As a white person it’s easy to fall into the pitfall that is white guilt. Before even understanding constitutional/structural racism, you will likely have felt guilt on behalf of figurative ancestors. And some of you may actually be in the lineage of people who owned slaves, allowing you to carry generational guilt.
Here comes the important question: Does you expressing that you feel guilty of any of this help anyone today?
I’m quite convinced it doesn’t. And once you start talking about your white guilt you may experience guilt from expressing it, especially when you’re reminded to not project your white guilt on other people. A few days ago this happened to me, where I ended up projecting white guilt onto something a friend wrote online. Today, I could easily make excuses for why I expressed white guilt, but that’s only really important for myself in regards to not doing it again. But the occurrence reminded me what a vicious cycle it can be and how easy it could be to get trapped in a never ending spiral.
As stated above, if you express your white guilt, and someone in your surroundings call you out on it, you’re likely to feel another pang of guilt wanting to apologize profusely again. And in doing so you make the whole thing about you. You’re not doing anything to solve any of the systemic racism we all live in and are affected by, you just start spiraling and building more guilt about all the times you did something wrong.
“Why am I not allowed to express myself”, is possibly something you’re feeling right now. And honestly, you are allowed to express yourself, but you’re not free from the consequences of it.
I see it as part of any personal growth, you need to be willing to do a lot of internal work. Let me say that again: You Need To Be _Willing_ To Do A Lot Of Internal Work. I hope I emphasized that enough. Doing internal work can still allow space to vent to a friend or confidant, but try to avoid doing that to any friends who are at the opposite end of your white privilege. They don’t need to hear it, it’s not what they need from you, it will most likely drain them. As Bianca Xunise wrote “It’s not my job to absolve you of your white guilt”.
This is why I believe that anyone who feel like they are experiencing this kind of guilt, myself included, need to practice nipping it in the bud, as soon as that white guilt creeps in. Just don’t entertain it, and especially don’t express it. If you need to do something talk with yourself about it (this can be done in text, like a diary or such, or a letter to burn, or your workbook for dismantling your complicity in white supremacy).
I can’t tell you exactly how to have this conversation with yourself, but if I were to do it I’d take a lesson from coping with anxiety: ask yourself questions about the negative thought, the thought about feeling guilty. Ask yourself leading questions, questions you probably already know the answer but need to hear the answer to, you may not even be able to answer it immediately, but have to ask again or ask another question to work around it. These kind of exercises can be done mentally or written. Eventually this becomes second nature, and you’ll do it unconsciously.
Why would white guilt and anxiety be treated the same? I’d rather phrase it like this: Why not take lessons from areas where we’ve experienced how to cope with difficult things? It may not work in every situation, but where it does, it does.
This is me, trying to practice to not let my white guilt take over, but rather work pro-actively to help other people begin their anti-racist journey.
While musings can be supported elsewhere, I will never ask for money for any of my anti-racist work, and every time you’d consider giving me money for it I’d rather have you support other creatives or organizations who are non-white and already having these conversations and doing the work. Alt. if you really want to support me, support someone else with half of the money for the same time. You can read about Anti-racist work for White People here.
Why do I write this? Because I needed to read it years ago. Heck, I needed to start learning about this in kindergarten if not earlier. All the links I’m adding in this post is for you to read, some will be pointed at more than once to drive home that point. I don’t want to just reference them in passing, I’m trying to point at them for you to go look closer at.
Mid-Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself thinking “now is not the time to write this anti-racist article”. As those thoughts danced around my consciousness I realized that they are part of the problem. “Now is not the time to talk about racism”. We always find excuses not to talk about racism, and to not be political. It’s always the time to talk about racism, and anti-racist work. If you didn’t yesterday, there’s no better time than today. And now, as May ended and June began with the Black Lives Matter protests against Police Brutality, it’s even more important for us to talk about. Racism isn’t a new thing, and racism isn’t something only pervasive in America. The racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain [UK resources]. It is so easy to deflect and point fingers at another country as being guilty of racism and anti-blackness, but never look yourself in the mirror. It’s about time to learn your history, especially from the perspective of silenced voices.
