You & White Supremacy, Part 3
About a month ago I came across Layla Saad of Wild Mystic Woman. I had just finished listening to So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo's and I was looking to continue my education and dig through some deeper aspects of the environment I grew up in. Layla Saad posted on her Instagram that she was hosting a free challenge called #MeAndWhiteSupremacy.
Now even though I knew I wanted to dig into this, I ignored it for the first few days because this topic is uncomfortable. Realizing how complicit you are, in your actions, without your knowledge, is not a pleasant experience. However my discomfort at sharing this and uncovering my complicity is nothing compared to the issues at hand. It's nothing compared to what minorities, people of color, deal with on a day to day basis. For the next few Mondays I'll be sharing some of my answers to Layla Saad's prompts. These are my thoughts, my opinions and while I think everyone should be examining their actions, I acknowledge that not everyone is ready to do so. So if you are going to comment please be kind (all comments are moderated).
THE CHALLENGE POSTS FROM LAYLA'S INSTAGRAM
Day 15 - What have you learnt about You & White Apathy
1) In what ways have you been apathetic when it comes to racism? I have always worked on the thought that "I have no power, so I can't do anything to help or change this". Which means that I do nothing in the face of any racism. It's always been someone else's problem and I have never stood up to racism.
2) In what ways do you see white privileged people in your communities (family, friends, work) being apathetic when it comes to racism? (Important: don’t use this as an opportunity to publicly call anyone out. Simply make observations based on what you see/hear/feel). The yoga community, the lack of care regarding the history and people of yoga. The way white women race to riot and charge in when their rights are challenge but not the rights on BIPOC or children. In the grocery store and the ethnic aisle.
Day 16 - What have you learnt about You & White Centering
What have you learnt about You & White Centering? How is your world view a white-centered one? How have you reacted when whiteness or you as a white person are not centered? What are you beginning to understand about how white centering affects and others BIPOC?
I do a lot of reading and it wasn't until recently that I started to realize that I automatically picture the characters as white. Between listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman and hearing his descriptions of a variety of unique characters and reading the Tufa series by Alex Bledsoe descriptions of color, I have always imagined all characters to be white, unless I have specifically picked up a book written by a POC. As I have been learning more I am excited to find characters that are not what I normally see. It brings new perspective. Reading books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas showcasing real life for someone I've never thought about. Or fantasy novels written by POC that don't take the standard path that basically all other novels I have read follow. Like Renee Ahdieh, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia E. Butler. Before these books everything followed the same path, it was boring, predictable, and changing my world to not be so white centered has definitely opened my eyes to how beautiful the world is outside the boring predictability I had been shown. This predictability affects BIPOC in some many ways, representation is important, not being able to see yourself causes you to loss a huge part of your identity. I grew up seeing myself everywhere and never question my "importance" because of that.
Day 17 - What have you learnt about You & Tokenism
What have you learnt about You & Tokenism? How have you justified your racism by using your proximity to BIPOC? How have you tokenised BIPOC to prove your words, thoughts or actions are not racist? How have you tokenised and weaponized one BIPOC against other BIPOC? If you are a business owner, how have you tokenised BIPOC or BIPOC culture in your brand? If you have believe you have never tokenised BIPOC, how have you stayed silent when you saw it happening? When you’ve lauded organisations/events for being ‘diverse’ because they appear to have a few BIPOC, how much further have you looked into their practices and policies? How have you mistaken the ‘look’ of diversity for actual inclusivity and equity?
I wasn't really sure where to begin on this day. Then a read a a post, posted through the hashtag #meandwhitesupremacy. Lily shared a thought about how she was guilty of tokenisation because she watched a series with black protagonists out of guilt. Then followed Instagram accounts curated by BIPOC for the same reasons. And I have to agree with that assessment. I have been actively seeking out BIPOC things to follow. My goal has been to diversify my social media for a long time. I look to follow fat woman, disabled women, yogis of different sizes and BIPOC. At first this wasn't for no longer reasons than I should diversify. It wasn't about the content they were working hard to put out there. I've sometimes followed someone for the save of diversifying my feed and then unfollowed them because their content is too heavy for me. So many of the brands I am aware of tokenize BIPOC women and I never really noticed. I had the one brown friend for years and I worry about how I used them during the time of our friendship. The harm that I most definitely caused them because I was/am so unaware.
Some things I need to ask myself came from what Layla Saad said in the YouTube video that accompanied today's post
Is this diversifying my feed or tokenism?
Is this helping honestly or is this my white savior complex?
Am I doing the work?
Day 18 - What have you learnt about You & White Saviourism
What have you learnt about You & White Saviourism? Have you stepped in to try and ‘save’ BIPOC or have you thought about it? Have you tried to intervene, offer instruction or guidance believing that your (superior white) view would offer the best solutions? Have you seen yourself as an activist whose job is to give a voice to the so-called voiceless? Have you spoken over BIPOC because you felt that you could explain their experiences better than they can? Have you thought of dismantling racism as something that you needed to give your ‘help’ to as some sort of good white benefactor? And have you been taken aback when BIPOC have told you that they don’t need your ‘help’, they need you to be quiet, listen, do the work and follow BIPOC leadership?
