Saturday, March 11, 2017

On White Fragility



On Nov 18th of 2016, Vice President-Elect Pence attended the hit Broadway show Hamilton. 

At the end, one of the cast members, Brandon Victor Dixon, spoke to the audience and said these words,
"You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing to boo. We're all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK? Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do. We sir, we, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations."
President-elect Donald Trump, early the next morning, got on twitter and said, 
"Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen! The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!"
As of today, #boycotthamilton is one of the top trending hashtags on twitter (hilariously miscalculated as a political action as the show is sold out for the next two years).

And then Betty White won the internet by saying, "It wasn't harrasment. That's just 'dressing room talk.'"

But let's break this down. 

First of all, he is literally saying, "Your appeals for safety have me feel unsafe." So, just let that roll around in your boggled mind for a while.

Second of all, he is, functionally, saying, "The theatre should be safe. That's important. The rest of America? Well..." This is underlined by the fact that he speaks up here but not against all of the acts of racism and vandalism that are carried out in his name. If white men are critiques, he speaks up. If people of colour are harassed or attacked he says nothing. 

Third, he's saying, "Your experience of being unsafe doesn't matter and has no merit of basis to it. My experience of being unsafe does."

Fourth, the intensity of his emotional reaction seems to saying that the words said on stage are equal to or worse than the very real things Dixon referenced in his words. In other words, being called out gently from the stage is the same as the fear of being pulled over and killed by a white police officer. Black people being harassed by police is made equivalent to Pence being spoken to from the stage. This is important to get. Women being harassed by men and being scared that they will be raped or killed is being made equivalent to Pence being spoken to from the stage. LGBTQ people being harassed and fearing for their safety and very lives is made equivalent to Pence being spoken to from the stage. I saw one commenter describe what happened onstage as 'hysteria'. Go find and watch the video yourself. When a white man can see what actually happened and call it hysteria... there's something fragile going on. 

Fifth, we have to dig directly into this reality of White Fragility. 

I have written about this before but this is too good a case study to miss.

This is what happens all too often with white men when conversations about race emerge. This moment is not strange or unusual to people of colour. This is not the first time they've seen it. They deal with it enough that a term for it was coined by Dr. Robin DiAngelo: white fragility. 

White fragility is "a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”

Sarah Watts, in her article White Fragility Is Real, writes, "most white people “live in a social environment that insulates them from race-based stress,” due to their privilege as part of the cultural majority. In turn, says DiAngelo, whites are infrequently challenged and have less of a tolerance to race-based stress, causing them to be hostile, guilty, defensive, or fearful when confronted. This phenomenon is white fragility. In the end, white fragility ensures that conversations about race are derailed, and the status quo of white supremacy is upheld."

I've seen this so many times with my own eyes. A person of colour expresses 1% of the rage they feel is the most courteous of words and in the kindest of tones and a white person becomes devastated or angry.

"Why were they so angry and vicious?" they say.

And I shake my head. I know how they feel. I've felt it myself. But what they can't see is the incredible restraint and generosity. 

And to be very clear: white men will complain about being labled or talked about as a group but that's a sham. They love it when they're talked about as victims or heroes. That's not considered racist. But anything in the neighbourhood of critique? Reverse-racism! 

But in a culture so deeply steeped in punitive justice, it's understandable that any analysis might be seen as the seed of punishment to come rather than just being a sustained and faithful gaze at the way things are and an attempt to discern and name patterns. And I'm not saying that shaming isn't in the tone of voice of some but most suggestions that white men might carry some unique constellation of responsibilities, privileges, poverties, responsibilities or that we might hold some unique and important role in the work of social justice are often met with this fragile defensiveness. 

Any attempt to name any general patterns by which white men are known by women and people of colour are met with cries of 'racist' or 'sexist'. 

That Trump would call this courteous and impassioned plea to be heard 'harassment' says everything about his sense that he is entitled to always feel safe and comfortable no matter what. And it says everything about his lack of capacity to empathize with others who do not feel safe. Though to be fair, he finally understands what a safe space is so, that may be progress.

