I want to take this opportunity to highlight an article by Courtney Napier called “The Fetishization of Antiracism Work” on her Know Better Do Better blog. The whole article is worth a read, but I want to call attention to the sections below in particular. She’s writing about antiracism work as a whole and how it has been twisted and distracted from its goals.
“The goal is to subvert the entire system. It is to devise a new way to be with one another. It is to undermine every lie, including that anyone inherently embodies an ideology of racial superiority that one cannot rid themselves of.”
This is what I’ve been circling around, especially after my recent trainings with White Awake, about how we need to acknowledge the privilege that white supremacy gives to White people AND ALSO that those privileges are not the natural order of things, that we could choose to live in a world in which those privileges are just the human rights that everyone has (or no one has, depending on which privilege we’re talking about — I wrote about this before here, regarding the Two Faces of Privilege).
“White supremacy is evil and should be called out in all of its ways. However, there is a difference between calling out racism accurately and conflating someone’s humanity and capacity based on an act of racism. When the call out goes past the action-and-damage and into the space of dominance and humiliation (you must do this, and if you don’t, you are irreparable and worthless), it’s no longer about liberation and instead about humiliation.”
This goes beyond “calling people in” and is especially important for White people doing this work. Antiracist work must come from a place of respect for each person’s humanity, even when a person is saying or doing harmful things. We stray from the path of progress if our antiracist focus is competitive or judgemental when any of us make mistakes. We are also more likely to send people further into embracing white supremacy if we do not make each other feel welcome and accepted and that we have faith in each other to do this work. The harm can be addressed and repaired without anyone losing their humanity.
She also addresses White women in particular:
“White women also need to heal. Instead of gravitating to humiliation for pleasure and identity, white women must reconnect with their power and consequently their responsibility as change-makers in society. White women need to stop exploiting Black women educators, using their intellect for their own emotional appeasement. White women must stop treating these relationships as transactional, that you are somehow achieving antiracism by paying a Black woman to berate you and letting her live to tell the tale, this time.”
I have written about not asking BIPOC to explain things to you, but this takes things a step further. White people can imagine that taking classes, reading books, going to a book club, or having a Black friend means that we have done enough. We are not absolved of doing further work, we have not checked a box of wokeness that gets us off the hook of doing the hard work on ourselves.
Further on White women:
“White women must stop identifying with shame and fragility. It’s harmful to the psyche, but it’s also simply untrue. Consciously or unconsciously, it becomes a place of retreat when the pressures of society’s expectations become too heavy to bear. Like Black people, white women know so little of their history, especially their role as disrupters of the status quo. Instead, our collective narrative often sees them as only self-interested — no matter their political allegiance. Or they are depicted as the pawns of powerful white men. Either way, they are painted as partially awake and disinterested in collective liberation.” [emphasis mine]
Knowing our history, understanding our powerful role in society, is essential. I encourage you to do some research about female “disruptors of the status quo” of all races and political parties, to be inspired by the power of women when we resist harmful stereotypes or low expectations. You might start with Anne Braden and I’d love to hear your suggestions of others.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.
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