORK to educate your own people. That means, just avoiding the issue isn’t helpful. If you just roll your eyes and delete the comment, you aren’t bothering to educate your own people. And unless it is a genuinely toxic-to-you relationship, just unfriending or avoiding your friends is also just a way for you to avoid responsibility while allowing your friends to continue to be ignorant or hateful and harm the rest of us everywhere else in their lives. You have a unique opportunity to engage in the difficult conversations and possibly even be heard. We’re asking you to do the work and stop avoiding it.
- Why would I want to subject myself to my ignorant or racist friends either? Well, you do every day. They are on your friends list for a reason, there is something you are getting out of that relationship. You don’t get to just close the door the first time you really recognize that they are an offensive jackass you somehow never realized before. And remember, wherever you are right now in your awareness, you haven’t always been there. Someone(s) didn’t drop you when you needed to be educated. Now it’s your turn. Don’t forget that you also need self-care while doing this work, but don’t use it as an excuse to avoid the work all together. (This excellent piece is about how to take care of yourself if you witness violence, say at a protest, but can be relevant even for dealing with the violence and taxing efforts of engaging with difficult people on social media.)
- But how will anyone learn if we keep isolating them? I’m not even sure how anyone thought this was suggesting isolating your offensive or genuinely ignorant friends. This strategy does the exact opposite of isolating them. It’s not restricting them or ignoring them. It is providing a space where you can say “This is information/resources/education for my fellow white people/friends. This is a space where my BIPOC friends can’t see the conversation, so you don’t have to worry about offending or harming them if you have genuine questions, concerns, or confusion about this issue. I’m here to have this conversation, and I hope others of you with experience and related resources will also consider helping our other friends along to understanding this issue.” Of course you can say it however you see fit, but the point is, no one is being isolated. An educational opportunity is being offered.
- This is just ridiculous / wrong / unnecessary / identity politics / getting us nowhere. Allow me to remind you: You are white. BIPOC, myself and many many people who are sharing my article and have been saying similar things for a long time, are asking you to listen to our needs. We are giving you specific tools to respect our boundaries and show care for our well-being. If this bothers you, to the point that you can just shut us down, perhaps the more appropriate request from us is that you just be honest that you are racist and unfriend us. Then you don’t have to create lists at all. And if my saying that makes you uncomfortable? Good. Sit with that. And then reconsider why you are so intent on ignoring our needs while calling yourself an anti-racist ally, and decide the appropriate course of action. You can’t have it both ways, so pick a side.
Now that we have that out of the way, I sincerely hope that you are committing to honoring the needs of your BIPOC friends and thinking about how you can do that in relation to specific requests we are making.
Hopefully now your only remaining question is “Ok, but how the heck do you even make a list on Facebook?” Well, I have the answers for that too!
- This is the tutorial that I provided in my article. You can google other options, but from what I found they are mostly like this, but this uses clearer language than some.
- I personally do not find that tutorial the easiest, so I have written up my own method, which may work better for you also.
- Go to your friends list
- On each friend it shows a box to the right of their photo and name
- Choose a friend you want on the list and click on the box to the right of their photo. The fourth option down is “Add to another list”
- Click on that and it will open list options, such as “close friends” or your city or other connecting factors.
- Scroll to the bottom where it says “+ New list” and click that
- Name your list — you can name it whatever you want, but keep it short and simple for you to understand
- Now that you have created that list, and added a friend to it, you can proceed through your friends list adding them to the list by following the previous steps, but adding them to the list you have already created.
- You can create multiple different lists, and there is no limit to how many lists you can place friends into. They do not know they are in a list, it just affects what posts they have access to.
- Make sure to set the privacy settings on your post when you want it to be viewable by a specific list. Remember that FB continues to use that setting for future posts unless you change it. FB automatically uses whatever setting you last used.
If you’re interested in sharing the image and tutorials/links on Facebook, you can share directly from me HERE. Likes and shares of both the original article and this follow up are also greatly appreciated.
If you would like to support a queer/crip struggling artist & poet of color, or just thank me for providing these tools, you can send cash on Paypal or SquareCash. If you’d rather provide a less-painful smaller amount but do so in a sustaining fashion, I am also on Patreon.