I’m tired of suppressing myself to get along with white people by Priscilla Ward

Selected as the best essay of 2015 by Salon.com, Priscilla Ward’s piece describes the daily adjustments she needs to make to live in a majority white world and how they affect her.

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7 Comments on “I’m tired of suppressing myself to get along with white people by Priscilla Ward

  1. Outstanding article about the burdens placed upon black people to assimilate in a world that does not see us as human beings. Fortunately, because of Not In Our Town (NIOT) Princeton, I have a freedom that allows me to be myself and hold white people accountable to know what is going on in the world and specifically with those social issues surrounding blackness in America. When I first started attending these meetings, I had no idea that I would walk away each month with a newly discovered freedom that has continued to blossom over the months. If any reader is faced with similar dilemmas Priscilla Ward, I strongly recommend you join Continuing Conversations every first Monday of the month at Princeton Library… Yes, I will be there….

  2. The young lady clearly has “issues”, and a lot of growing up yet to do. She’s quite tone-deaf as well. It doesn’t seem to occur to her how snobbish she comes across when she contemptuously dismisses the pop-culture stuff from the “white” universe (frankly, 99% of mass-pop-culture, no matter what ethnicities it appeals to, is inane and banal, anyway). But when her white roommate asks an honest question, “What happened in Ferguson?”, rather than do the grown-up thing and TELL him, she retreats neurotically into her private rage—at him and everybody else who fails to jump through her hoops and read, think, feel, know about and care about exactly what SHE thinks they should and HOW she thinks they should. Maybe she clams up because she can’t trust herself to “tell” him what happened in Ferguson without erupting in a blaze of polemical fury. If so, that’s her problem, not his—don’t blame him for it. She needs to grow up, stop raging internally at the hallucination of oppressors on every side who aren’t “letting” her talk about her ‘fro or say “hey girl”, and get past this complex of neurotically projected hostility and victimhood. Hey girl, a big part of growing up is not demanding that others jump through your hoops. Not to mention “demanding” it secretly, in your own pent-up rage, and then resenting them and making yourself sick when they fail to perform. Yes indeed—grow up. Grow up quick, for the sake of your own psycho-emotional well-being.

    • Ken, thank you for sharing your viewpoints and perspectives. The one analogy I want to support is your reference to Priscilla Ward’s personal feelings “for your own psycho-emotional well-being”. Your comment speaks volumes to why she shared her candid feelings with the public – to support her psycho-emotional well being – shock and disbelief that her roommate did not understand the pain of the black community to witness another innocent black man killed by police. The world mourned the bombing in Paris and rightfully so. Innocent lives were taken without cause. In the black community, we are under attack daily for no reason, other than living while black. In our societal structure the news depicts non-black news with sensitivity and empathy, yet reports most non-white issues with blame and humiliation, often faulting the victims. Ms. Ward expressed her personal pain and frustration that such a system continue to exist and that people, mostly white people appear to miss the humanness and value of black life. We never have to agree on everything, but there must be a way to learn to see the other side with empathy and compassion.

      • I appreciate your thoughtful, sincere reply, yet I, also quite sincerely, feel you are manifesting a bit of the the tone-deafness that Priscilla exhibited. How can I put this? It’s something like leaping to the worst conclusion about the other person and interpretation of what they have said or done, and then expressing it with a warm smile and the appearance even of concern. And it makes the other person wonder whether you are doing it on purpose (which would be insidious…and one hopes that is not the case) or, perhaps, there really IS a genuine kind of “tone-deafness” there, an inability to interpret input in any other way. Priscilla’s roommate only asked what HAPPENED in Ferguson–never said or implied that he didn’t care about the lives of African-Americans, never suggested that Priscilla’s, or anyone else’s, anguish over such a situation was illegitimate—but Priscilla was so aggravated by his not even KNOWING that she couldn’t even bring herself to entertain his question at face value. You, however, and ironically, rush to take Priscilla’s distorted interpretation at face value, accepting rather blithely the notion that her roommate couldn’t understand why the black community would be in any way exercised over the death of Michael Brown. To me, that’s specious. I don’t know her roommate but I equally don’t know—certainly not from from anything Priscilla wrote—that that’s how he thinks. But as for what and how Priscilla thinks, pretty much everything she wrote strongly conveys that she rushes, compulsively, to anticipate being shut down and demeaned, so that, before people have even had a fair chance to authentically respond, she has already played it out in her imagination and retreated inward to nurse wounds over a conversation that never happened.
        Not good. Not good at all. Really. Genuinely worrying.

      • Ken, surely your views are shared by many white people, so thank you for caring enough to contribute them to the NIOTPrinceton blog. Writing as a white person, and having listened at some length to the experiences of black people, I am just beginning to realize how hard it is for me to walk in their shoes. I have learned that even a well-intentioned white person’s “authentic response” can shut down and demean a black person.

        So what concerns me most about your comments is personality-analysis using such stigmatizing words as “tone-deaf,” “snobbish,” “contemptuous,” “neurotic,” “polemical fury.” “neurotically projected hostility.” I don’t see this essay that way at all. I see an honest attempt to share experiences that can help people of different races understand each other.

        I do not see a person that “rushes, compulsively, to anticipate being shut down and demeaned.” Nor does she call her roommate names. Instead I see a skilled writer who takes the reader on her journey — from railing against her decision to choose cross cultural roommates, to acknowledging that her inner turmoil was making her sick, to not wanting to be marginalized, to setting a goal of “having honest and challenging conversations with people of another race to …disrupt other people’s ignorance.”

        It is, indeed, hard to talk about deeply ingrained bias in printed conversations. Person-to-person communication is crucial (and it’s what our organization tries to facilitate). Sometimes I want to ask “Do you have a friend of another color? Have you had that friend to dinner in your homw?” If not . . . .

  3. The thing is, there are heaps of personality-analysis going on in Priscilla’s article, only she keeps it implicit. In my case I verbalize it. I think that is more honest. When she inwardly fumes at her roommate for his benign question and interprets it to mean he doesn’t care at all about injustice or the trials of African-Americans, that’s personality-analysis, bfiggefox. When she shuts herself down in advance, telling herself she can’t talk about her hair or utter even the innocuous “hey girl” because the white people will…somehow…diss her for it, that’s personality-analysis. When she avoids the anticipated friction of these encounters by envisioning how they will go, and in effect living through them inwardly anyway (so she’s hardly sparing herself the pain!) rather than actually TRYING, and treating these trivial-pop-white-culture-addicted-whites (more personality-analysis on Priscilla’s part, not to mention appallingly clumsy broad-brush ethnic caricaturization) as intellectual equals, she is making herself the very thing she recoils from in others. Which is nothing new in human experience! I appreciate that she’s on a “journey”—that’s inevitable; it’s called life. But a journey without signposts, definitions and distinct turnings is nothing but a breakdown at the side of the road. I don’t imagine Priscila wrote the article for people NOT to react, even analyze: that’s the price of putting it out there. Maybe some of this feedback will prompt her to question her assumptions, and try different tacks.
    Why not?
    What she’s been doing so far doesn’t seem to be working.

    • The difference between her analysis and your personality analysis is that she is sharing her own experience and you are not. You are telling her how she should feel and what she should do. That generally doesn’t seem to work.

      Ken — I am going to move on to other subjects, but thank you for your participation.

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