I definitely fell behind on this—but not because I don’t want to do the work. I have a lot of things in the air right now. I realize that might sound like white privilege and maybe it is, but my work right now is literally in exchange for housing and my boss has asked me to focus more, so…
I am including here Layla Saad’s prompts because I think that it helps contextualize for readers who aren’t looking at her Instagram challenge.
Anways, here’s what I’m thinking through today…
Day 5: You and White Superiority
Layla Saad’s Prompt:
Superior: higher in rank, status, or quality.
White supremacy stems from this erroneous and violent idea that people with white skin and more superior to people with brown or black skin. The most extreme manifestations of this are the KKK, Neo-Nazis and right-wing nationalism. However, you don’t have to buy into this extreme ideology to harbour thoughts of white superiority. In fact, you can consider yourself one of the most progressive, liberal, we-are-all-one, peace loving white people and still at subconscious levels believe in white superiority.
Don’t believe me? Here’s some ways that it shows up: Tone Policing BIPOC and thinking we should express ourselves the way you or other white people do (whether talking about racism online or protesting racism in the streets, etc.). Subscribing to and elevating European standards of beauty. Believing AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is ‘ghetto’, and thinking the ‘proper’ way to talk is the way you and other white people talk. Primarily buying from and working with white entrepreneurs and service providers. Primarily reading books by white authors. Primarily learning from and supporting white leaders. Primarily staying on the ‘white’ side of town. Only sharing the work and words of BIPOC if you think it won’t offend or upset the other white people in your communities. Holding the expectation that BIPOC should ‘serve’ you by providing free emotional labour around racism. Believing in subtle and overt ways that you are smarter, more valuable, more capable, wiser, more sophisticated, more beautiful, more ‘articulate’, more spiritual, more you name it... than BIPOC.
Get honest and dig deep: what have you learnt about You & White Superiority. In what ways have you consciously or subconsciously believed that you are better than BIPOC? Don’t hide from this. This is the crux of White Supremacy. Own it.
I think that one thing that comes to mind for me after reading Saad’s post is the friction between what I know in my heart about non-standard English vernaculars and my work as a professor teaching and grading according to SAE. I especially experience this with non-Spanish speakers. I grew up hearing Spanglish and German-English, so the varied vernaculars around those cultures seem natural to me, but AAVE and others are sometimes easy to dismiss. I am recovering from decades of grammar policing and still sometimes struggle with that habit.
I know that there are other ways—things that might seem small, but are really toxic to my being—that I support white superiority. These days I am often surrounded by white people, or those passing as white who have embraced some/many white ideas. I don’t consciously believe whiteness is superior, but I do fall into the Western Civilization trap—mostly because it was ingrained in me after so many years of education and my time at UD. For instance, I can quote Socrates and Plato and even read the original Greek, but know almost nothing about Taoism. Because of this, I’m afraid I sometimes exoticize non-whiteness—being fascinated by other cultures, beauty standards, and philosophies. I worry about how I consume POC literature and theory because I want to be sure I’m not appropriating or fetishizing it. It’s a constant struggle and balance.
I know that when I was younger, I was raised in a culture that very much embraced white superiority, even if they denied it. There was an entire part of our culture around judging how others spoke, dressed, etc., while simultaneously picking and choosing pieces of their culture to “praise” as if that made us not racist. I remember how fascinated I was by the formerly Nigerian students and professors from the university who attended my church and wore brightly colored wraps and how one family member constantly emulated African American style while being incredibly (and unintentionally) racist in her actions and words.
I could go on and talk about the darker things that I saw in my family (and note—how we use “dark” in language to mean “bad”—I should work on my usage of that), but this is about me, not them.
Day 6: You and White Exceptionalism
f you’ve reached this far in the challenge you’ll begin to notice a pattern. All of these themes weave in and out of each other, interlocking and interconnected. That is the sticky web of white supremacy. It’s not just binary black or white you either ARE a racist, or you AREN’T. Rather, it is these multilayered behaviours and beliefs that make up your white supremacist world view. Your internalised racism is part and parcel with your view of both the world and yourself. These prompt questions are helping you to become aware of that.
