A Letter to My Whiteness (and Yours)

The defensive scripts of white folks, and the spoonful of medicine we could use instead.

After attending an anti-racist workshop examining my whiteness, I learned how there are scripts that white folk predictably go through when called out on racism, appropriation, and the like. The script is our defenses at play. I’m sharing this here to ask white-identifying folk to check out these defenses that are found time and time again, said by white folk, so much so that it’s really kind of a script by now…

If you’re feeling uncomfortable by being called out in this manner, I would invite you to pause and sit in that discomfort for a minute, feel it, hang out there, and ponder if you in fact can actually stomach taking a little bit more discomfort. this shit is uncomfortable, but check this out: we’ve been allowing people of color to bear the brunt of that discomfort for hundreds of years. it’s high time for us to take some of that burden.

THE SCRIPT #1:
“I am (or she/he is) well intentioned!” (i.e. I don’t mean to be racist or appropriating)

THE GOOD MEDICINE:
Learn that there is a difference between intention and impact. You can have your intention and know in your heart that it is good, but you also need to see the reality of your impact. It’s not good enough in a world so assuaged with oppression for you to only have a good intention.

THE SCRIPT #2:
“Stop yelling! Ouch! Why are you so loud and angry about this?”

THE GOOD MEDICINE:
Yeah, totally, I get it – yelling and conflict in general sucks, and it’s really hard to hear criticism when it comes in hot. And to you, it may seem like the intensity of anger does not match the level of transgression. Normally, I would get on the train of “it’s better to use NVC in any conflict” but when we’re dealing with issues that involve the literal slaughter of people over centuries, and I mean, if it were your people, you’d be angry as hell too, right? Can you maybe take a couple deep breaths and realize that you are still alive after you’ve been yelled at? Good, because guess what, black people can literally get shot and killed, TODAY, for being angry. Literally. The least we can do is allow for some in our direction (even if we think that what we personally did doesn’t deserve that amount of vitriol!), and create a little more bandwidth for anger coming at us. If we stop resisting the anger and actually receive it (and yeah, that’s a pretty evolved move), we might be surprised to see how it transforms. Or maybe it won’t transform – the point is not to expect all the anger to go away, but to make room for it, understand that it’s part of the conversation, and grow our capacity to be with it.

THE SCRIPT #3:
White folk dominating the conversation with “I’m confused” and/or nitpicking every little detail of delivery or the argument that a person of color is making

THE GOOD MEDICINE:
Okay you’re confused, or you see a lack of logic somewhere in the argument. Can you consider the possibility that your confusion may actually be a part of the massive defense structure built by our white minds to defend against the immense guilt and shame we have for dehumanizing so so many beings over hundreds of years? What happens if you listen with your heart, instead of your brain? Does it hurt? good. can you sit with that hurt? good. keep listening. shhh. keep listening.

THE SCRIPT #4:
“this isn’t about appropriation or racism, it’s actually about xyz…”

THE GOOD MEDICINE:
I understand that in any conflict, there are probably multiple layers of issues involved, and maybe not all of them are explicitly about race. But wait, what did you just do there by saying it’s NOT about racism? Who says? Are you, dear white person, the expert, you who have the benefit of living above the rankness of everyday racism (if you so choose) through denial and defense? Are you the expert? Or should we maybe sit down and be quiet and listen to those folks who live and breathe it every day, and have no choice but to be faced with the consequence of a culture that deems their skin color inferior, potentially in every moment of their lives? By you saying it’s NOT about this, and actually about that, your whiteness is showing, in your entitlement to know a thing and name a thing, over a person who actually has more experience in the matter. Again, shhhhhh. Sit down.

I also invite you to consider the ways that whiteness and white supremacy is involved, in fact, in ALL the layers of the conflict. By that, I don’t mean that every layer explicitly is about skin color or appropriation. But do some research about white supremacy, and about some of the symptoms and conditions that define a white supremacist society – the way that it programs our minds to think as a colonizer or an oppressor, how it conditions us to think of power – “power over” vs “power with” (thank you Starhawk). To delve into these inner recesses of our minds can actually be a really empowering way to engage in this work as a white person. We have ALL been negatively impacted by whiteness, some way more than others, but it hurts us all, and when we as white folk can understand the cage that white supremacy has our minds in, we can start to liberate ourselves, and more readily use the benefits of our whiteness to be better humans for the betterment of the world.

THE SCRIPT #5:
“but I’M not racist!”

THE GOOD MEDICINE:
I’ll let you in on a little secret. We are all racist. This is a hot button statement, but just check this out for a minute: Racism has been part of our white programming, it’s not personal. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad person, and you don’t have to be a card carrying member of the KKK, use the “n” word or have conscious racist beliefs and thoughts to be racist. It is part of the unconscious fabric of what our country was built on, so don’t you think it’s seeped into the water by now? The quicker we can all get with that program and start uncovering the unconscious ways racism and the colonizer mentality lives in us, the sooner we can actually be allies (or accomplices, perhaps a preferable term). But we can’t skip the part where we confront our own racism, especially in the unconscious and sneaky ways it shows up. And it sucks. It’s going to feel shitty and uncomfortable. Every time I start to feel revulsion or avoidance on this topic, I try to catch myself and sit my ass back down in the discomfort zone. It’s literally the least I can do.


As a white woman with a blankness where my latina should be, I recognize the benefit of my whiteness (while I also embody a loss for a culture that was assimilated out of me, but that’s another post). I recognize that I can use this privilege for good, and a VITAL part of that is I can never stop learning, listening, and expanding my capacity to be in the discomfort of what white supremacy can do to a world.

 

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