In the Inclusive Leadership Project’s “White Work” workshops, one of the exercises asks participants to take two minutes to answer the question, “What do you like about being White?” After they write their answers, I ask them to cross out all of the responses that (1) involves comparing yourself to other racial groups; (2) uses variants of the word “racist”; and (3) involves defining yourself according to what you are not. Then, they see that very few if any answers remain.
Which leads us to an activity around “What really is White?” We begin by adding words or phrases to four column categories: White (Positive Characteristics), like “Snow’”, White (Negative Characteristics), like “Bland,” Black (Positive Characteristics), like “In the Black,” and Black, (Negative Characteristics), like, “Dirty.” After completing their lists, we find three expanded columns and very little if any (usually none) are added to the Black Positive column.
We also talk about our own definitions of “Being White,” which most folks struggle with… so I share my own definition/feelings about being White.
I’m a 67 year old, White Jew. I am definitely an Agent (socially overvalued, with unearned advantage, granted easier access), yet not the Pinnacle of White Supremacy which I define as between 19 and 64 years old, Christian and Wealthy (having power), which is why I struggle every time I have to check the White box when filling out forms. It’s not because I’m trying to disassociate myself from the social-political construct of being White (which I am), its because I don’t see myself as one of the Elite.
From the get-go, the minority Elite constructed, defined and set up the parameters of systemic White Supremacy to protect and grow their self interests… and they continue to do so today. And yes, I am an involuntary beneficiary of their privilege machine, banging my head against the wall to hopefully move the needle toward equality.
But if it’s moving at all, I can’t see it.
As long as the marriage of White Supremacy and Capitalism stays intact, as does its relationship with colonialism and imperialism, not much will change systemically.
So how do we level the playing field when the majority of White people are uncomfortable with being honest about the world we live in? They proclaim to have righteous values (American Values), yet don’t admit that said values are selectively dispensed to their “own kind”.
Well, maybe we can’t. Maybe writer, professor Frank B. Wilderson III, had it right - we just need to, “Scratch this joint and start over,” or, “End the world as we know it,” as Dr. Jared Bell put it.
So why do this work - what can I hope for when I firmly believe that racism will not end in my lifetime unless we blow everything up and build a new society that equally distributes wealth, services and goods?
Because only a grass roots movement is going to light the fuse. And it’s my job and yours to grow that movement one ally at a time. It’s not the least we can do… it may be all we can do.
And once you get past what you can’t control, you can give yourself some grace knowing that you’re not perpetuating the status quo. And I’ve found, that’s not only enough to keep me going, it’s a lot.