Today’s topic weaves in with yesterday’s one. White Exceptionalism. White exceptionalism has shown up every time you saw one of the prompt questions and thought ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘That doesn’t apply to me’. White exceptionalism is what convinces you that you don’t *really* need to do the work. That you don’t have to show up here and add your comments - that you can just do it in your journal or think about it in your mind. That you’re somehow special, exempt, above this, past this. That white supremacy is what those ‘other white people’ do, but not you. White exceptionalism is the belief that because you’ve read some books on this topic and follow some BIPOC, you know it all and don’t need to dig deeper. White exceptionalism is the hurt ‘not all white people!’ response when BIPOC talk about white people’s behaviour. White Exceptionalism goes hand in hand with White Superority: I’m special. I’ve already read about this. I’ve already spoken on this. I’m one of the ‘good ones’. I’ve already shown I’m an ally. So I don’t need to keep going any deeper. White exceptionalism is particularly rampant in progressive, liberal, spiritual white people because there is a belief that being these things makes you exempt or above it all. You’re not. And the belief that you are makes you dangerous to BIPOC because you can’t see your own complicity. .
What have you learnt about You & White Exceptionalism? In what ways have or do you believe you are exceptional, exempt, one of the ‘good ones’ or above this? In what ways have you believed you are the exception to the rule?
Oh geez, have I had to deal with this. I posted about this challenge in a facebook group and nearly got my head bitten off by white people and their exceptionalism. And I realize that, while being frustrated by them, I’m exactly the same sometimes.
I love that Saad calls out “progressive, liberal, spiritual white people,” because I think that we are (yes, we) so bad about this. I see it in my groups all the time—even sometimes in my closest, most beloved friends. And I know that if they’re doing it, I am too. White exceptionalism is when we think we can culturally appropriate because “oh, we’re friends with people of x culture, so it’s okay.” Or, my personal favorite, “oh, I can say that because I’m 1/200th Native American” (which by the way, isn’t a thing—and as someone who is a very tiny bit Cherokee, I’m telling you, no, that doesn’t mean we can be racist assholes). White exceptionalism is also when we include Western canon in education as the main, required, core classes and then have a side class for “Asian History.” (Asia is a continent—not a country, by the way, and so is Africa.)
I think that I, and everyone else who Saad is describing, need to slow down a little on the judging others and calling everyone a Nazi (not a lot, but a little) and look at ourselves first. We can’t fix things when we’re part of the problem. That just makes the problem bigger.
I am complicit. I am part of the problem. I must become better than I am.
To quote my beloved sisters’ litany of non-violence: “Acknowledging [my] complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence, [I] beg the grace of a non-violent heart.”
May we all have this grace imparted to us.
Day 7: What have you learnt so far about You and White Supremacy
On Day 7 we don’t rest. Because BIPOC don’t get to rest from (your) white supremacy. But we do reflect. This is not a break. Consider it a breather. Because a lot has been brought to the surface over the last 6 days and it’s important to step back, take stock of what you’ve learnt so far and integrate so that you can continue through the rest of the challenge.
If you’ve been honest with yourself and digging deep during this challenge, then a lot of things should have come to the surface that you weren’t consciously aware of that you are now reflecting on. For today, share what you have learnt so far about You & White Supremacy. What have you begun to see and understand about your personal complicity in white supremacy that you were not able to see or understand before you begun this challenge? Again, we’re not looking for the happy ending, the teachable moment or the pretty bow at the end of all the learning. We’re also not looking for White Tears, dramatic admissions of guilt or becoming so frozen with shame that you can’t move forward. The aim of this work is not self-loathing. The aim of this work is Truth: seeing it, owning it and figuring out what to do with it. This is life long work. Avoid the shortcuts and be suspicious of the easy answers. Avoid the breaking down into White Fragility. Question yourself when you think you’ve finally figured it out. Simply take a moment to recall and find the patterns behind all that you have learnt so far about how you perpetuate white supremacy and then sit in it. Let these understandings work on you and through you. What have you learnt so far?
A lot of what I’ve been looking at and analyzing in this process is not something new, but rather the things that I already know about myself and try to ignore. That’s what is really at the heart of this work, I think, at least for me. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m not giving this enough of myself.
