White supremacy, white privilege and why is it all my fault?

Reading the open letter to white anti-racists, which was the article we chose for last weeks dialogue session, my first instinctive response was:

Surely it's not my fault that I am born white!

I had to read the article again to overcome my initial defence mechanisms and open my heart and mind to look a little deeper. What I am beginning to understand with the help of my fellow dialoguers is that it is not my fault that I am born white...
...but (and here comes a big BUT, which is a separate issue altogether from Miley's scrawny, twerking behind by the way ;-))
once I am waking up to certain privileges and advantages that come along with being born into the "right" skin - I can no longer hide behind the "it's not my fault" excuse and have to take accountability for my continuing to rely on these privileges and advantages.

At the same time I can't be an anti racist activist:  it's not my place to represent somebody who has not asked to be represented by me - (or would you take on your white neighbours problems and march outside their front lawn proclaiming that you are "on their side" and "understand where they are coming from"... absurd, right?). It is clear to me now that most black people don't want us to take on their causes to wear them like our liberal caring cloaks when it is clear that after the march or speech or gathering we can all go back to our white privilege and feel better about ourselves in the process. And even though as a mother of black children I find myself often identifying with black mothers, I have not and will never be able to feel black.  As a white person I simply don't have the same experience growing up and living in a white washed world. I perceive this as a disadvantage when it comes to being a mother as I can never have or share the experience of being a black woman with my children - in my role as a parent this shows up my limitations, which I have learned to accept. But as I am increasingly able to recognise those limitations and work with them as far as  my awareness allows by connecting to the experience of blackness through dialogue and - as corny as this sounds - love and friendship, I feel like I can be part of a beginning of some sort and find a new yet untested role in this "hot mess" (:-))

I am by default also part of and thus supporting structural white supremacy, which has woven it's threads into the very fabric of our lives in such a way that it can't be removed without tearing the whole thing apart. It starts with how we interpret humanity according to our "normative rule", in that a white person is naturally perceived as human whereas a black person has to first be "humanised". Black people's suffering is not causing the same outrage, does not make for headline news and simply does not get the same emotional responses as a white tragedy. The "poor starving children in Africa" was a black cause my grandmother used frequently throughout  my childhood without any emotional attachment simply to make me eat her dreaded pea-soup. But a white child starving to death in the attic of  abusive relatives was good for days of horror and outrage at the suffering of that poor child. Recently, we only have to look at our very own local happenings, where a white man shooting his white girlfriend creates a media frenzy, whereas countless similar incidents of domestic violence in our not white (still struggling for language here....) communities are only reported as a by-line in the latest crime statistics(and yes, the fact that somebody famous was involved is certainly a factor here, but that doesn't take away from the point I am trying to make).

So the question is - what to do? Most black activists feel very strongly about us whites standing back and wait to do what is asked from us in order to abolish white supremacy - be it resources, giving up our privileges or simply engage our fellow white people in making them aware of the issues.

Where I understand the principle and also agree with the part where whites can't take over black causes - the attempt to separate us further by ruling that we have to remain in our own circles of white and black, does not (in my view) offer us any way forward to solve the problem - it simply dictates change from the outside. I am not saying that change can't happen from the outside, and that it is not necessary to sometimes dictate it by law (affirmative and other reparative actions are absolutely necessary and can only be enforced by laws) but this can't be the only way, as we have to truly understand the need for and initiate change from the inside.

With a growing trend (hopeful me) towards diverse professional and social relationships as well as "inter-racial" families it will become more and more difficult to maintain this black and white outlook on race, colour and privilege. If we stick to appearances as a people divider, to determine who is qualified to talk or act and who is not, we are never going to have true cooperation and understanding amongst each other. The ultimate change has to happen within each of us,  we have to be prepared to truly examine our reality, racial bias and social standing in the context of our environment. In my view this can only happen in true dialogue with each other, black and white. An intrinsic motivation for white people to change the status-quo has to come from their own conscience, which is ultimately dependant on their degree of awareness. This is where I agree again with the statement that we have a responsibility to start with our fellow white friends and neighbours, school parents and work colleagues and initiate conversations around race and white privilege that ultimately lead to connection and communication across the racial divide.

In summing our session up (from what I got out of it), black people will have to do the activist work and determine the general route on this journey forward and us whites have to stand back more, learn to listen and carry the issues into our respective worlds of white privilege. But it is together that we can learn to engage in meaningful exchange and thus find heart connections and build trust, which is the only foundation on which to build a future where we can surmount race and racism one day.

And maybe I am being over-optimistic. Maybe only us eight or so women sitting around a table on my heated couch won't solve the world's problems of structural white supremacy after all - but hey -

.... we have to start somewhere.
Yours in dialogue


Eilat Aviram said…
Thank you for some indication of a way forward. And for expressing some of how I feel too.

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