People of colour and “computer expert” friends are not your personal assistants.

Both people of colour and “computer expert” (a term that less computer-literate individuals use to refer to computer-literate individuals) friends and relatives are perceived as public resources whose raison d’être is to educate white people about race or provide personal technical support, respectively. While the two groups are not mutually exclusive, both people of colour and “computer experts” are perceived to have no lives or other interests, and are treated as if educating white people or providing technical support is “their job”.

This is why white people and less computer-literate people often complain loudly and indignantly during certain interactions, as if people of colour and “computer experts” are providing poor “customer service”. White people often complain that if people of colour do not present racial issues in a way that is appealing to whites, then white people will not want to learn about racism. (For some reason, they believe that promoting social awareness about a particular issue should be similar in process to a company promoting a product.) Less computer-literate individuals even speak condescendingly to or yell at “computer experts” with a similar sense of entitlement, as if their computer-literate relative/friend/acquaintance has the same social obligation to them as the paid technical support staff of, say, Dell.

Among anti-racist circles online, a common admonishment is something along the lines of “people of color are not responsible for educating white people about race”, which belongs in a list of Racism 101 axioms. However, this advice is often accompanied by the suggestion to ask a friend of colour about race, instead of a random person of colour.

While a white person’s expectation that any person of colour is required to act as a personal assistant to any white person is racist, white-centric, and perpetuates the assumption that people of colour exist to serve whites, the white person’s expectation that his friend of colour has some obligation to educate him about race is still problematic.

Friends of colour also have their own lives and other interests, just as random people of colour do. While a person of colour may be much more tolerant if her white friend asked her to educate him about race than if a white stranger did the same, this does not mean that educating her white friend is her job or responsibility. A person of colour may invest much of her time and effort into educating a close white friend because she deems the white friend as worthwhile, but it is at the person of colour’s expense. A person of colour has to deal with time- and energy-depleting racial burdens that people with white privilege do not have, and doing the work for a white friend consumes even more resources.

There are actually people of colour who are paid to educate white people about race, so it makes the most sense to engage with these people (during their work hours and at their work location) who have made the decision to deal with unscripted Racism 101 questions from people with unexamined white privilege. The same applies to “computer experts”: it makes more sense to call paid technical support to fix your internet problem than to ask your relative to drop whatever she was doing to help you fix your internet.

15 Responses to “People of colour and “computer expert” friends are not your personal assistants.”

  1. Renee Says:

    I believe it is because privilege demands that everything is spoon fed. They know damn well that the person that they are asking is socially considered lower on the hierarchical chain. I remember being asked as a Black woman what my opinion on the OJ SImpson trial was…I had to shake my head. Whiteness makes assumptions because it can.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    There’s also the Magical Negro/Indian Guru/Japanese Sensei, etc., script from fiction that some white people expect PoC to adhere to. They think that PoC exist to help white people “find themselves”/self-actualize.

  3. jwbe Says:

    it’s quite irrelevant in which field somebody is an expert or has above average knowledge I think, many whites believe they can exploit such a person and if this doesn’t work they complain ‘why don’t you want to help me’. It’s the belief that everybody has to be there for them and only them whenever they want and that those with knowledge love sharing their knowledge 24/7 to all people.
    In addition I don’t think that many of them actually want to know an experts opinion or actual help, they want an acknowledgement that they are right or didn’t make a mistake etc. They don’t want to have an honest answer.

  4. urbia Says:

    I personally find this blog posting funny in an ironic way because, really, the entitlement should be coming from the other party. If you’re a POC getting the short end of the stick due to institutional racism, you’re basically getting poor customer service and a poor quality product despite paying the exact same price as your fellow white customer (citizen) through your taxes.

    So having a white person randomly demand you teach them about racism is like you going into a store, getting a crappy product and rude service at the cash register… and the minute you step out, you’re chased down by a store representative in the parking lot waving a customer service evaluation form and demanding that you complete it so they know how badly their service sucks, whether you’d like to or not.

    And after all that drama, they might not improve their service anyway. Hahahaha.

  5. Nquest Says:

    many whites believe they can exploit such a person and if this doesn’t work they complain ‘why don’t you want to help me’

    We’ve certainly seen that rhetorical strategy used, even telegraphed, a number of times. Too numerous to mention.

    The real issue is the conventional idea that racism is POC’s problem, confused with the fact that racism presents problems for POC. This way of thinking about racism as POC’s problem fosters the idea that anti-racism for Whites is about “helping” POC… with their problem. It gives the uninitiated White person — like Ellen at RacismReview and those who feel they are initiated (Shewolf from YAPB) — the idea that theirs is a noble mission of selfless sacrifice for the poor and unfortunate fellows they care about so much. Poor, unfortunate fellow human beings/country(wo)men who were tragically unlucky and lost the skin color lottery.

