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.
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.
Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.