Earlier this year, I posted White People: A New Year’s Challenge to End Racism, listing five actions we could take in 2015 to improve racial understanding. With the first quarter over, it’s a great opportunity to take stock of progress- if you resolved to become less racist in 2015, how is it going for you? Is it harder or easier than you thought?
For me, the hardest part of becoming less racist was recognizing that I needed to do the work. I am far from done on this journey, I will be walking for a long time. At the start, like many people, I considered myself a good person, and since good people are not racist, I was, ergo, not racist. By studying this topic extensively, having many conversations with friends and colleagues, and actively working against racism I came to understand that in order to become less racist I would need to lose the “good person/bad person” binary and quiet the toxic storm of guilt, shame, and fear that swirled in my brain each time I thought about myself in association with racism.
Pushback against considering ways we are racist is pervasive among white people and one of the biggest obstacles we face in becoming less racist. In an excellent article in Salon, White America’s Racial Illiteracy: Why Our National Conversation is Poisoned from the Start Dr. Robin Diangelo, author of What it Means to Be White, defines this pushback as “White Fragility”: the ways we push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium when challenged.
In order for me to confront my racism, I had to stop considering myself a “good person,” I had to recognize that within myself, as with all other people, was a continuum of propensities for good and bad. I am very fortunate to be born into circumstances that allowed the good in me to develop very strongly, but that doesn’t make me incapable of bad or immune from being a racist.
Equally important, I had to let go of my shame and guilt about my white privilege. For me, becoming less racist is rooted in my desire to deeply understand and connect with fellow human beings, to challenge institutions that reinforce racial inequality, and ultimately to make our society more just and equitable for everyone. It was important for me to not just discard my shame and guilt, I deeply felt guilty and shameful as I came to recognize how white privilege impacts every aspect of my life, continuously setting me up for success. But since shame and guilt prevent me from being present and actually being able to listen and learn, I had to let those feelings go in order to move forward on my journey. To the extent I can, I reallocate the energy I used to expend feeling guilty and shameful to listening, learning and countering racism by connecting people to opportunity.
Similarly I had to lose my fear of making a mistake, of offending someone, of not being liked. What I have come to understand is that contributing to ending racism is more important to me than offending someone who does not share my view that we white people have a massive problem that will take much concentrated effort to correct. Often I make mistakes with my teachers on this journey. I am grateful that they have the compassion to forgive me as they guide me along.
How is your journey? Was this post at all helpful to you?