We hugged and sat down. Sipping coffee she tells me that she can’t understand how our nation elected this guy.
I felt her panic and disorientation. She was waking up to a nation she didn’t recognize. I remembered feeling so many of the same feelings years before. The only difference between us was time.
White people experience the first lessons of emerging awareness to white dominance much like older generations taught kids to swim…some encounter provides the toss and you panic at the awareness of a surrounding you know nothing about.
Someone yells “swim!” as your head tilts back and your limbs flail – trying to find a motion that feels familiar.
Privilege convinces white people that we can choose to engage the disorientation of the deep end of white dominance or get out and say “I’ll try that again when it feels better”. From where I sit today, it doesn’t ever feel better…you only get used to new surroundings. Exploring the deep end of white dominance is counter to its demand for silence, secrecy and solidarity.
White people spend a lot of time and energy in one of two places:
- trying to pretend white dominance doesn’t exist; or
- congregating in the shallow end sipping a cold drink and ignoring the deep end as if half bodies in the water was enough.
I spent the first 30 years of my life in those spaces. I will be 60 before I’ve spent as many years intentionally swimming in the deep end of white domination – learning it’s shape and helping others do the same.
While I still don’t feel comfortable, what has changed for me is the ability to navigate the deep.
I’m no longer panicked. I’m developing the muscles needed to stay put. And the weeks layer to months, years and now over a decade that I’ve been choosing to swim.
This is a pivotal choice for any white person.
I didn’t know it then, but JORE started that day.
She said she could tell from my social media posts that I wasn’t surprised we’d elected this guy.
She asked me if we could meet for a book club. She was bringing a group of friends with her. They had all been reeling. They were looking for understanding.
I told her we needed months.
I told her it would be more than a book club.
She said ok.
We began to meet – that first group – just three weeks later.
JORE grew by accident – from those living room conversations that gave evidence both then and now of the need for spaces where white people congregate – not with segregationist intent, which is to believe we are superior, but rather to hold each others’ feet to the fire.
I have watched it happen so many times.
The transformation that comes when a white person begins to realize that this is not about saving Black, Indigenous, or brown people. It’s not about learning how to talk to Black, Indigenous, or brown people so that they like us.
It’s so much more life changing.
It’s about turning that finger that keeps wagging at someone else – inward.
And as we begin to face ourselves, we gain capacity to face our community in ways that pull us together to tell a new story of what it means to be white.
I’m watching my white community change shape before my eyes.
Together, we are learning how to swim.
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