To be in a position of power and to imagine that no one should ever publicly express their concerns about you to you is to reveal yourself as the boy king you are.

To say that the eloquent and respectful expression of pain and fear is 'rude' is to say that pain and fear about one's self must never be expressed by others.

I heard of a tribe, and I wish I could remember which it was, in which leaders were prepared for their roles. When they were chosen, by a community who could vote them out in a second, they were taken to a hut at the edge of the town. Over the next two days, they were told to stay awake and listen to what people came to tell them. Over those two days, people from the village appeared and told them, as they sit listening in the hut, every blind spot they saw in them, every weakness, every selfish tendency. They laid it bare for them. The message? 'You are about to be in a position of great power. A small slip from you will have a big consequence for everyone.' They saw that being in such a position asked a great deal of the person and that the person had to be prepared and, perhaps like a metal smith tempering iron, the weakness had to be taken out of them with the tough, loving blows of their words. Fragility had consequences. And it still does today.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Trump, an untempered man, has such a temper. 

I remember a friend of mine who, at age 25 was the Chief of his Gwitch'in village in Alaska describing to me how the first year of his term involved him being constantly yelled at by the grandmothers in the village for all of the mistakes he was making. That was just part of the process.

If you are in a position of great privilege, and as white men, we are, and you can't hear the expressions of pain, heartbreak, anger and fear without defending, changing the topic, or complaining about focusing on the negative, then that says more about you than it does about the people expressing their pain.

If you don't want to fragile as a white man, then know it is these blows that will temper you, it is the hard winds of hearing this pain that will make the trunk of your tree stronger, lifting the heavy weight of hearing the fears that seem so foreign to you that will build you muscle. And then rest for a while, reflect and breathe. That's when the muscle grows most. But a muscle has the opportunity to grow when it is asked to work, when it is asked to do something more than it normally would, when it is asked to do bear a burden greater than its current capacity to hold. 

You don't lose your fragility by avoiding conflict but by engaging it with an open heart and a deep willingness to learn unwelcome things. 

The problem is not in the appearance of the consternation of others. The problem is in our thought that it shouldn't be there - that we are entitled to a life free of the challenges of other people and the consequences of our actions and the actions of those who came before us.

In the end, what's fragile is not us but the story we hold of the world that doesn't match up to the new information we're getting. What's fragile is the fiction that the dominant culture is just, that racism is a thing of the past, that everyone loves us, that we totally get what it's like to be a person of colour or indigenous, that they feel totally gotten by us, and that everyone is happy and as well off as we are. That story is fragile because it's untrue. We are not fragile.

It's a story born of privilege and all that this doesn't allow us to see.

And so here it is: privilege, that great swaddling blanket of entitlement, is the father of fragility and the cold, unexpected winds of reality blowing in through the seams of this tightly woven garment? Well, that is that child's initiation into adulthood.

Fantasies are fragile. Let them shatter, that you might be tempered.

These are the hard yards. 

Additional Reading:








Monday, February 06, 2017

Seven Thoughts on Why White Nationalism Makes No Sense

You've likely heard a lot about 'white nationalism' (coded as the 'alt-right') in the media and not known how to respond to it.

Their logic makes so little sense (but of course it's not about the logic).

We will set aside for the moment that white people, on the whole, are still disproportionately privileged. People of colour, women and indigenous folk are still disproportionately disadvantaged and oppressed in this dominant culture. And so the feeling that they are being oppressed by laws that seek to give opportunities to those who haven't had them is madness. White people are not being screwed by people of colour. They're being screwed by the elite. The same culture of Empire that killed and oppressed most of their ancestors is now oppressing them. The difference now is that they cling to that culture to save them. You can learn more about white privilege in the memes and articles here: http://bit.ly/2jQulDL

We'll set that aside and look a bit deeper.

Here are seven thoughts on why it makes no sense.

