Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post to Pearl over breakfast.
Layla Saad, a brilliant writer, speaker, mentor, and guide whom I feel lucky to have connected with over the past year through social media, had shared a photo of her eight-year-old daughter’s favorite new doll, a doll that looked like HER, with brown skin and natural hair. Her daughter had excitedly brought her new doll to school to show her best friend, who is white.
Her friend’s response? The doll looked “scary.” Layla’s daughter was crushed.
Layla’s original post began with a plea to white parents, to teach our kids about racism.
Well, the same post of hers was blocked on Instagram. Someone reported her, and Instagram sided with the complaint.
Layla shared a screenshot of that post — the blocked one. That, too, was reported as “inappropriate content” and blocked. She wrote about all of this here on Facebook.
Do you see it coming? She was reported and banned from Facebook for 24 hours.
BLOCKED AND BANNED.
That is what the invisible powers that be will do with women of color who are sharing their everyday, lived experiences of racism. They are not making this shit up, but there are plenty of white people who feel “attacked” by these “offensive” posts.
You know what’s offensive? Denial. Coddling. Defensiveness. And actively silencing those who are sharing their pain and anger and frustration and truth.
This morning, I told Pearl what happened, how Layla had been blocked and then banned. I told him why I was so angry and explained as best I could why “reverse racism” is not a thing. I told him I was going to post something about this today, because to sit by and watch as women of color get silenced — by white women, by women who are more concerned with defending themselves or feeling hurt or misunderstood or with “protecting” their kids than they are willing to acknowledge that racism is real and constant and exhausting and violent in everyday ways — is to be complicit.
Pearl said: What if you get blocked, too? And: So why don’t you stop using Instagram and Facebook?
That’s a risk I am fine taking, I told him, adding that the chances of my getting blocked are exponentially lower — because I am unjustly protected by my whiteness.
Given not currently having another way of connecting with so many people, I will stay here. But I will stay here and use my privilege in this space in every way I can, to speak out against white supremacy and oppression.
It’s insidious. Clearly the powers that be behind the scenes represent and favor white voices and cater to white fragility. Otherwise, why would they ban people of color for saying THIS IS REAL?
Fellow white parents: It is our responsibility to believe women of color when they tell us something is not right. When they tell us to stop. When they tell us to listen. When they tell us they’re angry. Don’t ask them what we can do. Ask each other.
We need to be making noise about this. It might not make you the most popular parent in the schoolyard, but fuck popularity. Really. If we don’t teach our kids about their privilege, about the harm perpetrated and perpetuated and permitted in the name of whiteness and under cover of whiteness; if we don’t teach them that it is both personal AND systemic; if we don’t teach them to be awake to their responsibility and aware that their friends of color are living a very different experience than theirs, one where having a doll that looks like you is special, one where you have to pay that much more attention to how you talk and what you wear and where you go and who you’re with; if we don’t name these things and teach our kids, we are failing.
I may lose friends as I become more vocal about this, but you can’t unsee it once you see it, and it is everywhere. It’s not enough to love Obama and Oprah and go to the Women’s Marches and say we’re angry or that’s terrible or I’m so sad, not all white people, but I’m not racist, my kid would never do that.
Layla Saad did nothing wrong. NOTHING. And yet she was banned from this space. Silenced.
Where can you speak up? Whether it’s at the kitchen table or at the PTO meeting, on social media or at the bus stop while you’re chatting with other parents. This will not stand and it has to stop.
* * *
Layla Saad’s Original Post
White parents, please teach your kids to not be racist.
My 8 year old daughter took one of her new dolls into school today to show her best friend (who is white). My daughter was really excited about showing this doll to her best friend because 1) the doll’s name is Mia (and my daughter’s name is Maya) and 2) the doll’s hair looks just like my daughter’s when she wears it out. She was excited that I had found a doll that looks like her and thought her best friend would share in her joy.
When I asked her after school if her best friend like the doll, she looked ashamed and said No. I asked why. She said, “She said She looks scary.”
So help me God, it took everything inside me not to say wtf. I told her:
“That is racist. This doll is beautiful, just like you. And you tell your friend, if she thinks the doll looks scary then that means she thinks you look scary. Tell her what she said was unkind, and if she says it again, she’s going to have to deal with me.”
My daughter is 8 years old and she had her #blackgirlmagic instantly drained out of her by her white friend who thinks natural hair looks scary. If this doll had been white with straight hair, her friend would not have said that. She is conditioned by virtue of her whiteness to view black features as scary. Even though her own best friend is black. Even though they are in a school of mixed expatriate students from all over the world. She still thinks black = scary. Not because she is a bad kid. But because the conditioning of white superiority starts so young.
All the work that I did in building up my daughter’s self-esteem as a beautiful black girl was undone by this one statement: “I don’t like your doll. She looks scary.”
All the work I did in affirming my daughter as a beautiful black girl by getting her this doll is unraveled because of the white gaze.
Whatever excitement my daughter had about getting this doll is now gone. Because of this one statement, my daughter is now looking at this doll (and herself) with shame.
This is what whiteness does. This is why I stay mad.
* * *
Steps You Can Take Right Now
- Support Layla Saad as a patron.
- Contact Facebook Support.
Ask them to reinstate Layla’s posts or provide a detailed explanation why not if they won’t.
- Share this post or write your own. As Layla wrote today on Instagram: “SHARE what is happening with your communities. Post about it and get the word out. This isn’t just me. This happens to people of colour who speak on social justice issues ALL THE TIME. It needs to stop.”
- White parents: TALK TO YOUR KIDS.
- Share in the comments other steps you are taking to actively dismantle white supremacy.
* * *
Update: Friday 1/19
Facebook called the removal of Layla Saad’s posts accidental and “a mistake” for which they apologized. As if. Meanwhile, they’re still blocking her Rules of Engagement post, where she outlines very clear guidelines and boundaries, particularly for white people who want to engage with her on social media.
Part of what makes white supremacy so insidious is that we’re all swimming in it, but privilege, by definition, gives me a choice. I can close my eyes. I can choose whether to talk to my kids. Layla’s daughter didn’t have that choice when her friend called her doll scary. When her excitement was deflated in the stroke of a single word.
Being a member of a dominant group isn’t about guilt or shame or tears and outrage — these are expressions of centering and fragility, both words that have become much more prominent on my radar over the course of the last year, with good reason.
Opening your eyes underwater can sting, but it is the only way.
Keep listening hard, looking inward, and speaking outward. Awareness and learning and action aren’t linear; they can and must happen simultaneously.
We have to keep believing women of color when they tell us what’s happening.