White Folks Facing Race: Willingness to Make People Uncomfortable

[This is part of my White Folks Facing Race series, originally written on January 29, 2020 to an email group created for community members in the Washington, DC area.]

Hi Friends!

I’m taking this opportunity to share some thoughts with you. There are a few resources at the end.

I had a really interesting conversation with some friends about what kinds of things keep white folks from engaging in anti-racist work. There are many reasons, but one of the ones we focused on, as women in particular, is our socialization to make things comfortable for everyone around us, to be nice and follow the social rules so no one feels uncomfortable. Within this structure, the priority is keeping white men comfortable. In this context, there is a direct conflict between these socialized norms and anti-racist work.

We have to unlearn so many things we have passively absorbed from our upbringings and surroundings. White supremacy and systemic racism permeate everything. The only way to engage in anti-racist work is to do the work to see it, especially in ourselves, and to unlearn it. Step by step, bias by bias, assumption by assumption. Share your self-work challenges with your family, your friends, your children, and show them how to systematically deny the perpetuation of hate.

It’s not easy. Do we hold ourselves or our peers accountable when we can clearly see the costs to ourselves (our job, our social circle, our comfort, our relationships with our colleagues/supervisors)? How do we take that leap? And how can we do it in a way that encourages those around us to understand and embrace our concerns rather than alienate them and put them on the defense?

We are all flawed in this work. The key for me is that we keep trying. We keep listening and apologizing when we have harmed, and we do better the next time. We cannot give up because it is hard or because we are tired. We cannot give up because our mentors are flawed, or because we make mistakes. We have to keep finding ways to do better and to bring others along with us. We have to leave behind the privilege of not having to do the work — we choose to do the work, every day, until it is done. And it is never done. This is the kind of work that you do not, cannot walk away from. It is lifelong for us and for future generations to come.

Rather than letting this be depressing, take solace in knowing that each step matters. Focus on the present moments that make up the journey rather than searching for some end point far away. And know that you are not alone.

From an advice column about how to handle grief in a social situation, but so relevant for any self care when we are doing demanding, draining work (care giving, grief, justice work, etc.): “‘How dare I go out and have a good time when I’m supposed to be sad all the time?’ You are allowed. You are allowed, you are allowed, you are allowed. Living your life, enjoying your friends, participating in a much-loved tradition, and getting out of your own head for a few hours is a necessity for your own survival. You may do this without feeling guilty about it.” We cannot sustain this heavy work without taking care of ourselves. We must trust that when we set down the burden for a few hours, others are picking it up. We are not alone in this work and we must rely on each others’ steadfastness and dedication to self-care so none of us burns out. We give each other permission and encouragement to engage in this work and we do the same for self-care. The sacrifices are real. Take care of yourself. And then come back and continue the work.

Rachel Siegel writes about a recent study about “What shapes a kid’s opportunities? Researchers say look to the neighborhood.” And no, this is not the study that tells you where you should live so your kids can succeed. This tells us about where the system is failing so many kids and how we can address it so every kid has the same opportunities for success.

EVENTS:
- There’s a wonderful free storytelling event at the Arlington Public Library (Central) this Friday called “Black Women Suffragists: a One-Act Play.
- SURJ NoVa is hosting a discussion of the book and film Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson on February 23.

RESOURCES:
- W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Racial Equity Resource Guide
- Center for the Study of White American Culture, particularly their Resources page
- Sunstorm with Alicia Garza and Ai-jen Poo podcasts: “Sunstorm is an audio salon hosted by two of America’s leading activists, Alicia Garza and Ai-jen Poo, where they talk to their friends and sheroes about how women stay powerful and joyful amidst the chaos of life in America today.”
- Brentin Mock and Sarah Holder write about “A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing
- Brentin Mock explains “The Racism Behind Trump’s New ‘Public Charge’ Immigration Policy, Explained
- A reminder of the SURJ NoVa resource “Alternatives to Calling the Police
- Laura Meckler writes about “NYC Community Schools, focused on child poverty, succeed in key metrics, study finds” — likely lessons for Arlington in how we can improve the well-being and education of our students.

Emily
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Mom, Activist, Community Organizer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store