I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been guilty and afraid. Guilty because a few months ago I hurt someone I deeply admire. Afraid because, as a result, I started questioning if my attempts to combat racism are doing more harm than good. It isn’t helpful for me to “address” racism in a way that silences women of color and provides an easy out for women of privilege.
Wincing, curling into a ball and hiding is selfish and unproductive, so I’m able to push that aside. I owned my mistakes and apologized. I will do better in the future. But what does “better” look like?
How much of white “activist” work is actually oppressive?
I attended Western States conference last summer. In the second half of the Beyond Diversity workshop, I started noticing that the white co-leader resisted critiques of the process by people of color, but responded well to people of privilege, including me. The previous day in our Theatre of the Oppressed training, I’d had the physical experience of seeing my own racism show up in my body (and my speech) as we role-played a racist event.
It made me wonder if white people are MORE racist during their activist, anti-racist activities. The very act of trying to uproot racism, so seemingly central to white survival, can provoke a backlash within the white activist. And at the same time that this racism is showing up, the white person gets to feel like a good white person for being an activist. So, in the end, does it really help?
I don’t know. What I do get, on a new level, is how much it costs activists of color to work with white allies. People of color bear the cost of white enlightenment and make it “safe” for white people, because that’s how racism works. That’s how the system works.
How do people of privilege bring down a system that supports them?
Because while I want to destroy the system, what I seem to be doing is simply making white racism more “enlightened” in a civilized way…that kind of nice destructive civilizing that brought us the genocide of colonization. The missionaries had good intentions too, and I’m one of them.