1) It is based on the notion of 'race' which does not exist. It's not real. There is a human race. That's it. http://bit.ly/1y28M2w

2) It is based on the notion of 'whiteness' which is also a cultural construction. 'White' is a blanket term used to describe people whose ancestors came from Europe and who have a certain skin pigmentation. But it's made up. Race is not real and there is no 'white race'. It is based in the fear of the loss of the 'white race'. And so what they fear they will lose is a fictional creation and all they will gain in some melanin. You can learn more about that in the articles here: http://bit.ly/2jvqloq

3) They equate white culture with European culture but, for the most part, whiteness was a construction that began in the United States. http://bit.ly/2jvvrBd

4) When they say 'the genius of European culture', they're not talking about indigenous, European folk culture. They're not talking about the massive diversity of culture that still exists there. They're not talking at the Sami of Northern Europe. They're not talking about Gypsy culture or the Tinkers in Ireland. They're not talking about the Mari people in Russia. And they are certainly not talking about the dark skinned Moors of Spain or the Grimaldi. No. They're talking about the culture of Empire (the Greeks, the Romans, the British etc.) and calling that European culture. They are conveniently ignoring most of their direct ancestors. Those ones don't count. And then they are saying that this is 'white' culture (which given the fact the 'the white race' was borne out of privilege created by Empires might not be entirely untrue). White Nationalism seems to be based on the notion of Empire that might is right. That winning, at any cost, is all that matters. You can read more about European indigenous culture here: http://bit.ly/2jQsa2Z

5) Ethnic purity is a dangerous myth. http://bit.ly/1TYDHGJ

6) When they say 'the genius of European culture', they also vanishing the innovations of every other culture that doesn't appear 'white'. They're vanishing everything that Muslims and Arabs brought into the world (http://bit.ly/2is9dy9) or the Chinese (paper and gunpowder to name but two). And that list could go on a long time of the things that Europeans and white people owe to other cultures.

7) To say that America is a white nation is madness (and not just because it's browning fast). White people are recent additions to this Turtle Island on which we live. North America is a European dream based on the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the exploitation of the poor. It wouldn't exist without people of colour. And much of its culture is appropriated from the cultures of people of colour.



Additional Reading:

These are my thoughts at the moment. You can read more thoughts on this 'alt-right' movement in the articles here: http://bit.ly/2iU0XIl

Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What I Mean When I Say 'White'



One of the things that makes conversations around racism hard is this term 'white'.

As soon as a conversation about 'white people' emerges there is bound to be some push back.

And that's understandable.

How can it be okay to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based just on their skin colour? Isn't this the height of racism itself? After all, sure, the KKK might be white but so are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Starhawk and Deena Metzger. 

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? 

And why is it that, in radical circles, these conversations are so often angry in tone and seemingly shaming of 'white people'?

These are fine questions to ask and questions that must be asked. 

The crux of the matter comes down to the understanding of the history of what is meant when the word 'white' is used.

First of all, what's not being referred to is skin colour. Or, at least, not exactly.

Here's the history that we are taught: white people came over from Europe on boats to North America and built up society together. There were some rough spots with the indigenous people here and with black people but that's all over now and we're all equal and so why is anyone still talking about race when we're all one big happy human family?

Of course, that never happened.

White people didn't come from Europe. Europeans came from Europe. More specifically, French, Dutch, Slovenian, Croation and Austrians etc. came over from Europe. 

They became white here. And they became white for a particular reason. 

This is crucial to understand.

The short story is this: whiteness began in North America. But it did not refer to skin colour. It was a mark of status and privilege. The rich British were white. The poor Irish, Scottish, Jews, Ukrainians were not. This is critical to understand. Whiteness began as a club into which you were born. Only later, and as a tactic to divide the lower classes along 'racial' lines, did everyone with my skin colour become 'white'. 

So, being 'white' (as opposed to Polish, Italian etc.) began as a system to privilege. And it continues to be this. 

It's easy to imagine that European = white. That those two have always been the same. But it's not true. Whiteness is what was used to cover up any remnants of European indigeneity

The term 'white' comes from particular places and time in history and many laws, institutions and policies came from those times and places that were designed for the benefit of white men.

