Racism is to white people as wind is to the sky

imageDear White people,

It’s not enough to simply know that racism exists, that we live in a racist world. In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? This is not about hating ourselves, it’s about loving ourselves so much that we commit to transforming ourselves and our communities. Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions. And before you defensively cite the number of friends of colour you have, please remember that sometimes these beliefs and actions are incredibly sneaky – they are designed by white supremacy to look normal and natural. As white people, sometimes we can find them difficult to spot – yet they are glaringly obvious to those who are hurt EVERY SINGLE DAY by our racism. Towards the end of this post I’ve included a list with some concrete examples of the racism of myself and other well intentioned white people, including anti-racist activists. The list has a warning at the top so that folks of colour and Indigenous people can choose whether/when to read this.

White people, the shame is not that these racist things come up in us – growing up in a white supremacy, it is impossible for them to not. The shame is when we deny it, refuse to do the work and therefore turn our backs on our sisters, brothers and genderqueer siblings of colour. The shame is when we are inactive through fear of doing the wrong thing. The shame is when we don’t own up to the damage we cause on a daily basis. The shame is in not putting the time and resources into figuring out how the fuck to transform ourselves – and it will take time and resources, because we’re battling a massive system of white supremacy that will seek to minimise, deny, divert and violently uphold itself. And remember, whilst I can take a break from doing the work of unpacking and challenging mine and others’ racism, our friends of colour can NEVER take a break from racism.

If you’re a white person having a hard time reading this, I’d ask you to examine why are you feeling defensive? In my experience, when I’m defensive it’s usually because I’m avoiding some element of truth. It’s actually only threatening to me to admit my racism if I intend on doing nothing about it. Obviously, there is a massive variation in how racism manifests. When we completely distance ourselves from those white people whose racism manifests in ways that are more “obvious” to us as white people (like murder, assault, belittling other cultures or employment discrimination) essentially, we are letting ourselves off the hook. Yes, my racism may manifest in less intense ways, but it is still from the same origins: growing up in a white supremacist society. It has the same stink – it is the same air in the sky which sometimes blows as a small breeze and other times whips up into a hurricane. Whether or not I like it, I have been shaped by this culture. I have breathed this toxic air into my lungs and it informs my immediate thoughts, reactions, actions – including what I’ve been trained to consider as “racism”. Add to this, the massive amount of privileges I inherit as a white person – and these are not privileges I can simply choose to not take, because privilege is something given to me, not taken. There’s an article by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” if you want to understand white privilege with more concrete examples. And for an awesome understanding of anti-oppression and inter-sectionality – check out’s Kim Crosby’s presentation.

It’s indicative of how incredibly low the bar is for white anti-racist allyship that I am so applauded for even the most basic anti-racist things that I do. All I need to do, is get “anti-racist” into a sentence, or remember to include an analysis of racism when I’m talking about transphobia or sexism, or volunteer in support of an event centering people of colour and I am wildly celebrated and applauded. Contrast this to how folks of colour and Indigenous people are often cast as angry and confrontational when they point out racism. The bar is so incredibly low for being a white anti-racist ally. This is no judgement on folks of colour who choose to offer kind words to me for the stance I take on racism- please know, your words of support are appreciated, but not expected. Rather, it is a call to action to white folks: there is something very wrong that I get so much praise for the simplest, most basic acknowledgement of racism.

Let’s raise the bar. Let’s listen deeply to people of colour and Indigenous people and respect their wisdom and stop appropriating it and re-packing it into $30,000 university degrees and pretending we came up with it (thanks Kim Crosby for pointing that out). Let’s learn to admit when we fuck up (because we do, everyday) and figure out how to transform ourselves and make amends to those who we hurt. Let’s lovingly yet firmly point out racism to each other and hold each other accountable for making amends to the people we hurt and changing our behaviour for future. Let’s remember that we are the ones responsible for holding each other through the process of changing, so that we’re not expecting the support of folks of colour – think about how painful that must be- first, being hurt by racism, then having to hold the hand of the person who hurt you. And for every bit of support we offer to white people to change racist behaviours, let’s offer double the support to folks of colour in dealing with living in a racist world. Whilst people of colour may not necessarily want to debrief racism with us (let’s respect their own safe spaces and not seek to insert ourselves in these spaces), there are plenty of other tangible ways we can support: photocopying zines, housework, emotional support, helping set up events, doing childcare, fundraising and being behind the scenes in support of the priorities, activities and movements led by people of colour and Indigenous people. Let’s start daily practices of BELIEVING people of colour and Indigenous people when they talk about racism, even when we don’t understand. Let’s do the work to understand. Let’s talk with other white folks and figure shit out so we don’t demand the labour of people of colour and Indigenous people in educating us, yet remember who we ultimately will be learning from and who we need to be following the leadership of – the people most affected by racism. So let’s find consensual ways to learn about racism from folks of colour, like through multi-racial organising, social media/books/films and doing support work like those things listed above. And let’s get ourselves set for the long haul – because this will be lifelong work filled with heartache, satisfaction, embarrassment, humility, joy, pain, sorrow and sweet, sweet victories.

