Every area of my life is permeated by white supremacy, even this title

There’s a fine line between sharing my experience so others might benefit, and sharing my experience simply because I think it’s interesting. I understand from my conversations with other white people that most of my questions about racism are common questions. My intention when I write for BGIM is not to navel-gaze and say “my life is interesting!” I want to share the awkward and uncomfortable process of learning how to actively take white supremacy apart so it no longer serves as the foundation for my own life or the lives of everyone impacted by it. I am doing my always-imperfect best, and I hope my intentions match the impact as you read.


Over the last couple months, I’ve been taking a class by Lisa Graustein, a white queer woman who has been a racial and gender equity and justice trainer and facilitator for more than a decade. With the support of a grant from New England Yearly Meeting (Quakers), Lisa has been sharing resources and spiritual guidance while modeling communication styles that don’t reinforce oppression. The class is called “Racial Justice and the Beloved Community,” and we are practicing looking at how white supremacy informs almost everything we do as Quakers; most importantly, we are practicing changing our attitudes and behaviors.

To understand my part in supporting white supremacy, I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time studying the history of the social construction of race (see Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People” and/or Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning”). Building on that fact-finding I look at where in my life I’m being guided by white supremacist culture. When Lisa shared this description of white supremacy culture in our class, gathered together by Tema Okun of dRworks, it nearly knocked the wind out of me. Dear readers, please take a moment to read the description of white supremacy culture.

Okun details the following qualities of white supremacy culture, summarized here: perfectionism; sense of urgency; defensiveness; quantity over quality; worship of the written word; only one right way; paternalism; either/or thinking; power hoarding; fear of open conflict; individualism; I’m the only one; progress is bigger, more; objectivity; right to comfort.

Do you recognize yourself in those terms? Do you, as I did, find yourself defensive? Thinking, sure, I can see how those qualities could be problematic, but there are lots of reasons we feel and behave this way. To say it’s “white supremacy culture” is a bit of a stretch, we might say.

But scholars and activists who have studied and lived with the oppression of white supremacy are telling those of us who benefit from the systems that those qualities are white supremacy culture. Every single quality described makes it possible to keep white supremacy alive and strong; research and evidence support this statement. This holds true for people of color as well as white people—all of us living in the United States of America are impacted by white supremacy culture.

What does this mean for us? Well, I hope you might join me in learning about the history of white supremacy in the USA, to inform your understanding of how we got here. I’d also like to invite you to notice where in your life those white supremacy culture qualities appear. Are there places or times you can try something different? Do you have people in your life with whom you can talk about these issues? Remember, white supremacy wants us to be alone—individualistic, I’m the only one—so even the act of finding others to offer mutual support can be a step toward dismantling white supremacy.

In the title for this piece, I mention that the title itself is permeated by white supremacy. In it I see my tendency to think that my own experience matters so much that it seems appropriate (as it usually does in my posts here!) to center the title of the post on me and my experience. As I said in the beginning, there’s a fine line between sharing my experience just because I find it interesting (see “white supremacy culture“) or sharing my experience—most especially sharing what I’ve learned from others—to try and benefit others. I hope what I’ve shared is beneficial. We aren’t alone in stumbling and bumbling through the lessons we need to learn. I welcome any feedback you’d like to give me.

And, I’d like to put in a plug for supporting this blog. Black Girl in Maine pays the writers on this site, doesn’t use advertising, and does this work mostly as a labor of love/survival. Please consider making a contribution—one time or (preferrably) monthly—in support of the work done here.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Taking my experience as a sexual assault survivor to better understand racism

In some ways, this latest post from Heather Denkmire carries echoes of a couple other recent posts, so I’ll link them here: Me Too by René Goddess Johnson and How about we examine what’s really likely with Kavanaugh? by Samuel James. -BGIM


If you’re anything like me—and most women (of color and white) I know are—you’ve survived some kind of sexual violation. My own history includes 12 traumatic sexual abuse, assault, and harassment experiences, eight of which were with boys (teens) and men with backgrounds similar to Brett Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony echoed my own experiences closely, and I knew boys from my preppy Connecticut high school who told me they participated in assaults like those described by Julie Swetnick. Since the 2016 elections, I have been careful about my intake of the news, as Donald Trump’s vile behavior is also very familiar. To say that mid-September through early October was difficult for me is putting it mildly.