Whiteness is inseparable from white supremacy. White supremacy is the father of whiteness and notions of 'race', created from and driven by a desire to justify the hungry-ghost urge to rule the world and to dehumanize those who were in the way of this happening, are the grandparent. This is where 'white' comes from. The notion that humans are divided into different races and that the 'white' race is the best and most beautiful of them all. 

“... the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

This does not mean all white people are, in their hearts, racist as much as it means that all white people have become 'racialized'. It doesn't mean that white people are bad as much as it means that they have been on the receiving and conceiving end of a very bad culture

This culture is much more easily seen by people of colour and indigenous people of all skin tones than it is for people of my skin colour living in North America which was built by and for white men.

And so I have no interest in shaming white people. But I have a deep interest in naming 'whiteness' for what it is: a trauma visited upon Europeans that led to a trauma on everyone who was not white.

One of my friends wrote to me, many months ago to say, "I don't consider "whiteness" something to be healed from anymore that I consider "femaleness" something that I need to be healed from." And, of course, most don't. 

If you were to ask me, "Do you think that there's a sickness inherent in people of European descent? Are they bad?" I would say, "No," very strongly. 

If you asked me if I thought that white people should feel guilty, ashamed and berate themselves for what their ancestors did, I would also say, "No."

Should white people grovel and apologize for their very existence? No.

If you were to ask me if I thought that the social construct of whiteness was something from which we needed to heal? I would say "yes".

Should white people reject the colour of their skin or their ancestors in an attempt to run from their privilege? No. Better to use it to change the system that granted those privileges to them.

White people should not be shamed but whiteness must be named for what it is.

Whiteness is not the core of how you or I showed up on this planet. It's the lable that was put onto us. It's a system into which we were born. This is vital to understand: racism isn't so much something inside us, it's something we're inside of.

When I say 'white' I do not mean skin colour. I mean the result of the system which decided to break the world up by 'skin colour' and 'race'. When I say 'white' I'm trying to tether a rope from history to  this conversation make sure it can be followed back to the place and time from whence it came. 

The heartbreak that white people must face is that we are all treated better by this society at large because of the colour of our skin and people of colour are, on the whole, treated worse. This is invisible to white people. We don't see the privileges we live with and we don't see the privileges from which they were borne. Whiteness was the mark of privilege when it came into the world. It still is. 

And so the road ahead for white people is a difficult one: how do you contend with the reality that you are seen as better and more worthy than people of colour? What does it mean when we want to come together and put down false notions of race and the rest of the world won't let us? What does it mean when we are seen as 'white' in a society that values white people above all else - even when we don't want to be? When white people say they want everyone to be treated the same regardless of their skin colour well... amen. That's what many people have been fighting for for years. And so, what are you going to do about it beyond moaning and wishing it weren't so? And what is 'it' that you want to change?

If you hate being lumped into a group of people, don't look at me. I'm not the one who lumped you into it. I'm the one trying to name the lump into which we've all been thrown and then asking, "What do we want to do about this?"

We may have had nothing to do with the history of this and yet we still benefit from it. We might not have created the systems of racism and yet, we remain on the receiving end of the benefits they create. And so, what are we going to do about it?

White identity came from privilege and was extended to preserve that privilege. 

Whiteness was and is a system that privileges white men above all else.

If you agree with me that such a system exists, do you want to stop me from talking about it because you wish it weren't so, or do you want to change the system itself?

How can it be okay to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based just on their skin colour? Well, it's not, but that's what this culture does.  

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? This culture does it to us all of the time. It lables us all as 'white' and then treats us better because of it. 

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? Because white culture does have certain hallmarks to it, because it is, on the whole, recognizable to those who are not white. 

Is it possible to have white skin and not act in accordance with the roots of 'white culture'? Yes. The fate of our world depends on it.

Why is it that, in radical circles, these conversations are so often angry in tone and seemingly shaming of 'white people'? Because there are centuries of pain there. It's understandable. 

