underlying white anxiety

Deep, deep down, I think most of us white people are scared of the idea put forth in this tweet:

That is to say, most of us white people know on some level that we’ve got it better than Black and brown people. If you doubt it, I’ve seen the following exercise used: ask yourself, would you freely and happily be willing to be a Black person in America? If you say yes, you’d be happy to do that, I question your honesty. Most white people will recognize how difficult being Black in America. We white people must be afraid on some level that what’s not fairly earned might be taken away if we really work for justice.

Maybe things will change for us white people as things improve for others. And, sure, maybe we’ll lose some stuff. But the fact is, if we use resources responsibly, there’s enough for everyone.

I need a spiritual solution for this work. I need to be reminded regularly that everything will be okay. As long as I live my values in solidarity with people who are marginalized and oppressed by white supremacy,* as long as we work together for justice, everything’s gonna be okay. It might not be easy, and I have no doubt people will be hurt (they’re being hurt now), but ultimately it’s going to be better for everyone than it is now.

 

 

*loosely quoting bell hooks, I define white supremacy as unchecked patriarchal capitalism built on the social construction of race

 

 

my addiction to white supremacy

I keep wanting to write a long post about how I treat my whiteness as an addiction. By that I mean I am impacted by something beyond my control (systemic racism) and I have lived in denial for most of my life — even as an anti-racism activist. I was sick and suffering but I didn’t realize it until I started recovering.

But I haven’t taken the time to write it all up and it keeps bursting out at times when I’m not near a keyboard. So I’m going to at least put down on paper (keyboard/screen) a few highlights of what I’ve learned:

  1. Making mistakes while learning about racism will happen, it is unavoidable;
  2. Fear of making mistakes will prevent me from making any changes;
  3. Asking people of color to help me understand racism will almost always be a mistake (unless they are being paid specifically to answer questions/provide advice), it’s not their job to help me and asking them to do the emotional labor of educating for free would be an example of being part of the problem;
  4. In my innermost thoughts, down even below thoughts about which I am aware, I held really gross and discriminatory thoughts about people of color (I still do!), we call this implicit bias and it’s unavoidable. Let me repeat that: implicit bias is unavoidable;
  5. It’s been my experience that fear of those implicit biases was blocking me from being fully human;
  6. I didn’t realize I was lacking in humanity until I looked really really really deeply into my racist beliefs (message me privately if you’d like to talk more about this);
  7. Examining my own implicit biases required a spiritual solution (this is where I get into connecting it with my recovery from substance use disorders) because it was terrifying. I had to know that it wasn’t all up to me, that my higher power (who I choose to call god) would carry me through it;
  8. It turned out my implicit biases were much, much louder and more problematic when I was trying not to have them;
  9. Keeping on myself on the path of full humanity, rejecting white supremacy and the benefits it affords me, requires daily practice, enlarging my spiritual life, and examining almost everything I do (good news! it becomes an almost imperceptible habit much of the time);
  10. The freedom I have experienced after facing my ugliest underlying racism (implicit biases held by people holding power is related to racism) is, as we might hear in recovery circles, “indescribably wonderful.” I want to share this with white people wherever I go. I didn’t realize how much humanity was missing until I started recovering it!

Because I want to be a part of changing our racist systems, I need to work on myself as an individual and this involves my feelings and my whiteness. I do this work with and around other white people. Sometimes I do this work with people of color if they are really good friends (like, we share meals together) or if we are in a situation where the point of the interaction is to deal with racism. Mostly, though, I do my offline racism work with other white people. Online, I write about it a lot. Writing as I have on blackgirlinmaine.com has helped me try to learn how to write about racism without centering on whiteness. But, I’ll admit freely that I really don’t get it. How can I write about racism as a white person without centering on whiteness (my experience?). I’ll keep trying, though.

And that brings me back to #1. Making mistakes in anti-racism work is unavoidable. I’m not sure who said this, but in the handouts for a “Racial Dialogue Capacity-Building Workshop” put on by the New England Yearly Meeting (Quakers) Challenging White Supremacy Working Group I read a quote I like as it sets a good tone, rather than judging ourselves harshly for how we are living within white supremacy, we must face where we white people are and change: “Wherever you are is fine and Beloved—But it’s not okay to stay there!”

 

PS Look at that, I did write a relatively long post afterall. :-)

 

“Looking at Black people like you would any other people,” a follow-up post

I want to tell you more, readers who are identify as white. I wrote on Black Girl in Maine’s blog about the awkwardness some of us get when we’re with Black people and I want to write a bit more.

The process of recognizing my own racism has been a long, long process. I want to tell you that when I got to the point, just a few years ago, where I really — and I mean really — recognized just how deep my own biases ran, it was painful and confusing. It played a part in what I can only describe as an identity crisis. Who am I, if I can be this ignorant? Looking back at my life, why did I only know a few people of color beyond the level of polite chit-chat? Why did most of my friends and family, progressives every one, also have only white friends? What did I really, really, really think about Black people?

Examining my racist, biased, terrified truth was a serious mindfuck (pardon me, but words fail when I try to explain this).

