Surely most of you by now have seen the footage of the White woman in Central Park calling the police on the Black man who asked her to follow the law and put her dog on its leash. We White women have a long history of getting Black people killed. I won’t write much about that here, but that’s a truth we White women need to face.
I want to share with you (my fellow White women) one small aspect of anti-racism work I’m doing in response to this latest example of White women putting the lives of Black people in danger. I’m noticing how I feel, in my body and mind, when I think of that woman and her reprehensible behavior. I’m noticing the draw to distance myself from her; I find myself wanting to focus on the fact that I’m not like that.
Digging deeper — and I’m noticing feelings of shame as I write this, knowing it’s ugly and I’m sharing it publicly — I also find I’ve had brief flashes of “I wonder if she’s mentally ill, perhaps we should have compassion” or other excuses.
I’m relieved to be able to say honestly that these pulls towards racism (excusing her racist behavior) are only flickers. Barely milliseconds, more of a whiff rather than long inhales of scent. I’m almost entirely centered and clear about the truth: this White woman responded to a Black man’s request with violence; she was entirely in the wrong.
But, as a White woman, it’s been my experience that one of the most powerful ways I can be a better human being is to interrogate the full experience in my body and mind when I consider other White people’s overtly racist behavior. Do I look for excuses? Do I “other” the White person so I can feel less a part of the problem?
The reason I want to notice these tendencies in me is that it is whiteness, the support of white supremacy, wants to keep me (a White woman) comfortable. It wants me to feel like the problems aren’t so bad. It wants to soothe me when I’m faced with racism so I don’t get too upset about it (which might lead me to wanting to change it). Whiteness is a seductive opiate-like drug.
This noticing is just one part of anti-racist lens I use to live my life (to be clear: I try to live my life through that lens, I never do it perfectly). But, I’ve found it emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually freeing. I’ve been able to get more active in anti-racist work since I’ve incorporated this noticing into my everyday life.
I look for ugly truths in myself. I listen to myself, I feel my body’s response. And, these days, I simply notice them and let them go. I know those tendencies are my addiction to whiteness rearing its devious head, wanting me to not continue working in solidarity with other people on the paths to liberation for everyone.
Getting to the point where I simply notice and let them go has required some years of practice and study, learning from Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color how our systems in the USA are built on racism and how I benefit from the systems. Noticing what’s really happening in my mind and body has been one of the most important steps in bringing anti-racism into my daily life.
As Rev. angel Kyodo williams says: “”love and justice are not two. without inner change, there can be no outer change; without collective change, no change matters.”
If you are interested in Buddhist ideas, I recommend highly Rev. angel’s Radical Dharma. It’s through Rev. angel that I got clear about the racist junk in my mind/heart’s closet that I needed to clear away.
* I usually capitalize White just like Black is typically capitalized, following the lead of some Black people I’ve read online. These are socially constructed labels, and it seems right to treat them the same. On the other hand, I don’t capitalize “whiteness” or “white supremacy” because that doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve made these choices. There’s not a standard consensus about how to do this, though, so if you are not White and have feedback about it, I’d be grateful if you’d share it. If you are White and have feedback that you’ve learned from BIPOC, I’d love to hear that, too. (Thank you!)