The White Person, Paid Anti-Racism Work And Elusive Reparations

The White Person, Paid Anti-Racism Work And Elusive Reparations

There are many white voices talking about racism and anti-racism in the DEI space; it seems to have become yet another arena where white people feel entitled to have their voices heard and elevated (said the white woman).

Robin DiAngelo is a notable one. The author of the 2018 ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism’ has made a hefty buck from sales of her analysis of white people’s defensiveness around discussions of race.

So what’s wrong with that? We all have to make a living, right?

And she’s expanding white people’s knowledge of and discussions around race and racism. Surely that’s a good thing?

Unfortunately, when white people position themselves as ‘the’ DEI experts, other white people tend to flock to their resources…

This then perpetuates inequality, by centring whiteness and white people’s voices as THE voices to listen to…

Their popularity leads to them featuring high on bestseller lists, getting paid speaking and training gigs in the corporate and political workplace and then being lauded and paraded around as the experts…

In turn this minimises the voices of those actually on the receiving end of racism and keeps the attention on the white experts and their fragile white customers, like me, as they make a white industry helping us deal with our racism. Sigh.

So, should white people and hopeful allies even be involved in DEI or social justice work?

And if so how can they do this without it becoming all about them and without silencing or minimising the Black and Brown voices of painful experience?

As a white woman writing a regular column about my anti-racism journey and working in my Brown wife’s company, these are frequent concerns!

From discussions with the Black and Brown people surrounding me, what is crucial is that white people – as the perpetrators of racism – do need to be involved in the process of eradicating it, and even taking a lead in doing this (after-all we created the problem in the first place).

However, the bit that we white people often seem to get wrong is that taking the lead does NOT look like taking over, centring ourselves, our work, our pain (because dealing with our racism is sooo hard compared to actually experiencing it!?!?!) and being paid well for it in the process.

So what could/should our work look like instead?

Reparations…

Here at DLG there is a transparent policy that:

  • There will always be more Black and Brown people than white people on the team, and especially at leadership level.
  • As a form of reparations, Black and Brown people will always be paid 30% more than white people.

How does that land with you as you read that?

For most of us white people there’s probably an inner wrangle…

An initial “…But how is that equal? My work should be valued the same, surely?” and for women especially given we are, on average, already subject to lower pay than white men.

However, many of us are also aware of the systemic racism that means Black and Brown people have historically been paid less than their white counterparts, never mind the atrocities that have been enacted upon them by our ancestors, as well as being perpetuated and continued by us (however unknowingly or unintentionally).

This seems like a really simple way of beginning a process of levelling things up.

  • I am not paid for this column.
  • I currently work for DLG as a volunteer.
  • As and when there is money to pay us for our work I do not intend to be paid for the column by DLG.
  • If I make any money for the column from other sources I intend to donate 30% of it back to DLG.

How powerful would it be if all white DEI practitioners or anyone who profits from anti-racism work were, by default, to commit to similar reparations?

Black & Brown People Remain The Experts…

As white people we seem to need to hear from other white people when dealing with our racism. It is ESSENTIAL that white people ALWAYS be guided by the teachings of Black and Brown people themselves (without adding to their emotional or practical labour).

All my learnings come from the Black and Brown people in my life or those I follow on LinkedIn and Instagram. And I make mistakes, regularly.

The aim of this column is to share my own messy, often embarrassing journey towards anti-racism and some of the learnings I’m finding out about. My hope is that other white people will choose to start their own anti-racism journeys and be led, to and by, the Black and Brown leaders I’m learning from.

De-centring Whiteness…

In doing anti-racism work, de-centring our whiteness can be hard to do for a number of reasons…

Systems of enslavement and colonialism have created a sense of superiority in white people and left deep scars in the psyches of Black and Brown people living within these systems. This white sense of entitlement – to always have our voices heard – requires vigilance at all times, but most especially when working to be allies in this space.

It is no accident that this column is under both Lea and Sharon’s columns as presented on this website. Intentional acts such as that are how we begin to level the field.

I find this balance – of wanting the column to do well, to reach lots of people and to have an impact…but not centring myself in the process of that and keeping the focus on the end goal of more people working to be anti-racist – a tricky one to navigate!

And I’m still showing up. Will you join me?

If you, like me, want to work on making the world a truly equal place I can highly recommend the Anti-Racism Association.

There is a free membership option to dip your toe in the water, but the real magic happens in the paid membership levels where you’ll meet once a month with other people, like us, who want to learn to do and be better. I hope to see you there.

White Fragility: What’s It All About?

White Fragility: What’s It All About?

Given the name of this column, it seems useful to discuss in more detail what white fragility actually is! 

