Cherish myself? But I’m a white woman…

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.

Whoa.

What?

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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To support MLK’s legacy, you must open your eyes and disrupt the status quo

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 


Five years before I was born in 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. His birthday was turned into a federal holiday in 1986, when I was 13 years old. While Dr. King’s actual birthday was Jan. 15, the legal holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.

As I write this, the nation is in the midst of its annual observation of Dr. King’s birthday. But sadly, as the years go by, King’s legacy in certain circles has been reduced to that of a sweet and demure Black man from long ago, with a dream that children of different races could play together. 

The fact is that the real Dr. King was not liked much at all at the time of his assassination. More than 60% of Americans at that time disapproved of King and his tactics. Which is beyond ironic—many times that Dr. King’s name has been evoked in recent years during massive Black Lives Matters protests, it is by white people saying the protesters should be more like King was. 

Actually, the protestors in recent years are following in the direct lineage of King and of radical politics and protesting. Whatever his code of non-violence personally, King was very much into disrupting things—and that is what the vast majority of BLM and other protesters recently have been doing.

As we honor Dr. King’s work and legacy, attention must be brought to the words of his daughter, Bernice King, who on Dec. 18, 2021, stated, “if voting rights is still hanging in the balance” by MLK day, she is calling for supporters to “speak and act in a way to ensure that this nation lives up to its promise of democracy, by putting pressure on our United States Senate to bypass the filibuster and instead of taking the King Holiday off, they should make it a ‘day on’ to pass the voting rights acts.”

Voting rights are hanging in the balance and the fact is that Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have made it exponentially much harder to vote for people in marginalized communities. 

While many were celebrating the short term “victories” and what appeared to be a partial return to “normal” in 2021, the GOP and their strange assortment of bedfellows were hard at work ensuring that the wins that we saw in places like Georgia in 2020 would not happen again. 

The short attention of white moderates and progressives, many of whom took to the streets for racial justice—along with an overreliance on Black women in particular to do the heavy lifting—created a perfect storm for voting rights to be diminished. 

While a dagger may in fact have been placed at the throat of democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, by the former president and his followers, the fact is that white moderates and progressives aided and abetted the erosion of our democracy and the civil and voting rights therein—in large part with their childlike and naive insistence on the goodness of the system and that the process will work in the end. Also, their unwillingness to see that an empire such as the United States is just as capable of failing as any other country. 

The past several years have revealed that America is not as strong as she once thought herself. Between the Trump years and the ongoing horrors of the pandemic, we are treading lightly on fragile terrain. Our collective survival will go beyond white, Black and other people of color. In fact, our survival will involve facing a reality that many white moderates cannot even imagine—but for marginalized people, we see the handwriting on the wall and have for a long time.

If you truly wish to honor the real Dr. King and do his legacy justice, please face reality. Search yourself and make a commitment to not be the white moderate who is more concerned with order and decorum than with justice.

As the Jan. 6 insurrection showed us, our enemies are prepared to do anything to subvert justice and equality. Dr. King was a deep thinker and radical organizer who sought both racial and economic justice and who realized that our plights and lives were deeply intertwined.

We honor that man by saying “No” to the whitewashed fairy-tale version of America and civil right and Dr. King himself and instead striving to be like the radical organizer who paid the ultimate price in his fight for justice. 


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Calling All White People, Part 58: The kids might not be as all right as we think

TODAY’S EPISODE: Looking to Gen Z to end racism? Maybe get your glasses checked

There have been so many times that I’ve seen people post something online about social awareness or activism among younger people and talk about how they will usher in the end to bigotry and hate.

But I’m not sure we should be so quick to assume that the older racist people retiring or dying off means that racism is going to slow down much. Because those older racist people keep handing down racist beliefs to their kids and grandkids, and they keep feeding racism to younger people in general in tough times and during impressionable periods to convince them not to change the status quo and perhaps to reverse it in time a bit.

Now, I’m not saying Millennials and Gen Z aren’t an improvement in oh so many ways on the Baby Boomers in particular but also in comparison to Gen X. They really are. In a number of social, environmental, and other areas, they look like they might break some bad habits of previous generations. Also might institute some bad habits and poor decisions of their own, but that’s life.

