Archives For whiteness

Given the appropriate outpouring of condemnation that’s overflowed my social media newsfeeds since White Nationalists, Nazis, Far Right, and other all-White racist hate groups converged on Charlottesville, VA last weekend, I wanted to highlight two maneuvers of mental gymnastics which help White people protect themselves.

Racists are Evil

I saw this image on FaceBook a lot Saturday and Sunday:

It reinforces what I read and heard repeatedly about the White people featured in it and their peers—“Racists are evil.”

So. Robin DiAngelo calls this mental gymnastics maneuver the “Racist/Not Racist” binary. It reinforces that the “people who commit these acts are considered racists; the rest of us are not racists.” Here’s the way Robin breaks it down in her book What does it mean to be White?

I like to shorthand this the “Good/Bad” binary. Because being associated with racism brings up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings for White people, and makes us feel like we’re associated with those hate mongering wack-jobs and no one wants to feel like that!

But friends, all White people are racist. This is the face of racism in the United States too:

And the sooner we start confronting that directly—which involves working through the endless swamp of discomfort—the sooner our life-long journey toward being a White Anti-Racist begins.

White Supremacists vs White Supremacy

Not gonna lie, I had a strong distasted for the word “supremacy” and the term “White Supremacy” for years. I avoided it completely. I used White Privilege, acknowledging my own. I would say White people in America are the dominant or majority group in a systemically racist country, and acknowledge I was White. But I would not say ever that I was part of White Supremacy.

Over time, I recognized I was holding my personal anti-racism development back because of it. Even though I was “woke” (as the kids say) I was still deeply rooted in the Racist|Not-Racist or Good|Bad binary. Supremacists and supremacy are the same when you’re stuck in the binary. “Supremacists” were bad. “I” was not one of “THEM.” I didn’t really categorize most White people as one of “THEM” either. And therefore, that phrase “White Supremacy” couldn’t be true.

It’s hard to admit that only a year and half ago did I realize the complex gymnastics I was engaged in to avoid confronting my own racism. I was othering “White Supremacists,” making them “bad,” differentiating them from me so that I could be “not racist” and “good.” It was a sign of my White Fragility.

To this day and for the rest of my life I’ll remain entangled in the “racist = bad | not racist = good” binary. But I know that I can see systemic racism more clearly after having accepted that there is White Supremacy in the United States. It means I see the dynamics for what they are: a legacy established by White people at the expense of People of Color that is still active to this day. That’s White Supremacy.

So let’s circle back to that “appropriate outpouring of condemnation” filling my social media newsfeeds. Please condemn the abusive and violent behavior that occurred this past weekend. But what actions can we balance our declarations with? Let’s make sure that we are not tolerating the open and obvious demonstrations of racism and race-motivated hate crimes in Charlottesville, as well as not tolerating the camouflaged or obscured demonstrations of racism in our workplaces and homes.

My dear fellow White people, we too are the face of racism.

We too are White Supremacy Culture.

Now let’s do something about it.


Get yourself started:

Code of Ethics for Antiracist White Allies

By JLove Calderon and Tim Wise

Sponsored by SURJ-Showing Up For Racial Justice

Excerpted from Occupying Privilege; Conversations on Love, Race, and Liberation

watchman-train

Looking back, it was hardly coincidental that I picked up Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman shortly after DJT was elected to office. It was clearly the catalyst for my first steps of in-the-home activism.

atticus-finch

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird

Watchman takes place in the 1950s, 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout—now called Jean Louise—returns to her hometown of Maycomb, GA from New York City where she’s been living and working. She discovers [SPOILER ALERT] that her father, Atticus Finch, is not the morally upstanding, liberal-leaning, “everyone is equal” touting man she thought he was. Instead we learn that Atticus is in fact a more complex person, a more realistic character; we learn Atticus is a White man in a position of power attempting to maintain the status quo of White Supremacy in Maycomb.

