White people are socialized for weakness.
It took me a long time to see this and I spent years misidentifying it.
This socialization starts in childhood.
It sounds like “we don’t talk about that”, “you ask too many questions”, “stop crying”, “there is no race except the human race”.
The underlying messages are that there are things I’m not capable of or should refuse to discuss, curiosity is useless, emotion must not be shown, and that my eyes don’t work.
The top 1% created and needs me to believe these messages. In fact they’ve had hundreds of years to craft a culture utilizing messages that sound like strength but instill submission. If I believe these messages – then I’m not only the target of misdirection – I am also the tool.
This created culture is intricately put together in order to maintain power for those who built it. It relies upon obscure promises for those willing to be it’s scorching fire and it targets Indigenous, Black, and brown people.
But I didn’t see this at first.
For almost three decades of my life, Indigenous, Black, and brown people were irrelevant to me. I thought their problems were entirely self-constructed. As I came of age, the adults in my life convinced me we needed protection from anyone not like us. Remain in power and guard our resources. I also learned to accept my mini-morsels of success as proof positive that I was on my way to the top. I swallowed the spoon-fed ideology that I would get wherever I wanted to go but it would take time. Be patient. Don’t expect too much.
I positioned myself under people who were at the top. I did what they said. I worked long hours. Dehumanizing myself, my colleagues, our clients, and everyone around me. I didn’t know my neighbors. I didn’t have many friends. I continued to blaze toward the mountaintop of opaque promises.
Behavior is a compass.
Things started to shift for me when I started to meet people from the communities that my entire world said were to blame for why people like me were struggling. The stories I started to hear and the books I read didn’t describe a people who held a position responsible for my success or failure. As I began to emerge into an understanding of how race was a part of every story in my American life, it wasn’t my weakness that caught my attention. It was my behavior of dominance.
I was guilty. I knew it in every cell in my body. I could recall how I’d participated in the oppression of the people of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde by helping buy their stolen land in ruthless real estate grabs. I could recall how I’d participated in the oppression of a Black woman by firing her for a mistake she made because I hadn’t trained her well. I could recall how I’d participated in the oppression of Mexican men by paying them sub-par wages and letting them risk their lives because they were afraid to ask for safer working conditions.
Behavior is a compass.
For years I couldn’t see past this dominance. I had been the scorching fire that rolled through. There was so much to make amends for and I was coming to the conversation of race abysmally late. I started to believe that the only way out was to listen to Indigenous, Black, and brown voices. So I did. I read, and watched, and listened. I became wholly dependent upon Black, Indigenous, and brown people to save me. This allowed me to be vulnerable to the myth of white fragility and my socialized weakness never lost its grip, it just pivoted.
Behavior is a compass.
Around this time, we lived in a little house that was horribly drafty in the winter. The only way to keep warm was to spot-heat with space heaters. One day I looked over at the outlet where the heater was plugged in to find it melted and black. The electrician that came told us we just barely missed a house fire. The heater had a higher electrical current than the circuit and the outlet became the place where all of the extra energy was building up, causing it to melt and become the tinder for a fire. “All of that energy has to go somewhere,” the electrician said.
This is what had begun to happen in me. As I no longer saw Black, Indigenous, and brown people as the cause for my inadequacy, that energy of blame was building. Rather than unplug and reflect, I pivoted. I exploded blame on to every other white person but me. White people who wouldn’t rent an office to my Black husband. White people who tore away at the dignity of my black sons. White people at the far right and the far left. White people who were close to me and white people I’d never met.
This is when I started to see that I’d been socialized for weakness.
White dominance is viciously skilled at keeping white people focused anywhere but on our agreement to be a scorching fire in service to those who hold the flint. This is how it socializes us for weakness. Distract, divide, and individualize. I looked around and I had burned up everyone around me. Estranged from white people and self-proclaimed as untrustworthy to be in relationship with Indigenous, Black, and brown people. This isolation was the most numbing place I had ever been.
I’ve been on this journey for a while now. I keep finding more hand-drawn maps of my own plans to reach the peak of a mountain whose top has always been a mirage. These maps tell the story of how I gave myself to the culture of white dominance.
These days, I’m learning to set up camp at the base of that mountain. I’m here to welcome the travelers. There are some who just arrived from the long walk here and they still have their sights set upon reaching the top. They are willing to do anything and step upon anyone to get there. There are also some who are descending from a fruitless climb. They redirect their loss at those still arriving, failing to notice the bodies that lay beneath their own ascending footprints. Both share in the experience of a parched existence. Burned by the willingness to be the flame. My greatest tools at the moment are a few chairs and cooler of water. “Will you sit down for a minute? Let’s talk. Here’s a glass of water.”
Jeff Duncan-Andrada says…
“Your culture is your medicine. When you meet people from other communities – and all of us are indigenous to somewhere – that indigeneity is your medicine. If you’re not carrying that indigeneity with you, you’re vulnerable to get sick because someone else will tell you what your culture is. And when someone else tells you what your culture is, you start hurting other people. Because you don’t have your true moral compass – you don’t have your true north. But when you’ve got your medicine and I come across [you], what can we do? We can mix medicines. When we mix medicines, now we are really talking about a pluralistic, multi-racial democracy. But that means we’ve got to let [people] bring their medicine [with them]. We’ve got to value that medicine. [Everyone] has to know what their medicine is. And we’re so disconnected – from our ancestors and our history – that this work becomes that much more difficult.”
White dominance is persistent at telling me, as a white person, what my culture is. It succeeded for over 30 years because I was deculturated. My connection to my ethnic cultural and linguistic histories no longer in tact. I was vulnerable.
This past year has been the most healing year of my journey so far. I’m connecting to my ancestors, revisiting my younger self, envisioning a white community without the flame of white dominance, gathering community, and naming the places that need maturing. This is the life that sprouts from charred ruins. My culture is my medicine.
Today I stand less vulnerable to the social conditioning of weakness. I am interconnected and woven into beautiful imperfection…
I am from Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, and England.
I am from people seeking food in the midst of famine and freedom in the midst of persecution.
I am from stardust and bear my father’s face.
I am from the womb of love.
I am from my grandparents’ farm and climbing trees with my cousins.
I am from the sounds of Wham and snapping green peas.
I am from long walks through the woods and talking my mother’s ear off.
I am from a cookie with my name on it and cracking filberts by the fire.
I am from wonder, and joy, and curiosity, and falling stars.
I am from sisterhood that heals.
I am from people who challenge and strengthen me.
I am from a lineage of the burnt who became the flame.
I am from my days as a scorching fire and learning how to repair.
I am from strength, and courage, and the will to reclaim my true north…
…and I’m learning how to let my compass determine my behavior.