Hiding from Racism
According to NPR, 55% of white Americans believe that there is discrimination against white people today in our country, but less than 20% of white people say they have personally experienced discrimination because they are white. There's a perception among white people of being victims of racial discrimination. White supremacy teaches us that if we have to give up even the smallest amount of our white privilege, we are being discriminated against. We need to shift the perception white people have about racism. It's not a two-way street; white people can't be victims of racism since we hold all of the systemic power in our country. Every white person needs to look at their own past interactions with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and examine their behaviors, motives and language. More than likely what you uncover will be hard to admit and difficult to handle, but keep in mind that BIPOC live with racial trauma every day.
The hard truths I uncovered about how I have treated BIPOC were crushing for me. I've come to realize that I've tokenized BIPOC to make myself appear woke, I have perceptions of BIPOC that aren't true and even though I know they are stereotypes, I still buy into them as if they were true. I have segregated myself from BIPOC physically, emotionally, culturally and socially and I have benefited from being seen by other white people as a white savior, perpetuating this harmful notion that all BIPOC need saving. These are only a fraction of the ways in which I've harmed BIPOC. The good news is that these are learned behaviors, so they can also be unlearned. One of my anti-racism educators, Leesa Renee Hall, explained that since we are immersed in white supremacy every minute of every day, that doing anti-racism work for even an hour a day won't come close to reaching the amount of time we are spending learning white supremacy culture. Just because we can't come close to doing the same amount of anti-racism work doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, it means we commit to doing it every day for the rest of our lives. BIPOC do not get a day off from white supremacy, in fact, they don't even get a minute off from it. White people don't get to use the excuses like I'm too busy, I'm an introvert, I'm sick... BIPOC never get a break from white supremacy. The least we can do is make a concerted effort to not cause them more harm.
One of the outcomes of doing this anti-racism work is now I can feel it in my body when I harm a BIPOC, whereas before I often couldn't even recognize it. I can physically feel a piece of my humanity and their humanity being stripped away when I cause harm. It's easy to make mistakes when white supremacy is ingrained in us from our first breath, but I remind myself that my intent doesn't matter, it's the impact of my words and actions on BIPOC that matter. I'm learning to make amends by calling out the harm I cause, apologizing, not offering excuses for my actions, and if the incident warrants, by making reparations to the person I've harmed. We must expect that we will make mistakes and cause harm even though we're doing our inner work to dismantle our racism, but we can't let this eventuality stop us from doing the work. Make amends, reflect on your mistake and learn from it. BIPOC may not accept your apology, and that is their right, but it doesn't absolve you from continuing your work. White supremacy will never be dismantled if white people continue to hide behind their fragility and privilege.
Self examination is hard, especially when it comes to racism. It's easy as a white person to coast through life and never truly see your white privilege, but it's still there and it's gallingly apparent to BIPOC when you haven't done your inner work around racism. They experience white people and our words and actions as violence. Think of the courage and emotional labor it must take a BIPOC to stand in front of a group of white people who have a history of violence toward them. Then imagine the courage it takes to call that crowd of white people out on their racism knowing that the majority of them will deny racism even exists, that some will be driven to tears at the mere suggestion that they are racist and others may actually become violent toward you. This is the life that anti-racism educators take on in service of their BIPOC brothers and sisters. They know that white people are the only people that can dismantle white supremacy. They recognize we don't need everyone to become 'woke,' we just need enough people who are willing to do the work, because once you see how your racism shows up in you and how it minimizes your humanity and the humanity of BIPOC, you can't unknow and unsee these truths. Knowing leads to action and the actions of a few conscious people can lead us to topple white supremacy once and for all. I hope you'll choose to do the work and help dismantle white supremacy.