(Slight divergence: Jean Louise’s recognition of Atticus’ true and full self instantly reminded me of my various “awakening” moments to systemic racism and other forms of oppression over the course of my life this far.)

It’s revealed in Watchman that Jean Louise escaped to New York City. She fled the tight confines of Maycomb and the South: those confines that she could see or feel directly. Despite being reared in the Deep South, Jean Louise was raised “color blind” (and thought her father was as well). She was “woke” to gender, race, and class prejudice and would bluntly call it out, but she was “blind” to structural oppression and participated in upholding it—as most citizens did and do on a daily basis. Other than railing against Maycomb citizens (royally pissing them off) and family members (hurting their feelings) Jean Louise takes little action to effect change. She kicks up dirt and runs away, again and again.

Finally, at the end of the novel her Uncle Jack asks

“Jean Louise, have you ever thought about coming home?….You may not know it, but there’s room for you down here.”…. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people are on your side, if side’s the right word. You’re no special case. The woods are full of people like you, but we need some more of you.”

She started the car and backed down the driveway. She said, “What on earth could I do? I can’t fight them. There’s no fight in me any more…”

“I don’t mean fighting; I mean by going to work every morning, coming home at night, seeing your friends.”

“Uncle Jack, I can’t live in a place that I don’t agree with and that doesn’t agree with me.”

It’s the next part that got me:

“…the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—”

“I mean it takes a certain maturity to live in the South these days. You don’t have it yet, but you have a shadow of the beginnings of it. You haven’t the humbleness of mind—”

“I thought fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.”

“It’s the same thing. Humility.”

I came to understand that the rail-and-run technique was personally and professionally ineffectual about a year and a half ago. I paid a price for it, and have worked against feelings of self-righteous motivated activist since. But what I hadn’t done was gone home and sought to engage my family members. I had not yet tried to humbly interact with their true and full selves around the topic of race and our Whiteness.

Luckily, I these conversations were happening with my husband. So I asked if he would be open to gifting ) Robin DiAngelo’s book What does it mean to be White? to the four households in our immediate family (my parents; my sister and her partner; my mother-in-law; my brother- and sister-in-law). He agreed.

When holiday time came, each book was accompanied by a letter (the text of which I included at the bottom of this post). We asked that family members “exchange with us the gift of conversation around [the book’s] contents in the coming months.”

I can report that the books were received well and some family members have started reading them. I’ve already had more nuanced conversations with my parents—one of which hasn’t started the book—about race and Whiteness in 2017 than I have in my life. My husband reported having at least one reflective conversation with his mother, who I believe hadn’t started the book at that time but has as of today.

There are many action steps I’m being encouraged to follow and public places I can convene in to demonstrate my dissent with the current administration, its actions thus far, and what I/we assume will be its actions moving forward. I propose, like Uncle Jack, considering dialogue in the home as well. The Powers That Be run strong, deep, and silent. Examining them openly as a family might be one of the cornerstones of change for the future.


Dear ____name____:

This holiday season, we want to share with you the gift of the book What does it mean to be White? and ask that you exchange with us the gift of conversation around its contents in the coming months.

Our lives are gifted with abundance. We have loving parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, a beautiful niece, and cuddly pets. All of us have places to live. We are all employed and/or have the means to eat, be clean and clothed, transport ourselves places, and maintain our health. We have strong support networks.

It is because our lives are gifted with abundance, with privilege, that we don’t want to take this for granted. We want to actively be responsible citizens at the national level, local level, and family level.

We’re all White and we live in an increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country. This past year, we’ve clearly seen how deeply racism still runs in this country. And this past year has forced us to confront the reality that we (personally) aren’t addressing racism, our White identity, and Whiteness in all the ways we could be.

We want to talk with you about these highly important topics. We see this book as a way to begin to have the conversation. And maybe, this way, we can work toward effecting positive change in our country (and the world) by starting in our homes.

We love you all very much.