This blog post is partially inspired by conversations I see regularly on Mastodon/the fediverse, conversations about how white that space is, and how we as white people fail to do our part. While sitting with the feelings those words evoked in me, I always found myself making excuses, because of my own health and disabilities. I accepted it as truth, even when reading and agreeing with people criticizing white women for hiding behind their queerness and disabilities. So I had to check myself, and thought: what can I actually do? I can talk with other white people about these things, to slowly help change how people behave and talk, and think. When I can’t talk with them in a physical space I can always write.
This article is not me trying to provide all the answers, but rather me gathering some of the resources that other people have already shared, so you in turn can find it and share it with other people. I want to highlight some of these issues, but also help other white people to start looking at their own actions, behaviors and habits, and give you some tips for how you can change and challenge yourself.
For me this is one way to try and be more anti-racist, as sharing this with you should help alleviate some of the work that we tend to put on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). This post will become a collection of resources, both embedded in the text for you to come back to when you’re ready but also specifically listed towards the end. You can read it through once and then go back and look at the links, or head over to each link along the way, whichever feels more comfortable to you. Take the time to process, take notes on how you feel, how you react. Sit with it. Be silent. Just listen.
I will keep referencing my own experiences, because I want to show you that it is a process, and that you wont change or improve over night.
White Privilege – Where to start
First of all you need to see that you as a white person have privilege because of the colour of your skin. This can be hard to recognize, and even harder to accept.
It is so easy for us to say “but I don’t have privilege because x y z.” There are many ways, a lot of us aren’t privileged, but other ways we are. When you’re white, you do not have to deal with people being biased towards you because of the color of your skin, you can never get away from that.
If you as a woman can reflect on sexism, and see how patriarchy has molded you, then taking the next step to also see racism, colonialism and capitalism, isn’t too far off. This is exactly the leap which Peggy McIntosh made in their “White Privilege – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, and in turn their text was definitely an eye-opener for myself and many other people.
Do you have White Privilege?
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
23. I can choose public accommodations without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more less match my skin.
There’s more to the original text than just the above list, and this list isn’t perfect. It is however an opening portal. Whatever your opening portal is, be it the White Privilege text, be it a break-in like described in this update from a Awaken Café, it doesn’t matter, because you are reading this far because you want to start to see, you want to unlearn your racism.
Understanding Racism: Everyday, Structural and Intersectional
It is so easy for us to be ignorant of our everyday racism and microaggressions, especially when we do not see that racism is so much more than just “individual acts of meanness“. We are unable to see that it is systemic issues, which we perpetuate on a daily basis. The hard truth is that we, as white people, are always benefiting from white supremacy, every single day.
Structural, systemic and institutional racism is pervasive through our society, and if you aren’t looking for it you probably don’t see it. Unless you’ve been taught to see it from an early age, like pretty much all BIPOC who are raised by non-white parents (adopted or birth) have been. White people however, were probably only taught in school that slavery was a thing, but it’s over since over 100 years ago, and the American people had the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . And then you are taught to not be mean to people because they are different than you, and that’s probably it.
For example, in Swedish education we are not taught about the systemic oppression of our indigenous population, Sámi people. And you should ask yourself, what do you know about the indigenous population of your country, and the history of how your government has treated them? And the fights they are still having to have in order to be recognized?
Systemic racism is also upheld through capitalism. Capitalism relies on a lower class, an othering, in order for us to shift the work onto someone else. Since the birth of capitalism, with chattel slavery, up till now, our society relies on this. Our society has built its wealth off of the backs of BIPOC for generations.
“Racial capitalism, which is to say all capitalism, is not a thing, it’s a relation. However, if we look back through the history of capitalism as it developed, we see that the understanding that those who own the means of production had of their differences from those whose labor they exploited were understandings that we can recognize today as racial practice.”
This brings us onto one of the things which makes it possible: othering is used to divide and dehumanise groups. It makes us think of others as less than ourselves. It makes it easier for you to accept that those people don’t deserve to be protected. It’s a way to distance yourself, they don’t have names or faces. You will view them as “those people” or refer to them, to their faces as “you people”.
We often actively do not want to see the connections between all of these things. We do not want to see how all injustices in our society are interconnected. We’ve all heard about the cobalt mines with child labour over the past few years, right? Yet we’ve still bought a new device which uses lithium batteries during that time. This makes us complicit. It makes me complicit and it makes you complicit.
