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…
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- I don’t use offensive or outdated language.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!
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!
“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.
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.
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?