WARNING: CONCRETE EXAMPLES OF RACISM IN WHITE ANTI-RACIST ALLIES BELOW.

A few examples of my racism and the racism that I see in white friends to whom anti-racism is very important:

– The times when I have tokenised people of colour by thinking “shit, my project is really white, I should ask some people of colour to be a part of it”, rather than building the vision and collaborating with people of colour from the beginning and/or building genuine mutually supportive relationships.

– When I have given more support, time and resources to white projects and individuals. It doesn’t matter if this was by default (like who happened to ask me) – it is my responsibility to seek out and support people of colour and Indigenous people (if and when my support is welcome). In a world where these communities are systemically barred from access to resources, it is racist to perpetuate this on a personal level in my own life.

– The times when I have assumed people of colour and Indigenous people have drinking or substance problems when I see them drinking or using in public. I am in fact an alcoholic, yet nobody thinks that of me if I’m seen drinking in public.

– When I have failed to understand the ways a police presence could impact on the participation of criminalised communities, especially Black and Indigenous communities. Any time I have invited police presence or failed to take steps to deter it, this is my ignorant racism showing up.

– When I have failed to take the time to consider how I could make sure people of colour and Indigenous people are central in the decision making of groups I’m a part of.

– When I have over-identified with the struggles of transwomen of colour as if they were my own experiences – see my article “Boy Tits in the Locker Room” for more on this

– When I have spent more time reading white people’s opinions on racism than people of colour’s and Indigenous people’s opinions and lived experiences. Yes, I believe there is a strong role for white people in challenging racism, but it shouldn’t over-ride the leadership and wisdom of those who are most impacted by racism. Note, we also need to make sure we’re not putting the burden on folks of colour to come up with all the solutions.

– When I have minimised the feedback of people of colour

– Those times when, before even consciously knowing what I was doing, I assumed that communities of colour would be more transphobic and homophobic towards me than white communities.

– When I have gotten acquaintances who are people of colour confused with each other. It doesn’t matter that I also frequently can’t recognise white people who I don’t know very well – this is where context matters. In the context of a racist world that makes invisible and dehumanises people of colour, my actions are racist.

I’m working on My Racism AND I love myself

As well as a bunch of emails from white people who expressed commitment to working on their racism, I’ve gotten some emails from white people “wow, you have so much self loathing”. I don’t loath and hate myself. I am appropriately critical of some of my thoughts and actions, yes, but that’s actually because I love myself and I love my friends and my communities. In fact, I love myself so much, that I want to be part of a community that is beautiful with space for everyone and I am committed to working to make sure that my own ingrained racist thoughts and behaviours don’t block that vision. I love myself so much that I want to get to have AWESOME people in my life, and that means working on my racism.  I love myself so much that I want to overthrow messed up systems that hurt people I care about and an important part of doing that is owning up to my own shit, and through supporting Indigenous people and people of colour in strong leadership positions. I love myself so much that I’m not afraid to look at the parts of myself that do messed up things – this actually is a sign of my self respect and respect for others, not of self loathing. And I’m not afraid to make my process public. Well more accurately, I’m totally afraid (sometimes terrified!) but I love myself and my community so much that I still do it anyway.

And yes, there are a lot of things that you/we will have to give up. Like needing to be right. Needing to be perfect. Needing to always being seen as the “good anti-racist white person”. I get that part of why some of you feel so challenged is because anti-racism is important to you and so to be called racist challenges your idea of yourself. I’m asking you to rise to the challenge and find a way to see the racist parts of yourself as inevitable as long as we continue to live in a racist world. It’s not a personal failing. If you believe that we live within a racist world, then how could this not have shaped your thinking, even despite your best intentions? I’m challenging you to see working on your racism as an act of love. Love for your community. Love for yourself. Love for your friends.

To read Part 2: Click here

Racism is to White People as Wind is to the Sky – Part 2: We Built The Sky and We Can Tear It Down

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2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

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84 thoughts on “Racism is to white people as wind is to the sky

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  4. This was a very good read and I learned a lot about this. It also got me thinking about other people who are oppressed in the world. So in a white supremest culture, white people are racist. What about a culture where heterosexism exists? Would all straight people of that culture be homophobic (intentionally or not) since straight people have privileges that gay people don’t? Would this apply to sexism as well?

