You & White Supremacy
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 1 - What have you learnt about You & White Privilege
As in what have you learned about you and YOUR specific white privilege, how it shows up, how you hold on to it, how you use it (consciously or unconsciously) against people of colour. Tell us about how you benefit from it and how you have held onto that benefit (despite knowing the harm it does). What have you learnt about the ways you specifically wield this privilege that do harm (whether or not you intended it). Dig deep. No sugar coating and no focusing on the good you have done with your privilege (remember this isn’t about being self-congratulatory). What have you learnt about your white privilege that makes you uncomfortable?
Recently my privilege got me through an interesting scenario with immigration. We walked in an hour early without paperwork, made it through security with no problem and got through the appointment. That was not the case for anyone not white. We watch three men have to take off their shoes and hats, another continually get asked to leave because he didn't have an appointment. Not only did we make it through but we did it while breaking the rules. It states that you can not bring your phones in and that you must have the paperwork mailed to you, on hand. I am uncomfortable with the fact that so far the immigration process has required very little of my husband and I. I am uncomfortable with the ease that got Kevin into secondary education and then into his current position. I am uncomfortable with the fact that we are making enough that me not working isn't an issue. I am uncomfortable with how amazing my health care is, especially regarding mental health, in the United States!
I have huge privilege when it comes to finances - from working in a bank, to easily applying for and being granted loan funds, to the dozens of pre-approved credit card applications we get, to being in debt but not stressed about it. I have huge privilege when it comes to my vehicle - having access to it in the first place, easily purchasing it, being able to fill it up without worry and even have someone else (Kevin) gas it up for me. I have huge privilege when it comes to yoga - everywhere I look there is a yogi like me, every class I take I don't feel judged for attending, I have access to it.
How these are harmful to others is in my ignorance. For example at the immigration office. We watched the racial profiling and did nothing. I want to use the excuse that our hands were tied because saying something might get us kicked out, jeopardizing our future, but it's just an excuse. I don't know if I would have been brave enough to say anything if that wasn't something held over me and that's the problem. When reading through the comments on the Instagram post, I read a line "I've used my whiteness as a cloak of innocence." It's a pretty good way to wrap up how blind I am.
Day 2 - What have you learnt about You & White Fragility
How has and/or does your white fragility show up? How have you fallen apart or taken the position of victim during racial interactions? How have you weaponised your fragility against BIPOC through for example, calling the authorities, crying, claiming you’re being harmed (‘reverse-racism!’, ‘I’m being shamed!’, ‘I’m being attacked!’)? What emotional outbursts have you had during racial interactions? Or how have you shut down, walked away, deleted everything and pretended nothing happened and hoped no-one would notice?
I shut down or walk away (almost daily since moving to the United States and becoming more politically aware). I have claimed that, that is my way of self care. The reality of it though is that shutting down means I don't have to face the emotions I get when faced with my white fragility. I hate the line "not all white people", but the fact is that it is all white people and we use that line to hide behind. I feel very fragile when it comes to talking about race, because I don't know how to do so without being racist. I fall apart by just not participating and I have definitely hoped that no one would notice. My white fragility means I don't always see things clearly in the moment or even later upon reflection.
Day 3 - What have you learnt about You & Tone Policing
How have you used tone policing to silence or shut down BIPOC? Or what tone policing thoughts have you harboured inside when you’ve heard BIPOC talk about race, even if you didn’t say them out loud? How have you derailed conversations about race by focusing on HOW someone said something to you, rather than WHAT they said to you? How often have you claimed or felt you were ‘being shamed’ in conversations about your or other people’s racism? How often have you walked away from race conversations because you didn’t approve of the tone being used? How often have you made your willingness to engage in anti-racism work conditional on people using the ‘right’ tone with you? How have you discounted BIPOC’s real pain over racism because the way they talk about it doesn’t fit with your worldview of how people should talk? How have you used tone to police BIPOC?
