White Folks Facing Race: Isolation Undermines Survival
I have been thinking a lot about what it means to live in a community, but not to be in community with our neighbors.
What I have observed and experienced about affluent White parenting is how isolating it is, how competitive and closed-off it can be as families hoard information and resources and scramble to get “the best” for their kids. These tendencies reach beyond parenting and into white supremacy culture generally.
Something about the affluent part is key. A friend talked to me about growing up in poverty and how community was naturally built because everyone depended on each other, for childcare, for errands, for basic necessities, for job opportunities. They had these struggles in common and they worked to alleviate the challenges for each other, as a group. Isolation in that context had clear negative consequences.
My experience of becoming affluent has led to an understanding that the more financial security we have, the less we need each other for support because we can just buy it/hire it/delegate it. We are more isolated from our community because we are self-sufficient, we have everything we need. Except we don’t.
We lose one of the most valuable things about being a human being. We lose connection. We lose meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and love and interdependence. It takes effort to find connections with our peers that go beyond hoarding and wealth and competition.
I read an article about how people survive during and after natural disasters and while wealth can make a difference, “it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath.” As climate change threatens communities all over the world, our ties to our communities will prove to be our lifelines in many different ways.
It’s also about being White. White supremacy culture teaches individualism, pushing the idea that anyone can succeed if they work hard and that success is only because of an individual’s actions or choices. This is an isolating way to see the world, encouraging competition and severing interconnectedness. This is not how humans have survived for hundreds of thousands of years and it is not how we will continue to survive the many challenges ahead of us.
I’m slowly reading Debby Irving’s Waking Up White and she writes partially about how White culture encourages people not to depend on each other, to be self-sufficient because that’s what success looks like. To depend on others means to be a failure in some way. And yet, one of the contradictions of white supremacy culture is that one of the reasons White people have the privileges they do is because of the way White people support each other, with bank loans, job recommendations, educational opportunities, and a myriad of other ways that the systems in place support the hopes and dreams and efforts of White people over those of everyone else.
White people end up being doubly isolated by white supremacy from those outside of our segregated communities and by our own individualism within our communities.
So many things are isolating us from each other right now. The pandemic and remote work has been isolating for many people in ways that are obvious and in much smaller ways. Our focus on our phones and on technology in general can make us feel like we’re connecting with people, but it is more often negative and undermining of our love for humanity than it is positive and love-affirming. We often pay more attention to our devices than to others in our household.
Our interactions with people tend to be more transactional — the delivery person, the ride-share driver, the mail delivery person, the wait-staff, the person scanning our groceries. How many times in the last month have you tried to connect in a meaningful way with one of these people? How does your conversation contribute to your connections with each other?
I’m making a lot of assumptions and generalizations here, and maybe you have a robust, interconnected community, and if so, that’s wonderful. Keep it going. But I’m an introvert and I know there are a lot of potential barriers to what I’m suggesting here. So please, however you feel comfortable, choose at least one or two people to connect with in a more meaningful way than you have before. And if that goes well, choose another one or two. Make a point of showing some love and kindness to someone outside of your current community. And look inside and consider the connections you have inside your community. Are these relationships what you want them to be?
Are you living in a community as an isolated household, or are you in community with your neighbors and fellow humans? If you need inspiration, I suggest Crowded Table by The Highwomen. It brings me to tears. Every time. We cannot have solidarity if we don’t even know each other.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.