White fragility is a concept coined by the white author and professor, Robin DiAngelo in her 2018 book of the same name. The book was published during the protests about the murder of George Floyd and topped best seller lists. According to DiAngelo, (2020):

‘White fragility’ is meant to capture the predictable response of defensiveness that so many white people have whenever it is suggested that being white has meaning and advantage. For a lot of white people, just saying ‘white people’ will cause great umbrage. But the impact is not fragile at all. It becomes a sort of weaponised defensiveness. Because it marshals behind it the weight of history and institutional control. And ‘white fragility’ ends up functioning as a form of white racial bullying.

White people consistently make it so punitive for people of colour to challenge us, to talk to us about their experiences, that most of the time they don’t bother. Because they risk things actually getting worse for them, not better. And in that way, white fragility functions as a really effective form of white racial control. And that maintains our positions of advantage within a society that is set up to advantage us.”

So What Does White Fragility Actually Look Like In Action?

Personally I see my white fragility showing up in innumerable ways. Here are just a few of the biggest offenders (see how much work there is to be done?):

  • My white tears when hearing about racist incidents/murders 

My tears put Black and Brown people into a situation of having to comfort my sorry white ass while they are already having to re experience the trauma of racism. When I do this there is a veiled threat (the weaponisation) that says ‘you can’t expect me to actually DO anything about this,  just hearing about it is too much for me to cope with’. There is also an energy of ‘I’m crying tears for YOUR cause’ – shifting the responsibility for dealing with racism away from myself and white people generally.

  • Minimising racist incidents to protect other white people (or even questioning if it was racist)

The words ‘is it really that bad?’ have often flooded my brain and have led me to gaslight the Brown members of my own family, rather than have to stand up to other white people. This puts me in the role of arbiter (something white people frequently do around racism) where we see ourselves as neutral and capable of being judge and jury about IF something ‘counts’ as racism. This smacks of colonialist pomposity and superiority and is a weapon because as white people, we believe OUR opinion still counts for more and in doing this, we prioritise our own comfort so we don’t actually have to do anything that might disrupt it.

  • Getting defensive/huffy when challenged

I am still learning how to respond well when I am challenged on something in a way that is not fragile or harmful. Frequently (especially in my marriage) I get defensive and huffy about it, a classic tool of fragility, making it about me (because, let’s face it, I’m going to whinge about quite how awful I must be. Sigh) thus making it unpleasant for Black or Brown people to approach me with feedback or challenge me again.

So What Can We Do About Our Fragility?

DiAngelo talks about white people learning to build up our racial stamina, by which she means us having regular direct contact with Black or Brown people, including having conversations where we are challenged. I know I have to confront my racism on a whole other level now because I am married to a Brown person and have Brown step-kids.

Given that one of the reasons white fragility has festered is because white people tend to live segregated lives having little to no real contact with Black or Brown people, putting ourselves out there and not staying in our comfortable white enclaves seems imperative. The work is not allowing our fragility to cause us to give up when (and it will be when) we are challenged. 

I have seen this ‘fragility when challenged’ in action on two recent occasions…

One when a white leader at a group our kids attended refused to take our concerns about racist behaviour seriously, or accept the feedback on her problematic anti-racism policy that used dated language and stated that white people could experience racism too. Her fragility involved stubbornly shutting down, stating that it was HER land (which felt very colonial!), finding a Black person who agreed with her and clumsily centering photos of the (very few) Black or Brown kids at her setting in all her publicity.

Similarly in the workplace I have seen the CEO of a self-proclaimed, anti-racist company hear challenge until it became too personal, reflecting as it did on her own poor performance, performative anti-racism and white saviourism.

I’m not relaying these tales from any position of superiority. My fragility shows up daily in my marriage and beyond. And many days I, too, want to go off in a fit of major fragile pique (some days I actually do!) But here’s the rub. Black and Brown people don’t have that luxury.

As a kid I grew up in a rural area, I have had very few Black and Brown people in my networks, even at University. There were only two Black kids at my secondary school, they were related and had white parents. I had no Black or Brown teachers. I saw my white children heading down the same path as me. Living in a very white area and having little to no communications with anyone other than white people, never mind friendships! We now live in the middle of a city and I am grateful for the diversity, both for my Brown family who get to see themselves represented all around us, and for me and my white children, who get to step out of our limiting white enclave and challenge our fragility, daily.

On ‘White Fragility’ Being A Big White Earner…

While white fragility has become a well used and useful term, DiAngelo has been criticised for directly profiting, heavily, from her anti-racism work, something that many Black and Brown people rightly take issue with. 

Which begs the wider question, is it ever ok for white people to work in anti-racism spaces and should they profit from it?

Join me next time as I discuss the thorny issue of paid social justice work and reparations. Plenty to get fragile about right there! 

