There is no love in upholding and perpetuating white dominant culture. One of the normed lies in the white community that to love oneself is to grab everything we can get our hands on – every opportunity, affirmation, promotion, etc. that we perceive the universe wants for us.
James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time (1963) “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other…”
Accept and love.
To accept oneself is to know oneself. Generally speaking, white people do not know themselves. Before engaging racial identity work, I felt cultureless and empty. Placed in the center of all possibility, white people rarely move toward the edges because the very programming of white dominant culture tells us to stay in the middle as that’s where we will find our greatest success, achievement, and value. Moving to the edges is necessary in order to get a good view of our cultural norms and behaviors. It’s fear, not love that keeps us from this move. Fear that we will miss something. Fear that we will not meet the very expectations we fail to question. Fear of being inadequate.
To love oneself is to be able to see ones whole self – the brokenness and the glory, and still respond with empathy – both for ourselves and for others. I am deeply concerned for white people here. At both ends of the spectrum; the white nationalist and the white anti-racist are generally still failing at empathy. White dominance programs us to segment a person – a gruesome act that takes place in our minds. I have performed this autopsy many times – reducing myself and others to a single moment. In this single moment we become unable to see brokenness and glory wrapped up in one human body. Empathy can’t even enter our periphery.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
When white people remain indifferent to the process of accepting and loving ourselves, we uphold and perpetuate the culture of white domination.
For those of us that claim the mantle of “white anti-racist” – please read that last sentence again.
Last night, I stood among the crowd at a candle-light vigil for Jason Erik Washington, an amazing, generous and loving black man who was murdered by white PSU campus police while trying to break up a fight between white men. As I held my candle and watched the faces of Mr. Washington’s beautiful family, I was struck again by the violence of white indifference. I know for certain, that the white man who pulled the trigger has spent a lifetime being programmed in the indifference of white domination. I don’t know how that man felt about a community and national history of black bodies being dehumanized by indifference. I’m certain that in that single moment, the white man holding the gun, yielded a power that proved evidence of systemic white failure to hold Jason in love. I couldn’t help but wonder and shiver at the truth that all white people, myself included, are not immune to this indifference and failure to love.
In the past year, I’ve engaged a deeper practice of self-reflection as the crux of my own journey to abolish white dominance in myself. What I’ve found is pure brokenness. A fight takes place inside of me every single day to rid myself of the sinful thinking, feeling, believing and acting of white domination. It’s a sin that’s active, alive, and persistent.
When I’m not at my best self, all of these traits creep right back in…
– TIRED = individualism, rigid work ideology, time viewed as commodity
– STRESSED = competitiveness, cause and effect thinking, don’t discuss personal life
– HURTING = avoid intimacy, don’t show emotion, win/lose dichotomy, self-reliance
– AFRAID = win at all costs, quantitative emphasis, not working hard enough
– ANXIOUS = action oriented, aggressiveness and extroversion, job is how you are
I constantly return to the list by Judith H. Katz called Some Aspects and Assumptions of White Culture in the United States. This list has helped me clear the sleep from my eyes so I can see my cultural identity a little clearer and how values of white dominant culture have infiltrated my behavior.
The belief I’m clinging to these days also comes from James Baldwin:
“You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage: you never had to look at me; I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It’s that last sentence that I’m clinging to…“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”. But I cannot miss the context. It’s in facing the monstrousness in me, that I find a measure of hope for change. This very same monstrousness in me is in every white person regardless of our professed identifiers of white nationalist or white anti-racist.
So today, I’m on my knees.
Fill me with the strength to face the monsters in me
Fill me with resolve to never define a person by a single moment
Fill me with the courage to accept and love myself
Fill me with empathy to invite other white people to join me here
Fill me with the clarity and will to resist thought and practice which dehumanizes
Fill me with the humility to hear the truth from other people who see me
Fill me with the hope for change
Fill me with love