Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why white people can't say the "N" word.

Here are my thoughts: If you know me personally, or read my "Racism 101" piece back in August when the catalytic death of Michael Brown occurred, or even just have the insight required to extrapolate based on things I have written here, you probably know already that I believe ******strongly****** that white people should never, under any circumstances, use the "N" word. Ever.
I repeat: never.
Now, some people may disagree. I do know some black or biracial people who don't really care about this word, who figure it's just a word and that it loses its power when we pay it no mind. That's fine. But if white people want a piece of sound advice, I'd say: err on the safe side. Don't assume most black people feel that way and are cool with you using it. Even if a black friend once gave you "permission" to use it because you're such a "cool white person"….just don't. For the record, a cool white person is someone who respects differences, is mindful of boundaries, and doesn't feel the need to co-opt other cultures.
My thought is: words are powerful. And this is not a word that has ever entered my vocabulary, and I don't want it to. I don't want to give it any chance to take root in my mind. I never want it to be a word I reach lazily for in a thoughtless moment. I make an effort to be careful with my words, and this is one word in particular I think should be handled with care. I would rather die than have someone I love even hear it fall from my lips during a drunken dance party to some Biggie or OutKast song. Even if they wouldn't care. Even if they know my heart and wouldn't think twice. I would care. Because it's not okay.
Here's why: due to its historical context, this word is one of the ugliest - if not THE ugliest- word(s) in the English language. And of course, I'm talking about the word in its original form, ending with "er". But in my opinion, anytime it is emitted from a white mouth it has the potential to sound like a slur. Because it's not our word. It doesn't sound right. It sounds ugly. Despite the satisfying mouthfeel in the moment when you're singing along with your favorite rap song, the word itself is laden with history and it falls heavy from the lips. Swallow it. Skip it. We may feel entitled to many things, and America teaches us that we are, but I promise you we are not entitled to that word.
That said, while some may think this is strange, or find it surprising or even incongruent, I am completely fine with the reappropriated ("a") version used by black people amongst themselves. I don't find it offensive, I don't think it's a slur in this context, and I get why people use it.
That said, I understand why a lot of black people *are* offended by it, as well, so I'm not exactly saying I think it's good. I'm just saying I understand the history behind it, and I personally don't think I have the right to have a strong opinion on whether black people should use it or not. It's really just not my word, and I respect that.
My point in all of this is just to say: I don't understand why there is even a question of
"Why can't white people say it?"
"If black people can say it, why can't we?"
"If they don't want us saying it, why is in all the rap music?"
The answer is: because history. Because racism. Because no. Because fuck you.
Because we don't get everything. This is like, the one thing we can't have, and frankly, that seems fair.
"We know who you are by the words you speak. You identify yourself with the venom or honey that drips from your lips."

Sunday, February 15, 2015


CONTEXT: I've been thinking about this question a lot, so I reached out to one of my trusted advisors, my friend Justin. (here he is: that's his profile picture right now on FB. I didn't even have to ask him to put that shirt on).

He's constantly asking challenging questions on social media, often regarding race/racism/privilege, and is always down for a difficult ethical/philosophical exercise like the one I presented him with tonight…all via Facebook Messenger. (You'd be surprised how many intense intellectual conversations I engage in via FB Messenger). 
This is an unedited transcript of that conversation. 


Amy: serious note: (and if you don't feel like addressing it right now, you don't have to) 
did you ever come up with a suitable answer to the question we talked about a while back: 

"Can you be racist and still be a good person"? 

for some reason i've been thinking about that question a lot. it's been bothering me that i don't have a definitive answer, or i'm afraid to make a judgment on this because of what the trickle down effect will be. in my heart i think the answer is no, but that would relegate a lot of people who might otherwise be good people into a new category. again. don't feel like you have to go there if you're not feeling up to it. but i've had this conversation with you and my dad and a handful of other people whose opinions i respect and everyone goes…"hmmm. i don't know. that's a good question.”

a colleague sent me this article today. it's heavy. it got me thinking about it again because at some point, the perpetrators of this horrible crime were described by people in their lives as "good".

Justin: hmmm. i don't know. that's a good question.

Just playing

Amy: ha!

it IS a good question.

because it's the worst question.

because it shouldn't even be a fucking question.

Justin: Ummmmm.... it really really really is a difficult question to answer though. Gut and heart scream no, because such a big part of me is just the complete inverse of a racist person. And because I've personally felt the punch to the gut that racism deals. And because racism forces me to walk around in constant fear of what is waiting out there for my son when he's old enough to step outside alone. It's hard to picture a person that's full of THAT stuff being anything but a bad person.

Amy: so…no?

