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“You talk too much about racism.”

Black and white woodcut. On the left there's a rough female figure where the negative space of the figure is cut out and therefore white on the right side the male figure is what remains and the space around him is being cut out.

This was said to a black friend. Since the conversation a few weeks ago, the phrase haunts me.
What if someone said to me, “You talk too much about misogyny”?
A couple of points come to mind:
– If I’m still talking to you about it, that’s great, because I trust you, feel safe around you, and believe in you. But that may not be the case after hearing this.*
– If I talk about it, it’s a problem.
– What does saying this say about yourself?
– Yes, I am aware that there are many other aspects to the situation. I have chosen to reflect on this part with you. Unpacking one aspect opens up the conversation to others.

If someone is negatively affected by what they’re talking about, and I’m not, isn’t it a sign of trust, of feeling safe with me to share that? It’s a gift to honour that they are putting the energy, the courage, and the vulnerability into our connection, because there’s a lurking danger of being hurt in many ways!

It changes the dynamic of a friendship when I see my experience being devalued* All these sentences basically destroy trust and safety in an instant (and chances are I have already doubted myself enough).
“I’m sure […] didn’t mean it”, “what have you done?”, “you’re overreacting”, “you need to calm down”, “couldn’t you have […]?” and so on.
If you know, you know.
If you don’t—congratulations—you’re in a pretty privileged position. Use it for create a better place for everybody.

*Yes, trust is a fragile thing, so we have to tread carefully. But we can’t avoid hurting and being hurt. It is not the end of the world. If we use these experiences to learn, reflect grow, and apologise (a real apology isn’t just words, it’s a lasting change in behaviour), it can bring us closer together.

Is there such a thing as “talking too much about racism”?

I don’t think so.
If we talk about it in an open and vulnerable way, I think that’s a big part of the solution. We don’t talk about it enough because it’s not safe to do so for people affected in a supportive and healing way. There are so many hurtful dynamics and systems that we need to see, reflect on and talk about that the only ‘too much’ is when the people in the conversation run out of processing power. And then it’s not “you’re talking about this too much”, it’s “I’m running out of capacity to contribute to the conversation in a good way”.

When I was hanging out with said black friend, I was wearing a T-shirt with Tweety—the Warner Bros cartoon character—and now I wonder about the racial undertones there. That fragile blue-eyed blonde canary who is constantly being threatened by the black cat and has to be defended by the bulldog? Again, there are many facets and I wouldn’t say racial symbolism was 100% intentional, but it is a product of the time and the dominant social structures and even a coincidence is shaped by that.
Am I going to burn the T-shirt now? Most likely not, but I have scratched another layer, opened up to see, acknowledge and consider more facets as it’s likely that everything has been tinted by the -isms we are surrounded by. As it can’t be avoided we better talk about it and through that build bridges, trust, support and communities which thrive through our diversity.

The article image: Woodcut Experiment: Black and White/Woman and Man/Shrinking and Expanding.

It’s 1996, I’m attending an Anthroposophical Art School for 4 months before starting university. This is the first time I play with woodcut as a technique. Looking at this print—an out take of the process—it is a product of that time and place. Did the person on the right, getting thinner and thinner with each iteration, have to be black as the white figure grew? Using the technique of white (cheap) paper and black paint, yes. In the last print—on the left—the white person has disappeared, only the formerly black figure remains, but it’s printed in white on black paper—no race, no gender—a white Skelton.

Everyone has the freedom to see what they see in it, I am responsible for the creation, not the perception. However, thinking back, I can see that the terrible famine in Ethiopia in 1983-85 and the way it was shown on television and in the newspapers in Germany, probably had an influence.
On the left, the constant demand for women to diet, to be slim, could be reflected in a way where the woman expands into non-existence.
It was the water I was swimming in, and although I don’t remember thinking about these things consciously, it’s harder to deny that they didn’t have an influence in one form or another.