What do we do when we realize that 'white' culture bears almost no resemblance to the indigenous European cultures from which we all came? What do we do when we realize that the world 'white' does not mean what we thought it meant?

When I say 'white' I'm not just talking about skin colour. I'm talking about why skin colour came to mean what it means in the world today so that we can do something about it. 


Additional Resources on the History of the White Race:


Saturday, November 12, 2016

On the Five Stages & White People Waking Up to Racism



Why is it white men deny racism so strongly or get so caught up in guilt or try to flourish debating skills in conversations about it or get so depressed about it?
This is a piece I have been meaning to write for a long time. I don't consider it a complete thought but more of a rough thesis that I send out into the world for reflections.
But to get there, I have to tell you a story about how, years ago, there was a fire in a night club. Some people were killed. Others were almost killed but survived.
*
But before I tell you that story, I want you to remember something.
It's a movie scene I'm fairly certain you'll remember.
It's Neo waking up from the Matrix.
He is unplugged from it and wakes up in a body he's never used, realizing that his whole world was a lie. It was a fantasy. It existed only in his head.
I ask you to imagine what that would be like.
*
And now back to the fire at the nightclub.
Studies were done on the ones who were not killed by the fire. Much of what was learned came from a woman whose name many of us know today: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
She found that these people went through a similar set of stages in their recovery. Five stages in fact. Five stages which have become very well known to many of us as 'the five stages of grief' or the 'five stages of dying'.
But, those stages might be better thought of as the five stages of trauma. What she was looking at wasn't that they were close to dying but that they were almost killed. What she was looking at wasn't grief, it was PTSD.
What were those five stages?
1 - Denial. 
2 - Anger.
3 - Bargaining.
4 - Depression. 
5 - Acceptance.

I want to submit that white men, as a group, live in a fantasy world in which everyone is treated equally.
I want to submit that, for most white men, waking up from that fantasy to the realities of what's happening in the world is traumatic.
I want to submit that the sudden realization of systemic racism and sexism is like a bludgeon to the mind and a shattering of reality.
I want to submit that most white men are so deeply insulated from the realities of racism and misogyny that coming face to face with the brutal realities and histories of it, especially if it's all at once, is not so different from Neo being unplugged (a fine allegory as it is also a white man being forcibly woken up from a fantasy).
Waking up for white men is traumatic, like having your eyes wide open in the dark and suddenly staring into a flood light. It sends you reeling.
And so, predictably, white men go through the five stages.
If you apply these five stages to white men waking up, it becomes, to women and people of colour, immediately recognizable.

