Someone I respect* linked me to this South African speaker with a note about how we can look at how this applies to our situation in the USA. At the end, the speaker says, “I would be interested in hearing how white people process the emotional baggage of what their ancestors did. I would be interested in trying to understand what it did to white families. How much silence did white people have to cope with? How did white people build a shield around themselves to be able to deal with the system in which whiteness operated all these years? That’s an emotional conversation, that’s a delicate conversation….”
I’ve been considering writing about “my white feelings” for a while, the things that white people often share in response to articles and words about racism. We should not do that, it takes away from people of color’s needs. We should be able to make our own spaces of sharing, that people of color can come to when they choose. This is obvious if you think about it, but since we haven’t made enough of those spaces, or since those spaces can get so problematic, we come to people of color instead. And I think we do it (or have done it) because of white supremacy, which is heavily influenced by Christianity: it turns feelings of wanting justice into white guilt, turns admission into confession, redirects white people’s anti-racist work into the pursuit of virtue, makes us seek people of color as judges of our own moral purity. Or we want to be labeled white anti-racists and have people of color be grateful to us. That’s of course among white people who don’t (or seem to me they don’t) want to be racist.
But there are so many feelings I have specifically about whiteness, where to start? Which writing would potentially be useful to broader movements, and which will not? When should I be speaking alone, and when with other white people? I don’t have a lot of examples to follow; many white people have written well about anti-racism, even about understanding our own peoples better, but not about anger and whiteness itself. Not so much about feelings; I was even in a workshop where we talked about how not talking about feelings is a symptom of white culture. And my first invitations by other white activists to process with them had me help perpetuate a mess of so much white supremacy, it’s a major source of anger and bitterness for me–as is the way they shut a couple of us out once we became a threat, or maybe I was the main threat. And when trying to talk about this with people close to me, I find myself muddled and unsure what to say. So I’m gonna start this alone, although informed by others.
I think this video was a tipping point for me, a place to start. My intention here is to write my truth, to where it overlaps with other white people’s lives, but not to speak for them and definitely not to perpetuate racism. I have heard multiple calls from people of color for white people to be vulnerable in this way, but I am still afraid of doing it, in part because of what people may think of me, but mostly because of the potential for people to co-opt my words. I have told my truth in the face of white supremacy and had other white people say they “agreed” with me then demonstrate they understood nothing that mattered. If you are a white person talking to me, that is great, and I will engage with you as much as I can especially if I know you. If you are linking to me though, really to anything on my blog, you better be damn sure it’s really for something I said, not something people of color taught me, or say it better. Here are some of my sources of inspiration and understanding in discourse right now, but there are so many I can’t hope to link them all. (1 2 3 and 4 and many more.)
*This refers to a queer person of color who has shared a lot of insight and vision with me due to past and maybe future work, together and apart.