Many people came together to object to Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and they are still protesting. There were amazing and powerful protests of Kavanaugh by survivors like me, and survivors with very different stories, and people who know and love survivors, or simply people who have empathy and understanding. But in these protests, we white women have done harm to women of color.

It’s true that it wasn’t only white women protesting Kavanaugh, that’s for sure. And, believe me, I’m not suggesting the protests were a mistake. But, just like with the women’s march—see I’ll pass on “Unity” and the Women’s March and Black Girl In Maine’s The path to unity requires honesty, or Beyond the march—too many of us white women were driven to outrage because of our own experiences and the potential impact on our own lives, which, regardless of our intentions has the impact of telling women of color their lived experiences effectively mean nothing to us.

Let me explain what I mean here, and I’ll tell you how I use my own experience to try to comprehend what it must be like for a woman of color seeing the protesters dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale, or (understandably!) crying about losing ground in women’s rights.

Let’s start with this article by Melayna Williams, “For black women, The Handmaid’s Tale’s dystopia is real—and telling. In her piece, Ms. Williams points out that the show “doesn’t offer a vision of an America where democracy has collapsed. Instead, it shows white women subjected to the conditions under which their country was born. The thing that, tellingly, has proven the most alarming to audiences.” The characters are “find themselves captive, were bred against their will, and were tortured and even killed for attempting escape,” as Black women were for centuries.

The way we white women are full of rage and fear because Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned is reasonable. What is harmful and not reasonable is for us white women to act like all women’s bodies have had safe and affordable access to medical care and only now are those rights being threatened. Black women have not had the same access to abortions and other necessary medical care that we white women have had. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women.

So, if you are a survivor of sexual violence as I am, and you see or hear another survivor like Dr. Blasey Ford go public with her experience, how does it feel when people don’t believe her? How does it feel when a survivor’s accusations are treated as if they are not evidence? How did it feel when you saw people demand Dr. Blasey Ford offer up more proof, more proof than her own lived experience? How many times are harassment, abuse, and assault survivors told they must’ve misunderstood? (Some claim they believe Dr. Blasey Ford was assaulted but think she must be mistaken about who the violent teen boy was.)

Now imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, “My life is not protected by the current system like your life is protected. The current system causes me harm every day.” And our response is, “Why are you bringing up race?” (I hear, “Quit complaining. Quit making a big deal about nothing! You’re missing the important point!”)

Imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, as Melayna Williams did, “White supremacy, weaponized to protect white women’s bodies, is not new. Liberal and conservative women have collectively struggled to acknowledge the ways in which mainstream feminism has served to undercut and erase the voices and struggles of women of colour.” And our response is to say women of color should work toward unity with us white women? Would we tell Dr. Blasey Ford she ought to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh and make nice?

No. I’m quite sure the white women activists who are puzzled by the anger women of color at their Handmaid’s Tale costumes, or at their suggestion that people “take a knee” to protest rape culture would never tell Dr. Blasey Ford that her lived experience is not evidence, or that she ought to find common ground with Brett Kavanaugh.

When it comes to our activism, fellow white women survivors, we must listen to the truth tellers, the women of color who are understandably saying, “No. I will not work with you.” We must work to understand why. We must listen to the women of color who are telling us to acknowledge the harms we’ve perpetrated against them. We must change. We need to believe her when she tells her story. We must not cause harm to women of color in the way abusing, assaulting, harassing men have caused harm to all of us.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Image via Pixabay

The racist garbage in the back of my brain

Every time someone shares the image of the cartoon supposedly depicting Serena Williams,* it hurts. It’s like a stab. Stop! Stop showing that to me! I don’t want to see that ugly racism!