But for the purposes of the subject matter you usually see here at BGIM Media, I will confidently say this: There seems little sign of Millennials denting racism so far, and I think there is little chance that Gen Z will put much of a dent in racism—assuming they manage to dent it at all.

And sure, Millennials and member of Gen Z have more friends of color than my Gen X cohorts and I did—and again, certainly more than the Boomers or even older generations than them. But that doesn’t always mean racial awareness and a true desire to usher in an anti-racist society. If you are a white person who is Millennial or Gen Z, chances are you still don’t really see how deeply embedded white supremacy and white privilege are in your day to day lives.

You know one of the things that I see on newer social media like TikTok? Interracial millennial couples trotting out their biracial kids like accomplishment trophies or making some of the most banal observations about how their relationships are changing things. Unions between people of different races—and those between Black people and white people are no exception—are nothing new.  And sexing up a Black person or making biracial babies doesn’t inherently mean you aren’t racist any more than a toxic guy loving women means he can’t also be misogynist.

I don’t think that we’ve moved the needle nearly enough on unconscious biases or on racial naiveté that we’re going to see a seismic shift even with Gen Z

People who think I’m being too glum might look at the way Millennials handled LGBTQ+ issues better than generations before them and how Gen Z seems to be even more accepting of the wide range of gender, sexual, and other identity choices.

And I will grant you that one. Sensitivity to pronoun choices and openness to accepting and exploring more fluid identity constructs seems much stronger in Gen Z than I’ve ever seen before among any group of people. But that doesn’t mean crap for racism.

I will repeat: LGBTQ+ support and similar areas of embracing identity and sexuality does not have any impact on lowering racism.

Why? Because as much as the struggles and pains of bigotry toward LGBTQ+ people and bigotry toward people based on race might sometimes look similar and even be similar, they are far from the same. I could break down all the ways in which they can typically differ in practice and how they’ve different in terms of historical treatment, but I don’t need to.

I just need to point out that there are white LGBTQ+ people and non-white LGBTQ+ people. And white people still overwhelmingly will split the two into different groupings. In fact, when they categorize an LGBTQ+ as non-white (especially Black or Indigenous), that sexual and/or gender identity may become irrelevant. In fact, it might not even get respected anymore as valid for that non-white person.

I suspect a white Gen Z youth will show more support for fellow white Gen Z LGBTQ+ youth because they connect in terms of whiteness. They see each other’s humanity and difference, but only within the context of whiteness. Older white generations may be warming to embracing LGBTQ+ identifications and concerns, but that’s because they see their white kids and grandkids dealing with these issues.

As ever in the United States, race is often the defining factor of worth (we could talk about class, disability and others, too, but race is what we handle here mostly). With white supremacy in effect—and it is very much still in effect in the United States and so many other parts of the world—race still “matters.” Whether you get to be at the table or build your own table or even be allowed to be in the vicinity of a table depends on your race and in particular on the color of your skin. The darker you are, the less you are valued.

And while it’s hardly scientific, my Gen Z daughter points out plenty of racism among her peers.

And, as long as we’re mentioning the scientific, the research seems to be backing me up that we shouldn’t assume too much about racial change coming from Millennials or even Gen Z.

For example, despite positive racial attitudes, racial discrimination is prevalent among millennials; it may be that they are just as racist as their parents overall; and it’s quite likely they may be more racist than they think (intent vs. impact, y’know). Meanwhile, it seems that Gen Z isn’t nearly as anti-racist as so many of us like to think.

I do think that racist attitudes in terms of discrimination and abuse might see some decline as Millennials and Gen Z gain ever more sway. But the underlying privilege of being white is still a hell of a drug, and that is going to hold back a lot of the progress those two generations can make, especially as their non-white members realize that siding with whiteness may bring them more comfort and gain in harsh times than doing the right thing.

I do hope I’m simply being pessimistic. But a lot of people thought the flower children of the 1960s were going to change the world for the better. Instead a ton of them became the kind of Boomers (which is to say, most of the Boomers) that so many of us are complaining about for ruining everything. Millennials turned out to be a lot more susceptible than people thought to going conservative and buying into the GQP nonsense. Gen Z is still very impressionable.

Let’s do our best to help uplift these two younger influential generations to make positive change, but let’s not assume they are just gonna do it—whether right now or long-term. Let’s stop looking for a savior generation and all band together to get to work—to get our house in order on race and so much else.

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click 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.

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