Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own whiteness, complicity in oppressive systems, and desire to be seen as the perfect ally. I’m obsessed with being seen as a good white person and I hate having my faults publicly pointed out by someone else, which is a whole lot of shit that I need to work through for myself and without dumping on the people of color in my life. So right now, I’m going to start that process here as a way to really confront my own faults, dig deeper into my own white pain, and find a way in which to move forward.
Last night, I was at a meeting with other white people and we were role playing different ways in which to confront white people doing oppressive skills. At one point, one person said that we should try to relate to these other people more rather than try to rely on intellectual shit to prove a point. Later on, another person pointed out that my suggestion of inviting people of color to the theoretical diversity discussion had come off as tokenizing individual people of color.
The reason I mention these two things is because these are the two things from the meeting that really stuck with me and had me really uncomfortable with the ways in which I had been doing things for so long. They felt personal and I was taken aback and felt incredibly uncomfortable because I realized that the ways in which I do things is still drenched in oppressive aspects. I realized that I didn’t have all the answers and that made me really uncomfortable.
I so desperately want to be seen as having all the answers and being right and last night really came as a wake up call to that part of myself. I’ve been frantically wondering if I’ve been centering people of color or tokenizing their experiences, if I’m going about allyship in the right way, if I’m ever going to be able to relate to people in the right way, if all my intellectual shit is actually worth anything on this journey.
A big part of this is how being an ally isn’t an identity you can stamp on your resume after a brief moment of solidarity. It’s a constant set of actions that should not be done as a way to show marginalized people that you’re not as terrible as these other folks. And I’ve known this for a while but I realized last night that there’s still a part of me that does this. There’s still a part of me, whether I acknowledged it before now or not, that desired ally cookies from people of color for not being a more terrible person and that’s really fucked up.
I think that really sitting with the uncomfortable and painful aspects of whiteness and how you might be wrong is incredibly important for growth and understanding. I also think that allyship is a set of behaviors but not a performance because we shouldn’t call someone out or call someone in only when people of color are watching or when we could be praised for the act. It shouldn’t be for the glory or the praise but because it’s the right thing to do to better society. Let’s bake our own cookies rather than expecting others to give us some.
We shouldn’t be afraid to confront our limitations and faults and I am going to be the first one on that journey. But at the same time, I don’t think that there’s any one journey for everyone to go through and every person’s allyship is going to look a different way. I do well with what one person offhandedly described as intellectual shit and I do best having conversations around that. Confrontation always makes me nauseous – if someone spills coffee on me, odds are I’d apologize to them and I would still feel incredibly anxious at that. So the idea of confronting someone on their racism is an incredibly daunting thing for me but that’s my problem that I need to work through.
But confrontation in conversations shouldn’t be the only way to act as an ally and while my weaknesses might be someone else’s strengths, the opposite might also be true. There are many ways to behave in allyship that one person’s way shouldn’t be deemed the best and only way. Some people are great at leading marches; others are great at education or having conversations; and even more are great at so many other things. I do think that I personally need to get better at confrontation and relating better to people but I also realize that no one set of behaviors can be applicable to everyone else.
Working through this discomfort and white pain is important but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of people of color. I need to work through this on my own and not as a way to gain cookies. The reason I’ve shared all of this though is for a couple different reasons – one, I do significantly better dealing with stuff by writing and two, I hope that by admitting my own discomfort with myself helps someone else to at least address their own.