In 2021, I was President of the Northwest Editors Guild in Seattle. The previous year, George Floyd had been murdered in broad daylight and white people had gotten very afraid of being called out. In 2020, it seemed like every damn organization in the country had released a statement against racism (or some bullshit like that) and formed a DEI committee – and that included mine.
But rather than apply myself to the thankless work of teaching the members of our predominantly white organization to be less racist (which starts, of course, with teaching them what racism is) what I really wanted was to form a community for editors of color. And because there were (and still are) barely enough of us in the Guild to fill a Zoom screen, I extended the invitation everywhere I thought there might be a Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous or mixed race editor. I emailed Facebook groups and bulletin boards and reached out to editors I followed on Instagram and got enthusiastic responses from Washington, Oregon, Canada, Barbados, and some other places I’m sure I’m forgetting.
Since then, on the second Monday of every month, we’ve gotten together for our online Editors of Color coffee hour. And even though I sometimes feel like I’m dragging my ass (and my face) to yet another Zoom meeting, I always log off feeling inspired, supported, and just plain happy. Even today.
When I first saw her face on screen, I considered that she might be a white-passing person of color. Experience, and my own appearance, has taught me not to assume someone’s racial or ethnic identity. But she was in fact white and had joined our meeting as a representative from the Guild’s new DEI committee. She was just dropping in, she said, to say that the committee was curious to hear what we thought they could do to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the Guld.
My first thought? I don’t know, lady. Y’all created this mess. I’m just trying to create a place to hang with my editor friends who get sick and tired of being asked questions like that in the white-dominated spaces where we spend the rest of our lives.
My next thought? Why won’t you stop talking? For almost the next thirty minutes, in conversation with my very generous colleagues, she went on to express almost every presumptive, boneheaded, ignorant cliche that nice white women use when they’ve joined a DEI committee.
No, none of the members of the committee are people of color – but we’re open to learning.
No, we haven’t done anything yet – but we’re just starting.
No, I hadn’t communicated in advance that I wanted to attend – but I’d meant to.
Her intention wasn’t to violate our space. Her intention wasn’t to ask us for our emotional labor. Her intention wasn’t to trigger a whole Zoom room full of previously-existing, DEI-committee trauma. But she did.
And then someone actually had to tell her, It’s the impact, lady…
But I’m not here to bury that one white woman. I’m here to give props to my editors of color family. This is a shout out to the ones who showed remarkable diplomacy when our space was violated. A shout out to the ones who asked the probing questions they’d learned to ask from doing time on their own tedious DEI committee. A shout out to the ones who held their tongues rather than get into trouble by making a white lady cry.
Eventually, I told her we’d take in the committee’s request, get back to her if we had anything to add, and said goodbye. Then I cried a little. And some of the other editors cried a little too. And then we mended our circle, did our best to process what happened, and restored the sanctuary I hadn’t fully realized we’d created in the last two years.
I wear my identity as a Latina proudly because I can’t stand the alternative (a story for another time) and I am fully aware that I can slip into a movie theater or a grocery store without anyone looking at me twice. But my Black editor colleagues, and my other more obviously non-white editor colleagues, have no choice. Wherever they go, white people are thinking she’s there to answer my questions, to provide free labor, to be strong, to do what I want her to do, to make me feel good, to not make me cry.
When I got off the call, I cried a little more. But then I asked myself why the fuck I was crying when I wasn’t sad, I was furious. While all of us were being fucking awesome and restrained, while we were all taking care of ourselves and each other in the aftermath, there was a new editor present: a Black editor who is just starting out, who wants to be taken seriously as a professional, and who wanted to check out our community and see what we were all about. But instead of answering her editing-related questions and sharing our editing-related wisdom, we spent almost an entire hour dealing with some white lady bullshit.
And that, if you are a white person who is still wondering, is racism. And that is why people of color need safe spaces.