Pity and White Saviorism

Hi Friends!
I hope you’re well and healthy and enjoying the mostly mild summer weather we’ve been having!
I want to talk this week about a common detour that white people experience when they are new to anti-racist work. When a person emerges from their bubble of ignorance into the reality of white supremacy and racism, they can experience a range of emotions, from pain to embarrassment to guilt to shame. This is normal. Often, a white person will start reading and learning and trying to understand how they could have been blind to so much discrimination, unaware of the lived realities of many of their community members. Sometimes, this process will lead us down the path of pity and white saviorism. This can easily happen because many of the sources that discuss slavery and the persistent disadvantages people of color experience (because of systemic racism) also portray people of color solely as victims and not as agents of survival, resilience, and change.
You can see pity at work in the recent article about MONA considering expanding into South Arlington. While the intentions of the people raising concerns about the silence around racism in the community and within the group (because nearly all groups have some racism) were good, the white saviorism, the “poor South Arlington families” assumptions, are offensive and misguided.
This is why the self-work must continue. We have to recognize these pitfalls along the road and work to unlearn them, too. White supremacy is not a box of confederate flags and racist imagery that we can just leave behind at the dump. It’s woven into everything, so as we move along the continuum towards anti-racism, we have to keep shedding its influence and keep resisting its attempts to corrupt us anew.
Some great resources for you this week:
- “THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE” from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001. Get ready. This one will set you back on your heels — I see myself in so much of this. More work to do!
- “Helpful Rebuttals For Racist* Talking Points” from @CharCubed • Inspired by: @sujoy_shah, which sheds a lot of light on how to have these conversations and also undermines a lot of the doubts we might have about these topics.
- “Race and Privilege: An Overdue Conversation” is an incredible guide for having conversations about race with another person. I’m very excited to have this and to be able to model future conversations on this guide.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

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