Detaching From Your Commitment to the Construct of Whiteness Action Items
Image by Vincent Burkhead
Three Action Items for White people beginning their process of detaching from their commitment to the construct of Whiteness*:
- Read about the eight characteristics of White supremacy. Where do you collude with Whiteness? Locate where you exemplify these behaviors, and how you uphold these ideologies. This is a constant and ongoing practice. One example of this in my life is my “either/or” thinking. I need to be “good,” otherwise I’m “bad.” I need to be “right,” otherwise I’m “wrong.” I need to “do the work,” otherwise I’m the enemy. White people too often miss nuance in situations, and it’s incredibly dangerous and damaging to ourselves and everyone around us.
- Peel back the layers. Write down your thoughts, especially the ugly ones. Let it all come up. Because this is an excavation. You have to really dig up all of the nasty things you’ve been suppressing. White people (we) are really good at rationalizing our racist behavior and thoughts. But pay attention to your thoughts and actions. Write your thoughts down in a journal. When you have a racist thought, or do something that you know was based on a stereotype/racist belief, write it down. Think about the origin of this. Be transparent and honest with yourself about your process. If you’re lying to yourself and trying to cover up behind being a “good” White person you’re not doing yourself any favors. The binary of “good” and “bad” doesn’t exist, and it’s only keeping White people (us) from freeing ourselves. At the same time keep in mind and get comfortable with the fact that this work is ongoing and you’ll never not benefit from racism or supremacy. This is about making anti-racism and anti-supremacy a practice.
- Work on humanizing those who’s’ lives have historically not mattered.
- As a result of Whiteness, White people have not placed value or priority on the lives of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, or Asian peoples. Being human means placing value on specifically those whose lives have historically not mattered. Think about your relationships with people of color. Do you truly value them? What does “value” mean to you? Is it just a sentiment or is it expressed in actions? How are people of color integrated in your everyday life? Think about your relationships with White people? Often times White people engage in transactional relationships– what can I get out of this? We may value these relationships because we can get something from them, but this is no way to truly value anyone.
- Think about your relationship with yourself. Do you truly value yourself? This process of detaching from Whiteness will lead you to healing all your relationships, so that you have deeper and more genuine connections with people in your life, and those you encounter on the sidewalk, at the airport, or getting a coffee. How many friends of color do you have? Why is this? What do you think, feel, say, do when you encounter people of color? It’s important to have friends who are not all White, but you also don’t want to make friends with POC just so you can say, “hey, I have a Black friend now.”
- Work on humanizing POC. The reason why I didn’t make friends (like, hang out at the house and have sleepovers kind of friends) with kids of color in high school isn’t because they didn't attend my school. There were lots of kids of color who attended my school. But I was convinced that I didn’t have anything in common with them. I thought having a conversation between classes, or sitting in Math class meant that we were close enough. How at 15 years old was I already convinced of this? Supremacy starts at birth. Deep down, I thought kids of color were just too different. Looking back on my thoughts and assumptions, my mindset has been baked in racist ideology despite my liberal, “progressive,” Obama-loving upbringing.
None of this will happen overnight. Or even over a lifetime. It's a constant practice. You may experience discomfort, hurt, pain, and/or guilt. Everyone's process may be different in some ways, and similar in others. Know that your feelings are valid, but that they should take a backseat to the emotional toll and labor of people of color.
*What the hell does "commitment to the construct of Whiteness" even mean?! Our favorite podcast examining Whiteness is "Seeing White." We recommend listening to this episode as co-host, Chenjerai Kumanyika poses the question, "How attached are you to the idea of being White?"
Keep in mind: There is a lot of White anxiety surrounding “doing” in the name of justice. But if White people spent more time working on detaching from our commitment to Whiteness, our mindsets would change, which means our behaviors would change, and overall, our society would benefit.