    Thanks!

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  6. Is there any way to message you? I started writing about my own experience as an Asian woman and wanted to say to you thank you, but then realized I didn’t want to just post it on the internet.

    “-When I have gotten acquaintances who are people of colour confused with each other. It doesn’t matter that I also frequently can’t recognise white people who I don’t know very well – this is where context matters. In the context of a racist world that makes invisible and dehumanises people of colour, my actions are racist.”

    This is the only thing you’ve written I disagree with. I think if you equally confuse people who are white, then your actions toward minorities of confusing them aren’t less equal so therefore not racist in comparison. I don’t think you’re expected to treat people perfectly in general as you are human, so the same applies to minorities. Just as long as that treatment isn’t based on skin tone, which I do admit requires conscious effort after having been cultivated by a racist society.

    • Thanks for your message! My email is sunny@sunnydrake.com

      It sounds like there’s different opinions on the thing you pointed out – thanks for adding your opinion to the conversation.

      And looking forward to seeing your writing if that’s something you’re intending on sharing.

      Warmly, Sunny

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  10. “When I have gotten acquaintances who are people of colour confused with each other. It doesn’t matter that I also frequently can’t recognise white people who I don’t know very well – this is where context matters.”

    I have to admit that I’m having a hard time understanding this point. If you have time, would you be willing to explain in a little more detail? I’m terrible at remembering people’s names, which is embarrassing, but I never realized it was racist before.
    Sorry, I’m a (very stupid) white person who is kind of new at this privilege-checking thing.

      • What is the best way to address the situation if I do confuse a person of colour with another person of colour? Should I acknowledge race and context?

        • Thanks for participating in this discussion! Any folks of colour who are willing to share their opinions on this, feel free to add/correct what I have to say. Firstly, I think it would depend on context – different people of colour will feel differently about this, so I don’t think there’s a one solution for every situation. Personally, I tend to say something like “I’m sorry I did that – that was really shitty of me”. And then take their lead from whether they want to talk about it more on the spot or not. Sometimes making it into a big thing and over-explaining or over-apologising can get exhausting, draining and embarrassing for the person who’s been hurt. Although other times they may want a more elaborate apology.

          Also, if I’ve done something racist and I have the email or facebook address of the person, I’ll send them a BRIEF email/message apologising e.g. “Just wanted to reach out and say that I’m sorry that I ______. That was racist and I apologise for any impacts that may have had on you. If you’d like to talk about it further, or there is anything you want to request of me, please let me know. Please don’t feel obliged to respond to this, unless you want to”. Sending an email/message rather than in person gives the person the opportunity to digest, respond/not respond on their terms. I think it’s important to keep it brief – remembering that it’s labour for the person to read it, and it may in fact not have been a big deal to them and it’s sucks if then they feel like they end up needing to take care of guilty-sad-sorry-feeling white folks emotionally. The length and tone will also depend on how big the incident was.

          I’m very open to hearing your suggestions too!

          Warmly
          Sunny

  11. It’s remarkable to go to see this web site and reading the views
    of all colleagues concerning this piece of writing, while I am also keen of getting knowledge.

  12. Thank you for your Honesty.

    The worst feeling in the world is to be discriminated against and have everyone pretend it isn’t discrimination.

    When you see someone being discriminated against and you do nothing to stop it that is the same as being the offender yourself.

    I grew up with mostly “white” friends and they always defended me from racism, I am suing a former employer for discrimination and harassment. and NO one tried to stop it and at the time they claimed it was not racism.

    But they didn’t stand by that claims now that the Law is involved, they are claiming reverse racism and depending on perjury to defend themselves. It would be funny if it didn’t cause mental health issue and so much pain in my life.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

    Thank you for doing something!

  13. White people know that they are racist. if they admit it they fear there will be more laws made to level the playing field. Simply because they don’t admit they’re racist affirmative action is on it’s way to being non-existant. Let’s not even get started on redistricting of voters. There are some white people that realize that racism is hateful and they wouldn’t feel good about themselves if they found out they were
    racist. These limited number of white people usually live in a land of unicorns and fairy dust. They believe if they fake that they aren’t racist they will not be racist. They don’t realize that they have to do core work. As for the rest of them… This country was started on greed and will meet it’s demise in greed. Most Americans don’t have the ability to think for themselves and tradition (no matter how stupid) is important to them. So if their ancestors were racist 9 times out of 10 times they will be racist too. In a nutshell most white people don’t admit they are racist because they stand to lose a lot when someone like President Kennedy or President Lincoln takes office.

