I read an article from the Independent, a British online publication. The article, which takes on the relevancy of Donald Trump’s mental capacity to his heinous acts and words, makes the argument that by keeping the focus on his mental state, we are missing the point. Whether or not Trump is insane is not the issue. The damage that he is doing is what needs intervention. What stood out to me, my take away from the article was the case made for not conflating mental illness with horrible acts and behavior:
“…we can’t keep conflating bad behaviour or reprehensible views with mental illness. Every time we willingly blur the line between raging arsehole and mentally ill person, we do two very dangerous things: we increase stigma surrounding real psychiatric conditions, and we excuse people for their terrible behaviour on the basis that they had to have been “out of their minds” to think or act that way.”
It occurs to me that we do this same extenuation in the way we talk about systemic oppression and racism to white people. We say, “Look, we understand that you don’t mean to be dangerous. We get it. It’s not your fault. Translation: Here’s a cookie and an ass pat.” We enter in with a concession–that most, if not all white people are both nice and good people who do not intend the harm they do as complicit agents of white supremacy. This foundation assumes that most people, in this case most white people have earned the status of goodness.
I posit that the behaviors of nice and good are not the same and we need to stop conflating the two conditions. Whereas, a nice person may appear to display qualities we associate with goodness, i.e. kindness, pleasant personality, courteousness, politeness, thoughtful, etc., whether or not they are actually a good person lies in their ethics. Goodness, in this instance, is about a deeper conviction, a virtue (a loaded word, but it fits), a core value of justice over propriety, a willingness to speak truth to power even when it is inconvenient or of personal cost.
Nice = Appearances Good = Substance
Nice = Superficial Good = Self Reflective
Nice = Performative Good = Authentic
I think the term “nice white ladies” is an ironic and excellent example of how the terms nice and good are comingled so routinely. PoC actually coined this term to describe the pasted on, perfunctory and deadly behavior of the many white women we navigate in work, school, and our daily lives. They smile and bring brownies as they never remember our names. They blink in self absorbed curiosity as they transgress our personal spaces. They gatekeep, silence, block, and pass over us. Because they do it with a smile, because they are “nice” they feel they are also good. We see that shit and we know nice is not equal to good. The irony is that in true white supremacist fashion white women have co-opted the phrase and now there are Nice White Lady (NWL) groups all over the place online and in real time. Word to the wise, nice white lady is not a compliment. At best, it’s a goad to do better.
Here is what I’ve come to believe about goodness. Goodness is a potential that resides in Creation and expresses through us. Goodness is an inspiration, an alchemy, and an aspiration. We know it is possible. We seek it. We articulate it through principled acts and behavior. It is a breath in and down to the dark places we don’t want to see. Goodness is the time we spend peeling off what we are not meant to remove, and looking at the raw contents. Goodness is every time we step into our uncomfortable places and do the right thing because it is not about us.
For white women, you have so much work to do, so many lifetimes of work. I am positive the woman who signed Emmett Till’s death warrant was a nice white woman. She was not, by any imagination or fabrication, a good person.
I see niceness as a presentation. It has no meaning until I can gauge the marrow of it. In fact, the people I’ve respected most, the ones who have had the greatest character and grace have been more concerned with what is right, and gave not one hen’s fart for niceness. Not that they couldn’t be kind, but their kindness arose naturally from the goodness they regularly displayed.
Niceness is an excuse to opt out of the responsibility of goodness. Goodness is your life’s work. You know how the religious marry themselves to their calling? Goodness is that kind of calling and it will require you to give up all the things that make your life comfortable and sheltered, and safe.
I’m here to tell you, white women, that goodness is deeper place within you that you are going to have to grow into and nurture. You don’t get to claim goodness as long as you continue to do damage to us. You are not good as long as you are not fighting as hard as Black womxn to dismantle white supremacy. I don’t care what your Jesus or your gods or your vibrations tell you about what you deserve. If you are not doing everything you can to shift the paradigm of white supremacy, then you are the problem. Your intentions have no merit. Your impact holds weight and truth. Your actions tell your story. What are you made of? How deep will you go? How real can you be?