I was raised around racism that denied that it was racist. I was raised in a Church that, while I still love and am part of it, was a tool of colonialism and which still struggles with racism still, even though the majority of Catholics in the world today are not white. When I prioritize colonialism, westernism, Europeanism, etc. over other modes, thoughts, ideas, identities, etc., I am perpetuating white supremacy. I struggle with this constantly and have quite a bit of privilege as I do so. I’m hoping that in continuing this challenge, I will continue to grow.
Day 8: What have you learned about You and Seeing Color?
“I’m not racist. I don’t see colour.”
If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard progressive, spiritual, liberal white privileged people say they ‘don’t see colour’ when they’ve been accused of being racist... Except I wouldn’t want those dollars because this statement, ‘I don’t see colour’, is violent. It is violent because it says, I don’t see you for who you are. I’m choosing to ignore your skin colour, your hair pattern, your accent or other languages, your cultural practices and spiritual traditions. I’m choosing to erase all of the important parts of your identity that make you who you are. It is violent because it erases the identities of BIPOC, thereby also erasing our lived experiences with racism. It minimises these experiences. And it asks BIPOC to minimise these experiences too. It asks BIPOC to act as if the world is set up that way - as if institutional racism and prejudice don’t exist. It is also a form of gaslighting because it simply isn’t true. You do see colour. You’re choosing to pretend you don’t so that you don’t have to face the elephant in the room - your white privilege and your complicity in white supremacy. .
Are you someone who has used or thought this statement? Are you someone who has used the idea that ‘there is only one race - the human race’ to gaslight, minimise, erase, ignore and harm BIPOC? Have you wanted BIPOC to stop talking about race using this statement? Have you said or thought that racism only exists if we keep talking about races? Have you cringed or become frustrated anytime a BIPOC has used the term ‘white people’? Have you felt that it was racist or divisive to keep talking about white people? Have you thought they were talking about the actual colour of your skin and thought ‘reverse racism’? Have you wished we could just stop talking about race? And what mental gymnastics have you done to avoid seeing your own race (and what your white race has collectively done to BIPOC)? What have you learnt about You & Seeing Colour?
Color-blindness is such bullshit (in terms of race and ethnic identity—actually being colorblind is a whole different matter, don’t want to sound ableist). By being color-blind, you’re not only belittling diverse ethnic identities, but also assuming that difference is bad. It’s not. It’s what makes life wonderful. Let’s be real: without people of other ethnic backgrounds, we would only be eating bland white-grey food like the British and as a fat girl, I can embrace the glory of other cultures allowing us to learn about actual edible food from them. Sorry, not sorry.
I think that when I was younger, I may have been swayed by the color-blind bullshit for a hot minute, but it didn’t last long. It didn’t make any sense. Of course people are different and come from different backgrounds. But maybe as a white farm girl who frequently heard German and Spanish in my family members’ houses and who went to school with significantly wealthier city kids with families more stable than my own, I knew difference in a different way. Plus, I’m neuro-different and am constantly being told to change my entire identity to fit in with a world that wants everyone to fill a certain mold. I think that my own experiences helped me to see that color-blindness was bullshit, even if I didn’t always realize it was racist. On the flip side, I definitely have been guilty of expecting others to assimilate to the culture that seemed predominant (I got rid of my accent, why can’t they?), but I realized a long time ago that forced-assimilation is just a different way of committing genocide.
As for getting upset about people talking about “white people,” hell no. If I’ve got 99 problems, 100% are probably caused by some sort of colonial white-people bullshit, from the neurotypical superiority complex I’m constantly facing to the American hard-on for consuming and disposing of so much trash that our planet is starting to resemble a dumpster. Sure, talking about race is complicated, but I think we’ve been ignoring the elephant in the room long enough in America. As a white Catholic, I can look at the last 2000 years of history and find only maybe like 5 times something really awful happened on a wide-scale that wasn’t caused by someone who is closely connected to my own identity. That’s rough and it could easily lead to some self-hatred, but it is what it is and neither wallowing in it nor being defensive will fix the problem. Plus, the great thing about being descended from a whole lot of ignorant, violent people? It could be so easy for me (and us as a whole culture) to be infinitely better than my (our) predecessors. So, let’s fix this problem instead of ignoring it through color-blindness or any other bullshit “politeness.” Step 1: Confront how I am complicit in white supremacy.
I’m working on it--and thank you to Layla Saad for inviting me to work on it in an intentional way, creating the space, and performing the work of providing questions.