    • n/a is perpetuating the belief that equality is a zero-sum game and that for one person to get ahead another must fall back, which is the source of the fear that she speaks of, that white people “stand to lose a lot.”

      People supported Lincoln not because they were selfless people who were willing to lose a lot but because they saw they would gain a lot by living in a country that lived up to its principles of liberty and equality instead of an apartheid country.

      Affirmative action though, aka “Positive Discrimination”, that’s not about creating a level playing field, it’s a deliberate tilting of the playing field. It has its uses here and there (“to rectify systematic discrimination”) but overuse perpetuates the belief that minorities are not as capable. The biggest problem now is declining opportunities for ALL people… the increasing income divide between rich and poor, declining middle class, declining value of generic college degrees. Poor and working class people of all colors need to unite to create supportive self-sustaining communities. People need to get real about creating something real that helps us all live better instead of blowing all their creative energy on illusory worlds of entertainment and commercial “culture.”

      • Well actually, I simply stated why white people are afraid to admit that they are racist. You have a great command of the English language, but you don’t appear to comprehend it very well. How naive could one be to believe that affirmative action did anything for the black community except weaken our self-esteem and hide the fact the white people are still racist. Affirmative action is as useless as political correctness. It only covers up the truth. Affirmative action is like eating the meat of the steak and throwing the bones to your “so called” friends and telling them, “well we feed you.” Black children do not get the same education as white children (to this day). Black men don’t sell drugs because they’re lazy. It takes a lot to get up in the morning and say I’m going to risk my life for money. By the way, where do black men get the drugs to sell? We don’t have the money or the connections to do business with the suppliers of drugs. Affirmative action is just an illusion that black people believe was actually put in place to work for them. I believe Kennedy and Lincoln wanted to do the right thing because they believed blacks were being treated like animals. However, most of their counterparts were not on board. Lincoln and Kennedy actually believed that blacks were human-beings. You see the fate they both met. The point of my comment was not to push for more laws like affirmative action. My comment was actually stating that white people feel they have a lot to lose. I personally don’t see it that way at all. My core is not made of material possession. My core is made of integrity, compassion, and truth. The Dalai Lama speaks to my core. I think Americans are misguided about how to attain happiness. Happiness does not come from material possessions. Happiness is a state of mind. How many times was love mentioned in the constitution? America does not teach the happiness comes from love and compassion for your fellow man. This country teaches that having more than others will make you happy. Being able to insult people and make them feel useless and unattractive makes you a better person. People don’t come to this country because they want to learn how to love one another. People come to this country in hopes of getting money. People don’t come to his country to gain integrity or to find truth or love. Even women from outside this country marry men in this country in hopes of attaining wealth. People in this country don’t go to church because they want to be righteous. People in this country believe that if you worship God you’ll get riches and that riches define happiness. People in this country are blaming the politicians for this country falling apart. No matter what political party is in office the country is still going to hell in a hand-basket. What’s happening in DC is a direct reflection of what’s going on in the hearts of Americans. I wish that black people would stop believing that having material possessions will make one happy. Happiness comes from one’s mental state. When you believe happiness equates to material possessions you’ll always be unhappy. Believing that materials equal happiness makes you greedy. People do heinous things when they’re greedy (slavery). I say that black people learn from people who have integrity, truth, and compassion. The Dalai Lama is a great example of happiness, truth, and compassion. I take his view on this whole issue. I don’t hate white people, I truly feel bad for them. You all have no idea what direction this country is headed due to greed. My hope for black people is to stop believing what white people say. Money doesn’t make one happy or better than anyone else, and that beauty is not a skin color or facial features. My question to you is how greedy, money hungry people can possibly come together and prosper FINANCIALLY”? Evil never begets good. Anytime you have two people worshipping money one is always going to want more than the other. My other hope is for is that black people start make role models out of people like the Dalai Lama and/or Mother Theresa. When the Dalai Lama speaks we should make it a point to learn from him. When the Dalai Lama comes to this country black people should be filling arenas. We should tune in when the Dalai Lama holds conferences over the internet. If we are going to rely on anyone to teach us the way it should be a RIGHTEOUS person. Righteousness does not come from America. Black people, stop believing that people have money because they’re good people. People whose values are nothing but material possessions are generally liars and thieves because they’ll do anything for the almighty dollar. I don’t care about black people gaining material possessions. I do care about black people doing the right thing (as well as myself), and operating with the greatest integrity and love for humankind. You don’t need money to have integrity, compassion, or love for others. Black people let’s move away from thinking what’s in it financially for me. Let’s start to question what this country has taught us about ourselves and happiness. Then and only then will we find true happiness. That’s why white people hold money so high because they believe it’s key to happiness.

