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White Activism: More Harm than Good?

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been guilty and afraid. Guilty because a few months ago I hurt someone I deeply admire. Afraid because, as a result, I started questioning if my attempts to combat racism are doing more harm than good. It isn’t helpful for me to “address” racism in a way that silences women of color and provides an easy out for women of privilege.

Wincing, curling into a ball and hiding is selfish and unproductive, so I’m able to push that aside. I owned my mistakes and apologized. I will do better in the future. But what does “better” look like?

How much of white “activist” work is actually oppressive?

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We Sound Hysterical: Fear and Vulnerability in White Women Speaking Out Against Racism

When well-meaning white people talk about racism, our voices sound odd.

Her voice trembles, then rises, and I hear my white friend say, “I am just tired of it not being okay for me to talk about race. That’s bullshit.” I look around the table at the other women and wonder how safe it is for my friend to talk about race here. We are well-meaning liberal feminists, mostly white, one woman of color. I think it is pretty safe for my white friend. But I don’t know. The way her voice shakes and she seems about to shout, start an argument, maybe punch someone? She is defending herself, that is clear. She is ready to fight. But what I don’t know is, who is she fighting with?

For white people to cop to racism and our participation in it can be an act of courage. It can mean standing up to the slaveowners: family, mentors, teachers, pastors, people we love and admire.

At work if I talk about race everyone gets uncomfortable and I hear, loud and clear in their posture, that they would rather I just “move on”. By talking about race, I have raised up fear and anxiety. My white co-workers are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and my co-workers of color…well, I don’t know what they feel. But I can tell they would rather I shut up, too.

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