Justin: But... then brain kicks in, and I start to think about the way racism works. It's not always exactly a choice. It's not always a conscious decision. Sometimes it's handed down from parents. Sometimes its born of ignorance (in the literal sense). I'm pretty sure that I've met and talked to racist people who left our conversations a little less racist. I'm sure that on at least one occasion, I've started some momentum that might have even caused a racist person to ummm... become a not racist person. I don't think THOSE people are necessarily bad. Like, if you grew up in a town of 600 and all you knew about black people are the urban legends that bounced around town and you left that town a racist, that's not really your fault. I don't think you become a bad person until you plant your feet and refuse to understand what's wrong with that and make the decision not to fix it.

Justin: If that makes any sense... it was just a stream of consciousness and I was trying to work it out in my head as I typed it.

yeah that makes perfect sense.

it's kind of my sticking point too. like, if it's CONSCIOUS and HATEFUL, you're a shitty person. if you just don't know better, maybe you're a good person who  believes harmful untruths but not out of malice, just ignorance.

but then i think: how do you absorb ridiculous shit like the idea that somebody's skin makes them that much different (worse) than you? like, how do you not say, HMMMM WAIT A MINUTE THAT SEEMS FISHY

Justin: Yeah. That exactly. I think you BECOME a bad person when you make the decision to remain racist when you could make the decision not to.


Well, you know, it's just one of those things.  A lot of black people think all white people are racist, until they meet an Amy Miller.

Amy: well and THAT is sad and ridiculous too, right? like, are white people really that fucking lazy?

because it's just laziness.

Justin: Then you can say "Wow, there are some really cool whiteys out there" or you can say "She's racist too! because she's white and all white people are racist!"

Amy: i wouldn't even be mad at you if you felt the latter was more accurate.

but i would be sad.

Justin: Absolutely sad and ridiculous. And I've been lucky enough to expand my horizons and meet some white people that destroyed my preconceived notions about white people. Like you, and Ralph. But if you go talk to 25 year old Justin, and I'm probably not that big of a fan of white people. But if you look at pretty much ALL of my interactions with white people, and add to that the things that we grow up hearing about white people(some fact, some fiction), it's easy to understand why.

Justin: The white version of THAT^ is a racist.

you are merely exercising race-based prejudice!


Justin: Because I don't have access to the power needed to make it racism and I never will.

Amy: i don't get offended by black people having negative views about white people. i just always make sure that i am being the best version of me (individual) as i can while also recognizing that to some extent it will reflect on white people.
so if i am not an asshole, it at least suggests that other white people may not be racist assholes.

I don't think you should be offended, because honestly we kinda earned the right to not like you lol...

Amy: absolutely.

which is why i get irritated when white people are like, that's reverse racist.

i'm like STFU

because white people have historically been TERRIBLE FUCKING PEOPLE

Justin: BUT, the thing is, whether we earned it or not, the best thing for ALL of us is to take a second and see what you're all about. Because then we find that we have a TREMENDOUS ally in you.

Amy: so give black people a minute to get used to the idea that maybe we aren't all that terrible.

similarly though, racism is dismantled via positive interactions, like what you said earlier about people walking away from you being maybe slightly less racist.

Justin: I don't think that's too different than the crossroads that a racist of the ignorant variety will reach at some point in their lives. You can choose to remain ignorant and stay racist.. or you can choose to throw all that junk away and not be a racist.

Amy: in scenario A you're a bad person. in scenario B you're a good person.



we should make a PSA

Justin: LMAO!


We should. That would be a cool way to explain it.

not the weird religious version.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I want to talk to you about language.

