Witnessing Whiteness

This is a commentary on what I’ve witnessed happening in the community of people involved with the #meandwhitesupremacy challenge on Instagram. If you don’t know what that is and want to know, follow the hashtag, it’s easy to learn about. You can also use google to get to know Layla Saad, there is much to read & listen to. If you benefit from what she has to say, consider donating or supporting her on Patreon.

@wildmysticwomen (Layla’s Instagram name) is crystal clear about the rules & boundaries of her space. She specifically states that she is not going to provide any emotional labor to help white women process their feelings and she will not be indulging or allowing any behavior that is racist, rude or distracting from the work. There are a lot of instructions and it takes a few hours to read everything and watch her videos. She explicitly requires that everyone following her or participating read her instructions. This is to save from white women behaving in the defiant, entitled and harmful ways that we are known to behave among BIPOC. She is steadfast about upholding her boundaries and blocking anyone that can’t respect them. She explains how we can participate in a good way over and over. Her challenge has gained a lot of momentum and attention. Her Instagram following has grown by around 15k new followers in 10-12 days. It seems like there are about 1000 new people everyday.

She is very clear about the point of this work: it’s for white women to own their complicity and participation in racism and upholding white supremacy. She is clear that only white women that are participating and doing the work should be commenting. No bystanders. Also many BIPOC women and men are helping her hold the space. They are there to support her. They are keeping those of us participating on task, calling us out on our usual tactics and telling us to go deeper.

She is freely offering 28 days of her time and energy to white women as a gift so that we may see ourselves more clearly and stop knowing, and unknowingly, terrorizing and traumatizing BIPOC. She is leading us with prompts designed to unearth our internalized racism, own our behavior and uncover the truth of how structural racism is embedded into our lives. Part of the work is learning that all white people have a civic duty to become more educated about our racist ways, open our eyes to the ways we are complicit and take down white supremacy ourselves if we say that we love all people, believe in equality and want peace for everyone.

For many hours each day, I’ve been battling my own excuses, holding myself back from the white-splaining I want to do to defend myself, and resisting the urge to run away from taking responsibility for what I have been involved with. I know others have been where I am and some are not ready to be here yet, but it’s happening now for me and my eyes are blown wide open. My shit stinks, my righteousness is burning up and my ego is deflated. I can’t crumple into tears or self-pity because that further proves and demonstrates my white fragility.

There is only one way to be: Listen, do the work, stop angling to see myself as a hero of anything, and keep showing up each day and going forward. It is intense, vulnerable, horrifying, humbling and enraging. I’m taking care of myself in the ways I know how. I’m watching the BIPOC in this community and how they support each other so solidly. It’s a powerful teaching about what real “put your money where your mouth is” support looks like.

What’s inspiring is how many hundreds (possibly thousands) of white woman are showing up each day, digging deeper, taking responsibility and contributing. What’s frustrating is how many white women take this too lightly, don’t take the time to learn what going on before they insert themselves in a tone deaf way and then make it about themselves. It’s annoying to see how much space and time is spent telling white women to go back, read the instructions, respect the space, do the work in a real way. Layla has to explain over and over how personally exhausting it is and how disrespectful it is to her and those supporting her. This pattern of white women thinking that they don’t need to take time to learn the facts, that rules don’t apply to them and that everyone should cater to their needs and constantly take the time to explain things to them is an epidemic.

I see many white women questioning  and arguing with Layla. The typical pattern is that they become defensive, tell long stories explaining how they are actually “one of the good ones”and show how their hard feelings about BIPOC women and men are justified…and they do not take responsibility. I’m not excluding myself from this behavior. My drive to behave childishly and rebel is strong. I’m not used to being given such detailed structure, strict boundaries and told “NO” by a strong, black woman who will not pat me on the back or congratulate me for finally recognizing how I’ve been ignoring, disregarding, silencing and benefiting from oppressing BIPOC and their ancestors for generations. This work is about stopping the legacy of white supremacy now. For white women to own our racism, acknowledge and see it clearly so that we stop passing it on to our children.

