White Niceness

Elle DowdFrom Elle Dowd last month, a guest blogger at FormerlyUnchurched.com:

For white people and white culture, Niceness is a False Idol.  And it’s a False Idol with a body count.  In 2015, unarmed Black people were killed by police at a rate of 5 times the rate of unarmed whites. Yet when our Black siblings are crying out, “Black Lives Matter!” we continue to make human sacrifices to the altar of our bloodthirsty God of Niceness, caring more about our own comfort and security than about children dying in the streets.

Body counts and blood sacrifices don’t sound very Nice.  But that’s the thing about niceness and its dangerous relationship to power; its slippery and like most other things, finds a way to center itself on white ideals, white experiences, white feelings.

When people in power are asking oppressed people to “play nice”, questions worth asking are:
What is Nice?
And who gets to decide?

For most white people we live a life of unexamined privilege and the world seems at least mostly fair.  Because we don’t experience systemic racial discrimination first hand, it’s easy for us to assume that the world and its institutions are good or at least neutral. Most white people have a worldview that the playing field is level, except for maybe in a few isolated circumstances. But the truth is that the world is not only NOT neutral, but is in fact actively and aggressively hostile towards people of color.  There is a system in place that has benefited me and people who look like me, and it’s been in place for hundreds of years before I was even born.

To a world wrapped in whiteness, the Movement for Black Lives seems aggressive. We don’t see where this anger is coming from because we assume that our systems are neutral.  And so we assume this anger is unprovoked. We don’t see that what’s truly aggressive is racism, that white supremacy started this fight, that the Movement for Black Lives is acting out of self defense against a system that would see Black people be annihilated before it would see them be free.

That doesn’t sound Nice. Because it’s not. And because white people value Niceness so much, when we hear this, its uncomfortable for us because it creates cognitive dissonance. And since we value our comfort above everything – even our Black siblings’ lives – we try to find a way to make it not true.  Any reminder becomes the object of scorn and disbelief, and we will find any polite way to undermine it.

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