Many white people I talk to about the roles we play in upholding white supremacy in the USA recall the time when Mike Brown was murdered as pivotal in their racial development. It was then that some of us who are white started to face the truth that our systems (legal, educational, health, political, and more) are set up as if Black lives don’t matter. And, it was then that mainstream media shared stories of how Black families often have to have “the talk” with their children, especially their boys, about how to stay safe when the police approach them. And, more generally, how Black parents too often are forced by everyday racism to educate their babies about how dangerous and harmful white people and the systems of our country can be. I write this and I feel deep grief in my body. Those babies. They shouldn’t have to be taught the world is going to hurt them. But it is a reality for so many (most, as I understand it) parents of children who are Black.
Sometimes I talk about how whiteness prevents me from being fully human. Part of that emptiness, those parts of myself that aren’t completely and deeply in humanity, involves coping with the ugliest realities of everyday life. Because whiteness has allowed me to believe the world is mostly good, and because whiteness has given me generations of cellular-level denial skills when faced with violence and injustice, I don’t have a lot of practice holding conflicting truths together at the same time.
Today, when my 14 year old’s school announced the police department has received a text that there was an “active shooter” at her school and that the school had been evacuated, I was flooded with adrenaline. (The message was a hoax, there was no shooter.) As I’ve been recovering from the terrifying roller coaster of today, I’m reflecting on how unfair it is that Black families don’t get to protect their children the way I’ve been able to for the most part almost entirely (until today, in some respects). Just thinking about it fills me with such rage I can’t even think straight. I’m also full of rage that our country has so many guns. I’m full of rage that people aren’t getting the kind of support they need — that someone thought it a good idea to send that hoax text.
I gave my children a white family’s version of “the talk” when they were very young. I felt like I was breaking rules, telling my children really scary stuff about how police can be dangerous especially for Black people, among other things. I’ve continued to have conversations about how fucked up our racialized capitalism systems are, how unfair it is that Black children don’t get to feel as safe as they get to. I’ve also talked with them now that they are older about how we, as white people, need to build skills that will allow us to stay in the truth: evil exists. Evil. And we, white people in the USA, are helping evil continue in large part because we don’t have the skills to be even just a little uncomfortable. These are, of course, mostly intellectual exercises. Breaking free from whiteness requires these steps, though, as far as I understand it.
We white people need to learn how to be uncomfortable. To hold conflicting truths — there is evil and violence and oppression AND there is beauty and joy and solidarity — at the same time. We need to practice and practice and practice so we can become fully human.
[Note: I’m aware that the sweeping generalizations I’m making in this series of posts don’t apply to everyone. We are a complicated species with loads and loads of influences and motivations for our behavior. I write these for white people like me who want to break free from the prison of white supremacy culture so we can live in solidarity with everyone and everything.]