You're White and You're Woke... Now What?
The “Divided” States of America. This is what we are right now. Some would argue we’ve always been this way, it's just that now White Supremacy and white rage have a more visible platform, a louder voice, and a real-life mascot.
Because the division seems to be so clear (either you are on the left or the right, either you voted for Biden or Trump), it's easy for liberal, or “woke,” white people to feel that they are safe on the side of Progressivism. These are the white people I’d like to address. So, gather ‘round, friends, let’s chat.
Perhaps you feel confident that you are not racist because you have a “ByeDon” bumper sticker, or you have decided that you won’t be attending that problematic aunt and uncle’s Thanksgiving dinner this year (and not just because of COVID), or that you have a highlighted and earmarked White Fragility book on your nightstand. Perhaps you even understand that there is no “not racist” and you recognize that people’s actions are either racist or anti-racist. If you identify as white, and feel comfortable at all about your actions against racism, then I’d like to lovingly and deliberately call you out, because you should never be or feel comfortable when it comes to battling White Supremacy. Comfort is the cousin of inaction, and inaction fuels White Supremacy.
So, here are a few tips for the White and Woke that might help you stay uncomfortable and stay “Up.”
1. If you feel like you're doing enough... you aren’t.
There is never a time when it’s not a white person’s responsibility to do something about racism. In fact, it’s THE responsibility of white people to dismantle racism. However, many have not consistently engaged in the fight because, firstly, it’s HARD! Additionally, on the surface, it works against your own interest as a white person in America. So, figure out what you need to stay in the fight, and be mindful of the energy you consciously and/or unconsciously take from BIPOC people to sustain you in your journey.
2. To truly dismantle the power structure of white superiority, you must consciously and consistently position yourself to follow the lead of those who have been oppressed.
This addresses the insidious White Savior complex. It means not only acknowledging the inherent power bestowed upon you, but acknowledging that this “power” was manufactured, and on the backs of Black and Brown people, literally and figuratively. There is in fact nothing inherently superior about white people, yet we have the commonly known phrase White Supremacy. Think about that. Even in our attempt to dismantle White Supremacy, we are unconsciously indicating that there is something supreme about whiteness. Case in point, what feelings or images are evoked if you hear the words “Black Supremacy,” “Apache Supremacy,” “Filipino Supremacy?” I’ll wait. Recognize that your “power” is illusionary, albeit with real life consequences. Use this manufactured power to dismantle the very same systems that created it so that all may contribute to and benefit from this country, and learn from the people who have survived and thrived despite living in a racist society. After all, from our diversity comes our strength.
3. Question and assess your own process.
Many woke white people have varying ways of processing and responding to the fact that we are all living in a White Supremacy culture. Because white people have historically not had to truly question their place in this country, their RPM (race processing muscle) is typically underdeveloped and hovering in the green zone. Think of the dashboard in your car. Humans in general avoid uncomfortable situations, but privilege allows some to avoid uncomfortable situations more adeptly and completely than others. What does your “processing privilege” look like? Are you quiet? Do you retreat? Do you ask a lot of questions or rush to provide answers? Do you always want to practice before performing? Do you procrastinate about doing something because you’re afraid of doing it wrong? Think about this, and become familiar with your process. Name it (i.e., “I am quiet right now because I am struggling with the idea of…,” or “I’m trying to be conscious of the air time I’m taking because I have the tendency to rush to answer). Understand how your “processing privilege” impacts those around you, especially BIPOC. Don’t just practice at being anti-racist, but perform it until it becomes personal. And when it’s hard, remember that your discomfort does not compare to the daily, tangible effects of racism faced by BIPOC. If we can experience racism daily, you can perform anti-racism daily. Choosing not to do so is choosing to affirm the lie of white supremacy. After all, it’s a privilege to be on the side of anti-racism.
4. This is your “Thank you.”
It’s normal to want to feel appreciation for your hard work. We all want to be recognized for our accomplishments. The work of anti-racism is nowhere near easy, and cannot be done without white people. If you are truly doing the work, we see you and we thank you. And, hopefully, you will not look for or expect gratitude from BIPOC, because expecting praise for doing what’s just is a subtle form of oppression. White privilege is not earned. Therefore, working against it is not deserving of praise. Do the work because it is the right thing to do, and find appreciation in the fruit of your work.
5. When you complain about non-woke white people who “just don’t understand,” go back to Step 1 and collect your cousins this time.
BIPOC people have developed a multitude of strategies to help other BIPOC survive in a racist world. We have come this far because of the strong sense of community that is inherent in our cultural worldview. The European notion of “individualism” is not indigenous to BIPOC culture. Learn from the resiliency of BIPOC, and then go and collect your cousins. The system of White Supremacy was created, and is maintained, with a community of like-minded white folk getting together to devise and support ways to maintain and expand their manufactured power. Therefore, it will require more like-minded white folk to dismantle it. It is absolutely your responsibility to bring along as many white people as possible. No one can give you the answer on exactly how to do it, especially BIPOC, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do it.
So, let’s conclude with a gut check. Name the feelings you have after reading this. Identify if and where you felt anger or shame. Where did you agree and disagree? This work is personal. It is about balancing the scale towards humanity. No way will any of us get out of doing this work without feeling all the feels. So, be curious and investigate your feelings when someone, especially a BIPOC, is challenging you. Implement your self-care strategies, lean on your “tribe,” continue to educate yourself and others. Stand up, speak out, and show white children how to be anti-racist so that the work trickles down over generations. Whatever you do, you MUST keep at it, because White Supremacy is doing the same. And it’s had a huge head start.