It was one of the first things I learned as a grown-up person in a multi-cultural world. The term “you people” was bad as in “You people always think everything bad that happens is because of racism.”
After the initial looks of intense scorn from black colleagues, I wondered to myself: what’s so wrong about saying “you people?” I had to piece it together over the next several years. Yes, that’s how long it took.
“You people” is, by its tone, accusatory. “You people” generalizes, assumes that everyone in the “people” group thinks and acts alike. “You people” is derogatory and marginalizing. “You people” is a separating device. There is “us” and then there is “you people.”
I don’t ever say “you people” anymore. And though it took a very long time, longer than I’d like to admit, I don’t even think “you people” anymore.
So it stings to get the “you people” treatment myself. And I’ve been getting a fair amount of it. One could say it’s my just desserts. Maybe one has to pay for stereotyping by getting stereotyped in return.
How many times a day do I see “white people” this, “white people” that. And it’s never a noble or informed thing that “white people” are doing. It’s an ignorant and racist thing they’re doing. White people don’t understand history. White people voted for Trump. White people condone police brutality and mass incarceration. White people are part of the perpetuation of racial injustice.
All things that are bitterly true. But they’re not true at the same time.
I’m not “you people.” But maybe I am. Maybe I have to sit here with all these racists and white nationalists, the Trump voters, and the Blue Lives Matter people until I’ve done enough penance to just go be my own self somewhere.
It’s an ugly thought. But probably fair. I don’t get a pass just because I think I deserve it. When I stop being part of “you people” is not up to me. It’s a judgment that is in other people’s heads. I should know that although I am impatient and sometimes my feelings are hurt.
I don’t want to be “you people.” I just want to be Jan.