I’ve been reflecting a lot recently — When you start down the road of anti-racist, anti-white-supremacist work as a white person, you think (or at least I did) that it’s about learning the correct lingo (political correctness) or making more black and brown friends (tokenism) or voting for a certain party (liberalism/Democratism). BUT the more I walk this road, the more I learn that the main work of dismantling white supremacy in my life lies in recognizing the ways that I bring whiteness with me, even when I’m trying to be aware or “woke”.
It’s not enough to say or do the “right things” if I say and do them in a way that reinforces white supremacy. It’s not enough to share all the ways I’ve “leveled up” as an activist or ally — and in fact, that’s really not even helpful to bring up at all. It’s definitely not enough (and definitely not helpful) to point my fingers at other folks and say, “But at least I didn’t say THAT.”
What fighting white supremacy is really about is being wrong. Often. Sometimes when I most think I’m right. And fighting the impulse in my heart that says when I’m wrong that I’m bad, or that I’ll never get it “right”, or that now my relationships are over because I messed them up by saying the wrong thing.
The true antidote to white supremacy in my life is white humility and white vulnerability — the humility and vulnerability to trust that my friends and elders of color aren’t lying to me when they tell me that the systems of our country hurt them, and sometimes I hurt them, but that they love me anyway, and that they want me with them as we fight this fight and walk this walk of life together.
–Rebekah Schulz-Jackson (facebook post from 11/25/17)
When you’re feeling defensive, it is pretty common to adamantly declare “I’m not being defensive.” Which is why so many folks don’t believe white fragility is a real thing.
I get it. When someone challenges your views by suggesting that your wrong perspective is tied up in you being white, it seems ridiculous. I mean, if you concede to that, then pretty much any person of color is automatically right and you’re automatically wrong.
But that isn’t how it works. Nobody is saying you can’t have an opinion or that you’re always wrong simply because you’re white. But if you get agitated anytime someone suggests that your being wrong about something is tied up in your white bias, then you are demonstrating white fragility…a deeply emotional response to the faintest possibility that you are tied up in some sort of racist framework.
Do you honestly expect that centuries of race-based oppression has been, for the most part, cleared up in the 50 years since MLK was assassinated? I mean, we’re still stuck in Plato’s ideas that the immaterial is truer than the material and that dude has been dead for 2400 years. We think it only takes 50 years for the attitudes, beliefs, and structures of white supremacy to become undone?
Isn’t it even worth considering that if you grew up white in this society that you might lack the perspective to understand just how racist our system is? Isn’t it worth considering that this racist system has left its impression on you?
This isn’t about fault or blame. It is about understanding our world and recognizing the responsibility we all have to push back oppression, particularly when it rests within the nooks and crannies of our own minds.
White fragility is the inability to consider this real possibility as one reacts with anger or condescension or anxiety or disgust.
Once we accept that things in our society can influence us more than we know, we have taken our first step to liberation.
–Mark Van Steenwyk (facebook post from 12/10/16)
Our nation’s origin in religious Utopianism, coupled with the myth of American Exceptionalism, the Manifest Destiny–that we were warring Europeans but now we are supreme White people in America–all of that mythology leads White Americans to have this permanent fetish for innocence. So they don’t really want to know–and I call it a fetish for innocence–it’s just rampant, it’s pervasive, and I would say it’s almost without exception. I hardly know a White person that doesn’t have this driving need to be personally innocent. And it’s a very strange thing because that’s not in my culture. I mean we are a collective people and we collectively sin and we collectively do well. But White people are individualistic and then they have to be pure in God’s sight. So they have to be personally innocent. And the only way in the midst of an incredibly oppressive society–with our foundation of land theft, genocide, and slavery–is basically to not know. So ignorance becomes the primary tool to maintain innocence. And because it is so insisted upon, despite all evidence to the contrary, it can be nothing more than a fetish, right? And so how to cure White people of the fetish for innocence is truly a monumental challenge. And we’re actually trying to do that at Church of All Nations–cure our people of that fetish.
That fetish, by the way, destroys marriage because married couples that I’ve noticed can’t confess and repent because they need to insist that they had good motives. However much I’ve hurt you, I meant well. That’s the primary thing that White people are obsessed with. That they have good intentions. It’s crazy, you know, why that would be so important?!? But through our background, that’s the kind of people we have. And it leads people not to be honest and real and get to the bottom of things. So we’re constantly covering over real problems, and covering it over with ideology and propaganda and marketing on top of marketing. We just can’t seem to really solve our problems because the average American isn’t really interested in solving the problem. They’re interested in their personal innocence project. Mic drop! Somebody close us in prayer, doggone it!
Jin S. Kim (transcribed from audio–2:08:00-2:10:30–in “The American Century: Neoliberal Stirrings (1914-1945)”)
Here are two passages on the subject from The Divine Conspiracy:
I know that, as far as forgiveness alone is concerned, the tenderness of God is far greater than we will ever understand on earth or perhaps elsewhere. That is surely what it means to say that he gave his unique Son to die on our behalf. I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. But “standing it” may prove to be a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place.
It might prove helpful to think occasionally of how, exactly, I would be glad to be in heaven should I “make it.” Will it be like a nice, air-conditioned luxury hotel with unlimited room service and spectacular amenities for eternity? I often wonder how happy and useful some of the fearful, bitter, lust-ridden, hate-filled Christians I have seen involved in church or family or neighborhood or political battles would be if they were forced to live forever in the unrestrained fullness of the reality of God…and with multitudes of beings really like him. (pages 301-302)
Perhaps, by contrast, we must say that those who do not now enter the eternal life of God through confidence in Jesus will experience separation, isolation, and the end of their hopes. Perhaps this will be permitted in their case because they have chosen to be God themselves, to be their own ultimate point of reference. God permits it, but that posture obviously can only be sustained at a distance from God. The fires of heaven, we might suspect, are hotter than the fires of hell. Still, there is room in the universe for them. (page 398)