Yes, I know, this is a lot. And there’s even more to untangle. I just want to help you grasp that we ignore some of these things as defense mechanisms, it’s too big to grasp all at once. For example if we’d try to only eat ethically sourced food we may have to spend most of our time focused on finding that food until it becomes a habit, until we know a lot of the good choices out there, same goes with clothes, electronics etc.
I would like to use intersectionality to help us understand the things we don’t see. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I do think that you can use intersectionality to help you use your understanding of one oppressive structure to begin to see another. If you for instance know and understand ableism, sexism, or transmisia, you may be able to use that to recognize that there are other things you don’t see yet:
You know that other people don’t see the things you do because it’s not their lived experience. You know how difficult it is to explain these things to them because it is just out of their realm of things they know and understand.
In a way it’s an unknown unknown, they don’t know that they don’t know it.
If you think you know and understand everything in the world, it pretty much means that you don’t.
Sit with that. Let it sink in.
It can be painful to accept, but once you do it will unlock so much room for growth and things you can learn in the years ahead.
Human beings are naturally curious, sometimes this curiosity can be used for good.
Allow it to do that for you, get curious again, and listen.
Sometimes listening means just being silent, and hearing what people are saying. Sometimes it means engaging with what they are saying, not necessarily with them, as a way to process the content. Sometimes it means to sit down and write something, like this.
Where do we go from here?
There’s a lot in this article, and you may not be ready to process everything yet. Take your time with it. I hope you came here because you already started to see the cracks in the facade of white supremacy, and wanted to start untangling it, without really knowing where to start.
Now that you’ve begun to see, to put it in the words of Ursual K. LeGuin in her Essay “A War without End”:
The shift from denial of injustice to recognition of injustice can’t be unmade. What your eyes have seen they have seen. Once you see the injustice, you can never again in good faith deny the oppression and defend the oppressor. What was loyalty is now betrayal. From now on, if you don’t resist, you collude.
The Wave of the Mind—Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination
You now have the opportunity to begin resisting, together with millions of others across the world, and that is a beautiful thing.
Do not put the burden on BPOC
It is so important that white people put in the work on their own. We can’t continuously expect other people to check us and tell us when we’re doing something wrong, we have to learn to review our actions and introspect.
It is easy to say “just come to me and tell me when I’m being racist or anti-black”, but that is putting the onus on someone else to do the work, instead of yourself doing quiet introspection over time. It’s okay to look at yourself and say “I have been racist, I participate in the structural racism, as I’ve been socialized and indoctrinated to do. I have acted in ways harmful to others.” Accepting the wrong you’ve done is the first step to doing better, and less wrong. No, you can’t take it back, but you can start harm-reduction today.
Things you can start doing:
There’s a saying about if you can look back at yourself 10 years ago and cringe, it means you’ve grown. So allow yourself that, by admitting to the unsavory things that you’ve done in the past. Here are 10 things you can start doing today:
Start by listening to at least one other voice that is Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color. If you use Twitter or Youtube, you can start by extending who you follow with few black voices in something that interests you. E.g. a few years ago I woke up one day realizing how white my entire twitter feed was. I slowly started to listen to more and more black voices online. We shared similar interests which allowed for an intersection. And since we had very different lived experiences I got a sneak peek into a different world. I began learning about cultures I didn’t know much about. I continued by following other voices that were associated with them, got boosted by them, and so on. And I was there to listen, and give support. When you do this I think it’s important to just listen for a long while. Read, fav, boost. Listen. If something makes you curious, see if you can google it, or ask a friend.
Read, watch, and listen to more culture produced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. In the long run you will learn a lot about how cultures can differ, even within the same country or state.
Practice being silent. Any time you read something and you want to RESPOND. Don’t. Yes, this takes practice.
Do not use the N-word. Do not quote it. Do not sing it in lyrics.
If you have money, donate to a fund that hasn’t reached it’s goal yet, I’d recommend starting from the bottom of any list you find. There are a lot of underfunded crowdfunds, bail funds, and 115 other ways you can help by donating.
And lastly, be willing to learn, and expand your horizons by learning about how vast the world truly is.
Learn how to apologize.
The journey continues
Made it all the way to the end? It doesn’t actually end here. Being an anti-racist is defined by your ongoing work, not that you declare “I’m not racist”, because being not racist isn’t enough if you do not start seeing the issues you are perpetuating.
