Me. I'm the Dumb White Lady. Learning new things on Instagram.
I know my voice as a relatively sheltered, middle-class, middle-aged white woman is not a relevant one to black folks. Most of the dozens I follow on Instagram are influencers, have thousands of followers, and don't need my opinion or my support to elevate their voices. That's really not where I can contribute.
On the other hand, I am, in my dumb-white-ladyness, well versed in the dumbness of other white ladies. And I have to say to my fellow kind: you have all lost your damn minds.
Let me start at the beginning.
I'm on Instagram. I myself post mostly about garden stuff there, but not regularly. I don't have a huge amount of followers; I am definitely not an influencer. I don't have my blog-connected-to-the-FB-connected-to-the-'Gram-connected-to-the-Twitter-machine. Not because I don't know how, but because I don't care. I don't have a unified personal brand or whatever they're calling it these days, and if I did it would probably be "haphazard hootenanny of anxiety." Besides, my social media accounts aren't for gaining followers.
The purpose of Instagram for me? A happy place with pretty pictures. Yep. When my whole day has gone to shit in face mask sweats and work emails and unexpected bills and sullen smelly teenage boys-- then I go to Instagram to look at photos that afford me a little free escapism. I look at pictures of baby cows, and castles in Scotland, and watch videos of Sir Patrick Stewart reading sonnets, and Stanley Tucci making quarantine cocktails. The Tooch making drinks, y'all. Some days you just need that kind of smooth in your life.
I follow a lot of accounts, many of them by women or about women or that appeal to women. There are a whole lot of flower farmers, houseplant enthusiasts, lifestyle magazines, National Parks, public gardens, travel bloggers, artists, actors, and photographers I follow because I admire their work, their creativity, or the thoughts, things, and places they share.
But I realize, like I once thought any rational person should, that Instagram is composed of real women with real lives, which are not always perfect, or pretty. Women I follow post surprisingly vulnerable narratives on their public Instagram accounts along with all those beautiful images. About struggles with eating disorders. About struggling to keep a small business afloat. About struggling with infertility. About struggling with a seriously ill child, a death in the family, mental health, addiction, crop failures, job losses, health problems, sick pets. It's all in there. The struggles.
That's because, even if I'm following some account for the luminous photos of flowers or the mouth-watering dessert recipes, the platform belongs to that person. It's their narrative. If they need to interrupt houseplant posts to talk about the fact their favorite cat just died, that's something that they can do. It's their story. They get to tell it on their platform. They don't owe me a certain narrative just because I expect it. Stories change all the time. That's how life is for everybody.
Or at least, I naively assumed that was understood widely, among, you know. Decent humans. I thought that NO ONE would, for example, comment on an Instagram post, saying, "you know, I follow this account for the beautiful flowers, but if you're going to keep mooning on about your miscarriage, you can count me out." Right? No one would say that. No one in their right mind would say that because that would mean they are an incredibly self-involved, rude, and miserable cow.
Did that paragraph up-hill from this one, with the (hopefully fictional) example about the miscarriage, make you gasp a little in outrage that someone could be so cruel? And yet here we are, doing essentially the same thing in the context of the homicide of a black man-- white women being incredibly self-involved, rude, and miserable cows.
A few weeks ago, African Americans saw a black man's life snuffed out-- a man who could have been their son, their brother, their daddy, and who, by the way, WAS a son, a brother, and a daddy. The act itself was sickening in its own right. The fact that it was just another horrifying death in a long, deep history of racism...well, that's just heavy. Heavy as lead. Heavy beyond people's ability to bear.
It is an enormous loss. It is a trauma inflicted not only on that man's family, but on a group of people as a whole. Black Americans are rightfully aggrieved and outraged. That grief and outrage triggered protests around the world, some of them peaceful, and some aggravated by police violence, looting, and outside agitators. It sparked what we are in the middle of right now, a national conversation about how we can address our country's legacy of racism.
On Instagram, lots of accounts, both organizational and personal, were trying to figure out how to enter this conversation. Some wanted to acknowledge people's pain. Some wanted to offer comfort. Some wanted to make clear that they were an ally. Some wanted to help in any way they could. On Instagram and elsewhere, this took the form of efforts like Blackout Tuesday, which was an attempt to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, to express being an ally in the search for racial justice. Accounts from lifestyle magazines to baking bloggers joined in. Some didn't, for reasons that were also about being an ally, and out of concern for keyboard activism (I was one of those).
The reaction of white ladies blew me away. Especially on the Instagram accounts that were owned by other white women. It's as if they expected, at some level, for the conversation to remain exclusive of all that (clutches pearls) unpleasantness.
"You should stick to cooking. No politics."
"I'll unfollow if I have to. I don't come here for this crap."
"I'm done here for good if this is going to be a regular topic"
Apparently the blondest, lipstick-wearingest, Jesus-fearingest, fur-baby spoiling, front-door decor obsessed, white woman is sweet as she can be, until you sully the perfection of her social media days with some else's truth. How dare you interrupt her quest for the perfect frosé recipe with anything that might make her feel uncomfy on her thoughtfully curated comfy couch? Especially, especially, especially, if the person posting this truth is another white woman herself. I mean. The nerve.
If you can't keep the topic to puppies and (non-LGTBQ+) rainbows, they warn, they are leaving, with a capital 'L', with a flounce and a nose in the air. As if their very presence was what made someone else's story valid. As if their departure signified how wrong someone else's story must be. As if they have the right to approve of narratives that don't belong to them.
Let me point out again: that's how they were behaving on Instagram accounts belonging to other white women. Not on the accounts of black women (as far as I know, though frankly I would not be at all surprised). I had to sit with this awhile. It was hard for me to understand. First, it seemed cowardly. And it is. Clearly, these women calculate where they can get away with spilling the acid of their disapproval.
They expect the world to be a white space for them. All their interests, be it baking, or home decor, or world travel, or pretty pictures of their favorite flowers, are supposed to be enjoyed in a space where other people's stories cannot intrude, especially if they are unpleasant, and especially if they make white women out to be at all complicit in that unpleasantness. How threatening it must be for them to have other white women validating the voices of black experience. Even if we are (and we most certainly are) stumbling around and getting it wrong and doing all sorts of dumb white lady stuff, the fact that we are trying (however badly) to hear what black people are telling us, threatens the other white ladies in the room, who just assumed that everyone in the (white) club understood the unspoken rules. It threatens them a lot.
That's why they need to dominate the narrative everywhere they go. Not just in their own space, but in other people's as well. Black people's most certainly. But also by extension any white woman who would use her platform in alliance with black people.
It's not a good look, white ladies. Announcing your departure from someone else's space like You Are the Queen of All That, pretty much proves every point ever made about white fragility. And if a fellow dumb white lady can (now, finally) see that, it outlines for those of us who are trying to be allies where the work needs to be done. It lets us know when we need to smack you like a Lutheran mom in church on Sunday. Be quiet; someone else is speaking. And it isn't all about you.