When I wrote about racism back in the days of my Bangor Daily News column, the comments always included someone telling me I shouldn’t “hate myself” because I’m white. I always thought the readers were missing the point—I had worked through “white guilt” back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I knew all the facts about how I wasn’t a “bad person” necessarily just because I’m white. Learning about the horrors of racism and facing the truth required me to stretch into knowing that I wasn’t personally a bad person and also that because of my social location I have played a part in upholding oppressive and violent racist systems.
About 10 years ago, I lost a friendship with a woman who is Black because I still hadn’t dug into my own skewed way of being in the world. I didn’t understand how whiteness—not “being white” but rather the culture of white supremacy—shaped how I lived. With spiritual practice, lots of reading and workshops and conversations, I’ve been growing in my own racial identity. I thought I didn’t have “white guilt” anymore. The systems aren’t my fault; I just need to work to change them.
Let me add that as I’m writing about my personal experiences as a white woman from a privileged and liberal background, I am not speaking for all white people. I have my own emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physiological life that informs my racial identity growth; my individual experience is unique to me, but there are many aspects of it that I know are common to other white people who have gone before me and who are now on this journey toward collective liberation. And, we white people who want to live in solidarity with people of color need to know ourselves. We need to understand and change the parts we play in upholding white supremacy if we are ever going to be trustworthy.
A week or so ago, a white friend—having white friends who are invested in transformational healing as white people is so important—and I met on Zoom so I could process a cross-racial/cross-class/cross-gender social experience I had where I was stuck in my head, frantically unable to be present in my body. She told me that she was curious about my mentioning that I am working on “shedding whiteness” (something I’ve written about here before a lot). She said, “But you are white, how is that something you can shed?” And I was puzzled, because I know she understands the concept of “whiteness,” so I said, “I’m not trying to shed being white, I’m totally fine with being white.” She said, “I’m going to stop you there…really? Are you sure?”
Cue the big dramatic DUN DUN DUNHHHHHH music.
A lightbulb went off in my head (and because we were using embodied practices in our Zoom call the light flowed through my body)! Holy crap. Wait. Am I okay with being white?
My friend on this call invited me to use a Buddhist practice of breathing in and saying to myself “I cherish myself,” and breathing out, “I cherish all beings.” Cherish myself? When it’s white women who are used as a tool to kill people? See “How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror” for some examples. Everything Hannah L. Drake writes in “Karen Is You” lines up with my own process of looking in the mirror and finding racism (especially anti-blackness) that initially horrified me and threw me into an identity crisis. I always considered myself “one of the good ones,” before I started digging.
In my heart and in my brain, I know that cherishing myself, holding myself as beloved, will benefit everyone around me. But, the conflict of facing the truth of how horrific white women have been and continue to be has blocked me. There’s shame I’m uncovering. It’s too newly discovered to share understandings about it, yet, but I am sure it isn’t something helpful. A consultant I’ve been working with described a scene from Game of Thrones where a character was walking down a street naked and people were throwing rotten vegetables at her. I have to admit, I think I’ve been doing that to myself. And I’m also blocked because I’m “not supposed to center myself” and I’m also finding out that I need to learn how to love myself as a white woman.
This isn’t linear or tidy or simple. Thankfully, I’m finding the path of excavating the garbage from inside me is also a path of joy and connection with the world around me. One thing I’m sure of: I have a lot to learn.
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