This is a post I had intended to write months ago. Overwhelmed by the cascade of emotions surrounding my own personal shame regarding racism, I froze and repeatedly pushed it to the back burner. The murder of George Floyd changed all of that for me. As a mother, I have felt the loss of a son who was tried and convicted on site – lynched even – when he was murdered in broad daylight by a white police officer who repeatedly ignored Floyd’s and by-standers’ pleas to allow Floyd to breathe. This conversation can no longer wait.
Racism is not an easy topic to digest nor to cover. Yet it is imperative that we begin to unpack the shame in a supportive and conducive way if we are to move forward in ending racism, period. Some of these terms may and should be triggering. Yet, we need to be able to use clear language, to hear and to see the things which make us uncomfortable; this is how we disempower shame – looking at something we’ve wanted to ignore and naming it for what it is. The goal here is social justice and social change, not comfort. Growth is not comfortable, yet it is needed for healing. Let us begin.
Owning, instead of denying, White Privilege & White Supremacy
Rachel Cargle of Revolution Now points out that in America, being white offers privileges and being a person of color has consequences. To continue to deny this racial divide is to continue to support racial inequality and this is a form violence, even when it is not overtly racist. To heal as a nation, each and every one of us needs to hold ourselves and one another accountable. To heal means to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is not weakness, instead it is having the courage to look at ourselves and the inequalities we have knowingly and unknowingly supported.
To heal, we need to own our stories, as individuals and as a collective. To continue to run from and ignore these stories, supports systemic racism. We disempower ourselves when we allow our fears to prevent us from looking at our shame. There is shame in the knowledge that white Americans once owned slaves. There is continued shame, generations later, in actively and passively allowing the unequal power dynamic that was forged “way back when” to continue.
Today, white Americans can say we never owned slaves. Yet, most white Americans, even those who denounce the KKK, are white supremacists. Before recoiling, let’s define the term. White Supremacy, as defined by Brene Brown, PhD, “is the belief that in biological, emotional, and cognitive ways that white people are better than black people and people of color.” If you are white, can you unequivocally say that you believe that black people and people of color are equal to or better than you in biological, emotional and cognitive ways? If not, then it is absolutely imperative that you read on.
Mea culpa. It has taken me several months to come to terms with the discovery that several of my great-great grandfathers on both sides owned slaves. While I had found great pride in seeing several ancestors had fought in the American Revolution, I was incredibly dismayed when I discovered the repeated evidence that my ancestors owned slaves. I’ve been meaning to speak to this for some time now, and it has been my privilege as a white woman to push it away for another day. The murder of George Floyd ripped that band-aid clear off for me. My silence has only protected those who have been doing the killing.Tiffany C.
In order to dismantle racism and build true equality, we must each own the past and present or it will continue to own and haunt us, creating continued discord into the future. To heal is to be vulnerable and as a society, we view vulnerability as weakness and as such we, as a whole, have avoided it. For instance, as a white person, I have had the privilege of not looking at my own role in supporting White Supremacy & White Privilege. In this FaceBook Live, Dr. Brown speaks directly to the need to own our stories. While this was filmed following The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Counter-protests in August 2017, her points are just as relevant today. To own our stories, white Americans must see how privilege, perspective-taking & power play a role in supporting racism.
It is time for white people to see that the color of our skin and even our white names give us privileges and access that people of color, and names, do not have. This does NOT mean that white people are just handed things on a silver platter (which is usually the first argument people state). In terms of race, privilege means the granting of unearned rights and powers based on the color of one’s skin or, as we will soon see, even one’s given name.
In the latter half of his YouTube on White Privilege, Sociologist Rod Graham, PhD speaks to the research that supports the presence of white privilege in America. This research includes how applicants whose resumes were submitted with traditionally white names consistently received more call backs when compared to applicants with equivalent resumes who had traditionally minority and black names. Dr. Graham also cites research done where people of color were shown lower income homes by realtors when compared to white people with equivalent income factors. Rachel Cargle points out in her TedX talk that blacks with college degrees are offered the same level jobs as white high school drop outs. We can no longer conveniently afford to deny the racial divide exists. As Dr. Graham points out in the first half of his lecture, this goes beyond “The Invisible Backpack” and flesh-colored band-aids.