I want to talk to you about the words we choose and what they mean and how carefully and lovingly we should wield them, especially in these delicate, volatile times when there is so much repair work to be done and so little room for new damage. We are stretched thin and the only way to reach out to one another is gently, carefully, and with mindfulness. Remember: words are powerful. They manifest our realities in many ways. The words we hear and use inform our perception, and too often we toss them around thoughtlessly without fully exploring their meanings and connotations.
I am saying this because I have noticed that a lot of white folks truly believe that because they have never used the "N" word, they have never employed racist or racially-insensitive verbiage, and are genuinely indignant at any suggestion otherwise. I'm talking about the well-intended white folks who claim and genuinely believe they "do not have a racist bone in their body" and yet get on board readily with the rhetoric surrounding Mike Brown and what he did or did not "deserve" based on the perception of him.
With the advent of so-called "political correctness", there has been less and less tolerance for overtly racist language, and so, no, in civilized society, we definitely don't accept or condone use of the "N" word anymore. When people used that word freely back in the day, it was clear to all what was meant by it: it was used by white people to relegate a black person's status to "less-than"; even in the absence of overt malice, its intent was always to devalue and reduce. Later, as it lost favor among polite society, the intent behind its use was (is) to vilify, dehumanize, and to openly express contempt.
But since as a society we have basically agreed that it is no longer acceptable to use such overtly offensive language, I have noticed that in place of this one taboo word, there are now several other words we can get away with using which convey basically the same thing.
Specifically I want you to consider the word "thug" and what you mean when you use it, and the connotations it conjures in the mind of your audience.
The actual definition of this word:
Thug (\ˈthəg\) *noun*
1. a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.
So, by definition, any number of people of any background could be described as "thugs", right? But today, what people usually mean when they toss the word "thug" around is very specific. Generally, when we hear "thug" it is referring to a young, urban black male who may embody any, all, or none of the following stereotypical behaviors: listens to rap music (too loud), is dressed in a particular fashion (possibly with sagging pants), who may or may not sell drugs (but probably smokes weed) and who may (probably) have a (illegal) gun. This person is presumed to live outside of the law and to either be a criminal or a potential criminal. This person is assumed to be undereducated, under-or-unemployed, and, of course, unduly aggressive. Please note that it is not always used to describe how this person is actually living, however, because that person need not actually BE a "thug" by definition. He need only be perceived as one by these unreliable cues we rely on (loud rap music, sagging pants, etc).
White Americans (and some black Americans too) disapprove of so-called "thugs". We are afraid of them. Unfortunately, this fear renders us unable to see each person as an individual. It allows us to dehumanize through judgment and disapproval. Because when we have decided someone is a "thug", our conscience has already concluded that this person is expendable by presuming he is "dangerous". So by extension, whatever befalls him is his own doing because he was a "thug" and therefore probably deserved it.
It seems to me that "thug" is the new catch-all word that is used to appease our collective conscience when we consider what happened to Mike Brown, as in, "Well, he was a thug; what do you expect?" as though by reducing him to that, we can collectively wash our hands of the whole unpleasant ordeal. As if by committing to the narrative that he was an inherently dangerous "thug," we can render his death and the outrage it sparked irrelevant.
In the context of right now, our collective comfort with this term reeks of respectability politics and victim-blaming. It is loaded with judgment. People are using it to describe those "looting and rioting" in Ferguson, and feeling very righteous in doing so (because looting) without critically engaging in any of this…but then also applying it uncritically and imprecisely to any black person who isn't adhering to the sartorial or behavioral rules of polite (white) society, even when we have no idea whether that person is actually a "cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer."

So the problem for me is that it is a lazy, reductionist term that simply serves to allow distance between that person's humanity and our own. It's just a new and politically correct way to express contempt and disregard for people who aren't like us. Basically, it's the new, socially-acceptable "N" word, and I submit that we need to eradicate it from the discourse if we are ever going to be able to get anywhere.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Black on black crime" is not a thing, either.

Here is a link to an article: 

Here is what I think about it: 

Why is this still even a topic that comes up? I'm going to say what a lot of other people are saying right now but which apparently not everyone is willing to grapple with: so-called "Black-on-Black crime" is not a disparate thing that can be accurately delineated from any other kind of crime. It's just another spin designed to correlate Blackness with violence. What people who trot out this argument fail to also acknowledge is the fact that *intraracial* violence is the standard- white people kill white people, black people kill black people, etc. This happens organically, based largely on proximity (which because we are such a segregated nation often means people of similar race/class backgrounds live near one another) and is often over allocation of "resources" (whatever those resources may be). To divert attention from the issues at hand (which include police brutality, excessive force, racial profiling) by insisting that the REAL problem is intrinsic to the community which in this case is the one being victimized/targeted is just another way to deny culpability and enforce white supremacy. We NEVER TALK ABOUT- indeed have never even named- "White-on-White" crime. You know why? Because it too is not a thing even though pretty much all white-perpetrated violent crime is committed with other white people as victims, and even though WHITE PEOPLE ARE JUST AS VIOLENT AS ANYONE ELSE, INCLUDING BLACK PEOPLE, EVEN *gasp* BLACK MEN. The extent to which white privilege permeates our culture is glaringly reflected in this missing verbiage. That is to say, we don't call it "white-on-white" crime, ostensibly because we are individual snowflakes and so nothing we do reflects on other white people. We are not a collective or a monolith, but we are quite certain that black people are.
One woman quoted in this article tweeted accurately: "Dear Rudy Giuliani, when talking about police shootings of blacks, changing the topic to Bad Stuff Black Folks Do Too is beyond offensive."
**Also (sort of an aside but it's something I have been thinking about): If we are not a fundamentally white supremacist culture (as many would like to believe in modern times) then how is nothing made of the fact that basically all serial killers in the history of America are white men? Why is there no mass hysteria regarding how "scary" white men are, considering they are the ones most likely to commit planned, heinous, sadistic crimes? How do we collectively not recognize how intellectually disingenuous it is to name one thing but willfully ignore the correlative other thing? It's astonishing, really: the extent to which white supremacy is ingrained in our culture and how readily we accept it as truth, when really, one critical question begets another critical question and before you know it, the whole thing unravels and underneath is a giant pile of bullshit.

