One of my most dangerous mistakes regarding racism has been to view the word itself as vulgar and it’s meaning only as overt expressions of hatred, superiority over, or prejudice against of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color.) With that definition, there was no way that it applied to me. Not questioning, reevaluating or expanding my definition of racism has been part of my white silence. I’ve led myself to believe that if I don’t say anything mean, hurtful, judgemental or controversial and if I don’t directly harm, discriminate against or violate any BIPOC, then I am doing OK. I am clear now that this is not okay at all. In reality, I see how racism has flowed through words I’ve spoken and silences I’ve held, implications I’ve made, expectations I’ve had, illusions I’ve created, promises I’ve broken and so much more. Among some of my worst racist behaviors have been unfair judgements, toxic projections, pretending, ignoring and white silence.
When someone in my presence, my community or my family says something racist I feel so angry. I think to myself, “How can they say that?” “How can they not see and have compassion for BIPOC?” My face feels hot, my heart pounds and I feel on the edge of a cliff between staying “safe” in silence and jumping off into the unknown of this hot-button issue. I now see that the edge is not a safe place and that there is no protection in staying on that edge in silence. Facing racism is going to be scary whether in silence or out loud. At least if it is spoken about there is a chance for movement and transformation. My prayer is to take courage to draw my boundary and say, “No!” to racism in my space and beyond.
That is only a very small part of breaking my white silence though. Today when examining what I’ve learned about myself and white silence, I don’t yet have the words that I want or need. I’m finding them as quickly as I can. I’ve gone deep quickly trying to catch up from years of ignorance and have saturated myself with so much information and it’s all swirling in my head on it’s way to my heart.
The most real thing that I can say today about my white silence is that I’ve been afraid to speak and I’ve given in to my fear and resided in my whiteness. I’ve waited for someone else to say the thing that I am not saying. I’ve looked to someone else to take charge and tell me what to do. It’s bystander apathy and it means that precious human lives are ending and being ended because we aren’t dismantling structural racism.
I’ve found so many incredibly, brilliant Black women who are speaking about just what I needed to know and having the very conversations that I’ve needed to hear. They are spelling it out very clearly for white women just like me and I am grateful for that clarity. I am following Black women and witnessing the way they show up, do their work, take care of themselves and protect their space. It is giving me so much hope and making me feel alive.
I certainly do not pity myself, but my own work feels sticky, murky, self-flagellating and all consuming today confronting my white silence. I’m praying for discernment of when to speak, what to say and how to behave because now my game is changed. I feel like Edward Scissorhands. I want to lay down my weapons of whiteness and I am still not sure where they end and I begin.
I’m sitting in a place where my core ideas about myself are shaking. I had some comfort in feeling like a decent person and that comfort is currently gone. I’ve peeled to a layer of myself I do not like and it is sincerely uncomfortable. I pray that speaking these words will help me transform and bring me to the next step.
I’m sitting here, breathing and moving through because I do not want to live in a way that is violent, hurtful and destructive to BIPOC anymore. My cliche white woman tears are of no use to anyone, but that is where I am today.
I don’t know who I am right now, but I know who I am not going to be any longer. I’m ready to start over and learn a new way.
I’ve starting paying reparations to BIPOC. Paying them for the emotional labor they’ve expended on my behalf. I’ve ordered many recommended books, followed many conversations, listened to many podcasts and I’m ravenously consuming so much truth that I have previously not paid attention to or been aware of. This is the state of my #meandwhitesupremacy journey right now.
This is in response to Layla Saad‘s 28 Day You & White Supremacy Instagram Challenge. @wildmysticwoman
Question for Day 4: “So today’s prompt is all about White Silence. What is white silence? I think many of you already know. Many of you have already talked about it in the previous days’ prompts. White silence is exactly what it sounds like. It’s white people staying complicity silent when it comes to issues of race. Tone policing is about how you silence BIPOC. White silence is how YOU stay silent around race. It’s staying silent (or making excuses/changing the subject/leaving the room) when your family members or friends make racist jokes or comments. It’s staying silent when you see your colleagues of colour being discriminated against at work. It’s staying silent when white people treat your biracial family members in ways they would not treat your white family members. It’s staying silent by choosing not to engage in any conversations about race. It’s staying silent by not attending protest marches for Black Lives Matter. It’s staying silent when your favourite famous spiritual teacher/coach/mentor/author is rightfully called out for problematic behaviour. It’s staying silent when you witness other white people use their white privilege, white fragility or tone policing against BIPOC. It’s staying silent by not sharing posts about race/racism in your spaces because of the way it might affect your business and brand. It’s staying silent by not sharing this 28 day challenge in your own spaces for fear of losing friends and followers. It’s staying silent by not holding those around you accountable for their racist behaviour. It is the deafening silence that has upheld white supremacy throughout all these years. It is the silence that silently gives approval to the horrors of racism.
What have you learnt about You & White Silence? How do you and have you stayed silent when it comes to race/racism? And how has your silence been complicit in upholding racist behaviour?” – Layla Saad