No, Women Of Color Do Not Owe You A "Teaching Moment"
After part of an interview between Katy Perry and activist DeRay McKesson on his podcast Pod Save the People made its way around social media, McKesson asked Twitter not to judge before watching the full interview. But honestly, “tired” is a good word to describe the snippet of the interview that he shared. It's so tiring that watching the full-length interview seems even more taxing. But why?
In case you aren't up to date, Perry has been criticized for incidents of cultural appropriation for years, from wearing the baby hair style to dressing like a Geisha to her recent performance on Saturday Night Live. In the snippet of her interview with McKesson, briefly peering into what could be Katy Perry’s light bulb finally switching on about cultural appropriation and racism, the most challenging part to sit through is how the pop star addresses her missteps. During the full interview, you do get the sense that she is waking up to how white privilege has allowed her to inappropriately sample parts of black culture on tracks such as "This Is How We Do." However, she also talks about a friend of color who pulled her to the side about it, which helped her see the light.
"I listened, and I heard, and I didn't know," said Perry to McKesson. "And I won't ever understand some of those things because of who I am. I will never understand, but I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do along the way ... I didn't know that I did it wrong until I heard people saying I did it wrong. And sometimes that's what it takes. It takes someone to say — out of compassion and out of love — 'Hey, dude, this is what the origin is.'"
So while I get the “come to Jesus moment,” this conversation — particularly the part just after this quote, when Perry discourages people from "clapping back" — also underscores a very taxing and unhealthy point about accountability and privilege. Perry also mentioned that she was fortunate enough to have teachers and friends who would pull her to side, but it also insists that a "teaching moment" should always fall on POCs to help people with privilege understand. Most of all, it isn't fair. Many Twitter users continued to discuss this problematic reasoning and even applauded Perry for learning.
But even McKesson was challenged for allowing Perry to have a platform to defend her privilege.
Now, I have always understood the way we talk/think about the world to be a key part of any change, esp. w/ artists, hence her invite.— deray mckesson (@deray) June 11, 2017
There was quite a bit of explaining happening about how or why the interview happened, but some users were just tired of the narrative of victim-blaming; a narrative where POC are always partially responsible for social inequality.
Explain to me how many chances a 32 year old woman, who has been called out before for cultural appropriation, should receive. She's not 16. https://t.co/rPq3oUp0i2— April (@ReignOfApril) June 12, 2017
I'll be the first to admit that social media isn't always a friendly space, but those "clap backs" are actually lessons. And instead of listening and trying catch up on the right terminology or history, that privilege insists that you can only call it out if you say it the way the person wants to hear it; this is privilege at work in a way that silences POC because of ego or invalidating their frustrations.
If all WOC decided to engage in a "teaching moment" every time someone said something offensive, that's a full-time position. Again, this is a very twisted way to think about how social justice should work. Instead of pushing people with privilege to do their homework, we place that burden on people who have to regularly experience the challenges of social inequality. The insistence that someone teach you demands that the disenfranchised convince you of why their experiences are valid.
Just think about it. WOC are having to explain themselves from all angles; they have to explain why you can't touch their hair, why using the N-word isn't OK no matter how many black friends or partners you have, and why #AllLivesMatter completely undermines the movement to acknowledge that certain people in this country are not afforded the same perceived value. By the time you compound these larger instances that have made national headlines, alongside smaller instances, or microaggressions, you quickly realize that WOC have done enough explaining.
In reality, information is free and social media has been gracious enough to provide platforms for productive discussion. So instead of asking someone to teach you about how your privilege can disempower someone else, do your homework and consult Google when in doubt. Because it's 2017 and it's time and WOC shouldn't have to carry your guilt along with their challenges. It's time to catch up on how different women in the world have to experience levels of oppression — on your own time, not somebody else's.