To my white professional peers…

Each time I’m given the opportunity to share thoughts and information in this space, I’m struck by how wrong it feels to be putting myself (what I’ve learned from others) in the spotlight. I’m a white woman who grew up among professional middle- and owning-class people and my extended family falls somewhere on this area of the spectrum. Every time I take up space on Black Girl In Maine Media’s blog, it feels wrong somehow. I trust, however, that Shay Stewart-Bouley (aka Black Girl In Maine) knows what she’s doing by including my posts.

These muddled and confused thoughts are part of the many layers of emotional, intellectual and spiritual processing I need to do as I try living a new way. Today, I want to share some thoughts especially with my fellow white people who come from the same kind of socioeconomic class background that I did.

These are some issues that come up regularly when I talk with other white people about white supremacy and systemic racism. If you are white, from a professional middle-class and/or owning-class background, and you are on this path of trying to live a new way—in solidarity with all people, especially with those who weren’t born into the advantages we were born into—perhaps some of these points might be useful for you:

  • What we have, what our families own, comes from racist systems. Facing that truth is complicated and brings up a lot of feelings. It’s been my experience that I feel these feelings—mostly “run away!” —in my body. There’s a lot of fear; afraid I’ll have to give everything away if I want to be a decent human. How these feelings show up may be different for you. I recommend noticing and feeling the feelings, not pretending they don’t exist. On my anti-racism to-do list an investigation of my family history to shed light on the truth; perhaps you might want to do that, too.
  • Related to the feelings: Many of you have read Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” One of the good lessons in that book is to not take up time in multiracial spaces processing the feelings we have about our own racism. I have also heard and read many critiques of this book. In particular, the idea that we white people should stuff our feelings actually may cause more harm to BIPOC in the longer-term than expressing them at the moment. That said, it’s best not to process these feelings in multiracial spaces. Finding spaces that are appropriate (“affinity groups” with other white people, or hiring a Black, Indigenous or other person of color whose professional life is doing this kind of support work) is better than pretending we don’t have feelings. We can’t change what we don’t see.
  • Back to what our families have, meaning the privileges and the material stuff. We aren’t inherently bad people for being born into this life. What we do with it, however, is important. For me that means wanting everyone to live a life of relative security and comfort. Donating to nonprofit organizations with no strings attached to the contributions is one way we can share our good luck. We can find local mutual aid projects (“solidarity, not charity”) to support with time or money, too. “No strings attached” is essential. Do you trust the activists on the ground doing the work to use the funds wisely? If not, can you fake it ‘til you make it and let go of that control?
  • There are so many other areas that could show up on this bullet-point list. Here’s one that may sound paranoid or extremist, I know. Honestly, it’s not one I’ve brought up in conversations many times (yet): If you are white and have financial and material resources, look into what it would take to become a part of a modern-day underground railroad. We are seeing more and more signs of outright fascism across the country. It has already happened that families are being torn apart and imprisoned. Now, federal agents are pulling people off the street in unmarked vehicles, blindfolding them, and not telling them why. We are already in a terrifying time. Those of us from families who have substantial financial resources should study what was done during slavery here in the United States and during the Holocaust in Europe to save the most vulnerable among us. Do you have space you can use to hide a family if they are targeted? If you don’t have the resources to be that involved, prepare yourself to help in other ways.

We need to do the inner work (feel the feelings; act before we know “enough;” read, listen to experts, participate in discussions of racism from the personal to the systemic) and the outer work (local politics, supporting BIPOC led grassroots organizations, talking with friends and family who may not be already led to grow in their humanity by shedding their whiteness). We must not stop. We are all in this together.

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2 thoughts on “To my white professional peers…”

  1. I too was raised in an upper middle class white family in the upper south, that is Tidewater Virginia. However, the experiences that shaped my feelings toward others -particularly those born with a darker skin – differed from those of this author. My father a self made owner of a Moving and Storage Company hired mostly black men as his employees. These were his best and most reliable one’s. As the owner daughter’s, I worked for my dad as a “checker”. Meaning I had to check in and out the furniture that got loaded unto the moving vans, and since I was the owner’s daughter, a lot of my mistakes were corrected by his more senior personal. But I did get a chance to observe the guys working along myself, his black employees. Smart, strong and so nice. I liked working with them. I never figured out why, when we had to stay late to await for all that day’s moving vans to come in; that they, especially my favorite, Mr. Brown, other than going around the corner to the “local bar and deli” for supper, instead would open a can of pork and beans to eat and with relish. As I started to get more and more active in the ongoing civil rights debates in the late 50’s, I begun to understand what was going on — if Mr. Brown and his friends, had dared ask for food at the “bar and deli”, they would have had to wait for take out at the back door. It made no sense to me. Now what is even more senseless is that this racism is still going on and 400 years after the first enslaved peoples arrived -not by choice- in 1619, in Tidewater Virginia.

    • My activism increasing in the 1960’s ( so blessed to have known the late Rep. John Robert Lewis and his SNCC friends in Atlanta and walking down Sweet Auburn to hear the King’s preach at Epenezer Baptist at that hot summer of 1964 . However, I was warn by others that this could be a threat. Not to myself but to my father and his moving,packing and storage business. He was one of the top bidders – coming in first to third place, in the moving of DOD (mostly Navy but some Army and Air Force personal and their families throughout the greater Norfolk area. However if the local military procurement agents in the area, knew of his daughters activities, they probably would have “black balled his business”. Red-lining in the FEDS involved, whites as well !

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