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  16. If only whites can be racist and Zimmerman is Hispanic then what does this article have to do with the GZ/TM event that it begins with but then never addresses?

    • Thanks for your question. The first article was kickstarted by wanting to reflect on my own responsibilities, as a white person, in challenging racism – so not necessarily unpacking in detail the whole GZ/TM stuff, but rather letting that whole thing be a catalyst to do some more reflecting and step up my action. Also, we think that white people created white supremacy and racism–but we don’t think only white people can be racist – that’s why we talked about lateral racism in our article (but just to be clear – we don’t think BIPOCs can be “racist” to white people, as outlined in the “reverse racism” section). Thanks.

    • Erm, His mum is Afro-Peruvian (so mixed) and his father as a US-born white, so…erm… yeah. Some hispanics are white too you know?
      Pause for a moment. He definitely buys into whiteness as an thing, as demonstrated in this entire case. I find it fascinating that this is the one thing you saw fit to pick upon in this otherwise brilliant article.

      • “Erm, His mum is Afro-Peruvian (so mixed) and his father as a US-born white, so…erm… yeah. Some hispanics are white too you know?”

        so…erm… yeah… Some Hispanics are white too. I know.

        George Zimmerman is not white. The question is, is he Hispanic? His mother speaks Spanish. He speaks Spanish. Both he and his mother identify as Hispanic on their voter registrations. So yes, he’s Hispanic.

        “He definitely buys into whiteness as an thing, as demonstrated in this entire case. ” Oh really? Care to provide some evidence or explanation for that view?

        There’s a lot of racism involved in trying to bleach him white, from major media outlets lightening his photo to painting his neighborhood as some kind of elite white community. His neighborhood is roughly 50 percent white, 20 percent black, and 20 percent Hispanic.

        “I find it fascinating that this is the one thing you saw fit to pick upon in this otherwise brilliant article.” It’s the one thing that I noticed hadn’t yet been discussed by anyone. Thought it would add to the discussion. Thanks to Sunny for the reply.

    • Because you do not have to be white to reinforce white supremacy, perpetuate false racial narratives, or racially profile someone. Racism is an insidious disease. There are no cut and dry answers.

  17. A brave admission, Sunny, of your deep rooted racism. I hope one day you’ll be able to see people for who they are and not what colour their skin is.

    • Hi Tanya,

      When you originally posted this comment, I wanted to wait until I had a minute to respond properly (was racing out the door). Thanks for reading the article and commenting. From my perspective, I’d love to see a world where we celebrate each other’s differences – so from my perspective, I don’t know if it’s about not seeing what colour people’s skin is, as much as that I’d love to be part of a world where we don’t devalue some people on the basis of their skin colour and culture, while giving others power. And on your other comment – yes you’re right that the analogy was slightly wrong and I’ll change it to “we built the wind and so we can tear it down” – good point!
      Best, Sunny

      • Actually, I’m going to need to think about the analogy some more, because the point is that racism in white people is inevitable as long as we live in a structure that is racist, like the wind is inevitable in the sky. so it actually is the sky that needs tearing down. Responding further to the rest of your other comment – no, it’s not white people that need “tearing down”, it’s white supremacy, and we can work towards that powerfully, every day. So I think the analogy is kind of a bit wonky, but still stands as “we built the sky and so we can tear it down”. Anyway, i don’t know i want to divert too much energy spend the time getting the analogy perfect – the content is more important.
        Best,

      • Thanks, Sunny. I thought my comment had been deleted, so I very much appreciate your response, I celebrate diversity as well, I certainly did not mean to imply colour or culture should be ignored. I just meant it is unfair to define people by the colour of their skin. .
        Best wishes,
        Tanya.

    • Tanya, please don’t discourage people like Sunny who are actually trying to get it right. This will shut down the conversation. When you can clearly see a sincere and significant effort to grow and learn the truth, please don’t pick apart the pieces that aren’t exactly like you want them to be. That is meeting open arms with a turned back. It gets us nowhere.

      • Tanya, I applaud your support for Sunny, however it is not without distortion..

        Discourse is not discouragement. This essay was posted for response, and discussion of it’s ideas are to be expected, even if we agree to disagree.

        Sunny’s motives stand on their own merit, and while I respect your viewpoint, It does contain more than one paradox. It’s worth reflecting on your own words, and how their meaning may be applied to the motivation behind your post,

        The only thing that will shut down conversation is an intolerance of difference.

