Before I dive in I’d like to address something. I am a white person attempting to write about racism. This is hard. I am not an expert. I haven’t lived this experience. I am a work in progress and I might fuck up and say the wrong thing, but I can’t be silent. These conversations aren’t easy, but change won’t happen until white people start talking through their discomfort and ignorance.
So white people, these words are for you. While I know my friends of color may read this and some of what I say might resonate, they are not my audience. There is nothing I can tell them about their lives they don’t already know. My audience is white people and my goal is to inspire all of us to think about our own shit and how far we all still have to go in terms of racial awareness.
So here we go…
Some problems we share as women, some we do not. I wrote this blog a year ago this summer and the problems I don’t share with my sisters of color are still the same. That’s because racism is still the same. Black lives still don’t matter. Black mothers still live in constant fear. And black women are consistently forgotten.
I often feel completely hopeless in the fight for change. It feels like my lifetime will end and the world will still be a sad sack of shit. Fighting racism (or any ism) is EXHAUSTING, but just like all the other problems I don’t share with my friends of color, my exhaustion will never be the same. That’s because I don’t carry the daily stress of racism. I’m fighting an issue that isn’t an issue for me and I could call it quits any damn time I like, but black people don’t have this privilege. They give up and they (or someone they love) dies.
Research has identified stress (especially race-related stress) as a marker for negative health outcomes and chronic disease. Research has also proven the effects of historical trauma and the ways in which it has evolved over time. People of color carry generations of trauma and then walk our current world of police brutality, over incarceration, health disparities and so on, and are left to experience a cumulative trauma. They can’t even heal from one until the next unfolds. It just keeps building on top of each other.
I know all of these things to be true. I believe them to be true. I don’t turn my back on the reasons an entire community is dying and I work daily to unravel my own shit as a white woman and how that contributes to the racism-related stress people of color endure. But convincing other white people to do the same sometimes feels impossible.
I think often of how I got here. It wasn’t that long ago that I lived my life outside of this fight. I didn’t talk about politics because gasp, that made people uncomfortable. I certainly didn’t listen. I didn’t need to listen because I wasn’t the problem. I was a good person that didn’t see color and that was enough. I lived in my own carefree white bubble that prevented me from seeing how my whiteness was actually at the root of the issue. Yep, this is the kicker y’all. All white people are racist.
Any white person that has read this far is struggling right now. You may have raised your eyebrows. Your heart rate might be amped up. You might be shaking your head in disbelief. What is happening right now in your body is actually biological. Your amygdala, the emotional core of your brain, is having a toddler level shit fit tantrum. It’s all lit up like the 4th of July.
I know, the idea that because you are white you carry racism is hard to understand. Just as I told myself, you are a good person. You volunteer. You have black friends. You personally didn’t own slaves. Again, these defensive reactions are actually science. Being called racist is personal. It is an attack on your character. You feel emotional about it and your brain is like don’t worry I got you. And then it fights like hell to debunk this terrible idea that you are bad.
That’s the thing with racism. It’s this scary, uncomfortable, dirty word. White people hear it and know they must distance themselves from it, but don’t quite understand that it lives within them. This is what is known as implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions and shape our behavior toward someone perceived as a threatening outsider. They live deep within the subconscious and involuntarily surface in all the things we do or say.
The good news is these deep rooted beliefs can be unlearned. The bad news is we can’t even tap into change until we first acknowledge that change is necessary. Until we listen to the ones in pain and ACKNOWLEDGE the assumptions we carry and how those are contributing to racist inequitable systems. Even more, to successfully rewire the brain and bring our biases to consciousness we have to be willing to put in a shit ton of work. The problem is none of the white people of the world want to give that much effort. Why the hell is that? Why are we so resistant to doing the work?
Someone once told me to ponder this question, “why would you want to dismantle a system that benefits you?” That’s some heavy shit. Especially because the answer for most of us is we don’t. This is why we resist the work. Because doing the work doesn’t benefit us, it benefits someone else. White people really like to preach love and peace, but passively using these words to take a stand actually stands for nothing. Love and peace are not simply things we attain, but a journey we must take in order to undo the hurt we’ve caused. Cause let’s be real. Love alone isn’t going to save the world. Dismantling a system we love to benefit from might be a start though. So let’s get to work.
And while you spend some time digging deep, you can also go purchase a shirt from one of my fave social justice bloggers, Whitney Seeks. A large portion of proceeds (100% this weekend) are donated to Black Lives Matter.