No one enjoys being interrupted.
It’s annoying to have your train of thought cut off. It’s even more annoying when a pesky interrupter changes the subject of your conversation entirely. But what happens when you run into one of the worst types of interruptions of all — white centering.
What is white centering?
White centering is the practice of white people putting themselves as the center of the topic, even if the topic is not about them, so they feel included. This is problematic as it often strips the chance of others to have a helpful discussion about something impacting their community.
It’s a phenomenon people of color see daily, and hundreds of receipts can be found online. Here are two examples:
Receipt 1: All lives matter.
Original Topic: Encouraging the black community to strive for excellence in all fields of life.
White Centering: This should encourage everyone to be excellent, not just black people.
Problem: This could have been a great opportunity to discuss the standards and goals we set in the black community.
It’s true that in the black household, such things as education and work success is highly admired and encouraged. Black enrollment in colleges and universities has skyrocketed and black unemployment has reached all-time lows, but as the original post suggested, how about excellence in other things?
- In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.
- Forty percent of black women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
- At nearly every age, divorce rates are higher for black women than for white women.
- Only 1 percent of black Americans engaged in environmental volunteerism in 2015.
Stats like these show that encouragement in black excellence in mental health, healthy relationships, building a family, and giving back to the community is extremely needed. It’s a shame this episode of white centering turned the opportunity for discussion into a spotlight for the interrupter.
Receipt 2: You can’t talk about you!
Original Topic: Black relationships being a source of healing.
White Centering: What about my love?
Problem: This is a chance for the black community to discuss the link between emotional healing and race identity.
Approximately 62% of black males have directly experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime and 72% have witnessed a traumatic event.
For black women, 60 percent have experienced abusive sexual conduct by age 18 and one-third of black women may be at risk from suffering PTSD.
There has been little written about therapy for black couples. However, one piece that has been written on the topic cited that African centered therapy that uses techniques from black cultural/spiritual tradition has been effective in healing couples.
A further discussion about black love and its healing advantages could have been very interesting, but again, the opportunity is marred by arguments over white centering.
Ways to not center white centering
Now that it’s been established what white centering is, how can this centering be undone?
1. Take Back the Mic
White centering snatches the mic away from people of color.
Take. Back. The. Mic.
Ignore their play for attention and stay true to the original topic. When you let them steal the conversation, you’re allowing them to place themselves as the priority. Make yourself the priority and let them be an unanswered and voiceless ghost in the conversation.
2. Educate. Don’t Attack.
If you cannot ignore white centering, educate them. This how we salvage meaningful discussion.
A problem with receipt one and two above is the reaction to the centering. Attacking the person derails the original point and still leaves the interrupter as the center of discussion. Instead of having hundreds of people commenting on the actual topic, you have hundreds of people waiting to take their potshot.
Educating about the topic will keep the conversation grounded and ultimately make them the sideline and not the main attraction.
3. Find Your Own Space
Sometimes the best way to avoid white centering is to find a space where they can’t be.
Forming a group, whether it’s online or in-person, or finding a platform or space where you can talk about topics with your community is a way to find liberating and meaningful discussion.
Don’t let white centering make you lose your center.
Madelyn Collins is a Hip Hop Dance Instructor and Digital Media Coordinator residing in Knoxville, Tennessee. She is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee.