Keeping up the Momentum

Hi Friends,
I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping up the momentum of this work, particularly after November 2020. Two articles I have shared recently have expressed the concern that white people who have engaged in this work will stop, will disengage. This cannot happen.
From the article I shared a couple of weeks ago by Poppy Noor, who writes about “Why liberal white women pay a lot of money to learn over dinner how they’re racist” — so much to think about, but particularly, “‘If Trump were impeached tomorrow and we got a new president, a lot of white liberal people will go back to living their lives just as before, and that’s what we have to prevent,’ she [Lisa Bond] says. ‘All that’s happened is we can see racism now, while before we could cover it up. That’s why we need these dinners. So when we get a new person in and racism is not as obvious, we won’t just crawl back to being comfortable.’” [my emphasis added]
Also highlighting more from Nekima Levy Armstrong, who writes “Nowhere Is the Hypocrisy of Progressives More Apparent Than In Education” especially:
- “people who are living comfortable lives and for whom the system was designed for their benefit will rarely, if ever, make any significant sacrifices that threaten their discomfort, sense of entitlement or political power.” [my emphasis added]
- “all too often, folks assume that having good intentions and being a good person insulates them from taking real responsibility in addressing systemic issues and working to disrupt the status quo.” [my emphasis added]
- “Simply identifying as progressive and voting a certain way is no substitute for actually doing the hard work of challenging and undoing the oppression and inequities pervasive throughout the public school system.” [my emphasis added]
Being a good person is not enough. Individually treating everyone fairly is not enough. We must also do the very uncomfortable work of dismantling the systems that benefit us because those same systems are oppressing all of us.
If a Democrat wins the presidential election, there is very real danger of white people feeling like “everything is ok now” and the work will cease to feel as important. Those new to the work in the last three years are most vulnerable to this. If you were doing the work before November 2016, then you’ll likely continue to do the work after November 2020. But if you are new to this, if you are still doing the self-work to understand bias, if you are still amazed at how ingrained white supremacy is in our culture, in everything, then you must continue to do the work. No matter the election’s outcome. These problems are not going away, even if our country is led by someone who is anti-racist through and through.
If our current president is re-elected, there is also a danger that people will throw up their hands and abandon ship. I’m speaking specifically about white people using their privilege to escape the consequences of that outcome. Even saying “I”m going to Canada if he wins” communicates that you intend to abandon the work. People of color are often hesitant to trust white allies/activists/advocates because they have firsthand experience of being abandoned in this work. Because white people don’t have to do the work, because white people get uncomfortable with the work, we often walk away.
But here’s the thing. People of color don’t get to walk away from white supremacy and systemic racism. White people shouldn’t either. If you are in this work, please don’t change your dedication to it based on the outcome of November 2020’s election. Let this period in our country’s history, if it propelled you into action, be the beginning of something that never ends, rather than an anomaly.
Our society has taught us that success and happiness is the same as comfort. That the more comfortable we are, the happier and more successful we are. So when we feel uncomfortable, especially for white people, we are personally affronted, we demand that the problem be addressed, and immediately, or we escape. Physical discomfort is met with medication rather than a process of seeking the underlying causes. Emotional discomfort is bottled up or denied or we seek instant relief from things that we just have to suffer through (ie. grief).
We have not been taught to sit with our discomfort and try to understand it. We have not been taught to validate the feelings of a person making us uncomfortable and to seek compassionate understanding with that person. Discomfort = bad much like racism = bad person, both of which are incorrect. Discomfort is a signal about something that needs to be addressed, yes, but not in the way we have been addressing it. Instead, discomfort is an opportunity for us to discover a way forward, a way towards compassion, a way towards actual progress and positive change.
This work will never be comfortable. Embrace that and keep trying.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

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