My refusal to grant white people space is petty and satisfying
White people are invasive as fuck and I'm beyond tired of watching them throw their weight around.
A friend and I were attending the first WakandaCon in Chicago. We stepped onto the hotel elevator on our way back to our shared room, deep in excited conversation about Black Panther and what had been discussed at the panel we had just left. Our discussion turned to how some non-Black people try their best to dictate the “believability” of our stories.
“I’d say I’m uniquely qualified to speak on Black stories, considering the fact that I have been Black my entire life,” I joked. We both chuckled.
Behind us stood a white woman, who piped up to share a joke of her own. She was in agreement with me, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t asked for her input. So, I continued as if she had never spoken at all, and I could practically feel her deflating as she realized that I was intentionally ignoring her. A few moments later, the doors opened and we exited the elevator without ever having acknowledged her existence.
I really hate when white people try to insert themselves into our conversations without even a hint of invitation, and it’s remarkable how often it happens, albeit unsurprising.
Once, I was leaving a restaurant after a family meal, having taken a seat near the exit as I waited for them to complete their transactions. An elderly white man approached me, moving slowly with his walker and a young attendant by his side. He asked me, “Have you been behaving yourself?”
After a few brief moments of confusion, I realized that this strange old white man was, indeed, asking me if I had been behaving myself. Whatever that meant. I decided to simply look down at my phone and wait for him to leave, but he remained. He asked again, louder this time, “Have you been behaving?”
This time I made direct eye contact as I continued to ignore his question. I wanted him to know that I was being intentional about my refusal to answer him. This is the same thing I do with random men who tell me to smile. I meet their gaze and keep my straight face, sometimes furrowing my brow, until they finally walk away, oftentimes hurling insults at the womxn who refused to smile for them in the grocery store. The old man eventually understood that I would not provide him with any sort of response—not even the middle finger that I really wanted to offer up—and he finally shuffled away, but not before asserting his invasive question twice more.
There are a plethora of reasons why I prefer to spend the majority of my time in the comfort and privacy of my own home, but white invasion is a huge fucking reason. Over the years, I have developed an array of tactics to shut white people out of my world as much as possible, especially when I have to go out in public. And in recent years, I’ve had to adopt mechanisms to do the same in my virtual world.
I delete white people’s comments when they annoy me. I’ve created a Facebook filter that allows for only my BIPOC connections to see my content and engage with it, which I implement whenever I feel like it. I mute white people who respond to my tweets with their uninformed assumptions or judgments and I block white people who invite me to debate about things that they have no room to speak on because I do not respect their opinions.
I don’t follow white artists who only draw white subjects. I stopped answering private messages from white strangers—whether they are thanking or cursing me—unless doing so will have a tangible benefit for me or other Black folks. I am blessed to work for two publications that do not publish white people’s work, and we do not answer the emails of white people who pitch to us.
In short: I refuse white people. I refuse them access, space, and familiarity. I refuse them answers, visibility, and engagement. I refuse them entry into my world as often as I can, and I value this refusal as praxis, as defense, as preservation, as satisfaction.
When Black people took to Twitter recently to enumerate the various ways that they, too, refuse white invasion, it felt like a balm. It’s both comforting and freeing to see that other Black people are practicing this refusal in similar ways, and that there is intent behind such a refusal.
White entitlement convinces white people that they hold power that should never be challenged or undermined, that every space belongs to them, and that they have the inalienable right to police all bodies, all spaces, and all things. This phenomenon is so absurdly demonstrated now by white behavior during this global pandemic. From their petulant spurning of masks meant to help stop the spread of the virus—throwing full tantrums and even attempting to infect others or committing murder when asked to wear one—to their armed protests to re-open bars, gyms, and beaches in the name of “personal freedom.”
White people are invasive as fuck and I’m beyond tired of watching them throw their weight around. They continue to terrorize the rest of us, putting us all in very real danger because they have lived their entire lives with the belief that they should be able to do whatever they want at all times, regardless of what or who is at risk, and that they will be protected by their whiteness.
As Black folks, we don’t have institutional power to seek restitution for all the shit they’ve cost us and will inevitably cost us. The least we can do is take back our space in the moments that we can control.
One of my favorite parts of Kiese Laymon’s memoir, Heavy, is when he writes about stealing white people’s food from the fridge at work. When I asked him about it, he said that he hadn’t put much thought into why he did it, but I immediately understood it as resistive work and as useful petty refusal.
White people already have so much and Black folks are still owed so much. Stealing their yogurt, not holding doors for them, deleting their annoying comments, not giving them more space on the sidewalk, not moving out of their way in the grocery aisle are all miniscule acts chipping away at a mountain of white entitlement to everything in this world.