Me & White Exceptionalism

My White Exceptionalism is a seductive force tempting me back into ignorance every time I widen my lens and begin to grasp the magnitude of racism and the reach of white supremacy. Exceptionalism is behind every urge that I have to make a case for why my racist behaviors are a misunderstanding or somehow justified, like I have some special set of circumstances that explains away or excuses implications that I am an accomplice to white supremacy. Before recently even uttering the words white supremacy made me want to check out. I’ve repeated it over and over until I now feel the horror at all that it means and not just at the words. The heartbreak of truly seeing how the white world is treating BIPOC, today and ever since white people decided the world was theirs to conquer by any means necessary, is just so impossible to reconcile that I’ve developed an extremely sophisticated system of distracting myself and focusing on everything else beside the dehumanization of BIPOC.

My White Exceptionalism story is that I’ve been focused on healing myself, learning how to love myself and doing my spiritual work so I can do no harm, leave the world a better place and spread as much love as possible. This is actually my mission on earth and the reason I am alive. I do not want to discount all the real work I that have done as a human, but I do want to acknowledge that I lulled myself into complacency in my liberal, spiritual white bubble and forgotten that liberation, spiritual or otherwise, is for everyone, not just white people and white supremacy is not going to dismantle itself.

My spiritual intentions may be pure, but spiritual communities are sometimes sticky and mine have all been overwhelmingly white. What I am understanding is that in my spiritual pursuits, I’ve become part of a group that BIPOC are calling out as being the most harmful and damaging in their unintentional, unexamined racism: spiritual, liberal, white women.

As a member of this group, I often feel like an exception because I’m very busy healing generations of trauma with my prayers, trying my best to live sustainably & care for our planet, driving my Prius, protesting injustice a few hours at a time, voting for change and dreaming about empowering myself and future generations of women. All these ideals I’m living make me feel pretty exceptional when I compare myself to some others. Continually aligning myself with the next best thing to do and the next best way to be feels very well-intention. I can also see that it’s mostly exclusive of any focus on overcoming my inherent racism or looking at how I am benefiting daily from a system that is exploiting people of color all over the world.

Making beautiful prayers among others with white privilege is very powerful. Living those prayers into action towards human liberation by acknowledging and disengaging from my white supremacist roots would be most prudent. I’ve been guilty of getting distracted with the beauty of my own prayers and not focusing so much on the taking action part.

I have clung to my white exceptionalism as a spiritual and grounded person and built my identity around it because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me hope and something to live for. I have a long history of secretly suspecting that the work I’m doing is helping to heal the planet. That groove is so incredibly seductive to me, but it never led me to look at my own racism until recently.

I’ve certainly overcome my share of challenges, but I have not lived in a world where the decks are stacked against me because of my skin color on top of generations of oppression, persecution and enslavement. It’s been all too easy to use my sensitivity, my struggle with depression and anxiety, or my insecurity, as excuses for why I would do more, but really need to take care of myself first. It’s true that taking care of myself is very important, but it’s also sometimes a convenient excuse, depending on the day. I don’t mean that the things I struggle with aren’t hard and painful, I just see how the field is not level because I don’t have to use most of my energy to push up from under a system that is actively trying to hold me back, while pretending that the barriers don’t exist.

If my prayer is to actually make a difference in the world, I need to go much deeper and keep exposing myself each time I catch myself curating my white exceptionalism. A source of accountability is knowing now that BIPOC can spot my bullshit from miles away. Listening to what they have to say and attempting to adjust my racist behaviors has me walking on a razor blade constantly wobbling, falling off and starting over again. I may go on and on like this for awhile and I want to keep on going.

I scroll back through my life and find all my points of intersection with BIPOC looking for evidence…exceptions that show I’ve made efforts, volunteered, supported, donated, and stood up for racial justice. Those actions are helpful, but it will never eclipse or make up for the past, it won’t undo institutional racism or let me off the hook for playing my role and being on the team of the oppressors.

There are no excusable reasons for racism and there are no exceptions for role that white people like me play in it. I want do this work. It’s one of the most confronting things I’ve ever done, but it’s a huge blessing. Seeing and owning my racism rather than hiding from it and feeling weird about it gives me so much more energy to take action and focus of the actual problem. #meandwhitesupremacy

This is in response to Layla Saad‘s 28 Day You & White Supremacy Instagram Challenge. @wildmysticwoman

Question for Day 6: “If 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?” – Layla Saad

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