I’ve been trying to make my way out of the swamp of white privilege for 20 years. I’ve definitely taken some wrong turns. Such as:
- As a kid: I thought I’d write books to save the poorest children I could think of, so I’d write about Africa. College classes successfully clued me in to how messed up that was–I don’t know anything about Africa and I do more harm than good as a white colonialist savior who just uses and enhances her privilege. Also, the autistic traits I share mean I can’t handle travel super well.
- Next wrong turn: teach kids in the inner city to save them from poverty. I.e., save individual stand out kids from their communities and save them from Black culture (umm. . .) in order to make them more white and therefore deserving and slot them into white collar jobs instead of blue collar and service jobs that are paid too little to survive. Also make the kids who can’t or won’t fit the white mold feel bad about themselves. Then abandon them to those jobs that can’t support a family. Um…
- Next wrong turn: Write a dissertation about race that’s mostly about whiteness, and in imaginary resistance and argument with the white liberal colorblind racist voices that have been so powerful in shaping my life. Dissect racism with literary tools to prove them wrong. Then one of those powerful voices reads the whole f*ing dissertation, and within a couple years is MORE RACIST. Oh shit. Scrap that.
- Next wrong turn: Teach college composition classes. At least the students aren’t forced into those. At least there’s room for self-expression, and even some amazing moments of empowerment. There are a few problems with this, even though I have a lot of respect for people who do it. First, see above–I don’t have a lot of faith in academic writing after that. Second, it’s damn near impossible to get a full time position, so you take hard-to-get, unstable, poorly paid, overworked jobs. If you want to actually help people you basically give away half your life for free. My kids need me, I need me, I’m not into giving up half my life for free. Third, so many composition departments are about getting students to squeeze their thoughts into a literally-fill-in-the-blank argumentative essay format that just destroys critical thinking.
- Final wrong turn: be a full time professor and teach upper division literature courses to make students listen to people of color. I dropped this idea when I was a teaching assistant for a favorite professor specializing in anti-racism and teaching a class about racism. In that class all the white kids got A’s because their high schools had inculcated the academic essay format and voice. All the students of color had Bs, there were too many errors and their essays didn’t fit the format. Fuck academia.
Ok so here I am. And here we are with white supremacists marching without masks in Charlottesville and police letting them terrorize and kill.
One thing I did get out of grad school was reading Jean Toomer’s Cane. So when I see torches carried by white supremacists, and when I see the white people around me continuing to joke about the KKK and insisting on having a dinner party and avoiding politics, I think of Toomer’s fear, sitting in a cabin in the woods in Georgia in the 1920s knowing he could be tortured and lynched at any moment. If I sit silent at those dinner parties as people are killed and beaten and living in fear, here, in Toomer’s words, am I:
A Portrait in Georgia
coiled like a lyncher’s rope,
Lips-old scars, or the first red blisters,
Breath-the last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
of black flesh after flame.
Black people are killed to facilitate white people exploiting Black labor and to protect white women’s spaces. I.e. calling the cops on any Black man in a white neighborhood. Ignoring and enabling that makes white people monstrous.
I’ve made more progress since quitting academia and beginning to unschool full time. I’m learning how to listen. White supremacy teaches us to see everything through the lens of judgment. What someone could have done. What you should do. Who is better. Not judging my kids, especially their desires and their emotions, has been something I’ve had to learn. And I think it’s taught me a lot about listening to other adults, people of color in particular.
So despite all these wrong turns, now I think working toward being an anti-racist white person is pretty simple. This is what I’ve come to: listen, speak, act.
- Listen to people of color. Respect and believe them. Recognize that there’s no individual thing they can do to stop suffering from racism. I.e. don’t respond with: “did you try. . .” Or “if only you had. . .”
- Replace white male cis heterosexual voices as the norm or majority in your everyday news, movie watching, reading, listening.
They are chanting “We will not be replaced.” Replaced… as what?
I’ll tell you.
Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters.
–@JuliusGoat on twitter
- Listen to people of color. But don’t ask them to educate you or to do affective labor to deal with your emotions. There are plenty of resources out there from people and organizations who’ve already put the work into challenging white supremacy and giving a voice to experiences of oppression. Seek them out.
- Speak up for justice. Don’t remain silent. *If you don’t feel safe speaking up in front of some people in your life, block them on social media and work on cutting them out of your life.*
- Even if you’ve stayed silently at those dinner parties before, next time tell them it’s not OK. As Erika Davis Pitre so so helpfully advises, do it by asking them why they think it’s OK to say this in front of you. Make your work about you learning, not just despising someone else for being racist.
- Speak up to your kids. They notice race, even at 3 years old. Tell them accurate but empowering stories. Let them ask questions and listen to them.
- Speak up in your communities. At park day, at mom’s night out. I recently brought all this up at a mom’s book club. I was so worried I’d get silence or annoyance from the nice white moms who usually read self help. I was nervous about coming in and trying to change the dynamic. But after I spoke about this, another mom told us the story of her Black son being pulled over 20+ times and constantly harassed for driving in his own neighborhood. She’s been in the group longer than me but never shared this. She taught everyone there a lot more than I did. But I took on the anxiety and stress of breaking the ice, I took the risk and any racists in the room would have gone after me first, so once it was clear she had a supportive audience she could talk. Speak up, but not so that you can lecture people. So that you can make more spaces where the experiences of people of color will be heard.
- Give time, money, social capital, and a platform to activists. Reshare posts while giving credit, ask your friends to donate too.
- Put real resources out there to support anti-racist action. Question consumerism to free up your own funds. Question the money you devote to shoring up white privilege.
- Stand up fight back. In person. This is hard for people with social anxiety. But the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has tons of tips, particularly around the health care fight but they apply here to. I can’t do every protest, but I can do some. I can go to a vigil. I can help with a clothing drive. And if I can’t fight, I can donate to bail funds.
- Stand up fight back in a positive way. I’ve spent years consumed in anger having arguments with white liberal colorblind racism. I am only just now learning to put energy into supporting and strengthening the people doing positive work. Like helping my friend make an anti-racist syllabus by gathering resources for her. Instead of spending that time writing angry letters.
- Don’t fear mistakes.
- What’s the best course of action for allyship? This is not about giving you a sticker. Don’t try to be the best ally. Just be present, do something, do anything. If you’ve done nothing because you’re worried about being the best, then you’re a bigger problem than someone who’s trying but messing up.
- What do I do when someone corrects me? Say “thank you” and apply the correction. It’s not about you, it’s about what’s working and what’s not.
I’m still working on all of the above. I’ve been trying to listen and find my way out of the swamp of white supremacy for 20 years. I try to listen, speak, act, and continuously reflect.
Finally, why write this as a white woman when there’s already so many articles out there? Because we all have our chosen communities, online and in person. The community I seek are autistic parents and unschoolers. And within each community it shouldn’t be OK to stay silent about racism, white supremacist violence, police violence. The homeschooling community too must address the fear that Black children, Muslim children, immigrant children have to live with more than white children. Because directly addressing racism and having thoughtful dialogue in our communities is how we make change.