Disclaimer: I don’t want you to think I know what I’m doing, because truth is I don’t — these are just the things that have helped me, and will continue to help me, as I strive to be more antiracist.
First off, I recommend reading Ijeoma Oluo’s fantastic piece Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement — Here’s What You Missed and support her on Patreon, if you are able. It’s a great introduction to antiracism for white people who are just joining the struggle.
1. I took a seat and listened.
You’ll likely encounter the phrase “take a seat” as you start to expand your social feeds — it’s used by people of color (POC) to tell white people to shut up and listen. This can be a really hard lesson for white people as they tend to expect free emotional labor from POC, especially from Black women.
As Ijeoma says in the above piece, “[T]hat ‘free labor from POC’ thing is kind of how we got into this mess. The questions you are asking have already been answered by POC — some of whom have already been compensated for their time and effort. Google is your friend. If we have to live it, the least you can do is Google it.”
1a. I learned to decenter myself.
Remember #notallmen? Have you experienced a POC making a generalization about racist white people and you want to chime in and say “but I’m not like that?” Or have you talked about how you feel about an issue that affects a marginalized community rather than how it affects the community itself? That’s centering an issue and making it about you.
If I feel the need to talk about an issue in relation to yourself when I wasn’t specifically affected, I take a moment and think about why. Am I centering the narrative on myself? If that’s the case, I try find a different way to frame the issue or simply share without comment just to amplify the voice of a POC.
1b. I learned to “stay in my lane.”
As an able-bodied white cis-het woman, it’s not my place to offer my unsolicited opinion to people who are marginalized in other ways than I am. This means I don’t offer my opinion on a piece by a Black woman for Black women, or by a disabled person regarding what they need, or a trans* person, and so on.
I like to think of this like the “Circle of Grief”:
“Your job is to help. You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours. Express these emotions to those in your circle or larger circles.”
The marginalized person/group is the center of the ring and I am in an outer ring. This means I listen and offer comfort (but only when appropriate) and minimize any harm I may cause to the inner rings.
2. I made peace with being uncomfortable.
I was very uncomfortable at times when I started to unpack white privilege. It’s normal and I was okay once I made peace with it. We have benefitted our whole lives from our white skin, and the shame that comes from examining white privilege and racism can be overwhelming.
If you’re interested in understanding more about this phenomenon, take some time and read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility,” and she has studied and written about whiteness extensively.
I would recommend checking out Dr. Brene Brown’s TED two talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame.” If you’re not already
madly in love with her familiar with her work, Brown is a sociologist who has spent a lot of time researching shame and whole-hearted living. I was introduced to her a few years ago and her talks were a gut punch. Knowing how to respond to feelings of shame has helped me through life in general as well as specifically when dealing with the shame I feel in response to thinking about white privilege and racism.
Meditation and mindfulness have also been key for me in working through the discomfort. It has helped me recognize when I’m becoming defensive when presented with an idea that is challenging to my internal racism. More importantly, it has helped me pause and identify racist thoughts that I am having in realtime.
Last week I was eating at a Black-owned restaurant where my companion and I were the only white people, save two white men who came in for their pick up orders. I was nervously looking out into the parking lot where several Black men were hanging out with their cars and I couldn’t see the spot where we locked up our bicycles. When I finally identified the subtle feelings of fear and worry, I was able to deconstruct them for what they were — racist fears of Black men stealing my possessions that have no basis in reality. I’ve never had any possessions stolen by a Black man, and in fact the opposite: anything that has been stolen from me has always been stolen by a white person!
Recognizing these biases and feelings as they happen means I’m more likely to spot them again when they pop up in the future and I can process through them faster.
3. I expanded my social media feeds and started amplifying the voices of Black women.
Do you follow primarily white, cisgendered people? I did for the most part. Following a more diverse stream on social media has put information, articles, opinions in front of my eyes that have challenged my beliefs and understanding of the world. Some of them made me uncomfortable, or even angry, and that’s okay! Thinking about racism and our own culpability in white supremacy is very uncomfortable but necessary work.
As I’ve progressed along the racism spectrum, the people I found the most challenging (as far as my own discomfort level) have been the ones that I admire the most because they’ve pushed my thinking the farthest.
Here’s a sampling of who I follow on Facebook, and most of them are also on Twitter.
Individuals with pages on Facebook:
- Leslie Mac (Safety Pin Box co-founder)
- Marissa Janae (Safety Pin Box co-founder)
- Linda Sarsour
- Sherronda J Brown
- Desiree Lynn Adaway
- DiDi Delgado
- Ruby Sales
- Sabrina Madison (local to Madison)
- Son of Baldwin
Pages on Facebook:
- Safety Pin Box
- Black Lives of UU (obvs Unitarian Universalism)
- Standing on the Side of Love (another UU page)
- Southerners on New Ground
- YGB Ferguson to Madison (Madison anti-racist group)
- White Nonsense Roundup
4. I think about where I am on the antiracism scale.
As the note on the bottom of the scale says, “It is common for many people to move back and forth along the scale regularly, especially in the middle parts.” These days I generally find myself somewhere between “awareness” and “allyship,” but I started on the “performative ally” side.
I have spent a lot of time in the performative side, truth be told — you could argue that this blog is performative, and I would agree but also add that I am attempting to use my writing skills and my reach to speak to other white people who are still struggling farther down the racism scale.
I also fell into the respectability politics trap, which meant I would unfollow POC when they said something that shook my white fragility.
5. I’ve learned it’s okay to make mistakes but I have to learn from them. Impact is greater than intent.
I’ve found it easy to get frozen into inaction by being afraid of being wrong, of saying something that will offend someone, somewhere. But this is where Dr. Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame really become important.
By being vulnerable, I open myself to criticism. I’m not talking about the possibility of backlash from people who are still in the thrall of white supremacy — because there will be little to no legitimacy about their complaints — but the kind of criticism from a marginalized group that I have offended through micro- or macroaggression, regardless of my intent.
Impact > Intent
If I am called “in” because of something I’ve said or done, I need to listen and own it. Feedback is necessary, and the willingness to change based on that feedback is even more important. If I don’t make that change within myself then I will continue to harm the same communities I’m “committed” to helping.
And that’s all I have for “introductory” lessons. Many of the other things I’ve learned and started practicing are a bit more radical, so I’ll leave them for another time. Just remember, it falls upon us to dismantle and challenge white supremacy wherever we find it, including inside ourselves.
Update: Adding a few more Facebook links.
Ijeoma Oluo (who was on a Facebook break when I wrote this)
Brandi Grayson (also local to Madison and a founder of YGB)
Diary of a Black Woman (Brandi Grayson’s blog)
Freedom Inc (another Madison social justice group)