    It’s a way for even self-professed White “allies” to take no ownership or responsibility as it relates to fighting/eradicating racism.

    You know where I stand and I’ll repeat this (line from Tim Wise, etc.) til I’m blue in the face:
    RACISM IS A WHITE PROBLEM…

    Tim Wise has called anti-racism for/by Whites… White personal-responsibility in the same collective sense people speak about Black/POC taking “personal responsibility” for problems in their collective racial/ethnic/culture communities. When this responsibility is shirked or ignored, the burden (SOMEBODY ELSE’S BURDEN) consequently falls on POC.

    So WHITE SUPREMACY/White Privilege is recreated with these curious expectations Whites have for POC to educate them about racism. Out of all people, White people should know the most about racism or at least have the most to offer in terms of educating people about it. By virtue of their skin color alone, White people have an insider’s vantage point POC just don’t have when it comes to [institutional] racism in society.

    The idea that few Whites approach anti-racism (or non-racism) with the attitude that they have some educating to do (even to themselves) or from the perspective that racism is a problem Whites collectively, if not exclusively, have to solve lest they all remain complicit in the maintenance and regeneration of the racism that is: leaving it to POC not only to identify the problems [White] racism causes but to fight disproportionately against something that is not ‘their problem’ and, as such, not something they (POC) should be burdened with.

    Seems to me that POC have plenty of work to do with just dealing with the way racism affects them and impacts their lifechances. Note: Racism also affects White people too. (See the White Americans who, by all appearances, are fighting vehemently against their own socio-economic interests with their irrational opposition to Pres. Obama’s health care plans.)

  6. jwbe Says:

    >The real issue is the conventional idea that racism is POC’s problem, confused with the fact that racism presents problems for POC. This way of thinking about racism as POC’s problem fosters the idea that anti-racism for Whites is about “helping” POC… with their problem. It gives the uninitiated White person — like Ellen at RacismReview and those who feel they are initiated (Shewolf from YAPB) — the idea that theirs is a noble mission of selfless sacrifice for the poor and unfortunate fellows they care about so much. Poor, unfortunate fellow human beings/country(wo)men who were tragically unlucky and lost the skin color lottery.

    and where I can really lose my patience is the fact that many of those alleged allies are in powerful or influental positions, create “anti-racist” organisations, abusing the ‘good agenda’ (‘we care’, ‘we are progressive’ etc) to exactly perpetuate white supremacy. And they consider themselves above all criticism. Like one group of the German Greens said: ‘We are not racist, because our agenda is anti-racist’. They had the nerve to talk about being censored when they were forced to remove their racist add.
    There is also this unwritten law not to criticize people with good intentions within white society, just not to discourage the good intentionists, regardless the real impact of their words or actions, regardless their hypocrisy and regardless how easy such people can ‘take over’ organizations or also blogs.

    >Tim Wise has called anti-racism for/by Whites… White personal-responsibility in the same collective sense people speak about Black/POC taking “personal responsibility” for problems in their collective racial/ethnic/culture communities.

    >and all else doesn’t make sense to me. Considering (white) society like a company or club, who else should be able to change the structure of this if not those involved and knowing the internal structures. Somebody once told me to consider the company I work at like a small part of society and reverse, he was right, doing this I have learned a lot and why some teams there are effective and others not etc.
    Somebody from outside of this company/society can’t know which internal structures etc. are necessary to create or to attempt to create ‘white racial solidarity’, this is something only those who went through it can know. And also this belongs for me to educating whites about racism/anti-racism. And I call the bigots who believe they are on my/our side as effective saboteurs, assimilated into white society and perfectly playing their part of destruction.

    >Seems to me that POC have plenty of work to do with just dealing with the way racism affects them and impacts their lifechances. Note: Racism also affects White people too. (See the White Americans who, by all appearances, are fighting vehemently against their own socio-economic interests with their irrational opposition to Pres. Obama’s health care plans.)

    Those white Americans who claim that government shouldn’t be involved don’t have a problem I guess to use public services like streets, puplic transportation and all other things they take for granted and they probably also didn’t have a problem with Bush declaring an illegal war and using their tax money doing this.
    They want to keep their “freedom” as they claim, which means nothing else than their greed to remain on the top position to bully almost everybody inside and outside the USA without ever being responsible for anything.

  7. Restructure! Says:

    Great comments, Nquest and jwbe.

    Out of all people, White people should know the most about racism or at least have the most to offer in terms of educating people about it. By virtue of their skin color alone, White people have an insider’s vantage point POC just don’t have when it comes to [institutional] racism in society.

    Yes, in a way, but we should clarify that POC know the most about the effects of racism and which events are racist. Often white people say things like “That’s not racist,” because it doesn’t strike them, white people, as racist, and it’s racist only to POC, who supposedly cannot be objective about race. When there are statistics showing that a higher proportion of POC think racism is a problem compared to whites, many whites think it is because POC have persecution complexes, since obviously, to them, whites are the most educated about everything.