End rant.

Monday, November 17, 2014


If your life experience is such that you trust that you can reasonably expect the legal system to work on your behalf, and you have had mostly if not entirely pleasant experiences with police, and you have faith in the justice system to fairly grant you due process, and you expect that you will be treated with respect by most authority figures most of the time, and you think that generally speaking, America is a pretty friendly place to be, AND you can with some assurance assume most of the people you love have had similar life experiences, then I can understand why the events of the past couple of months are confusing if not downright mind-boggling.

For someone whose worldview is skewed by privilege- which is what this perspective is informed by whether we fully appreciate it or not- it doesn't make sense. And to be perfectly honest, I can probably say that all of the above is true of my own personal lived experience, and if I left it at that level of understanding, I might be just as confused as so many other people about what in the hell is this #‎FergusonOctober stuff about.

But I'm not, and here is why: I'm trying. I'm intentionally engaging in understanding and keeping updated on what is happening, and I'm reading articles and blog posts and status updates, and I'm talking with strangers in coffee shops, and I'm getting deep and uncomfortable with good friends, and I'm checking myself at every turn to make sure I'm at the very least paying attention so that I can speak in an informed way on this stuff, because that is a role that suits me.

I'm not saying you need to go out and rally. I just want you all to engage a little bit and challenge whatever preconceived notions you have. I get that many of us have police officers in our lives that we love, and that can make us feel torn on this matter. But it's entirely plausible that you can love and respect individual cops, and still recognize and acknowledge that the system- at every level- is skewed to the disadvantage of a large swath of the population, specifically young black men. That's what this is about.

I don't know what solution will feel right to you, but my solution personally is to intentionally look beyond my own lived experience to see what the people around me are experiencing. Getting out of my feelings of indignation or defensiveness and just bearing witness to what other people's lives have been like. Because injustice harms all of us in the long run. And because the daily lived experience of racism and oppression and injustice routinely wounds the spirits of people I deeply love. If someone you love is being harmed, and you don't say or do anything about it, you are complicit in the harm that befalls them. Personally, the worst thing someone could say about me is that I lacked the courage to speak up for what's right.

Anyone can feel free to message me, and I won't think your questions or concerns are silly; I'm telling you: I WANT to talk to people who don't get it for whatever reason, and try to help them connect the dots and begin to understand what all of this is about. Being white has a million advantages, most of which we are entirely unconscious of; one of them is the mobility to move amongst other white people and to say things with authority and without the risk of being delegitimized by accusations of "playing the race card".

I'd like to say I'm sorry for belaboring this stuff, but that would be disingenuous. I'm not even a little bit sorry. This is important, regardless of how you feel about the specific events. It matters that we keep talking about it. Black lives do matter, and that core belief is the heart and soul of the protests that are continuing to disrupt business as usual here in STL. Let me know if you want to talk about it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sexism analogy.

Dear fellow women, 
You know that really frustrating feeling when you try to explain to a man how unsafe you feel sometimes just for being female, and how you have to always be cognizant of the fact that although not all men will, *all men can potentially hurt or sexually assault you*, and how when you walk down a street by yourself or even with other women, it can be scary just because you're a woman and thereby potentially a victim, and how mad/hurt/confused you get when you hear men or even other women victim-blaming rape survivors for wearing that outfit or for provoking him, saying things like "she was asking for it"

...and you know the man you're talking to is a good man, but he just doesn't really understand what you're saying or he argues with you because you're being dramatic or he undervalues your statements, which by the way, do actually reflect your personal experience in the world of being female, by refusing to accept your explanation of what life is like for you, saying things like "You know I'm not like that, so why are you getting mad at me" or "Not all men are rapists" or "You shouldn't be afraid of men" or "You're imagining things." or simply, "No, you're wrong."

You know that feeling? How helpless you feel to convince the man to put himself in your shoes and accept that this is your reality as a woman? And even though you know that part of why he doesn't want to hear it is because it somehow reflects on him and even though he knows he would never hurt you, it just makes him feel bad and defensive and he doesn't want to talk about it. And you end up feeling unheard or like maybe you're just being crazy or paranoid?

You know that feeling? Yes? So, extend it to others. Can you think of other times this sort of dismissive logic is used? Can you imagine how it makes other people feel when their personal experience of being marginalized or undervalued or targeted is discounted because the people hearing about it don't want to accept that people like them are doing 'bad things'? While not directly analogous, it might help to contextualize in a new way some of what is happening currently in our city/country/world. I hope it helps.