Several times I’ve felt completely defeated, like there is no right thing to say or right move to make. It’s true because there is nothing right to say about it. The right action is to do my work, keep doing my work and not give up on doing my work. My work is opening my ears to hear BIPOC, learning their stories, re-learning history from their perspective, speaking out about what I’ve learned about my own racism and using my resources to engage other white people to take down white supremacy along with the patriarchy.

I’ve been close to giving up 2-3 times in only 10 days. I try to imagine a lifetime of unfairness enforced & upheld by white people in power, being pushed back no matter how hard I try, being shut down and discriminated against because of the way I look, not being able to trust people in roles that are supposed to serve and protect me, and dealing with constant gaslighting because of my race. That’s why I can’t give up on this work, on myself or on making progress. I can’t be petty, take things personally, be offended, or get in arguments that deny the problem or the truths and daily lived experiences of BIPOC. Catering to my hard feelings is a distraction, a way to stay sleeping, and way to re-up the system that dehumanizes all non-white people to varying degrees and works 24/7 to keep itself in power and control at all costs no matter how many lives are lost. If it feels dramatic, it’s not. I still have so much more to learn, so much history and so many voices that my education left out. The ignorance I’ve lived and the cruelty I’ve been part of is massive. The roots of white supremacy are everywhere, embedded into everything and it feeds itself from our ignorance, silence and complacency.

Sometimes Layla posts to her BIPOC community and requests that no white women/people make comments on those specific posts. She explains upfront that this post is only for BIPOC, for her own nourishment and for support from those who know and have lived what she is going through. These posts often get reported and removed by Instagram and Facebook. I’ve witnessed it happen 3 times in the past 10 days. I’ve read the comments and seen what is happening. I’ve read the Instagram Community Guidelines and do not believe that anything she has posted has been even close to violating the Terms of Use of Guidelines. White people are reporting her because they do not like being blocked for not following her rules, told how to behave or told not to comment. Instead of just leaving the space or unfollowing her, they report her to try to silence her. Many others have jumped in to contact Instagram & Facebook on her behalf and I don’t know what the results may be.

This week we’ve been looking specifically at our behavior, biases and racism towards black women, black men, black children and racial stereotypes. In an effort to reduce the harm being caused by this purge of all our racist inbreeding, this part is not to be shared publicly. Layla requested we keep our comments to her feed only. I pray this excavation and expression of the deep, infected pockets of internalized racism will lead to a better way. It’s hard to trust this process that largely feels so negative, hurtful and explosive. It’s been repressed deep within and is fused with some core parts of me so it feels like I’m dismantling myself and don’t know what will remain or if anyone else will be there with me when I’m done. I’ve held so tightly to my denial and I realize how much I’ve judged others for doing the same.

I have compassion for everyone, including myself. I am doing my best and hopefully the best I can do is expanding every day, even moment to moment. What I request of myself, and of anyone that can hear or relate to me, is that we all slow way down when we enter a space or conversation and take stock of what is happening (and take the time to educate ourselves) so that we can contribute in a way that is helpful and moves the conversation forward without distracting from it or assuming that any random thought that occurs to us is necessary to verbalize and interject. I’m often a socially more quiet person. I observe so many people all the time that talk and talk and talk without pausing or creating a space for someone else to say something or share a different perspective. I’ve done a lot of work to heal my fear of taking up too much space and being afraid to be seen. BUT it’s also important for me to be aware of sharing space, sharing views and opinions, respecting the time and attention of others present. Self-awareness & attention balanced with awareness of environment and attentions to others, as well as seeking out knowledge of our blind spots and bias is paramount in all mutually beneficial human relations.

I read a quote today that struck me. It’s from Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, “White people don’t share. They take over. They colonize. They claim shit as their own and then accuse others of being territorial and retrograde for pointing out these aggressive borrowing practices that shape white culture.” I couldn’t agree more.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.