whiteness

One thing I’m noticing is the suffering of White folks.

This statement makes me uncomfortable to say as a White woman. I’ve been trained and conditioned to not attend to White suffering and to direct my noticing to the suffering of those more directly oppressed by racial injustice and White Supremacy. I’ve diminished the suffering of those with privilege and focused my justice-making and healing intentions on “those people” with less power and racial privilege.

Damn, we can be dangerous as well-intentioned white folks. Because at the end of the day, this approach reproduces dominant power structures. This framing only (re)positions the dominant as dominant.

I’ve been wondering about how we are all subject to structures of domination and how we are all harmed by them. How might we notice and tend to our own internalized White Supremacy and Whiteness so that we can actually be in community with one another?

White Supremacy is so baked into the DNA of every molecule of everything in this nation that it really screws with the dominant group. For white people to awaken to ways in which we are have been harmed by White Supremacy is damn near impossible. The forces of Whiteness—institutionalized and structural racism as well as internalized Whiteness–make it very difficult for White folks to see Whiteness and to notice how it impacts us. Mostly, when we can see Whiteness, it is too scary. It calls into question everything we think we know about ourselves, our world. We turn away with all our distancing behaviors and white fragility before we have the chance to experience our fullness, our wholeness, our connectedness.

For me, ego is a helpful red flag of sorts that signals when my internalized Whiteness and other dominant patterns are showing up. My whole Self splits up and my mind drowns out my body. Sometimes I catch myself not breathing, I am so withdrawn into my mind. The world is reduced to terms of either/or and right/wrong and my life force moves out of the present moment into the future with goals and plans and outcomes and answers. Connection is lost with those around me as I become distractingly invested in their opinions of me. I become much too big, swelling up like the marshmallow monster in Ghostbusters while also losing my Self, driven by racing thoughts and triggered emotions. My determination and drive to do more, do better, go faster increases as I try desperately to fix and solve and please.

I’ve noticed that this happens especially in moments when I feel expectations of how I’m supposed to perform, when I’ve internalized scripts about what “successful”, “smart”, “knowledgeable”—all driven by White Supremacy and systems of domination. I beat myself up when I don’t perform these roles well, when I fail or stumble or come up short. I ruminate on what I should have said or done or not said or not done. I can be my own worst enemy.

This behavior is certainly not in the service of the world. Being stuck here, in ego-driven Whiteness, is not helpful in meeting what the world needs right now. Or in living a full and rich life with those around me. So we gotta figure out how to notice our own internalized patterns of domination so that we can disentangle our being from them, and be free.

Free. It is for sure unsettling to land here—on freedom for White folks—given the state of the world and the impact on Black and Brown lives. And yet, here I am. Because I just keep seeing racial and social violence perpetuated by White folks that cannot—or will not—see their actions as violent. We cannot feel and experience the disconnection that has rooted within our minds and hearts branching out into our relationships and worlds. As White folks, it is too threatening to our identity, our worlds to let go of the promises Whiteness falsely claim and surrender to not knowing. It is too painful to really look at ourselves, to experience our own pain.

And yet this is the path to love and liberation.

It’s a conundrum. Letting go of all we know and believe in order to be free. To undo ourselves completely in order to be whole. And that as White folks, we’re the ones who need liberating.

Maymoud Darwish’s The Prison Cell gets at this beautifully:

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.


Are we ready, as White folks, for what this will take? I’m choosing yes.

One thought on “whiteness”

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