Let me introduce myself –
I am a white, upper middle class, liberal American woman. I am steeped in bias. I am fearful of doing it wrong. I am embarrassed for being so slow to step up and act. I feel ignorant, fragile, and stupid for feeling ignorant and fragile. I feel overwhelmed that the problem is too big. My conflict-avoidant nature tells me stay quiet, keep my head down, and let the grown-ups in the room figure it out.
And this week I finally realized that isn’t enough anymore. I HAVE to move past those feelings. I HAVE to risk doing it wrong.
So today’s post is addressed specifically to my fellow white women who might be feeling that way too.
The first thing I want to say is that I don’t have all the answers. Hell, I don’t even have some of the answers. But I do have a strong willingness to try, to learn to do it differently, and so this newsletter is opening the conversation. I am going to provide some reflections, give some resources, and invite further discussion.
I have spent a lot of time (too much time) on social media this week and there is one trend I see over and over and over: I call it “look at me” protesting. Meaning that well-intentioned white women throw up a liberal post about Black Lives Matter and then throw down a few comments correcting other white people for using the wrong term or sharing the wrong sentiment all in an effort to say, “LOOK AT ME! I am speaking up. I am an open-minded liberal person.” This act of actively shaming people in the spirit of being a liberal white person is toxic behavior.
And we need to check ourselves.
I want us to notice our shame. There is SO MUCH SHAME. And when we feel that shame, we get defensive, judgmental, and self-protective. In other words, our BFFs are running amuck.
Our BFF is always going to protect us from feeling shame (whether from our Mongers or from the outside world). She is as sneaky as our Monger. She encourages us to shame other people to make ourselves feel better. She convinces us that everyone else is the problem and we are good liberal women. She tells us it is okay to not do anything. That it won’t help anyway—I mean what can one person do when the whole nation is a mess?
I have seen my BFF a lot this week. I see a post on social media that makes me feel shame and my BFF comes out to say, “Well, who does she think she is?!” or “She said it wrong! It isn’t African American; it is a Person of Color.”
When I hear my BFF yammering, I try to pause and bring in my Biggest Fan. I practice A.S.K. I acknowledge all of those uncomfortable feelings. I get into my body and I get some perspective. I ask myself: Wow, what is that about?!? Is there something I need to own here?
I give myself some extra kindness and remind myself that this is uncomfortable. This is hard and I can do hard things. I can grow here.
We have been steeped in a system of biases. The messages are everywhere in our culture, in our families, and in the media—and these messages are taking innocent black lives. We swallow these messages every day and we need to start owning them, getting uncomfortable, and making corrections.
So here are some next steps:
Resources to take action: Petitions, protests, and organizations that need money. These are ways you can take action in the larger world.
What I said when my white friend asked for my black opinion on white privilege: This is a longer article, but she shares powerful examples of the insidiousness of privilege.
How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them. TEDx talk by Vernā Myers. An informative and humorous look at how biases are everywhere.
Who, Me? Biased? This is a powerful short video series on how bias works.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is is a young-adult novel that I read a few years ago. It started a lot of conversations for me around race and the police.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
I am currently reading this New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
A New York Times bestseller. A “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves.
Bonus: Ibram X. Kendi was interviewed this week on Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us.
The Opt-In Podcast: The Opt-In invites its audience to an intimate, ongoing conversation between a Woman of Color and a white woman who are unpeeling their collective conditioning, exploring ongoing re-education, and stumbling on their traumas and blind spots, all while making more space for love, forgiveness, freedom, and truth.
Speaking of Racism: A podcast dedicated to frank, honest, and respectful discussions about racism in the U.S.
I admit, when I first went to buy the books I listed above (and a few others), I filled my cart and then said to myself, “Really? Are you going to read all of these books? Let’s pick one.”
Pick one. Pick one podcast. Pick one link above. Pick one book. AND READ IT. LISTEN TO IT. Then pick one white friend or a couple of white friends and talk about it.
Find a space where you feel safe to say, “I am ignorant. I have uncomfortable questions. Can you help?” One of the best things I did this week was to reach out to a friend of mine and we agreed to create a shame-free space where we can challenge each other and say things we feel stupid saying. Most importantly, create these spaces with other white people—do not seek safe spaces, or require emotional labor, from black people, especially right now.
Loving Reminder: This is on-going work. This is work we need to be doing all the time, every day. Checking our biases, noticing our judgments, seeing our shame. Our Monger tells us if we don’t do all the things right now, we are doing it wrong, so the tendency is to go out and buy all the books, save all the links I shared to watch later, and blast social media with all the anti-racist messages you can find. And then, a month from now, the books sit, the links go unread, the podcasts and videos are forgotten, and social media goes back to dogs and selfies.
This is not a “let’s look at the issue of race and privilege hard this week and then next week go back to life as normal” situation. Our Mongers will tell us we have to do it perfectly or not do it at all. Remember, she loves right and wrong thinking. Do not listen to your Monger. I will do it wrong, you will do it wrong. We are human; we do things wrong.
There is no right way. But here is my new motto when you make a mistake: Listen, learn, make corrections.
Feel free to reach out to me and share your messy thoughts and feelings. I am actively learning, so if you know of any resources that were helpful to you, please send them my way.
Stay safe, my friends.
I wrestled this week about whether to release a new episode of my podcast given the struggles we are having as a nation. In the past, I would have paused the podcast out of fear and not wanting to rock the boat, because as I said in the above, I believe this work is on-going and I want to do it differently. However, I decided to go ahead and release it and added a brief intro sharing my thoughts on the murder of George Floyd as well as resources and ways to make a change. I encourage you to at least give the intro a listen, and if you want to keep listening to my interview with Danielle Brooker, wonderful. If you would rather wait and listen to it later, wonderful too. But please, listen to the intro.