    I find that white people who don’t get past Racism 101 don’t have much to offer except the same Racism 101 questions/statements (which they think are creative and have never been asked/stated before), but sometimes there are amazing insights from anti-racist white people that can only come from a white POV. This is quite rare. I remember jwbe wrote something, and there’s Tim Wise, and then there is that link you showed me before about a different white privilege checklist in which the person noted that she used (or dealt?) drugs and got caught, but she was given a second chance and it was cleared from her record, because she was white. (There were some problems with it, but some of the points only she had access to as a white person.)

    >and all else doesn’t make sense to me. Considering (white) society like a company or club, who else should be able to change the structure of this if not those involved and knowing the internal structures. Somebody once told me to consider the company I work at like a small part of society and reverse, he was right, doing this I have learned a lot and why some teams there are effective and others not etc.
    Somebody from outside of this company/society can’t know which internal structures etc. are necessary to create or to attempt to create ‘white racial solidarity’, this is something only those who went through it can know. And also this belongs for me to educating whites about racism/anti-racism. And I call the bigots who believe they are on my/our side as effective saboteurs, assimilated into white society and perfectly playing their part of destruction.

    On the other hand, there are also POC with white ancestry who pass as white sometimes or most of the time, and they have access to this structure when they pass. But great description of the type of knowledge that white people have about racism.

  8. Restructure! Says:

    There are also those instances when I pass as white on the Internet (because I didn’t state my race), and white people talk about POC freely without knowing that I’m reading it. I learn things that I would not hear in person. (But POC on the English Internet would not assume that white people cannot read English or that white people are too poor to have Internet access.)

  9. jwbe Says:

    >On the other hand, there are also POC with white ancestry who pass as white sometimes or most of the time, and they have access to this structure when they pass. But great description of the type of knowledge that white people have about racism.

    I don’t know how it feels for people who can ‘pass as white’, I think I talk about something different.
    The way I am and the things I think and say are the result of my own life-experience.
    There may be a certain blogger for example who wants to tell other whites that ‘whiteness’ can be untrained, I say, no, it can’t. Because I believe that there must be a certain attitude towards life etc a person assimilates into and built on this fundament a person acts ‘white’.
    Not ‘becoming white’ also means more than not ‘just’ internalizing stereotypes about whites and the alleged other.

    I am on this blog for example for quite selfish reasons: I want to read opinions I can share, where I am not an out-sider with my thoughts and where an exchange about racism is possible without white hysteria.
    Racism also impacts the entire person, racism is not just a ‘bad part’. When I watch whites with problematic attitudes about race also their reactions in many other issues/social life are more or less predictable, often also problematic.

  10. Slumberjack Says:

    Problem is, when people do take the time to educate us, more often than not disbelief and argumentative feedback is repaid in kind for the effort. Our own perspective is like quicksand, where we are up to the neck in it, while choosing to slap at a volunteer outreached hand.

  11. Dark Frosty Says:

    jwbe “There may be a certain blogger for example who wants to tell other whites that ‘whiteness’ can be untrained, I say, no, it can’t. Because I believe that there must be a certain attitude towards life etc a person assimilates into and built on this fundament a person acts ‘white’.”

    Lol, you really don’t like you huh. ;)

  12. Dark Frosty Says:

    jwbe “There may be a certain blogger for example who wants to tell other whites that ‘whiteness’ can be untrained, I say, no, it can’t. Because I believe that there must be a certain attitude towards life etc a person assimilates into and built on this fundament a person acts ‘white’.”

    Lol, you really don’t like macon huh. ;)

  13. jwbe Says:

    Frosty, it’s not about ‘Liking’, an individual’s idiocy is irrelevant, the problem is the collective stupidity of too many whites who believe what they are told.
    The message of that person is the problem because it is part of a culture which promotes racism in the name of ‘anti-racism’.

  14. Dark Frosty Says:

    jwbe, that’s understandable but why discuss that problem amongst yourselves. Wouldn’t that information be better utilized educating whites, to counter macon’s debacle.

  15. jwbe Says:

    those whites don’t want to be educated.
    Yes, those whites care – about themselves, their ego, academic titles, their reputation or the money they can make out of studying and writing about racism. Oops, thou shalt not criticize such white ‘Gods’ who also are in most cases white male.
    You are allowed to join their blogs or organizations to be the quota Person of Color or quota (white) women, hey, they have to prove how cool and progressive they are. And the quotas have to be silent in awe…
    It’s no surprise also that most of these “experts” we are supposed to admire and respect are middle-class white male.

    One can only educate people who want to be educated and those who allegedly want to be educated often already come with a concept in their mind what the ‘teacher’ is supposed to tell them.


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