Dismantling White Supremacy And The 5 Stages of Grief
So, for many white people, the past two years have been sort of a earth-shattering wakeup call regarding the realities of living in the United States and in many other parts of the world.
Many of you found your comfort in believing the fairytale that you were living in a “post racial” world and that, some how, we’d all found a way to get along. You were happy. Many of you even challenged members of marginalized communities when we made any attempts to talk about our lived experiences in a country that used racial ideology to justify the enslavement and the extermination of people for economic gain.
For the few white people who were even aware of the true racial reality that existed and that you worked hard to counter, you thought your work was done. You assumed that everyone was finally on the same page. But that all changed on November 6, 2016 because that was the day that, through the efforts of redrawing district boundaries, voter suppression, and a history of racists policies, WHITE PEOPLE elected a person for president who embodies everything about the white supremacist’s nature of this country.
So here we are again.
It is November 6, 2018, a full two years later and some of you, and your lives are falling apart. You are now not only aware of racism’s hold on your lives and your history but also, you are grappling with the fact that you just may not be as “great” and “talented” as you’ve been taught that you are. For the first time, for most, you are questioning everything you have been told about yourself and the “others” around you.
You’ve lost friends you cared about. There are members of your family who you no longer speak to. There are jokes, stories, and conversations being told in your places of work that you no longer laugh at or participate in. Some of you on this day, can admit that you have lost your TRUE NORTH and you are in a lot of pain.
What you are feeling is only a portion of the pain, agony, terror, and oppression that millions of members of marginalized communities experience every day of our lives. The stress of the internal, ongoing monologue that plays, like a loop, in our minds when we enter spaces or have experiences that require us to evaluate our safety and well-being. Checking our TONE, body language, and even our physical proximity to whiteness in order to gauge who we have to be, what we need to say, and how we need to say it in order to maintain the maximum comfort for you.
Oh, by the way…IT IS FUCKING EXHAUSTING!
We get it. We understand what you’re going through. We see it in your faces. We hear it in your voices. We read it in your tweets. But we also see that the biggest difference between your pain and ours is that whiteness is not resilient. You are stuck in your loops of disbelief or anger and that’s all you talk about. You go on and on about how shitty things are. How sorry you are for the behavior of other white people. You moan, you whine, and of course you cry…there are a lot of tears.
BUT THAT IS ALL. YOU DO NOT TAKE MEANINGFUL ACTION.
So on this day. A day that so many, on both sides, are hoping will be the defining moment regarding the essential nature and character of the United States, I thought it would be the perfect time to help anti-racist white people process and get out of their feelings and join the rest of us in creating an identity for the United States that it was not designed to have.
Denial, let’s be honest, is where most white people, in the United States, fall. They continue to sit in disbelief at the telling of our stories. These are the individuals who know something is different but are not yet ready to accept that their privilege, if they will even admit to having any, was gained as a result of oppressing and annihilating others. They are working hard to reconcile what they hear and see in the media or real life with the intentional lack of historical knowledge they need to make any sense of this new understanding. These are the individuals who pepper us with requests for data, they #notallwhitepeople and #alllivesmatter us because any other responses would mean acknowledging their own ignorance and role, intentional or otherwise, in maintaining the house of white supremacy.
Anger is one of the two stages where white people get stuck and boy do you get angry. Every other word out of your mouths is “fight this” and “fight that”. It makes sense to want to fight but what many of you are unaware of is that your calls to fight seldom will make you the victim. What usually happens is that your anger triggers the anger of other white people and they in turn focus their anger onto the very communities of marginalized individuals you are angrily working to protect. We’ve increasingly seen this play out in examples such as black man beaten in Charlottesville found not guilty of assaulting white supremacist, ‘whites don’t shoot whites,’ suspected gunman told man after killing 2 black customers at Kentucky Kroger, U.S. militia groups head to border, stirred by Trump’s call to arms, and when the dreaded ‘other’ is an angry white man to name a few. White people must understand that although anger is a normal stage in the grieving process, your anger does not put you in danger but threatens the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Let me be honest, although I am very aware of the stages and the need for individuals to move through them at their own pace, bargaining is the stage where I lose my patience with white people. This is the stage where you really work my nerves because this is where you center yourself, often to the detriment of those communities who are actually in harms way. You are so into your guilt for “not knowing” that instead of channeling your newfound understanding into learning and taking action, you position yourself as a martyr or, god forbid, an ally, and every conversation is about you, how badly you feel for not being aware of white supremacy or even the level of your own privilege. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU! I get it. You’re upset. But please stop making your shit to unpack and deal with, the emotional labor of others, particularly individuals whose lived experiences are steeped in the oppression of white supremacy.
Depression. Now this is a big one because this is the other stage that white people get stuck in because working to dismantle a system of white supremacy seems like an impossible and overwhelming effort. How does one even start to work on attacking this goal? So many of us are used to instant gratification of getting to the “win” that for many, not seeing a way to an easy “win” sends you into a place of “why bother”. Why bother? Because our lives depend on you. We need your effort, your energy, your ideas, and your resources to make meaningful, long-lasting change and we need it like yesterday. Yes, this is a daunting undertaking but really think about the alternative. Although you may only be a witness to the atrocities that white supremacy historically and continues to inflict on marginalized communities, what you are also beginning to notice is that you, as a white person, are increasingly being impacted by its negative outcomes. This is because white supremacy is a parasite that has now started to eat its host…WHITENESS.
Acceptance! Finally! It is only when you are able to accept that as a white person, you have unfairly benefitted from the unearned privileges stolen from others, that you are of any help to those already on the ground, working to dismantle white supremacy. Your effort is an important component of this work and we need you to do your part. We need you to not wait around looking for orders but to actively engage by asking “how can I help?”, “where do you need me?”, “who can I connect you to?”, and “how can I fund this?” to name a few. It is important for you to also check your privilege to ensure that you are not stepping into roles where you are not qualified or that are occupied by others. You should be doing everything you can to amplify and lift the people, voices, and initiatives of those with limited or no privilege, while remaining in the background.
Also, if you’re serious about dismantling white supremacy, check out the Being Antiracist events. Take this opportunity to learn the basics of being Antiracist, while minimizing the potential for harm your whiteness has on others, as you learn.
Again, let me state, that this is not about you because the work we are doing, when giving the support we need, benefits us all.
ENJOY! Because this is a classic and can NEVER, in my opinion be shared enough.