I spent this past weekend at a retreat in Highlands, North Carolina. Not as a leader, but as a consumer. A yoga retreat? A meditation retreat? Nope. I spent 4 days with 9 other white people and 2 fearless and incredible black leaders at an anti-racism bootcamp retreat.
What is anti-racism? It’s the fight against systemic racism. My anti-racism journey has been slow, and slowly ramping up since an old friend commented that a post-election blog post I wrote in 2016 smacked of white privilege. Since then, I’ve been working to try to educate myself more about white privilege, the systemic racism in our country, my own racism (yes, I’m racist. But it’s not what you think it means- see below!), and what life has really been like for people of color in our country for hundreds of years.
I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey. There’s a lot I don’t know. SO much. And there isn’t an ‘end’ to this journey, because the work is never done. I don’t even have a great grasp on what ‘the work’ actually entails. But I know that with my inaction and my silence, I am complicit in a system that has ruthlessly marginalized people of color since before this country came into existence.
Before you get up in arms and start thinking, ‘But I’m not racist! This doesn’t apply to me!’, please keep reading. It does apply to you. AND, that doesn’t make you a bad person. If you find yourself getting angry or defensive, stay with those feelings, and please keep reading.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along my anti-racist journey, many of which completely shattered (in a good-for-me way) my view of the world and of my place in the world:
1. White privilege is very much for real- by the sole fact of having white skin, white people have the ability to live and exist in the world in a completely different way than people of color, in ways most white people can’t even imagine. It doesn’t inherently make white people bad, it just IS. So it’s up to white people to recognize it and do what they can to combat it.
2. White supremacy culture– white supremacy doesn’t just refer to people with swastikas and white hoods, marching on the streets in hate. White supremacy permeates our entire society. Including media, the prison system, schools, the justice system, government, and more. It is the structure upon which our nation was built.
3. If you are white and liberal, that doesn’t absolve you of being racist. Why? Because racism and oppression were built into the fabric of this country, and you can’t avoid becoming racialized by it any more than you can avoid learning to speak English if everyone around you speaks it.
4. Because everyone is racist, it no longer becomes about finger-pointing and blame of individuals. Like I said, I’m racist. No, I don’t wish ill upon people of color, and I don’t attend hate rallies or sympathize in any way with alt-right viewpoints. Quite the opposite. But I have lived in a society rigged for white people to succeed my whole life, so I’m racist. The system is racist, and we are all complicit even if just in silence and inaction. I am, however, most certainly ANTI-racist.
5. There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism’. Racism is about power. If you hold the power, you can be racist. If you don’t hold the power, you may be biased, or prejudiced, or not the best version of yourself, but you can’t be racist.
6. If you voted for Obama, or dated a person of color, or have children of color, that doesn’t absolve you of racism (remember, it’s systemic).
7. It’s important, when acting to improve the system to help marginalized people, that you actually find out what those communities want and need, rather than doing it the way you want to, is convenient for you, or the way you, in your white viewpoint, think it should be done. That ‘my way is right’ approach to anti-racism work epitomizes white privilege.
I don’t want any of this to come across as condescending or holier than thou, and I apologize if it does. I’m not an expert, and I expect to mess up repeatedly as I try to join in the fight against racial (and other) inequalities in this country. But I’ve done a good amount of work to educate myself, and I’d love to use that as a platform to help other white people educate themselves on this topic, so that our calls to action have meaning and substance for the marginalized people we are looking to fight for.
I have started a Facebook group called ‘Conscious Anti-Racism’ to help raise awareness and education for well-intending white (and non-black) people who are ready to dive deeper into anti-racism work. I’d like to invite YOU to join, if you are part of that demographic and/or you are intrigued or feel called to do so. Particularly if anything about my post made you feel uncomfortable. I envision a space where people can learn, grow, honestly share opinions, and hold each other accountable in a positive way for their words and actions. Lots of questions. Lots of resources and education. No hatred. No bullying. No blame or shame or finger pointing. I also hope to use it as a forum to develop ways (such as meditation, mindfulness, tapping, and other healing modalities) for non-black people to process and heal from the uncomfortable and often painful feelings that accompany anti-racism work, so that they can better show up for the marginalized communities they are trying to serve.
None of it will be easy, but we’ll have our network for support and accountability. I hope you’ll join me.