I’ve written about the internal, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual process I’ve been going through over the years, working to shed my own racism and step out of the fish bowl of whiteness. One thing I refer to quite often is “the ugliness” or the “racist thoughts I know I shouldn’t have.”

I’m going to write “out loud” the things I have frequently discussed with white people offline. Maybe it’s the rules of whiteness (see Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility for more on that) keeping me quiet even more than fear of harming any more people of color.

As I said, seeing the image that’s supposed to be Serena Williams is jarring and upsetting. In a similar vein, watching documentaries like Ava DuVernay’s 13th that have clips from The Birth of a Nation make me physically uncomfortable. I have sometimes fast-forwarded so I wouldn’t have to see the vile caricatures of Black people as subhuman.

Why are they so awful to see? Of course, seeing people depicted as less than human just hurts my heart. No one did anything to deserve such violent and disgusting treatment. Words fail me when I try to express how wrong I think the images and ideas are.

They are also awful to see, I now understand, because they’ve been a part of the way I have seen the world. The way I see Black people was built on racist imagery and ideas like that comic. To be clear, I was never exposed directly to The Birth of a Nation. I have no memory of being exposed to overtly racist imagery or ideas, although I’m sure I was exposed to them (think antique stores with “kitsch” like a “lawn jockey”). If anything, I was raised in the era of Black is Beautiful. (I won’t go on a long rant about my background here. Just know that I’m being entirely honest when I tell you that no one I know ever used the N-word, ever, unless they were explaining something awful that happened and even then I don’t remember them saying the actual word. The racist garbage in my brain didn’t come from overt racism expressed in my presence.)

Here’s what I found out about myself, and I feel very sure I’m not the only white person who feels this way: I found out that when I looked at Black people I was immediately thrust into the mental gymnastics of keeping the racist imagery (that I didn’t even know was in my head!) out of my mind. I saw full lips, and oh my god without even realizing why I was in turmoil inside, I felt uncomfortable and it turns out I was trying to not see Black face or other “old-fashioned” racist images. I saw groups of Black people laughing loudly and moving freely with expression and something felt not-quite-right but I didn’t know why. It turns out there was a part of me—a part that I recognize now isn’t actually me—that associated those louder sounds and freer movements with centuries’ old stereotypes (similar to the horrific comic that’s supposed to be Serena Williams). I swear, I didn’t even know I knew about these stereotypes until I started getting curious about why I couldn’t just be normal around Black people.

I looked into the old, old stereotypes. I’m talking about during slavery and post-slavery, into reconstruction and into Jim Crow. I’d examine them and I found they were there, hidden in corners of my awareness that I didn’t really know was there.

Guess what? With practice, I’m finding I can get them out of there. It hasn’t even been that long (a few years) and most of the time, I can interact with Black people without feeling oddly nervous or overly friendly. It’s because I saw the ugliest garbage was taking up space in my being and it didn’t belong there.

I still don’t want to see the comic that’s supposedly about Serena Williams. It really does hurt my heart that Black people are still subjected to such disgusting treatment, and it hurts my heart that we white people are still so damaged that we don’t see Black people as fully human. But I’ve experienced waves of liberation, and I’ve had deeper connections with people of color, including Black people, since I sorted through what racist trash was cluttering up my brain and began the process of getting rid of it.

I don’t know how to change the world so white people realize how wrong that comic is, but I do know that I can change how I interact with the world and I can help my white friends do the same. That’s not nothing.

* Editor’s note: If you have somehow managed to miss the story about the Serena Williams cartoon, here is a take on it by The Root. We don’t wish to give the cartoon any more play than it has already gotten, so we aren’t posting it here, but do be aware the image appears in the article linked to above.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Geralt on Pixabay