I recently spent three days in a little NorCal mountain town with five women who are something north of friends and more in the realm of sisters.
We “met” in the Wild West days of blogging when women wrote on the internet under kitschy site names like Cookie Momster and Swaddles n’ Bottles. We found each other in the lonely space of faith deconstruction, a conversation often unrepresented or unsafe in real life.
We were women on a mission then, happily accepting every invitation for an internet fight. Twitter? Was a place to go toe-to-toe with seminary theology bros who underestimated our linguistic prowess and the focused rage in which we were prepared to wield it. We fought like wildcats in defense of women in church leadership, women’s bodies, anti-racism, LGBTQIA+ folks, bridging the wage gap, confronting church abuse, dismantling colonizing missionary culture, toxic theology. God, we were pissed.
Having come up through evangelical subculture, we were accustomed to valuing certainty (and the sound of our own voices). Speaking for myself, I harnessed the exact same self-righteous fury I was raised with and swung it around without – and this is important – actually being a member of those marginalized communities (exception: women). I knew what to do. I knew how to think right. I used that white saviorism FOR GOOD this time (sic). The moral imperative was well-placed but the methods were cringeeeeey.
Sitting around the fireplace with my girlfriends last week, talking about everything that basically ever existed, I noticed the evolution of our analysis ten years later:
“I was a bull in a China shop.”
“I should have passed the microphone.”
“I still have a lot of blind spots.”
Turns out, we aren’t the banner holders for every march. Usually we are best placed somewhere in the middle of the pack following the better leaders up front.
So this is the more humble, less centered energy I am taking into Black History Month. Seven years ago, I would have told you EXACTLY how to “fix racism.” I had thoughts. I had ideas. I had data. I could bludgeon you with words. I came armed with history, facts, dates, references. I wrote a million words blasting white supremacy and alienated endless people maybe *three feet* behind me in the work, because no one is more self-righteous than a freshly woke white anti-racist who knows just enough to be a menace.
Now I am far more interested in centering the black leader, the black experience, black leadership, black wisdom. The only reliable source of truth will come from the black community, and any attempt to replicate their bone-deep knowledge of white supremacy is a pale (yikes) version of the full story.
Now, I fully know white people, white women specifically, have their place in anti-racism. I am not suggesting we throw our hands up and let the black folk deal. It is our imperative responsibility to confront our own internalized white supremacy, do the hard work of unlearning and relearning basically everything we were taught about American history, and examine our privilege to use toward racial justice at our own expense and labor.
And before I rush past that list, this work is major: majorly essential, majorly disruptive, majorly extensive, majorly challenging. A walk in the park this is not, not if you are taking it seriously. It will require white people de-centering ourselves from the conversation, and this has never been required of us. We’ve had the privilege of prioritization which snuffed out the need for self-examination. If scrutinized, default to “good intentions”, that one black friend you have, and a notable nonuse of the n-word. If that doesn’t work, cry. Our perception? Assumed accurate. Our fear? Justified. Our fragility? Defended. Our version? Believed. Our power? Protected.
This work is not simple, fast, or comfortable.
I would say it took me the better part of six years.
And that only got me partially there at best.
My boyfriend is a 6’2” black man with dreadlocks, and I experience the world now at his side. I have two black children but they have grown up mostly under the protection of their parents’ whiteness and notoriety. They caught the edges of white privilege. Being in an adult relationship with a black man has thrown a light on my own lingering white supremacy, no matter how much “work” I thought was in my rear view mirror. The number of times I bypass a rule, assume safety, presume belonging, or even hail us a cab (with success) has revealed my own innate sense of privilege. Whereas my partner says: “I would/could never.” For me, daily racism is out of the realm of theory and into the space of experience.
In the work of anti-racism, the lived black experience is the leading voice, added to the helpful resource of true American history, and there is no better classroom than actual proximity. That’s just it. White folks, that makes our work pretty straightforward:
- Listen to black people. Read their books, download their podcasts, follow them on socials, hear their stories, heed their pain. They are telling the truth. Believe them. Stop telling them they haven’t experienced what they have experienced. Just listen and learn and be quiet. This is how it really is, and how it has always been.
- Unlearn whatever garbage version of American history you were taught and get really serious about confronting the white supremacy this country was literally founded upon. Abandon American exceptionalism and learn the truth. America is not great but she could be.
- If your world is all white, change it. You know what we get to choose? Friends, doctors, dentists, pediatricians, coaches, neighbors, school districts, pastors, churches, clubs, restaurants, leaders, teams. Sure you may have to drive further or take more time or make big changes, but that is why this work is called work. Proximity will change you.
Black flourishing means American flourishing. White supremacy keeps us all in a prison of our own making. Anti-racism turns into representational leadership, a higher GDP, safer communities, better schools. It means brilliant black minds unleashed to the same degree as brilliant white minds, elevating dialogue, culture, art, innovation. It results in more just legislation and equitable policies. It is a solution to poverty, violence, and despair. Anti-racism will hasten the reversal of our outrageous school-to-prison pipeline and a prison industrial complex that suspects, charges, indicts, and sentences black men five times more than white men.
The end of white supremacy is good for every single heart, mind, soul, and body in this country. It will heal our brokenness.
Racism is a scourge on the American landscape, and the only way through it is with confrontation, reckoning, repentance, and restitution. Then we would all be free of its insidious grip and could get on with the business of maybe, just maybe, actually making this country great.
A good place to start? We’ve had incredible guests on the For The Love podcast. Check out their work and learn from them here.