Rules of Engagement: Why We Need to Be Respectful of Minorities’ Time and Space

I had (what I’m now going to call) a rather insightful week last week, and I learned some valuable lessons.  Lessons that I think life has been trying to teach me for some time now that I haven’t really been listening to, thinking that things are and will be fine and I can just keep going as I am because that’s just how I do things.  Well it seems 2019 is here to tell me that’s not true, and it is doing so by slapping me in the face with what is true: I am only human, and every human being has their limits.  2019 has started really well for me: I’ve started a new job that I really like, I have a bit more time to myself and my overall quality of life is significantly better than it was this time in 2018.  But at the same time I received all these positive things, 2019 also brought along with it something I’ve never experienced in my life: insomnia.  For almost the entire month of January I struggled to sleep properly, sometimes only getting 3-4 hours in before I had to get up again, and nothing I tried to do to fix it seemed to work.  Finally, when I had to take time off work because I felt like I was on the verge of collapse, I went to the GP and he prescribed me something for it, and I’m now beginning to recover and resume a normal sleeping pattern. Ok, so why on earth is this the beginning of a blog post, I hear you ask?

I’ll tell you.  Like most people (I assume) I throw myself wholeheartedly into things that are important to me, my career being a prime example.  I will soldier on despite how I might be feeling (although I chastise members of my team who do the same) because putting in work and being good at what I do is a matter of personal pride for me, and I get mad at myself when my body says “no more.”  My insomnia was caused, partly, by me putting subconscious pressure on myself to come flying out the gate in my new role and learn the ropes quickly – pressure that was wholly unnecessary by the way, as my entire team including my manager told me. But I challenge you to find a millennial who hasn’t felt that way at some point.  Suffice it to say, the pressures of modern life are tiring.  And do you know what’s also tiring? Trying to navigate those pressures as a minority.  And no, this is not me “playing the victim” or whatever nonsense phrases people like to come out with when minorities express the realities of their existence. This world is full of prejudice – from racism to sexism to homophobia to transphobia and the list goes on.  For people at the intersections of these forms of prejudice life can be more than challenging.  It is tiring for minorities to constantly have to speak out against overt violence and aggression, and it is just as tiring to have to speak out against the daily microaggressions we face in different spaces.  It is arduous work trying to make people understand the basics of how oppression works, and why something you think is harmless or should be forgiven isn’t or shouldn’t be.  For those people who are out there doing that work (shout out to you all – I respect and admire you), in whatever form – from blogging to journalism to community work to activism – it can be full scale exhausting, especially mentally.

I chose to start this blog because I have a lot to say about issues in this messed up society surrounding race and gender and their intersections.  I guess that, in doing so, I’ve somehow given people the impression that this means (1) that I have an opinion on every single incident of racist and sexist nonsense that takes place in this world, and (2) that my opinion is always one that is up for debate in order for people to get their dose of satisfaction from giving their thoughtless, lukewarm takes on the topic and having me argue with them so they can feel woke.  And amidst all this pontificating and attempts to draw me out, what you people seem to forget (or fail to realise) is that I am a human being – a busy one at that – who has her own concerns and a life outside of arguing with you.  I write about these things because they affect me and I genuinely care about them, not to satisfy some academic need to feel intelligent and cultured.  What this means is that when I do engage with these issues, whether by writing blog posts, putting up statuses online or engaging in ‘debates’ about them it takes both time and energy.  Oftentimes these ‘debates’ are about issues that are fundamental to my identity or the identities of people I care about, so I do not and will not discuss them in solely academic terms.  There will be a level of emotion involved whether that comes through in my expression or not.  I don’t care if you think that’s the wrong way to approach matters, that is my way and that is part of what makes me who I am and it is what makes all of my work – both personal and professional – what it is.

So, having said all of that, allow me to share two important lessons for you all that you should apply to your interactions with minorities (especially women of colour) if you are truly interested in learning about these issues and being an ally.

  1. We do not have to have an opinion on everything, and if we tell you we don’t then you need to accept and respect that.

 I’m not ashamed to admit that I do not know everything, and there are some topics I simply do not have the range to speak on and THAT IS OK.  I am still learning – and, importantly, unlearning – and that education will take place at my own pace and in my own time.  In the meantime, you can go and do your own learning.  Research.  Read articles.  Go to events. Listen to podcasts of people far more well-versed than me on a topic so you can learn more about it.  You can even go and make some more Black friends, and stop treating me like a walking Black woman encyclopaedia.

  1. If we say we do not want to argue about something that is exactly what we mean and, again, you need to accept and respect that.

 Sometimes, you and your ‘opinions’ and ‘debates’ are just exhausting and I do not want to engage with them.  Sometimes, I just want to say something, or express an emotion, without getting into a ridiculous back and forth with anyone.  And do you know what? THAT IS OK.  Take this ridiculous Liam Neeson debacle, for example (if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past week you know what I’m talking about). On the day the story broke I posted a status on my personal Facebook page with a gif showing how I’m now looking at him sideways (because that was, without doubt, some racist BS).  I also made it clear in that status that I didn’t want people coming into my comments to defend him, otherwise they’d be told about their and their mothers’ vaginas.  I specifically wrote that because, at the time, I just wanted to express my shock and disgust and keep it moving.  But, somehow, some people developed some kind of selective illiteracy when they got to that part of my status and came into my comments to argue with me and defend him anyway.  Now, I can imagine some may say that I could have just ignored them and I chose to engage. I did.  And I’ve been thinking about that myself and thinking that maybe I should have just said f**k my friendships with these people and told them to suck out because they clearly can’t read.  But, then again, why do I even have to do that? Why couldn’t they simply respect the boundary that was clearly established? Do I really need to start telling people about their mums in order for them to respect my wishes?

What makes it even worse is that someone said they look forward to my blog post on this, and I was so riled I actually started writing it, despite the fact that I was in the middle of writing something else – which won’t be published now as I don’t currently have the emotional energy to finish it.  I got partway through and I was like, “what am I doing?!”  I had no intention to write about Liam Neeson when I posted that status, but because I allowed people to draw me out I’m now going to? Nah.  I don’t think so.  What Liam Neeson said and did was racist and John Barnes is a tap dancer without the shoes. That is my opinion on the matter and it needs no further explanation.  I said what I said.


Of course, I am not saying I do not want people to engage with me at all.  I wouldn’t have spent three months setting up this blog if I didn’t want people to read it and get involved.  What I am saying though, is that there are boundaries that must be respected and it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of people’s space and time.  The content you enjoy reading and the opinions you are curious to hear form me take time and emotional energy to put together, and I still have to hold down and excel in my job, be there for my family, and work on developing myself in other areas.  The same goes for minorities in general.  If you truly care about these issues and are an ally, you will do this without argument.

In saying that, I recognise that I also have some work to do.  I need to be more mindful of my own time and headspace and be more selective in what I engage with.  I want to, within my own lane, be out here fighting the good fight, but in order to do that I have to engage in self-care.  In the words of Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Thank you all for bearing with me.

                                                                                                Sara B.

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