Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly educating myself about racism and racial justice work.
I haven’t had much opportunity to get involved in community-level organizations or events due to constant traveling, so my anti-racism education has been done mostly alone.
Don’t get me wrong, a person can learn a lot by themselves.
By reading books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, I started to understand the systemic racial injustices, the role that whiteness and my own privilege play, and how our history connects to our present in the United States.
By following and participating in the works of racial justice leaders like Rachel Cargle, Layla Saad, and Catrice M Jackson, I’ve been able to identify and challenge many problematic patterns, biases, and behaviors inside myself, all of which reflect the racist conditioning I (like all of us) was brought up in.
From the first seeds planted about “intersectional feminism” years ago, and fueled by Trump’s election, my journey of self-education and self-inquiry about racism and racial justice has led to many conversations, a lot of journaling, and endlessly falling down internet rabbit-holes.
Admittedly though, my process has been extremely slow.
If you’re a white person who has done any of this kind of work on yourself, you already know why: discovering the truth can be very confronting, exhausting, and painful. While it’s nothing compared to actually being racially oppressed, learning about how racism currently functions to keep black and brown people down is extremely destabilizing.
For me, it feels like I was lied to my entire life, and that everything I thought was good and true is actually dangerous and false.
It’s been a bit like having the rug of my reality pulled out from underneath me over and over. Since the foundation of anti-racism work is about unpacking your own shit, I have frequently found myself confronted with some previously unknown truth about racist practices, policies, violence, or biases bother externally in our culturally and internally within myself, and had to move through various stages of processing.
First there is usually anger and defensiveness (because I didn’t mean to be offensive!) and a desire to protect my ego. Then at some point, there is guilt and shame, because it’s genuinely embarrassing to realize that in response to someone else’s suffering I made it about me (again, ugh!) and focused my attention on how their suffering made me feel.
More reading, more discussion, more thinking and processing… and eventually I would land on acceptance, usually paired with an understanding that I was completely wrong and have to start over again, plus a commitment to changing my behavior in some subtle way, and start speaking up when I see that pattern happening in others.
My slow processing of this information and emotion went slowly because I would stop, breathe, consider, and take breaks from it. All while understanding that it is my privilege as a white person to just stop reading when I want to, while people of color are suffering and don’t get to take breaks.
All of this is to say that I have gone at this work slowly, and I have gone at it mostly alone.
Then last week I went to a meetup in Santa Monica called AWARE (an acronym for Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the fact that anti-racism communities like this exist, that people are coming together to talk through and support each other in their journey, and that I was welcomed with open arms.
I took away two major insights from the meeting.
The first is that I can no longer go at this work alone. That part of my journey has come to a close; from now on if I want to expand my understanding of anti-racism work, and my own role and identity as an anti-racist white person, I need to be doing so in community.
The second is that I have been shying away from sharing my journey with anti-racism publicly, because I have been afraid. Afraid of doing it wrong, afraid of offending, afraid of misstepping. In truth I have already misstepped many times, and the feedback and backlash I felt each time made me want to just buckle down and learn more before I shared again.
The internet feels like a fucking minefield when it comes to talking about this stuff.
I’ve seen white women get cancelled for what I saw as small mistakes, and white people attempt to do the right thing and then get called out for how offensively wrong and hurtful their actions were, and I decided I wouldn’t share until I knew more.
For example, when Glennon Doyle Melton announced that she was hosting a free webinar for white women to come together and be introduced to racial justice 101, she was completely hung out to dry, and it took me hours and hours of reading through angry comments and educational blogs to understand why her actions were problematic.
The whole time I read, I kept thinking jeeze if people of color want us white people to stand up for them, maybe they shouldn’t attack us every time we try. It makes us (me) want to hide under a fucking rock and wait until it’s all over, not get back out there and try again!
For the record, this was the exact experience that helped me really understand the term “white fragility,” because I had discovered it inside myself. I felt attacked and uncomfortable and annoyed. In my mind, I blamed the people who were being oppressed for not making it easier for me to help them.
Upon identifying this new level of internalized oppression inside myself, I felt ashamed and guilty and embarrassed. I wanted to share what I had learned, but I couldn’t figure out how. I wrote dozens of half-finished drafts, but then gotten caught up in the fear of doing it wrong and uncertainty of what to say.
It’s so tempting as a creator to only share things we have fully processed, shined up and tied with a bow; to only share the things we have totally figured out and are reading to teach. But if I waited for that when it comes to anti-racism work, I will be waiting forever.
The truth is that I’m in the middle of the process of unlearning my own internalized racism, and I still don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
I know that many people I respect disapprove of my views or insights right now because I haven’t gone “far enough,” and that tons of people who follow me haven’t even started this work and will feel alienated because I’ve gone “too far.”
I know that every book, every conversation, every day I shift a little bit to a different understanding.
I know that I am embarrassed by what I thought one year ago, and that in one year I will likely be embarrassed by what I think today.
Even sharing this now, I have the urge to tie it up in a pretty bow and say “this is what I learned and I get it now.” But the truth is that I’m still in the middle, these moments are still happening, and I’m still learning all the time.
Doing anti-racism work as a white person is complicated, painful, and challenging, but it’s also necessary. There is no “one right way” to do it, and there is no one right way to talk about it.
But I haven’t been talking about it at all.
And I want that to stop.
Because I think it’s important for white people to see other white people going through the process of unpacking and dismantling their own internalized racism, and doing the work of shifting their entire worldview in an effort to reflect newly understood truths.
Even when those truths are confusing. Even when they’re painful. Even when they cause discomfort, and shame, and fear.
So here we are.
I’m going to share more of my racial justice and anti-racism journey as a white person.
And I want to start by asking you where you’re at with this topic in your own life. What does this bring up for you? What are your thoughts?
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