The 5 Stages Of Coming To Terms With Being Racist

Discovering we are racist, as white people, can take some time to get used to. It’s a little bit like the five stages of grief. This was definitely (still is!) my experience and I can still move back and forth into the various stages…

Denial

First, we may deny that we ARE racist, often focusing on all the reasons we couldn’t possibly be…

Yep, the fact that I make an effort to recycle my crisp packets and that I was veggie for 36 years REALLY made that list! The list often gets added to, especially when new challenges come up…

  • I have Black friends, relatives, colleagues, bosses.
  • I don’t use offensive or outdated language.
  • I don’t laugh at racist jokes.
  • I watch the ‘right’ films and read the ‘right’ books.

…the list of excuses literally goes on and on!

Anger

Oooo this one’s not fun. The rage at having to confront our racism, perhaps for the first time, at least consciously.

In my (inter-racial) relationship this has also delightedly come out on my Brown wife at times too. Why?

Because holding these unpalatable truths about myself has to go somewhere (no excuse and what I suspect frequently happens).

The anger comes from us refusing to be accountable and take responsibility. For me this stage is often where white fragility (a form of weaponised defensiveness) is played out.

Blaming and feeling resentful at the Black and Brown people around us – whether internally or externally – for us having to do something about our own racism!

Bargaining

“If I do this then I can’t be racist” kinda thinking…

If I don’t clutch my handbag but smile sweetly when a Black guy in a hoodie goes by…

If I don’t ask the Brown woman at work “where do you really come from”…

If I don’t try and touch my Black friend’s hair…

If I spend money in Black and Brown businesses…

…then I can’t be racist, can I?

Often this bargaining is connected to:

  • Being Performative – where our attempts at being anti-racist are ‘just for show’ – like putting a black square on our social media profile after a very public outcry of racism, but doing nothing on a daily basis to change it.
  • Cookie Seeking – being anti-racist in the hope of being praised in some way – getting a cookie – for your actions.
  • Centering Ourselves – in an effort to prove we aren’t racist we often end up centering ourselves and our whiteness. This may look like talking inappropriately about racism to Black and Brown people to demonstrate our attempts at allyship (this is NOT allyship!), expressing our disgust at others’ racism or ‘standing up for’ Black or Brown people experiencing racist harm in ways that center us or give us something and put the Black or Brown person at further risk of harm.

Bargaining is often borne out of a sense of helplessness; that we have started to let the truth of our racism into our consciousness but it all feels shocking and overwhelming. Bargaining gives us a slight sense of control.

Depression

Once we realise that we are, in fact, racist (as white people living in a racist world I believe this is inescapable) it can be quite depressing. We may become more insular, scared to socialise as much, especially with Black and Brown people, scared that we will be harmful in our words or deeds in some way.

White fragility often shows up in this stage too…I find myself pulling away and retreating into a ‘well it’s just all too much, I can’t be expected to deal with this’ attitude.

Acceptance

When we reach this stage we have finally stopped resisting the acknowledgement of our racism and racist behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a massive pisser. Still uncomfortable. There is still a desire for it not to be the case. But we’re not running from it anymore.

Once we reach this stage (and it sure as hell hasn’t been static for me!), we can finally begin a journey towards anti-racism and ultimately the goal of allyship…intentional actions that actively promote inclusion and belonging for marginalised groups of people. Those groups get to decide if we are allies, it is NOT a label we should ever give ourselves.

Where are you on your anti-racism journey? 

“But I’m Not Racist!”

…“My own racism”. This is a phrase that until quite recently (within the past year) I had never considered.

“But I’m not racist”, I thought to myself!

The very idea!! I’m a left wing, do-gooding sort, I’ve worked in the public sector nearly all my life, have an ‘ology degree and a Masters in Gender, for pity’s sake. Hell, I recycle my plastic, use compostable bin bags and didn’t eat meat for 36 years – How can I be racist?!

Newsflash, Becky, Hitler was a vegetarian…

Cue the beginnings of a journey to understand the many ways I am racist, in thought and deed. As well as the stark awakening that ‘being racist’ is not just about derogatory, overt, racist, hate-fuelled and ignorant language or violence, it is also about the daily biases and microaggressions that, as white people, we display because we live in a world where being white affords us more privileges than Black and Brown people, without us ever really recognising it.

For many white people this is shocking news still!

To hear that we are racist is, in itself, a bitter pill to swallow, often requiring a total reassessment of who we thought we were (and others). It also, personally speaking, has required a dawning and hideous realisation of all the times I have inadvertently behaved in a racist way and been completely oblivious to it, unlike the Black and Brown people I have harmed.

Once I was at least able to hear that I am indeed racist, my anti-racism journey started making progress!

No longer closed down to the word and its associations with me, I could open up to exploring how my racism is acted out, the many biases that I have and, most importantly, how I could begin to change. Care to join me?