Anti-racism work has been a priority in the last few months, in both the budget and the time I’ve spent investing in educational material (solely from BIPOC). Education has been my focus since I posted this blog post about beginning my anti-racism journey. Along the way, I’ve identified three major lessons that I want to share with you. These lessons have been courtesy of the amazing humans that are working to educate their own spheres of influence, through the use of books, workshops, and social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. At a later time, I would like to go into depth about these specific educators (and there are very many of them) but I don’t want to rush through just providing a list of names and titles in this post, so check back in for that in-depth guide to BIPOC educators you should support (I will add a link to that post once it has been compiled and published!).
For now, onto the major lessons that have surfaced in my own internal work:
Lesson One - Decentering My Story
“This is not about me” is the mantra I have breathed in and out while engaging with anti-racism work over the past number of months. Decentering myself, my story, and my emotional needs has been one of the hardest and most important lessons that I’m learning. Yes, this work is about my own growth and confronting my own biases, but when it comes to anti-racism work, I can’t be centering my own feelings, struggles and challenges. Centering my ego will only lead to me becoming defensive when BIPOC are sharing their lived experiences, their pain and trauma, and what good could that defensiveness possibly do? It’s not about me. Do I feel the dreaded white guilt? Yes. Does that guilt move the conversation forward or spark any real change? No. And so I breathe in and out “this is not about me” when those instinctual, defensive feelings arise; instead of vocalizing them in the moment, I put them aside until I am able to examine them on my own so that I can find the root cause of those feelings.
Lesson Two - Letting Go of “Goodness”
The second major lesson I’ve been learning is to let go of my own need to be good. This goes hand-in-hand with decentering myself because my need to be good will quickly overshadow the impact of my words and actions. My need to be good will motivate me to try to separate myself from racist actions and the perpetrators of those actions. Its instinct to claim “I’m not racist, I [insert unrelated action meant to separate “good” white people from “bad” ones; see, “voted for Obama” “have black friends/family” “support BIPOC causes”]. But this instinct, this need to be good, hides me from seeing the ways in which I’ve benefited from racist systems and even the biases that they have instilled in me, masking the real problem. We live in a racist world/reality; and unless I am actively working to address that, dismantle those systems and those biases, I’m part of those racist problems. It’s not about me and yet I can only start with me. To do that I need to let go of this need to be “good”.
Lesson Three - Harm Reduction
In this current racist reality and world we live in, I must grapple with the fact that my very presence as a white cis-het, middle-class woman, can cause harm. No, I’m not radioactive, but because of my identity, in many, and if not most, situations I may be trusted more, given more, listened to more and judged less for the same actions as my BIPOC counterparts. I may be chosen over BIPOC wedding photographers because clients “relate” to me more. I may be given more opportunities within the network of small business owners and vendors because I am more “professional”. None of this means I am evil, bad, or have harmful intentions, but it does mean that I have greater potential for harm, equivalent to the privilege and power I have been granted in society just because of the colour of my skin (and other socio-economic advantages we can discuss at another time).
You may be asking, what so wrong with taking advantage of these opportunities? Well, inherently, perhaps there isn’t much wrong with that, but in practice, if people who look like me are trusted more than my BIPOC counterparts, that could mean that my [racially charge] fears, for example, would be found more credible than the true actions of a Black boy, like in the case of Emmett Till and Carolyn Bryant. That may be an extreme case and although in the year 2021 we are all pretty good at identifying the “Karens” among us, as a white woman, I have to be honest about the fact that there is a “Karen” that lives in me and if left unchecked, if I let myself center my own story, if I remain only concerned about being good, she might end up on the wrong side of a phone call to the police (and deservedly on the wrong side of a viral video) which may result in a BIPOC individual being on the wrong end of a loaded gun. This ultimately is the harm that I wish to prevent (along with billions of microaggressions BIPOC have to deal with daily!).
This work isn’t easy; confronting one’s own biases never will be. My hope in sharing these lessons with you, my predominantly white audience, is to hopefully inspire you to also embark on your own anti-racism journey, and if you are already trekking away, I hope this encourages you to continue on.