This is the post that made me join the challenge. Mainly because the first thing that popped into my head was a post I wrote years ago about a POC co-worker I had. I didn't call her out by name but other co-workers knew. When I got called into the bosses office with this co-worker I was very defensive. The whole situation was me tone policing and not liking this new person who was in a position of power. I did not like this woman and I wonder now, if I was to go back with my current knowledge, how the situation would be different and if I would butt heads with her as much as I did then. I wonder now if my own racial biases is what caused my great dislike for her.
I have tone policed others a fair bit as well and I am unaware of the hurt that has caused at this point of my life. I know that I am easily flustered by anything I think of as a raised voice and I am not always conscious of the fact that people can be expressive in different ways than I.
DAY 4 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & WHITE SILENCE
What have you learnt about You & White Silence? How do you and have you stayed silent when it comes to race/racism? And how has your silence been complicit in upholding racist behaviour?
This is my biggest struggle and I have a lot of excuses surrounding it, though there are two big ones I'm going to focus on. First, I like to claim that if I was still in Canada, I would be different. I would have joined a group and be actively fighting against racism/sexism issues. Except that I didn't do those things when I had a chance to and I had lots of chances. I didn't attend Take Back the Night events. I knew activists and did nothing to support them or be present in their activities. Second excuse, is my immigration status. While my situation is a million times better than the majority of immigrants out there, it has impacted my silence. I am afraid of jeopardizing my situation. I'm afraid of giving money to causes because on the tiniest threat that immigration might want to look at our finances. I'm afraid of signing petitions or joining causes because the government might deem them a terrorist organization. I'm terrified of marching because my face out there might mess with my husbands job. So I do nothing but worry and hide.
DAY 5 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & WHITE SUPERIORITY
What have you learnt about You & White Superiority. In what ways have you consciously or subconsciously believed that you are better than BIPOC? Don’t hide from this. This is the crux of White Supremacy. Own it.
My current neighborhood is the nice side of town. Two blocks over it's not. When we looked at the apartment two blocks away and were horrified. The black property manager directly said we'd be happier here and we agreed.We walked over and then moved to where it's mostly white, middle-class people.
Up until last year the majority of my books were written by white females. Before that the only books I read written by people of color were manga. About half ways through 2017 I realized this and began actively looking for books not written by white authors and it has been challenging, because the publicity for BIPOC is minuscule comparably.
Those are situational and I like to say one offs and I also want to say I have never felt superior except that's not the truth. Back to the co-worker I mentioned in Day 3, I felt superior to her and was angered by her presence. I've listened to hundreds of conversations from my parents or grandparents about our superiority. Whether it was worded that way or not, it's exactly how it was meant. We were better than everyone else, even though we've done nothing. It's unpleasant to realize that these thoughts are in my mind.
DAY 6 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOU & WHITE EXCEPTIONALISM
In what ways have or do you believe you are exceptional, exempt, one of the ‘good ones’ or above this? In what ways have you believed you are the exception to the rule?
The line that got me the most today was "White exceptionalism is the belief that because you’ve read some books on this topic and follow some BIPOC, you know it all and don’t need to dig deeper." My mindset up to this point had been that I will go through this and then be a great ally. Everything will go back to normal. That's not how this works, it's going to be a daily battle. I don't know what hidden racism I have inside me and I think I need to acknowledge that this will be a forever learning curve. I am not special, I don't deserve a cookie for doing the work. This is work that I should be doing and doing often.
DAY 7 - WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT SO FAR ABOUT YOU & WHITE SUPREMACY
What have you learnt so far?
I've learned how blind I am and how blind a lot of the people I know are. Reading through the comments I feel like I haven't dug deep enough. That I don't fully understand the full scope of things. There is so much to dig into and I am questioning if I am really breaking through my thoughts. Something that continually comes up is emotional labor. It is definitely a topic I want to delve into more. Layla Saad is constantly having to repeat herself on it, stating that she is not here to do the emotional labor for others following this and that google is free. I am aware that I put a lot of emotional burdens on others and that I need to work on that, among things.
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.