The Five Stages

1 - Denial: 
"Racism is over. That got solved fifty years ago. And women are equal now if not actually more privileged. If anyone is oppressed it's white men." I think this denial is triggered by guilt and overwhelm. I think that, initially, it's too much to take in. I recall sitting at a gathering or young leaders in California and listening, for five days, to them share the stories of what had happened and was happening in their communities. It was shattering. Some of those stories I don't know if I will ever tell again. It took a long time for that all to really sink in. Not that I didn't believe the stories but that the implications of what it meant for where the world was at were so big.
2 - Anger:
"Stop trying to make me feel guilty! I didn't own slaves! What the fuck! This is not how you get allies! I can't change the past, ok! It's over. So we all just need to move on. What the fuck do you expect from me? I'm tired of being seen as the oppressor!" I believe that anger comes from a feeling of helplessness. I think most white people feel so utterly overwhelmed when they finally see the big picture. Or, they begin to see it and, even if the logic makes sense, it's too shattering to really take in and so they push back hard and with anger. They know that letting in the experiences of people of colour and women would shatter the world they live in. Hello, internet trolls. This can also be turned inwards as a self-hatred or hatred of other white men and a desire to not be that.
3 - Bargaining: 
"Okay. But white people have it bad too, right? I mean sure cops need to make some changes but #BlackLivesMatter needs to be less in people's faces." This is the stage in which white men bring out all of their debating skills and play devil's advocate. Part of it is trying to understand but much of it can be driven by a deep-seated defensiveness because the implications of really seeing it are too big.
4 - Depression: 
I think that the depression that white people feel can stem from a certain kind of self-hatred of guilt or the sense that it's too big and that nothing will ever change. It's understandable. I suspect that white-guilt lives here. There's this sense of, "Nothing good has ever or will ever come from white people." Of course, that's not true but it seems to be a stage white men go through.
5 - Acceptance: 
It's safe to say that it's not a given that anyone ever gets here. White men seem to get stuck along the way and never move. Many get stuck in denial and refuse to even consider other perspectives of facts. Some get stuck in anger, convinced that they are the real victims here. Some get stuck in bargaining and imagine they can move forward in their lives without changing anything meaningful if they just find the right angle. And many get stuck in depression after they've given up fighting it.
Acceptance means that we see it for how it is without all of the stories about what it means about us as white people. It means we stop making it about us. It means we stop hating ourselves or our ancestors. It means we see the bigger story which gives us the capacity to see what our place in that story might be.
Acceptance means that we can finally begin to be useful in doing something about it because we finally understand what the 'it' is.
*
For many white men, waking up to the outer realities of these times is an inner, psychological trauma. It is utterly different in degree and kind than the daily and ongoing, real-world traumas of marginalized people, but it seems to be a trauma nonetheless.
The trauma is not so much the realities (though that's a lot to take in as well) so much as the implications of it.
And, if it's a trauma, and these stages are relatively predictable, perhaps this gives us some sort of a map that might give us some comfort for ourselves as white men and also some patience with other white men as we engage with them.
Importantly: this is not an argument to avoid the conversations with white men because it's traumatizing. I'm not writing this to stop the trauma from happening. I'm writing this because it will happen and, perhaps, knowing this might help us all find some better wisdom in how to engage others and ourselves with more compassion and better strategy.
I've been to and heard many stories of white men going to ant-oppression trainings that didn't take the scale of this trauma into account. They pumped people full of information and sent them out into the world shattered. The trainings handled the intellectual side of things but left the emotional realities utterly untended to. We can do better. Be Present does incredible work with this. As does the Orphan Wisdom School.
I've been to and heard many stories of white men leading anti-oppression trainings while still traumatized and traumatizing others.
But it's not an indictment of anti-racism trainings either (even the ones that end in disaster). It's an indictment of the culture and how it's lured us into such a darkness that even one lit candle is blinding to the eyes. It's an indictment of a culture that has us so asleep that waking up to what's really going on seems to have a guarantee of some level of trauma in it. That's how big the level of disconnection is. That many white men are this deeply disconnected from the realities of our times is not news to people of colour or indigenous people. 
When a white man hears someone really break it down and give forth a lucid and heartbreaking analysis of where we are and how we got here, it is devastating. "I didn't know. I had no idea..." we say to ourselves eventually. It's devastating because what we are hearing is so vastly different from our daily, lived experience. We are being given a map that, in no way, matches the territory we know.
When a marginalized person hears someone really break it down and give forth a lucid and heartbreaking analysis of where we are and how we got here, it is confirming. It affirms their daily experience. "I knew it..." they say to themselves eventually. It's confirming because what they are hearing is identical to their daily, lived experience. They are being given a map that, in every way, matches the territory they know. They've had a foot on their back their whole lift and someone is doing a footprint analysis on it. Finally.
I think it's traumatic for white men because one story of the world is destroyed and it's not replaced with anything else that confirms our goodness. I think this leaves us vulnerable.
I think that self-hatred and white guilt are strategies for dealing with the trauma of waking up suddenly (but that these strategies are actually created by the trauma). I think that these five stages are the ways we cope with the trauma.
I welcome your thoughts on this.

On White Tears






I know of so many white people who are terrified to publicly express their feelings and struggles and issues of race and racism for fear of those feelings being labled as 'white tears'.

"Who am I to cry about this with all of my privilege?" I've heard many versions of this sentiment.