        • Tanya…I appreciate your comments and do agree, however, I think what bothered me was the tone of your reply to Sunny. It seemed harsh and accusatory, and somewhat disrespectful of his obvious attempt to build a bridge of understanding. I just feel strongly that we must willingly lay down defenses if we are to ever meet each other, especially when the other person takes the first step…that we must not disparage the attempt. All my perception, I admit. Thank you for your respectful insight. From my HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile. The first nationwide 4G network

  18. beautiful article. thank you!! i have a love/hate relationship with facebook but today i love it b/c i found your blog here 🙂

    here’s a link to supportive community to do some serious work with white racial conditioning: http://www.untraining.org
    just fyi or if anyone lives in the bay area, ca or midwest quad cities and wants to check it out

  19. Thank you so much for articulating the very place of white people in this world. Like you, I see the role of anti-racist allies to be open and honest with other white people about the culture of white supremacy and it’s off-spring, racism. I agree with you wholeheartedly and applaud you for taking the risk to be real in public. You are a role model for those coming after you and that speaks more about your courage and values than any words on a page can. May you continue on the path of wholeness that you have chosen and may strength, courage, humility and vulnerability encourage and uplift you to never stop doing what you are doing for the cause of justice!

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  24. You will also have to give up feeling like you know everything and feeling like you are the centre of everything, and you will have to get used to being of secondary importance, often at the sidelines just listening.

  25. This is a great article, thanks. As a semi-white (Argentine mixed) person however. I do not think I can share many of the examples you’ve given. I was raised maybe in a different environment than your average privileged white North American, and do not feel most of the attitudes and inherently racist things that you demonstrate apply. I do not feel like this is a denial, and yes it is difficult to recognize these things in ourselves when they are present, but feeling like I cannot necessarily relate to all of these examples I suppose makes it easier to eliminate these attitudes and mental projections from every day life and interactions. Just another perspective, thanks!

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  27. Reading this essay, it occurs to me that something along the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous or other twelve-step programs might be a helpful tool for persons of pallor and privilege in addressing the social reality which is racism. What if we were to ditch the shame and start addressing the guilt? Instead of beginning sentences with “I’m not a racist but,” what if more folks began them with “I am of course a racist and,” the way that folks at an AA meeting introduce themselves with their name “and I’m an alcoholic…”

    Admit that we are to some extent powerless to change our culture immediately or solve problems overnight. Recognize that there might be a better way that can help us navigate that fact. Examine our past errors with the help of a more experienced “sponsor” and begin a fearless moral inventory with a a possibility for amends so that we can move forward in a better way and help others to do the same.

    Privileged white folk need to stop confusing poor conditioning with evil, and ditch the shame to address their guilt and do better going forward.

    • Great post and I wanted to respond because just yesterday, I was in a workshop focusing on 3C’s Cultural Currency, Cultural Competancy and Cultural Collateral, and we broke into our small groups and were asked to introduce ourselves and I said to my 3 collegeaus I know, Hi, I am Mary and I am White..I have been sober 29 years. The program is absolutely a useful guide for me to insert racisim and privilege to move forward. I haven’t found a sponsor though who knows the AA program to be my guide. Great suggestion, thanks.

  28. i’m curious if you’d be willing to say more about the police example. if what you meant by ‘invite police presence’ is a very literal, like, police contingent at the pride parade, then yes. fuck that. but if what you meant was ‘i did something illegal that i felt needed to happen and the police came’ then it’s more complicated, because you’re potentially using the police as an excuse to pacify yourself and deciding on behalf of people of color and heavily policed communities what makes us safe and what risks are or are not worth taking.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s definitely complex. What I’m saying is not assuming that police presence makes things safer for everyone – so, like your example of the trans march, not inviting police to things like that. And it’s more complex with doing illegal activities – I don’t think it’s about stopping challenging stupid laws and letting that dictate our behaviour, but rather having an awareness of the different ways that policing affects different communities including Black communities, sex working communities, Indigenous communities (which obviously can and do overlap as well) etc. So, sometimes that might mean a relatively privileged middle class white person who has the law on their side choosing to not engage in particular illegal activity in a particular space (r that will draw cops to a space where they may then end up profiling and harrassing more criminalised communities. Can that activity be done elsewhere or at another time? The other point you bring up is a great one though – we absolutely shouldn’t be deciding on behalf of communities of colour, but rather developing the relationships so wan have these conversations and understand the implications of our actions, including in terms of policing. Best, Sunny

  29. “The bar is o incredibly low for white anti-racist allyship. ” — I agree. I haven’t yet figured out a productive/helpful way to respond to white folks who praise me for showing up and telling the truth. It doesn’t help me to be thanked for doing the bare minimum. I’d rather hear what other people are doing and especially how they are being challenged to do/learn/see more.

