In 1641, Descartes wrote, “I marvel at how prone my mind is to errors.” He was speaking to the necessity of doubting our thoughts.
He was talking about dualisms being at play when we’re making decisions, engaged in an argument or creating new ways of doing things. His binary theory emphasized how two entities or dynamics are kept separate, like the mental and the physical (his example). He insisted that the body is entirely separate from the mind. Many agreed and many, including myself, believe it’s too limited.
But his theory of duality was right-on in other applications, like subjective and objective thinking. Some of us operate based on our opinions, assumptions and stories that we’ve accumulated since childhood versus having a blank slate, open mind approach that evaluates data objectively to form new perspectives.
Isn’t it true that a lot of the opinions you held on to when you were young are no longer all that convincing or even plausible today? If so, then shouldn’t we continually be asking ourselves how we are being deceived by what we think we know?
Can you think of an example in which one of your senses led you astray? Or think of someone, a famous influencer or supposed expert who convinced you of something that you later realized was false? Descartes urged us to question everything we hold in our minds, especially when encountering charged, emotional subjects.
When teaching White people about Supremacy and Privilege, we’re more effective in our efforts when we adopt a blank slate learning mentality, by doubting our thoughts and preconceived notions. Our minds average 6200 thoughts a day, including our ground-in subconscious stories, so it’s no easy task.
It takes a willingness and effort to sort through it all to discover what really serves us… to pause and question ourselves and seek out objectivity and take in information without judgement - which is especially challenging when engaging in White Work, where we must learn to recognize and accept our privilege and become aware of the social conditioning thrust upon us since birth, which is akin to asking fish to recognize that they swim in water. They don’t. They just swim.
It’s not easy to deal with the shame and guilt and come to terms with the injustices we need to rectify, while having the fear of being ostracized from other Whites… particularly friends and family. Challenging as that might be, it’s not nearly as horrific as being oppressed - treated as less than human your entire life.
Working through our dissonance and using our privilege to engage as Allies begins with non-judgmental learning and questioning everything we hold in our minds. According to “Cartesian Thinking”, doubting our thoughts connects to our humanist presumptions about freedom: if you can ‘think,’ then you can doubt and demonstrate your own essential freedom as a human.
When Descartes urged us to question everything we hold in our minds he saw it as something we can control that no one can take from us. We may not always know what is true, but we can doubt and withhold assent to what is false.
Gaining the habit to pause and doubt or question your thoughts becomes integral to accepting that we’ve been socially conditioned all of our lives. It’s hard to believe something you’ve never seen or felt exists… especially when you’re being told that its responsible for the part you play in White Supremacy (WS). And although your part may be that of an unwitting beneficiary, it still contributes to sustaining WS, without your consent and knowledge.
Teaching, and convincing White people that they must leverage their privilege to dismantle White Supremacy requires instilling internal motivation to do so. Ultimately, a true Ally acts because they know, in their hearts, it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, just doing the right thing isn’t enough for most White people, and spending a lifetime swimming in water we’re unaware of doesn’t help. So maybe, adding a little anger to the equation may inch the process along.
As unwelcome as it sounds, White Supremacy relegates us to being puppets on a string, unaware of the powers behind it. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as self-determination, we’re just more limited than we think we are.
We’re individuals that can choose between various options in life - but who determines what options we have to choose from and what knowledge we’ve been given (or indoctrinated with) to make those decisions? How much personal sovereignty do all of us really have? A lot less than we think we do.
And I don’t know about you, but being manipulated by an “elite” few all of our lives really pisses me off… and of that, I have no doubt.