I’m starting this from the assumption that you’re feeling some combination of rage, grief, and likely despair right now. As we watch the events in the US unfolding, the protests, the state violence, the immeasurable grief of centuries of white supremacist oppression of Black communities exploding into our news feeds, so many of us are wondering ‘…but what can we do?’
To my fellow white folks: begin with yourself.
It’s so easy for us self-identified ‘good white people’ to distance ourselves from these events. ‘Oh my god look at those terrible racists’. ‘That’s America, thank god it’s not so bad here*.’ ‘At least I know I’m not a racist – I’ve got Black friends/read POC books/follow POC on social media.’ Etc.
But white supremacy is a social disease that lives in all of us. Though it’s painful to hear, the truth is if you are white, you are complicit. You carry internalised oppressive beliefs about Black and other people of colour, even if you think you don’t, even if you desperately don’t want to, if you want to be one of the ‘good ones’. We have all bought in to a system that teaches us that Black lives are other, are less, are defined by a set of incredibly harmful stereotypes. We all – us white people – benefit from white supremacy. We are safer, richer, have more opportunities, as a direct result of our whiteness. And as long as we benefit, and as long as we choose not to challenge and dismantle this, as long as we stay silent or do the bare minimum of anti-racism work, as long as we refuse to unpack our complicity, racist oppression will march on, Black, Indigenous and communities of colour will continue to suffer, and more Black lives will be lost.
This is life and death. This is our world. The world we live in, the world we belong to. And not one of us can deny that this is a hugely, massively unjust world. We have to step up now, and do the work. It is centuries past time.
Transform yourself to transform the world.
– Grace Lee Boggs
Starting points for white folks:
Instead of treating yourself to new tarot decks, educate yourself.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Layla Saad’s groundbreaking workbook, Me & White Supremacy. Get this book. Gather your friends. Commit to the deep and uncomfortable work it asks of you. And then get on with it. If you can’t do it with friends, do it alone. It will force you into an honest understanding of the white supremacy that lives in you and works through you. It will change you. And if you’re doing it right, it will propel you to action. (A personal example: Unpacking the white supremacy in my shop curation.)
To support this work, I strongly recommend Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Our fragility – our fear of naming our whiteness and our racism and having honest discussions about race – is enemy number one in this work. DiAngelo’s book breaks it down, helps us to identify and own it, so we can acknowledge it in the space as we deepen our anti-racism work, but not let it call the shots. You can get it as an audiobook if that’s easier for you.
Before/as you begin this work, I recommend listening to Saad’s Good Ancestor podcast. I especially recommend this conversation between Saad and DiAngelo, which opens the conversation for authentic anti-racism work by describing white fragility, breaking down those defences that can stop us from really going there.
I’m choosing to share Saad’s work because it’s helping me right now and I wanted to offer something specific. Of course, there are many, many other writers and activists offering resources to help us on our anti-racism journeys. Read, follow, research, act, go deeper.
Begin now. Not tomorrow. Not ‘after coronavirus’. Not ‘some time in the future’. The time is now.
Is this going to hurt? Yes of course. I’m all up in my fragile white feelings as I write this. My heart is pounding, my hands are trembling. I’m terrified of getting this wrong, of getting called out, of mass unsubscribes, of all the messy consequences of taking about race, naming white supremacy, asking white people to do something deeply uncomfortable.
But we have to do it. We have to push through those feelings, that discomfort, that fear. This is a life-long practice, not a one-time thing. We have to be ready to make mistakes, to learn, to get better at this.
If we are not doing this work now, right now, today – when are we going to do it?
With love, rage, determination and solidarity,