Growth is painful, and you will feel a lot of weird emotional stuff through your journey. Even writing this whole thing has been a painful work for me, with a lot of anxiety for various reasons, but we have to push through. We have to keep doing the work to change the world for the better.
Just keep in mind that you’re not alone, and I’ve been where you are. The things that look like a lot of work right now will become habits and internalized soon enough, and then you’ll start being able to see when others are doing the things you used to do, and you can help them start their journey to becoming an anti-racist.
There is a lot more to talk about, and if you’re noticing something that’s missing, you can join the conversation with your own article, or blog post, extending upon what we’ve talked about here. Let us continue this conversation together.
Additional materials and resources
13TH has been on Netflix since 2016, and I keep recommending it to everyone who start to open up their eyes to racial inequality. Now it’s also available to watch for free on YouTube, in full (embedded below). On Netflix there’s also an interview with Ava DuVerney (director and producer of 13th) by Oprah Winfrey.
Free Ebooks by revolutionary BIPOC. With subjects such as racial politics, black and Marxist feminism, prison abolition, racial capitalism, critical race studies, indigenous studies, revolution, and more.
Body and Soul—The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson, available to read for free online.
Facing a slew of media requests asking about how protests might be a risk for COVID-19 transmission, a group of infectious disease experts at the University of Washington, with input from other colleagues, drafted a collective response. In an open letter published Sunday, they write that “protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.”
It has been a recurring theme lately, that every time someone decides to block an instance that’s harbouring racists, Nazis, far-right (whichever title you prefer), where “freeze peaches” come to their defense. These are people who put Free Speech of SOME people higher than anything else, instead of viewing it from the holistic perspective of who does this “free speech” oppresses or kills by extension? Note that their first thought is to defend Nazis, not to defend the people under attack by Nazis.
“They want me dead. I can’t speak at all if I’m dead. So they’re not REALLY in favor of free speech, they just don’t want to have to acknowledge that other people’s views are valid.”
The argument eventually comes down to “But they have to keep interacting with you, even if they want to kill you, so that YOU can work to de-radicalize them”…
Just let these words sit in your mouth for a bit.
You’re asking people who are hounded, assaulted, killed, to do the work to de-radicalize the people who want to kill them. You’re not asking yourself “what can I do to help de-radicalize them, while this vulnerable group of people protects itself?” This is always where we end up, you tell the most vulnerable: Why don’t you just de-radicalize them. Why don’t you, who are fearing for your life just debate your existence and right to exist to these people? Why don’t you?
And yeah, that’s the question isn’t it? Why don’t you, if you’re a man, probably cisgender, most definitely white (or feel like you’re at least not not-white), and heterosexual, why don’t you put in the labour to de-radicalize these people who are constantly attacking the people who are everything that you are not? Why don’t you take the time to sit down and talk with them and untag us from that conversation? Who don’t you protect us?
You are the only person for whom it’s safe to have this conversation, for whom it’s safe to actively work towards helping us. And it doesn’t have to be helping everyone, it can just be one person at the time. Or simply decide that every time you see someone in your group of peers being attacked by these people you donate $1 to Life after Hate to help them do the work they are doing to de-radicalize people.
You don’t really want to de-radicalize them though, do you? All this jabbering about “JUST DE-RADICALIZE THEM” and it doesn’t seem like you’ve even put 5minutes thought into what that means. Rather you’re just using that as an excuse to attack us further, attack us for reaching for self-defense instead of debating our existence… over and over again.
So here we are: Next time you’re tempted to argue de-radicalization, ask yourself, why ain’t I?
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While I say a Swedish perspective, I only mean me, and my relationship with racism as a Swedish person.
After a lot of the recent days’ discussions (back in January) about race, racism, and whiteness got me thinking, especially since most of the conversation was from an American perspective. That perspective doesn’t apply to me, not entirely, but there’s an assumption that my relationship to my being white ought to be the same as an American white person. Now, I’m aware that whiteness and being white is two different things, as whiteness is an ideology about supremacy.
While this post intended to reflect on whiteness, I find that I didn’t do that this time, so I hope to follow up with another post when I get those thoughts back on track, here follows a post about racism and the n-word in Sweden:
First, I want to talk about one angle of the Swedish perspective, which is about the N-word. In the USA this word is a lot worse, because of its history there. Not because the rest of us don’t have racism, but because of how the word was used. This means that if you engage with people who are not from the USA they are unlikely to understand just how strong that negative connotation is, they might not understand why its a big no-no to say it.
