The work of dismantling white supremacy has been severely hindered by the fact that structural racism has gone unnoticed by most of white America for at least couple of centuries now, but it’s hard to ignore at this point.
But will we find a way to ignore it anyway? White people’s complacency is incredibly hard to disrupt. Today that complacency feels like a vast body of water that’s been disturbed by a rock dropping into it. Well, many rocks. Except by “rocks” I mean “dead people.” People murdered by a system that props dominant paradigm people up at every turn and keeps us just comfortable enough that we don’t challenge it.
I watched us after the election. There was such a swell of liberal aggressive energy. As I watched liberals express continued shock and dismay, I feared the moment when my fellow white people would start to realize they were probably not personally in danger if they chose not to be. I dreaded, for the sake of people I love, the moment when most white people would grow weary of the weight of caring about them and their safety. This work is a cross country run. Liberal aggressive energy, unless it’s carefully channeled, causes people to sprint off in all directions looking for anything that will make us feel less terrified of the realities of our society. Anything to assuage the guilt we feel as bearers of whiteness.
Liberal aggressive energy causes people to say things like, “Not my president” or “This isn’t the America we’ve built.”
Except that it really, really is. This *is* the country we’ve built together. Until we truly reckon with that I’m concerned white supremacists will continue to have the upper hand. Further, to think or say otherwise risks undermining our credibility with people who have borne a weight of violent oppression for centuries.
People are gathering today. My own city, whose citizens often think of it as a “liberal utopia” (that claimed identity sometimes makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit when I think about it too much because of certain discriminations people I care about have faced here) had a gathering Saturday night to show unity and solidarity. I’m glad people are doing that, even as a part of me is frustrated that it took Facebook until now to finally popularize an “I stand against racism” frame for people’s profile pictures.
As I sat awake in the wee hours, my laptop perched on a breastfeeding pillow and my newborn asleep next to me, I hated the timing. I felt small and powerless. I feared for my children and the world they are inheriting. That sense of hopelessness echoed the feelings of a friend who recently posted on social media to say, “We’re losing. We’re going to keep losing. I’m glad my kids don’t plan to have kids. I’m glad I’m old and will only have to watch the unraveling of America for the first 30 years of it or so.”*
It reminded me of this quote from the Lord of the Rings:
‘”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”‘
The terrible truth that too many white people of good conscience have yet to face is that this is precisely the America we’ve built. What are we going to do about it?
Let us not act out of guilt. Let us not act out of fear. Let us act out of solidarity and allow care for other human beings to give us the courage to do so. Love is not always softspoken and calm. Sometimes love is tenacious and forthright. The kind of love that can “trump hate” sure as hell is going to require some grit.
A question I’ve heard over and over is, “what can we do?” While there are some common first steps for people who want to work to dismantle white supremacy (here’s a great primer from Ijeoma Oluo, if you haven’t seen it yet, and here’s another perspective that may help you), we all have to engage the work differently. It’s OK to specialize even as we necessarily push ourselves out of our comfort zones. The work includes marching in the streets and calling our senators and stopping to overtly watch when black people are surrounded by the police. It includes raising kids who are prepared to participate meaningfully in this work and it includes talking to other adults in our spheres of influence. It includes using our critical thinking skills to find ways we can stop participating in systems of oppression. It includes many, many more things than this short list.
We can’t do everything. But if each of us does one thing at a time, a growing pile of things will get done and then change may become visible.
*reposted with permission