Are we white people redeemable?

I am a white woman trying to heal the harms white supremacy has caused in my life so I might be a part of changing our racialized capitalist/white supremacist systems; I’m doing my imperfect best to work with other white people in our healing so we can be authentic partners with all humanity on the path toward collective liberation. My posts here are written to other white people, though of course I welcome all readers.

When I think of myself as a white person coming to terms with the truth about white supremacy in the USA, I have spent a lot of time considering myself to be at about a preschool level in terms of my development. After these approximately 30 years of working on it (I’m 52), I may be about at a kindergarten or first grade level now. I use the analogy of school grades to help me stay clear about my social location and how that impacts my knowledge, experience, and understanding of racism.

Keeping in mind that we are all individuals with our own histories and responses to life, I believe that most Black, Indigenous, and other people of color living in the USA are at least high school graduates when it comes to understanding racism—and many have multiple Ph.D.s. Black and brown-bodied people, broadly speaking, live their lives facing the truth about racism every single day. For the most part, they have had to be multilingual in the ways of our dominant culture (set by whiteness). For hundreds and hundreds of years Black and Indigenous people in the USA have had to develop skills to cope with the ugly, violent, and seemingly hopeless state of our world while also—for surviving and if they are lucky, thriving—finding joy, vulnerability, and celebration.

The lived experience of the oppression of racism is an education most of us white people have willfully refused. I say “willfully” because despite decades of work on my own racism I am still coming to terms with the fact that the truth has been available to me all of my life, but I had chosen to ignore it. I am still trying to face and accept and grow out of my denial. This process of coming to terms is one that adds layers of complexity to the work I must do as a white person committed to a path of collective liberation.

I recognize how frequently inaccurate and risky it is to use such a broad brush when discussing “all Black people” or “all white people.” There are Black people with limited racial analysis, and there are white people with deep understandings living in solidarity and community with people of color. But, generally, I think we white people have a lot to learn when it comes to staying in the truth about the brutality of racism and our part in it, as well as our limitations when it comes to being in community. I know I’m not alone when I look at my lack of skills when it comes to personal connections and building real community with other people. Some of that is my individual story, much of it is capitalism’s drive to keep us apart, and a great deal of it comes from whiteness.

While Black and brown-bodied people’s lives are at stake, taking time to focus on how to be a better human in general as a white person feels like a relatively unimportant project. But James Baldwin said it well, “…I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be ‘accepted’ by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”

We white people are fragmented and afraid; we are untrustworthy in part because we don’t trust. Whiteness as a tool of white supremacy and racialized capitalism has blocked us from learning how to be truly in community. We don’t have a “culture,” after all, (yet!) that isn’t rooted in the oppression of others. Our imaginations are mostly too limited to even call to mind a way of being that is built on love (justice in action) and kinship.

Ruby Sales builds on Baldwin’s theme saying, “it’s almost like white people don’t believe other white people are worthy of being redeemed.” We white people need more than book clubs, though books (some are problematic) can be useful tools. We need to practice living differently. We need to learn how to be fully human, and that means living with truth and using our imaginations. Ideas about kincentric ecologies, abolition democracy, or other non-violent alternatives to capitalism are just a few examples worth exploring. The future of the earth and all of our siblings and cousins—the earth, fire, air, water, and all beings in every form—are depending on us.

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Image by Marc-Olivier Jodoin via Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Are we white people redeemable?”

  1. I’m from a tri-racial family. There is no realistic interpretation of the history of Whiteness that separates our success from other people’s oppression. What we can do instead is to look to our ancestors for good qualities that help us relate to other people’s history. If you can appreciate what your ancestors had to do to survive the potato famine or the Holocaust or whatever, you have a starting point for appreciating what other people’s ancestors had to do to survive even bigger problems that lasted much longer. That’s not the history of Whiteness, that’s the history of European ethnicities. After your ancestors fought off the Roman Empire or survived the Inquisition, what qualities would they recognize that helped them do it, and what kind of people would they want living in their villages in case they had to do it again? Hard working, courageous, intelligent, compassionate people, and you can add a lot more adjectives to that list. Everyone’s family history depended on those things. So how many ways have people found to use those things and combine them? Good qualities aren’t a race. If that’s what you look for in people, you can get past the fact that some of your own ancestors were part of the problem other people’s ancestors had to deal with.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Whiteness cannot even speak of the harm it does to others without ensuring it is centered first, a sure sign that one is not ready to be redeemed. Everything about Whiteness and White Supremacy is meant to center White people. When it’s not using violence, abuse, and withholding of affection from non-White folks, self-centering with its words will suffice.

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