Parting With My Inner Good Girl
As I've delved deeper into my inclinations toward perfectionism and performance, I've come to uncover the deeper stories that I tell myself about who I really am. I was raised to be a good girl, as so many girls are. A good girl that doesn't raise her voice, share her opinion, or draw attention to herself. She certainly doesn't march for a cause or stand on the street with a protest sign. For so long I held on to my self image as a good girl until I realized that my inner good girl was slowly killing me and inflicting harm on others, specifically BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). Continuing my role as the good girl imperiled the lives of BIPOC and especially harmed Black women that are often stereotyped as angry because they aren't allowed to be good girls. Their lives depend on them breaking the rules and speaking out about injustice and how whiteness is killing their children and imprisoning their men.
White supremacy thrives on white people thinking of themselves as good people because goodness breeds complacency. If I already consider myself a good person and society considers me a good person because I adhere to the societal norms expected of white women, I'm under no obligation to change. No obligation to grow, examine my own behaviors or to see my goodness as causing harm, not only to myself but to other human beings. This perceived goodness is actually toxic. It's bad for our bodies, minds and souls. It keeps us stuck in white apathy, white exceptionalism and what I think of as white blindness, the disturbing illusion that racism doesn't exist. As the majority racial group and the group with the most power, white people are considered the cultural norm and we never have to consider race in our daily lives. We live in a bubble of whiteness and are so enmeshed in it, we can't even see it. If we just open our eyes and our ears and listen to the lived experiences of BIPOC, we'll see that racism is alive and well, and that it's alive in every white person. Yes, I said it. All white people are racist. We all benefit from systems that were created to perpetuate white supremacy such as education, criminal justice, housing and healthcare.
I've often heard Black women proclaim that white women are their greatest oppressors because they choose white supremacy and patriarchy over sisterhood time and time again. In her book, "Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower," Brittney Cooper explains that white women always put their race before their gender. She recounts how this phenomenon plays out in elections when white women vote predominantly for Republicans who honor whiteness, while at the same time conceding their vote to a party ruled by men that don't recognize their gender as being equal or their bodies as their own. White men invented the good girl image and standard for women and it feeds right into white supremacy. One of the main pillars of white supremacy is that white women's chasteness must be protected from violent Black men. The violent death of 14-year-old Emmett Till was the result of a white woman claiming he had whistled at her, a story she recanted several decades later. Her accusation sent two white men out in search of Till to protect her virtue from Blackness. Till's body was later found in a river mutilated beyond recognition. His murderers were acquitted.
I've started to examine the role that my ego plays in my complicity in white supremacy. My ego needs to believe I'm a good person so it can grow. I know from studying the work of Eckhart Tolle, that my ego is not my true self. My thinking mind creates and feeds my ego. In Tolle's book, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose," he describes the ego's need to feed itself. I fed my ego by telling myself I was a good girl. I didn't intentionally hurt anyone and tried to be the best person I could be. White supremacy feeds on our egos. It tells us we are good white people so that we don't examine the impact of our actions. Impact matters, especially when thoughtless actions can easily result in the harm or death of BIPOC. This casual dismissal of impact is exhibited daily when white people call the police on BIPOC for simply being in a white space. These phone calls to police may appear benign, but to BIPOC they're a potentially violent encounter that could lead to their death.
Until we are conscious of our own role in white supremacy, we honor our inner good person by telling ourselves that if we didn't intend to hurt anyone, then the impact doesn't matter. This mind set leads us down the trail to white fragility, the discomfort and defensiveness we feel when we are confronted about racial injustice or how our actions cause harm to BIPOC. Robin DiAngelo's book, "White Fragility: Why it's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism," is a masterclass in how white people dehumanize BIPOC by crying or centering themselves when a BIPOC talks about their lived experience. When someone challenged my good girl self image, I would immediately deflect the criticism and start to enumerate the ways in which I was a good person in my mind. This reaction was to feed my ego and keep my good girl self image alive.
My good girl self image is slowly crumbling and, in its place, a flawed, imperfect woman is emerging. I like this woman far more than the good girl she's replacing. I still make mistakes, but I'm not ashamed of them and see them as opportunities for growth. I recognize that my own humanity is tied to that of other people and I expect to continue to do the work to dismantle white supremacy for the rest of my life so I am forever free of that good girl. Shedding this self image has proven to be the most difficult and painful part of the work to unpack my whiteness, but it's also been the most liberating. Giving yourself the freedom to be truly human can be the most important work of your life if you're willing to do the painful and gut-wrenching work of self examination. I believe the world will become much more just and humane once white people rid themselves of their false inner good person.