  30. THANK YOU. Being a white woman raised in the liberal north of the US, it seemed to me the constant preoccupation of other white people to ease their awkwardness about the idea of race, whether through distancing themselves from commenting on race or joking about race. I too fell into that, never wanting to be perceived as racist – after all, my intentions weren’t to be racist. But things changed for me after I realized that many of the phrases I grew up saying with no ill-will (things like gyped and guinea-rigged) were inherently offensive. I began pondering the number of spoken words, gestures, and presumptions about race that had been absorbed by my mind at a young age from growing up white in a mostly-white community. I came to the realization that I was racist on some level, that most people raised in the US are also racist, and the best thing to do was to acknowledge this bias and work towards being racially conscious. I feel very strongly that everyone needs to identify racialized thoughts and see them not as a disease but as a point of inquiry, a starting place for learning about the experiences of others and challenging your assumptions, however deeply embedded. The end goal is not to be not-racist – the end goal is to increase understanding, empathy, friendship, and justice among all people. And that cannot occur while ignoring these biases or the privilege from which they emerged.

  31. I didn’t need to read past the third paragraph to realize that you really get it and have begun to be more aware. As a black woman, I thank you and hope other white people will learn that this privileged (whites) and slave (black) mentality is still alive in both races, nee ingrained in them and in some respects just know no better. We are not our ancestors. We live in a time with the ability to change the face of racism forever and for good. It is our responsibility to wake up and realize that we’ve all been taught to see and fear an old truth. It is our responsibility to wake up and fix it.

  32. Hey Sunnydrake,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated. I agree with everything you have pointed out, though I wanted to share an idea about inherited race privilege that really changed the way I related to racism. I was listening to a talk by bell hooks, which I haven’t been able to track down again, sorry. She gave an example of a student who said “I’m not racist, my family never owned slaves” as though it’s possible to point to a tangible practice (or non-practice) as evidence of ones innocence. bell replies by saying something like, “well, it doesn’t matter whether or not your family owned slaves. the fact is that you benefit from the slavery, from its legacy, and the racism that made it possible, and this inherited race privilege makes you in some way responsible for racism in its many forms. you live out that inherited privilege every day.”

    A similar conclusion can be drawn – it is impossible to not be racist, because we benefit from the historical and ongoing effects of racism on a daily basis. This is also why I think anti-racist organising is a practice or process, not an end point (anti-racism), or an identity (“I’m an anti-racist organiser”). It is something we will always be striving, doing, living. And like you point out, we do this within the context of race privilege – I can easily walk away from the effects of racism and this kind of work. People of colour and Indigenous peoples cannot. Maybe this idea is pretty much the same as the points you are making, although it has a deeper resonance for me – and means that race privilege doesn’t just affect our attitudes, conscious or unconscious, towards people of colour. It is a legacy, a pre-condition, that underpins every societal structure, whether or not choose to have it. I guess maybe this is already stated in your piece… maybe I just needed to put it into my own words!

    The other thought I have is… it seems difficult to engage people in anti-oppression work. What do you think are some barriers to engaging people in anti-racist/anti-oppression organising? What things have you found make it successful? Can anti-racist work become too focused on the attitudinal and interpersonal manifestations of racism, to the neglect of structural and institutional racism? What are it’s pitfalls? This is probably a longer conversation.

    Also, do you know if there are some models ‘out there’ for thinking about different ways of doing this work? For example, it took me a while to realise that we don’t need to have Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people come together to talk about what solidarity means, we could also just have non-Aboriginal people drawing on resources/media by Aboriginal authors. In trying to be accountable and guided by First Nations people, I wasn’t able to see an option that could achieve a similar objective without placing pressure on First Nations people to attend.

  33. I have just finished reading your article, and it brought me to tears. Thank you for being courageous enough to examine yourself and HONESTLY articulate what happens in the white mind. I am an educated black woman that works in a predominately Caucasian industry. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had racist encounters and the person with whom I have had it with is completely oblivious to the fact that what they said or did was racist. A lot of people figure, if one does not call a black person “nigger” to their face – well then, they are not racist! – that’s “skinheads” or “kkk” behaviour, when in truth, they hold much of the same opinions and sense of entitlement as those individuals. We all need to examine our behaviour towards one another. This was a very “cleansing” read – I was able to let go some of the anger I have been feeling since the verdict that things will never change. You have given me back hope – for if there is ONE person out there that can write this kind of stuff there are OTHERS!!!! Bless you!

