From the day I made a commitment to leading an anti-racist life, I knew I would have to continually evaluate my thinking, motivations, and actions. I also knew that by writing about my journey on a blog and talking about it in my circles, I would be opening myself up to public scrutiny. And that’s fine. That comes with the territory. In fact, I long for and need feedback to keep myself on track. I am a person that learns from interactions more than from other sources. Criticism and support are both helpful if honest and coming from the heart. I have gotten both so far. But there are other types of feedback I’ve gotten. At this point, I don’t know what scares me more – being met with hostility or with silence.
I guess both responses scare me in different ways. Silence, unfortunately, has been more common than I had expected. And believe me; I have been far from confrontational. It’s enough to just mention anything related to racism out of the blue or in response to “What have you been up to?” and the reaction I’ve seen more often than I would’ve imagined is white people getting paler and more uncomfortable, turning away or changing the subject.
Silence from white people I talk to scares me because it feels like a door shut. When silence is the reply I get from my white friends and acquaintances when I broach the subject of racism or anti-racist parenting, despair sets in rather quickly. What is a good strategy for pulling fellow white people into the dialog? Isn’t there a deep longing in most people to heal from racism? If so, and I hope there is, how do we tap into that with people who haven’t yet begun the journey?
Hostile comments – well, those have begun too. But I have vowed to keep doing the work and keep finding better and more effective ways to move forward towards affecting change.
Why do I, as a white person who does not experience racism directly, do the work? I’ve already been accused of writing about racism just to pat myself on the back. What to say to that? I am a person who secondguesses every decision I make and every action I take. With anti-racist work, I quintupleguess all I do, to say the least. I think about race, racism, the discussions I have around those and my relationship to all of this so much that I often can't sleep at night. I am well aware of the trap that exists for people with privilege, in this case white privilege, in doing any kind of social justice work. Our privilege allows us to disassociate ourselves from the "ism" we're fighting. We can easily think we are doing something positive but actually get in the way instead. I try to be alert to my ego getting in the way.
Right now I'm in the self-awareness phase - learning about racism and simultaneously unlearning oppressive things I've learned. Occasionally I have branched out to talk to others and to take anti-racist action out in the world. But in the largely self-awareness stage, it's easy to get caught up in thinking about me: "This is scary. I could get hurt." or the woe-is-me "I feel so alone. Where are all the other anti-racist white people?" or the condescending "I'm so much more aware than some other people." I catch myself sometimes and have to redirect my thinking after beating myself up some, of course. The work, ultimately, obviously isn't about me at all. It's about working with other allies on eliminating racism in people's heads (my own too!), actions, and institutions.
I was just reading the Report from the Third White Antiracist Summit put on by the White Anti-racist Community Action Network (WACAN). The summit, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, took place last month in Colorado. Some of the concerns raised in the discussions at the summit around building a white anti-racist movement echoed my concerns. Others I found enlightening (like the last one).
For example, some of the workshop attendees worried about the following obstacles to anti-racist action - these are just a few selections: (Note that I look at these as either external or internal behavior that could sabotage individual actions or the whole movement)
- White folks beating up on and being righteous with one another
- Whites considering selves "experts"
- Internalized racial superiority
- Unresolved pain and anger being acted out and being divisive
- Taking an individualistic and competitive approach, which many whites are taught, rather than a collective one
Anyways, I am being open with my process here. Ultimately, it's not my intentions or internal dialog, but my actions that matter.