“I’m sorry if I offended you, that wasn’t my intention.”
In some form, these words have been thrown up as a shield against accusations of racism, prejudice, or bias.
People are big on intention. If we all just check our egos, lenses, biases, negative thoughts or emotions, then our actions towards others will always be on point. If we have the intention of doing good in the world, obviously that means we’re good people.
White people taught me a different lesson.
First, white people use intention as a super-power; it disables and deflects accusations of racism, prejudice, or bias. If a white person did not maliciously intend harm by their words or actions, then no harm really existed.
Which brings me to the second point: the super-power of white intention is used to obliterate the negative impact of the words or actions of white people- intention becomes greater than impact.
No one else has such privilege.
Here’s a user friendly example, passed to me by my mom. I am standing in a room, waiting for you to come in for a meeting. I move to hang my jacket behind the closed door and at that precise moment, you open the door, having no knowledge that I am right behind it. The door smacks me in the face and breaks my noise.
Ouch. I am bleeding. May even be crying. My outfit is ruined and there’s blood on the carpet.
You have two choices:
As it was not your intention to break my nose with the door, we can simply ignore the impact of your actions- my pain, the fact that I need medical attention, we probably have to fill out some sort of injury report- a host of things- and move past it like it didn’t happen because you didn’t mean for it to. Or, we can address the impact of your actions, intentional or otherwise, because you just busted my nose, and it hurts.
Yeah. That’s a tough perspective to swallow once your realize it applies to you, that you have relied on this go-to all too often to separate yourself from something you did to another person.
We’re not done. Let’s flip the coin.
Black and other people of color do not have the same benefit of the doubt where intention is concerned. Our intention is always treated with suspicion.
We could just be walking down the street, like you, or, we could be walking down the street to murder someone.
We could just be driving to our nice home in our nice neighborhood, or we could be on our way to loot your neighborhood.
We could just be dog sitting for a friend, minding our own business at the neighborhood park, or we could be looking to kidnap and rape white women. Better alert the neighbors. And then the police.
And in reality, we could have accidentally busted your nose with the door, but we are not given the benefit of whatever our intention was- we are berated, persecuted, and sometimes, outright killed- regardless of our intentions in the moment, or in, like, life.
And since our intention is always, by default, subconsciously or otherwise- questionable at best, then your intention becomes one of self-preservation by any means necessary; thoughts, words, and actions which keep you feeling safe and secure and good, and which most often leave us harmed, intention be damned.
Intention is white power. How do you use yours?