    • Thank you for opening up and saying that white people are racist. I ran across this entry while trying to find out why white people try to be secretly racist. I recently lost a friend after he wrote a book. The book is called Homeless Hero by Mike Tapscott. All through out the book he pointed out black people with a hint of disgust. He then had a lot of empathy toward white people that were homeless with mental illness. As a matter of fact he never once referred to a white person as a white person in the entire book. I was so hurt because I thought he was a friend. When I pointed it out to him he didn’t deny it, which is good. What angered me is that he said, ” I will work on it because I plan on writing more books”. Why didn’t he want to change his thoughts in general, not just to hide his true feelings to sell books, but to start to see black people as 100% human just as he sees himself. At this point I’m so afraid to become friends with a white person, because I’m afraid to trust them. I’m mentioning his book because it’s for a good cause. Just absorb the hint of disgust he has toward black people. I can’t and don’t want to be hateful. However, these stereotypes are hurtful and have a tendency to lower a black person’s self-esteem. If I had not always suspected that this guy may have been racist I would have really been devastated. What also upsets me is that black people buy into the stereotypes. A black guy I dated called me white because I don’t drink or smoke and never have. What is also annoying is that I assisted clients with getting into the government housing program. A lot of white people wanted to get into the program because it was a government program, not because they needed help. It made me question why white people call us lazy and welfare queens that want to live off the government when it appears to be exactly what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many white people stated they were going to commit suicide because they were going to lose their home. But as a black person I’m told it’s your fault you’re in the predicament you’re in. I have been homeless, but never have I thought to kill myself. It’s not because I expect less of myself, it’s just that I don’t put material possessions above my life. I can always get material possessions (it may not be exactly what I want). Most of these people where employed, so they could actually rent an apartment. I certainly value my life more than a piece of property. I wonder if it is really believed in the white community that we don’t deserve help from the government because it’s not our government. I don’t really feel like I’m an American. I used to call myself African American, but now I know I’m just black. I’m just a black person of African descent displaced from Africa living in America. I’m feel so discouraged, but I know I need to past this and live my life by ignoring the hidden hatred and bigotry. White people are so quick to say black people are racist too. It seems they believe that’s a good reason to be racist. Well she slit her wrist and cut her throat, so I’m right if I do it too. If black people were actually racist I wouldn’t be able to complain, because that would be hypocrisy. Are we prejudice, absolutely. There is no way you can know the meaning of racism and say that black people are racist. Racist means you are superior to others based on race. Prejudiced is you believe a person does things either based on what you’ve learned or experienced. Prejudiced is when you believe white people hate black people and then you try to weave your hair to look like a white woman. How many white people want to look black? If any at all. Racism is when you state black people are lazy and white people aren’t. You feel superior or don’t do bad things because of your race. You don’t see white men trying to date black women. You really only see white women with black men if they have a lot or money or if the white girl’s self esteem is poor, and she has been deemed trash. Meaning the only reason she dates black men is because she needs to feel accepted and loved. Which is only natural. You hear black men stating things like ‘I don’t date black women, or I don’t want a baby as ugly as me’. That’s not racism that’s self hate. It sucks that what America tells us about ourselves we tend to believe.

      • Thankyou so much for sharing all of this. I’m so sorry that you have to deal with racism everyday, including from your white friends. That is aweful. Sending you so much love, and my commitment to working on myself and alongside other white people to transform our racism. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

  34. Pingback: We’re all racist here. Especially the white folk. Particularly the liberals. | Noetic Nuance

  35. Pingback: Balance/Équilibre | Writing for Strangers

  36. I learned the hard way over the last year that, while I got and continue to get so much from many different people of color in how to combat race, that I really need to work with and learn from fellow white people committed to this work as well, instead of distancing myself; and that I should not distance myself politically from white people close to me either, but should use those relationships to challenge them when I can.

    So, now when I see a white person call out racism, or otherwise act against it, I still get frustrated how much attention they (we) get for that, because it’s completely unfair; but I now try to focus too on what strategies I personally can learn from them. And work on my own fears of not being a “good enough ally”, or much less justifiable, not being seen as sincere enough, and other self-centered emotions.

    From that perspective I wanted to thank you for posting this. It’s always good to read something that doesn’t soften reality but still suggests things we can do.

  37. I remember having a conversation with my father years ago where he said that all us white people are racist and we should be aware of this. This was back in the1980s, and I don’t know if he still holds this view, but I suspect he does. Anyway, at the time, I was still in my teens, and I didn’t see how this could be true, since I wasn’t aware of having any racist attitudes. You’re right, those attitudes were probably there at the time — I’ve certainly recognized them in myself since then — but it took me many years to learn to recognize them and I’m still learning. Thanks for making this post. I’m going to share it on my facebook wall and twitter.

  38. Pingback: this is not neutral | building radical accessible communities everywhere

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