[Just as a reminder that I’m a white person writing mostly to white people about working through and dismantling our racism toward people of color, particularly Black people, see my first BGIM post here for some background – Heather Denkmire]
“White supremacy wants to keep us apart,” said my white friend when I told her I was grateful to find another white person to talk to about racism on a deep and systems/structural level.
What is white supremacy? This is how I define it, based on reading about it a lot: White supremacy is patriarchy combined with unchecked capitalism that requires cheap or free labor, using the social construct of race.
When my friend said “white supremacy wants to keep us apart,” she was reminding me that if we white people begin the process of shedding our denial—somehow most of us didn’t realize things were so bad for people of color in our country until Ferguson happened and/or Trump arrived—and do our own individual work on our personal biases, we will begin to see that racism isn’t about personal discomforts, it’s about a system of oppression designed to keep some down and out so others can stay on top. And, for me, once I saw that the institutions of our country depend on my denial—my passive participation in the system—I couldn’t unring the bell.
The bell rang (I am a part of a racist system and I want to change the system) but I still continued on as our white supremacist structures want me to. I did what I could as an individual. By myself. I learned a lot, and I talked to a lot of people, but I was doing it as a personal journey, not as a part of a larger movement.
I’m committed to sharing the need for the personal journey for white people with white people. I do think facing our own ugliness as I described in my last piece here is a part of that process. But I’m even more convinced that we need to do even the individual work together.
The Society of Friends (“the Quakers”) has an imperfect but sometimes awe-inspiring history of social justice work, but one of the biggest things that’s come out of my involvement with them that is near and dear to my heart is the idea that while we as individual white people definitely have problems when it comes to racism, prejudice, implicit bias, white privilege, etc., most of that comes from our being a part of this wider system that’s set up on purpose so we will be that way. So, once we recognize we are a part of a system that wants us to keep people of color as “others,” no matter what we wish were true, the lies begin revealing themselves at every turn. We are not actually alone in our imperfections or in our desire to actively participate in meaningful change.
But what is meaningful change? What comes to mind first for most white people is what we can do as individuals. And that is important. Meaningful change means keeping anti-racism work at the forefront in all areas of your life. Be willing to be the “difficult” person who is “always bringing up racism” in your children’s classrooms, your workplace, your volunteer work, your spiritual communities. Keep your eyes open and say something if you notice that everyone involved in any activity seems to be white. Read and learn and practice knowing about implicit biases and catch yourself, your friends, your family, when they happen.
Join together with other white people who are doing individual work on racism so you have spaces to process the complicated emotions we feel as we learn about ourselves and our complicity in white supremacy. (Please note: if you are in a group of people that includes people of color, never talk about your feelings about racism unless the goal of the gathering is explicitly stated as a place and time to process your white feelings. We have a lot of feelings and they are valid and important, but we should never blindside people of color, asking them to do the emotional work of supporting us as we process them.)
And then, while you are doing this individual work, bring your knowledge of white supremacy to all of your activist work. All social and environmental justice is anti-racism work if it is done well. There’s public policy and systems level changes you may already care deeply about; do anti-racism work in those circles. Some issues that come to mind into which you could pour your anti-racism awareness: universal healthcare, a livable minimum wage, paid family leave, legally required flex time, renewable energy, clean water, free education, housing for homeless people, buyback programs for guns, legalizing drugs, legalizing sex work, supporting unions, electing district attorneys who want to end mass incarceration.
Ending white supremacy means changing our greed-driving patriarchal capitalist economy to a system based on caring. TheLeap.org has an excellent manifesto outlining possibilities; it is based in Canada, but it’s a great example of offering solutions that can be turned into actions.
Other ideas for systemic change we white people could support that might seem pie in the sky but that, with good work, could become reality: baby bonds; guaranteed (government) employment; reparations for slavery; guaranteed minimum income.
The point is that we white people need to talk to each other about racism. We need to work together to shed some of the garbage that bogs us down personally, as individuals. And, most essential, we need to move as quickly as possible to working together in collective actions with other white people and people of color on the causes that will ultimately change our systems.
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