What I've Learned About White Supremacy as a White Person and How We Can Fight It
As someone who lives with borderline personality disorder (BPD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and chronic illness, I have experienced a great deal of stigma and marginalization in my life. As a cisgender White woman, I am realizing the incredible amount that my experience has nonetheless been protected by privilege. When I consider the intersectionality of race and mental health, it sickens me to know how much worse the stigma and marginalization is for Black people and other people of color. Even more sickening is the knowledge that the stigma and marginalization for both race and mental health is a direct product of white supremacy culture, my ancestral legacy.
As a White woman actively benefitting from white supremacy culture, I feel an intense onus to do everything in my power to dismantle the toxic systems that produced me. I have committed myself to research, reflect and resolve to act to correct the horrific actions of my ancestors. I took a week off from posting on social media to amplify melanated voices and used that time to research. Not only did I find a lot of valuable information, but I also realized just how much more there is for us to learn. This is a lifelong project. I’d like to share a bit of what I have learned, after which I will also share my current plan of action (always subject to change as new information is acquired).
Here’s what I want to share about what I learned:
1. I took the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), confident that I would be fairly unbiased.
I was not. In fact, I was significantly biased towards White skin. This opened my eyes to how severe the subconscious, systemic racism pervading our society actually is.
2. Following that thread, I looked at my bookshelf.
It reads like a whitewashed wall. I reflected on my purchasing process because I know that I don’t actively seek out White authors specifically. I realized that the vast majority of books marketed to me are by White authors and I have never noticed or questioned that. Implicit bias. It’s not that there aren’t equally (and even more) talented Black authors out there. There are so many of them; they are just not being placed in front of me when I walk into the bookstore.
3. Making a donation and signing a petition is ridiculously easy.
Signing a petition takes a minute at most. Donating even $5 can make the difference between a mask being provided, a meal being eaten, first aid supplies being secured, etc. It’s never been easier for us to chip in with today’s technology.
4. We’re silenced in our pursuit of happiness.
Capitalism placates us with beautiful things to look at and spend our money on. It offers material possession as the balm to what ails us. We spend countless dollars on holistic remedies to avoid facing what’s actually making us sick. We send our dollars away instead of investing them in our communities. We are convinced that we can fix ourselves (without doing the hard work) if we throw enough money at the problem. We spend money on ourselves instead of putting it toward fixing the world we live in, as if we could ever be happy and healthy in a dying world. We starve ourselves in a perpetual, fruitless endeavor to achieve an impossible ideal, which consumes us so entirely that we don’t have the energy to look beyond our noses to see that our world is falling apart and that it’s entirely our fault.
5. White supremacy culture affects all of us.
We only stand to gain by abolishing it. Black people are disproportionately affected by this, I cannot overstate this fact, but we are all being held down by the way our society operates. What does it say about us that we value property and capitol over human life? What twisted things happened to us that made us lose our empathy, compassion and humanity? The discussion in White households shouldn’t be “why Black lives matter” because that is just a fact. The discussion should be centered around “why don’t we value their life in the first place, and what can we do to rectify our brutal indifference?”
We hoard supplies instead of making sure everyone in our communities have enough. We take N95 masks and PPE out of the hands of frontline workers who need them more. We kill Black people on suspicion of disobedience, yet we let angry White people walk free on proven charges of murder and assault. We treat policing as a war on crime instead of as a community-centric service. We fund police while we leave hospitals barren. We defund essential services, yet expect them to be the first ones back to work so that our comfort is not affected. We protest losing our “freedom” instead of protesting that some have never had it to begin with. We compare this “loss of freedom” (being “trapped” in our homes with our rights intact) to being incarcerated.
There is no equality here; there never has been.
I now commit to doing the following:
1. I will treat the process of unlearning my implicit bias, learning the true narrative of history, and learning how to dismantle white supremacy culture from within as a lifelong project. I will never run out of things to learn from this movement.
2. I will consume consciously. I will go away from mainstream marketing and seek a variety of voices. I will find talent everywhere because it exists everywhere. I will spend my dollars in my community because I understand that we all rise when we lift each other up. Instead of offering promos for Black people for my own services (which keeps the money in my hands), I will promote Black businesses and give them the jobs I would have taken with my own promotion.
3. I will continue to redistribute my wealth and sign every petition that crosses my screen until we are all treated justly and equitably. After that occurs, I will continue to redistribute my wealth because that’s the kind of society I’m invested in living in.
4. I will continue the hard work of healing the toxic narratives that run through my veins as a result of my culture. I will commit to taking accountability for the actions of my ancestors, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. I will do this because this work saves lives. My discomfort doesn’t even compare to the loss of countless lives at the expense of my comfort.
5. I will continue to have these important conversations whenever I witness racism happening, and even when I don’t. All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter. I’m going to stop trying to convince people why Black lives matter and start turning the lens back onto the person, asking why they, themselves, don’t value Black lives. I am going to speak loudly and allow myself to be corrected and humbled at every opportunity. I will not be silent for fear of making a fool of myself; we are already fools for allowing this to continue so long.
6. I will call out systemic inequalities whenever I see them. I will not tolerate the selfish behavior of this pandemic any longer because it is a symptom of this much bigger problem. I will wear a mask to protect my community. I will buy only what I need so that everyone can have some. I will listen to public health orders. I will stay in my home as much as possible until it is safe for my community for me to leave.
If you notice any errors in my discourse (let’s not be pedantic though, remember what the real issue is here) please point them out to me. You will be met with nothing but respect in our conversation. I’m not perfect, and I’m not trying to be. It’s not about me. I’m just trying to be better, and I hope everyone reading this will do the same.
Photo by Adam Bouse on Unsplash