In Swedish, in my experience, I’m still be able to talk about why we don’t say the N-word while saying the word. I’d be able to quote it as well. My friend disagreed with me on this point, that we’re moving towards dashing it out in Swedish too (N-ordet). In (US) American culture that’s a huge faux pas to say it in full, and understandably so. I believe even Trevor Noah, who’s from South Africa, says in Son of Patricia that in their culture the N-word doesn’t have the same affect as in America.
The point I’m trying to make here is that we need to take into account, in intercultural communication, am I speaking with someone from another culture? Would this word be harmful if uttered? Would this question carry negative connotations? We can’t always know until we experience it, or learn from someone else’s mistake.
What’s the Swedish history with the n-word? The Swedish equivalent was also used for people with dark skin, and we had also named a bakery goods after it which was a chocolate ball that we called “N-ball”. Some people (racists) are still upset with not being allowed to say that anymore, but honestly they are the ones being overly sensitive (as the argument goes), not the people who realized why changing it would be the better option, and continued just calling it chocolate balls.
Second, I’m very aware that I’ve been brought up and educated in order to uphold the status quo, but I didn’t really learn this awareness until just in the past year or two, and I’m 32. It’s not because I’ve been willing to uphold it, but rather that I’ve been fighting other battles and not really had any PoC around me online or offline who’ve ever been in a position to have a conversation about race with me. And no, this is not me saying someone should’ve educated me. It’s also strongly connected with, as Macintosh writes, “I was taught to see racism as individual acts of meanness, not systemic violence”. In those terms I was not racist.
As I learnt about systemic racism, and have come to accept that yes I’ve been, and still am, racist, and I’m starting to understand that in order to fight racism, being “nice” isn’t enough. Today I am working on being actively anti-racist, within my means. I know I can’t take every fight, but I’m working on taking more fights.
To continue on a point I mentioned above, I recently had a conversation with an old friend, and I said to her “Now that I’ve learnt to understand that racism isn’t individual acts of meanness, but a systemic problem…” and as I finish that word I see her jaw drop. What? “Yes, I know. I know. That’s how I felt too.” It is not within our frame of reference / knowledge that racism is systemic, because the system doesn’t want us to see it. So we have to help each other and teach each other that it’s more than that, if you’re white, it means teaching your white friends why racism is more than just being “mean”.
“From the (study of) psychology and through our own experiences we know how difficult it can be as a grownup to free ourselves from the values we’ve been taught as children. The way your own culture raised you will keep a grip on you through your entire life, even if it in some contexts lessens its grip”
Kulturgrammatik, Herlitz , page 44
Third, are Swedish people as a whole racist? Heck yes. I actually live in a region of Sweden which has the most people who vote of the Swedish democrats (our right wing party), but I live in the most multicultural city in all of Sweden. We experience a stark contrast here, which is interesting to reflect on and interesting to live in.
We are in fact, as I mentioned about my own experiences, so blinded to racism, that we don’t think we have it, just like we don’t talk about class, “there’s no class divide”, when in truth there is, in both cases.
We are the country which absolutely abhors certain types of jobs, and rather have other people immigrate to take those jobs (Finnish people did it, Polish people did it, etc etc.). And then complain about people immigrating and taking our jobs. No, you don’t want those jobs in the first place, which opens up a market for others to do them.
You can’t fight something before you know what it is and before you have words for it. Today I’m trying to help you find words for it, and I will finalize with this quote from another conversation today:
You may have been taught that racism is “individual acts of meanness”, it is not. Racism is systemic and a frame for oppression.
That feelings you’re having right now is not someone oppressing you. I’m sorry you feel that way, but that’s not racism.
Racism occurs when there’s POWER behind actions, there isn’t when any oppressed group is kicking up.
Only way to be anti-racist is to actively acknowledge that you are racist and that you are benefiting from a racist system, and then begin to actively fight that systemic oppression.
What you have done thus far in this thread is show that you are indeed racist, and enjoying the benefits of your privilege, refusing to realize that when people talk about “white” and “whiteness” it isn’t about you, and it isn’t racism. You’re reacting to it by kicking up a storm, making it ABOUT YOU and your feelings.
Marie Axelsson, on Facebook 2019-02-16
Thank you for reading.
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