I had to float away from myself. I had to wonder who I was, because on a lot of levels, I really didn’t know for a while. I had to see that I thought about Black people as being “one way,” even though on a logical level I knew that was nonsense. I had to see that all people of color were “other” to me, no matter how much I wanted that to be not true. They were they and we (white people) were we.

I didn’t know about their hair, their makeup, their clothes, their language, they they they. As if there was one way. And, at the same time, as if learning about people’s differences was somehow not allowed. (Please keep in mind that I have known on so many levels that valuing differences is a beautiful way to move through the world!)

It was so confusing! It’s still confusing!

Lately I’ve been thinking about representation in tv shows. I was of the belief until just the last year or so that Black people couldn’t play “white roles.” Like, it would be too unbelievable to have a Black actor play a famous white person.

Why? Why did I think that was impossible? There are so many areas where I’m able to suspend my disbelief — how children of gritty British detectives always seem content to play with coloring books while their parent hashes out the details of where the murderer will strike next, for example — why couldn’t I accept an actor’s Black appearance and focus on the character they are playing?

I now believe I could. I’d like to see a lot more Black people playing “white” (as in historical fiction, say a Jane Eyre or something where we’re sure the main characters were white) roles.

I digress. But that’s part of what makes it so confusing. There are so many strands to unravel when it comes to my biases, my part in institutional racism.

What I want to tell you is that it has gotten better. After I crashed into the “holy shit. I *must* be racist in even deeper ways than I realized when I first started realizing it.” When I realized that I didn’t know how to just be normal around people of color; when I realized that I thought of people of color as different (and that meant less valued, less everything), as other; and when I realized that I felt deep, searing pain not seeing the full humanity in my brothers and sisters (oh, do I dare use that phrase? it’s what I mean, it’s how I feel, so I will risk it), I began to be able to let it go.

Using what I’ve learned over the last 7-8 years about Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Buddhism, expanding my spiritual life in my 12 step recovery program and in my Quaker meeting, and, most recently, tying together my spiritual life and growth with the need for transformation in our racist systems (in great part through the work of Rev. angel Kyodo williams), I’ve experienced inner change. It’s hard to articulate because it’s a living experience. But the “other” feeling about people of color has almost disappeared. I’m not suggesting I don’t slip into it regularly. I do. But I catch myself pretty quickly. I have an authentic sense that we are all one. We don’t exist without each other. I have been released from a great deal of pain and confusion related to my own racism and biases and history.

So, it’s been my experience that really, really facing my own crap has been really, really difficult. But it’s also been my experience that it is getting better than I ever thought it could. It requires daily efforts on my part, but it’s really, really worth it.

BIPOC and what it must be like for Black Americans and indigenous people

Listening to solid news coverage about the struggles of immigrants and refugees, I was struck today about how disheartening, depressing, and even traumatizing it might be for Black people (and, now that I’ve been thinking about it, for indigenous people in the US) to have excellent passionate and committed activism and news coverage about the current issues facing immigrants and refugees. Even if Black and/or indigenous people fully support the rights and causes of immigrants and refugees, I can’t help but wonder (and I suspect google would bear this out) if Black and indigenous people might feel once again as if they don’t count or are invisible to the “allies.”

What I mean is this: Black people in America (and indigenous people here) have been terrorized and brutalized for hundreds of years, but they’ve barely made the news. Or, if the issues they face make the news it’s either covered from a white supremacist perspective or it only flashes in and out of the public eye.

Later this morning I saw on twitter an acronym I didn’t recognize: “BIPOC.” Instead of asking the tweeting person what it meant (they are an indigenous rights activist in Canada, I think? and I’m sure are bombarded by white people asking them to explain things) I googled it. It means “Black, indigenous, and people of color.” From what I’ve read, it’s used to help center discussions and work related to racism on people who tend to be marginalized when the term POC is used. For example, POC can refer to anyone who has Black or brown skin (or who identifies as a person of color). But, in general, Black Americans have enormously different histories than do those people who have come here voluntarily.

These days, as I’m hearing about the important good work being done for our neighbors who don’t have documentation stating they are legally allowed to live here, every news story I hear or read I think about how many stories about Black people being arrested and jailed for jaywalking or being systematically shut out of every single institution in the country. At this point, I’m not doing much more than thinking about it, but as I was noticing it, I felt like I wanted to share it.

As always, these notes are quickly written and are by their nature not inclusive of all aspects of these complicated issues. But, I’d rather say something than nothing at all when I’m in a place where it’s appropriate for me to speak/write. (For example, writing on my own blog is an appropriate place for me to take up space.)

Senator Collins, please vote no on the tax bill

Passing time after dropping off my daughters at their afternoon writing groups, waiting until the end-of-class celebration, I decided to stop in to Senator Collins’ office.

It’s super-easy to drop in and write a little note. There’s a form to fill out in the waiting room and the guy at reception was friendly.

It’s a block down from Bard and Starbucks Coffee, at One Canal Plaza (you’ll see the Key Bank on your right as you walk toward the door in the middle of the building.

Her office is on the 8th floor, take a right off the elevator and another right into her office.

If you’re in the area, I recommend stopping in and leaving a note. We need her to vote no on this awful bill.