Dr. Brown notes that the “whiter, straighter, more middle-class, educated and Judeo-Christian” we are, the more likely we have been taught that our view, our perspective, of the world is the right one. Personally, I feel this is reinforced in all aspects of life where the majority of movies, media, books and all forms of advertisements predominately show the lives and stories of white people. To change this, we must begin to hear the perspectives of others without invalidating someone else’s experiences because they do not fit our world view. This requires compassion and empathy.
My life changed the moment I saw the innocence, vulnerability and humanity of George Floyd. The first image I saw of him on the ground shook me for his family, for in that moment I felt that this horrific image of that officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck would haunt them, because I knew it would also haunt me. Then hearing that he had called out to his mother, I began, and still do cry as if he were my own son. My “mother bear” came out of hibernation. To know that a son was murdered in such a way makes my blood boil. That right there was my turning point and I’m sad I did not arrive at this point sooner.Tiffany C.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that power is the ability to affect change. In the FB Live linked above, Dr. Brown speaks to how feeling powerless is a very dangerous game as it “leads to violence, isolation, shame, and self-harm.” It is our belief in a lack of power, that power is finite and not infinite, that keeps us from feeling we can share power with everyone. “Power over” means the belief that to share power means to lose it. Power is not pie, to give a piece to someone else does not reduce our own power. Instead, “power with” shows we all have the ability to remain empowered and on equal terms, without one’s gain meaning someone else’s loss. Hint: “power with” is where we need to be.
White Supremacy & The Dehumanizing of People of Color
White Supremacy is at the very foundation of our country. Slavery could not have existed had those involved with it in any way believed that black people were just as human as they were. To kidnap, beat, enslave, buy, sell and trade people of color, those involved with the slave trade could not see Africans as being worthy of the same rights of themselves and their families. It is my belief that it is this very same principle of dehumanization that has promoted internment camps at our Mexico-US border, just as our country did in WWII with Japanese-Americans.
To see all people as being human and thus having the same rights and access to wealth, irregardless of race, is one of the keys to choosing to think, believe and act differently.
It is time to Stand UP
I must admit, I was slow to speak out about racism in America. It is an emotionally overwhelming topic, at best. Yet white people can no longer have the privilege to choose to sit idly by while racial injustices continue. White people, we must look at our roles in supporting this dynamic. If we are not actively speaking and acting out against racism, then we are part of the very system, KKK or not. Us feeling uncomfortable about looking at ourselves, our emotions, our feelings and our actions is preventing fellow humans from breathing both figuratively and literally.
Change begins with accepting our roles and then committing both in our hearts and minds to not allow this racism in any form to continue. This is NOT about name calling, blaming nor shaming which would only serve to promote further polarization.
Instead, Rachel Cargle, a public academic, activist, writer and lecturer, advocates in her Public Address on Revolution: Revolution Now & in her TedX talk, that dismantling racism requires education, radical empathy and action. Education is finding the local anti-racist organizations who can use our support. Radical empathy is required so that we can heal and help others to heal, be heard and validated. Empathy is also required, especially when people disagree with our viewpoints. We can hold empathy even while we hold those with racist ideologies accountable, this includes our own selves. Racism is woven into the very fabric of our society, which means we can very easily be blinded to its presence, having been highly conditioned to accept it. Now it is time to question it! As such, action is required. We need to fight racism wherever we encounter it, much like we would any virus: in ourselves, our homes, our work and even in our choices as consumers. This work will only end when all people of color have the same rights in all areas of life, not just when white people feel better about ourselves and our roles. This is about power with.
What we need here is a safe place to express ourselves, it is then and only then that we can heal and move forward in power with one another. As such, I invite your input, feedback and critiques. However, I will not tolerate shaming, blaming nor name calling. As moderator for posts on this site, I will remove offensive language up to and including complete removal of posts. Shaming and blaming techniques will not be tolerated.
Are you still not sure what to do as a white person? I strongly encourage you to read this post on Personal Growth & Working on Structural Racism from the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. It includes personal action steps we can take to end structural racism.