I honestly had never heard this term until a yogi I followed posted a story about someone doing this. My immediate response following was how thankful I was that I had never done the missionary things that I felt pressured to do when I was a teen. Now as I have dug into it a bit more I have a bit more understanding. White saviourism is patronizing and I am a pro at patronizing. I have definitely stepped in to save a few brown friends, I just won't have put it to my white superiority until now. Since moving to the states all I have thought about doing is becoming an activist for the voice-less. I have never actually taken the steps to do so though.
DAY 19 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & OPTICAL ALLYSHIP
What have you learnt about how you perform Optical Allyship?
I chose not to post my responses on IG because I didn't feel like I was an ally. But I think it was actually because of fear of true participation. I have been participating everyday but I've been turning it into personal blog posts vs sharing with others in the challenge. Today's prompt made me really think about my motivation behind that. I think that by doing it the way I was, I was looking for a pat on the back for my participation. Not only that I was putting it in a setting that only I controlled. In the words of Layla from previous posts I was stealing and as she said in today's video, I've been showing up behind closed doors and not publicly. Which is defeating the reason I am showing up here in the first place. I am guilty of being nice to BIPOC so I can be seen as a good person. I am guilty of acts done in the same meaning. While those acts haven't been on the scale of activism they have been towards people that I claimed to be friends with. But what kind of friend am I if that is my motivation?
DAY 20 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & BEING CALLED OUT
What have you learnt about You & Being Called Out? What have you felt, thought, said or done when called out, or how do you think you would react if it hasn’t happened yet? What about apologizing after being called out - have you been able to do that sincerely, or have you swept it under the rug hoping no one would notice? Most white people who have done racist harm to me have never come back to sincerely apologize or make amends. Are you one of those people who cannot apologize to BIPOC?
Apologizing is a hard thing for me. I grew up apologizing for my existence so as an adult I had taken the stance that I was never again going to apologize for anything I do. However you can't go through life not apologizing. It is the right thing to do when you have harmed another person. I need to learn how to apologize and be honest when I do that. Until yesterday I felt like I had never really been called out on anything. Then I realized I was doing exactly what Layla was talking about by not sharing my responses. I was being that white person. I wasn't participating. That was wrong and for that I am sorry. It won't be the last time I screw up and I need to accept when I am called out by others. I used to claim I was a fantastic listener but I am not. Not really. I like to pretend I am but I don't care to fully pay attention. I don't know how I feel about being called out but I do realized that it causes me to want to hid and have it swept under the rug. I take no steps forward due to fear of being called out, another form of hiding. Being called out is a way to grow. I need to be better aware of that and accept it for what it is. I also realize I have been called out before. I talked about being called out on Day 10 and I don't think I ever apologized to that co-worker for having to do that.
DAY 21 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT SO FAR ABOUT YOU & WHITE SUPREMACY
This week we covered White Apathy, White Centering, Tokenism, White Saviourism, Optical Allyship and Being Called Out. What more have you learnt about yourself and your unique, personal brand of white supremacy? In what ways have you realised behaviours you’ve thought ‘weren’t that bad’ were actually super harmful? Where are you beginning to see your biggest work is when it comes to your personal anti-racism work? Where are you starting to do your work, and where are you still holding back? What other dots have you started connecting when reflecting on the last week and the last three weeks?
I have learned that I am a lot more fragile when it comes to being called out than I expected. I've realized that my inability to apologize does a lot of harm and that I need to work on being sincere. I've learned that I've been an optical ally for a long time. My world is very white centered. The biggest thing I have learned is that I need to apologize and be conscious of my decisions and that I fail in this regard more often than anything else. I am afraid to keep doing the work, afraid of the long term investment of changing my white supremacist views.
DAY 22 - WHAT YOU HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & WHITE FEMINISM
What have you learnt about You & White Feminism? To what extent has your idea of feminism been under the issue of gender only? How has your feminism neglected or minimized the issues of BIPOC? How has your feminism rejected, discounted or simply ignored BIPOC leaders? How has your feminism been white-centered?
My feminist outlook has always been white-centered, as stated previously I have ignored POC's presence. I picked up the book Sharp and the books whole purpose was talking about white women charging in on the feminist front. A month ago this probably won't have bothered my. But now it feels like a quarter of the story. I look upon my ideas of feminism and realize that I have lots of ideals but have never done anything. As a white feminist there has always been dozens of other women out there doing things for me and so I have sat and let them do it. Those leaders haven't ever mentioned BIPOC leaders, they've been ignored and so my awareness of them was nil. Even when I bought We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I didn't think about intersectionality feminism. I just thought it was a great motivating read and moved on.
I am going to end today here. There is much to dive into in my own complicity to the issues. If you would like to participate in the conversation leave a comment or if you would like to have a private conversation fill out my contact form.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The questions and italicized text are copied from Layla Saad's Instagram. I highly recommend that if you are going to participate to please check out her information and links. Please be aware that you have no right to harass her or be cruel to her in any way when it comes to this topic. All opinions within this post are my own.