One fellow, a white man living in Alberta commented on an earlier version of this post to say, "To call these tears white, and ignore they also exist in black, Hispanic, Asian and all indigenous people is the root of racism. They are simply human tears." which goes to prove this point, to show the difference in understanding of power dynamics there is amongst white folks but also it's important to note that I don't say anywhere that others don't have tears. But we all seem to hear what we want to hear. 

I was speaking to two good, white women today who were struggling with 'white tears'. What came to me was that those tears are like plants. If they grow in the wrong place, they might be considered weeds but, as one of the women I spoke with pointed out, in the right place, they are medicine.


White tears are like medicinal plants that, when they appear in the wrong context can be considered weeds.

All too often a white person's emotional reactions and inner wrestling can dominate a conversation on race or an anti-racism event (I've seen it first hand). In that case, it can act as a weed crowding out the space for other plants to grow. But, in a safe container dedicated to just this purpose of grief and healing, it is a much-needed medicine.

The Mayan Tzutujil word for tumour translates as 'hardened grief.' This is what grief does when it's unexpressed. It hardens. As Martin Prechtel puts it, "For the lack of grief, we go to war."

If these tears are not shed, I've seen white people become hard and vicious and go to war with other white people. If these tears are not shed, their approach to anti-racism will become dogmatic, punitive and rigid, fueled by the unexpressed grief turned into self-hatred. If these tears are not shed, many actions as an ally will come from a deep guilt and shame, not love and beauty making.

Much of this has to do with the placement of these tears. When white people cry in public to show the world how much they care, it can be driven by the desire to ensure that the world knows we're good, we're 'not like them', we're not racist.

But this, actually, underlines the need for the tears to flow. It's the lack of spaces to wrestle with the complicated weavings of our ancestral history that lead to simplified notions of 'white people' which create 'white guilt' and the very self-hatred the drives the need for attention and validation.


The lack of tears shed amongst white people has consequences.

I've heard white people say things like, "You know, I have zero patience for public tears. The world is a safe space for white people. So I really don't wanna hear about it." Those words land, to me, as the words of someone who has not been given the space to grieve and whose grief has ossified into something hard and sharp.

I saw another comment on a wall that said, "We do have safe spaces though - our friend groups and families." Perhaps this is so for her family and a wonderful thing if it is. But it's not true for most of the people who I know whose families have precisely zero time for anti-racism. Most of these people are the outliers in their families. So where, precisely, is this safe space located?

I've heard others say, "No person of colour is saying 'don't have feelings' it's just that white people are wailing over a flesh wound and PoC are missing limbs. They laid on the grenade and are taking a lion's share of the pain and yet we're limping around like we are dying, wanting our marginalized friends to listen to us." And, of course, I'm not in disagreement here. What I am saying is that the pain and confusion of white people is real and, if not tended to, creates even more dysfunctional behaviour and blinds white people to seeing the realities of the lives of people of colour. When we are so wrapped up in our own unresolved pain, we can't hear the pain of others. My contention is that, if we want white people to be good allies to people of colour, they need space to process their feelings and conflicting thoughts without burdening people of colour with them. But, where are those places?

Another comment I read said, "Go, have a glass of wine. Talk to your white friends privately, talk to your significant other. Some processes need to happen off the field and out of the spotlight. You gotta do what you gotta to be ready, I get that. But that's why we have bathtubs and bedrooms." Again. Is this the answer? Self-medicate and then talk to your white friends who may not share your views, or who, because of their own unexpressed grief might respond to you with "get over yourself"? Who are these people with whom we are supposed to have these healing conversations? Or just cry alone in the bathroom in the hall of mirrors that is our emotional life?

Another comment, "As someone who has shed enough tears, I am ready to get to work and half my friends seem to want to embrace the abuse and the other half seem to want people of colour to pull them out of their bed in the morning." This is part of the strange dynamic amongst white people that we will say to each other, "I've grieved but you don't get to. It was okay for me to do but not for you." There's this strange urge to want to shut it down rather than to insist that it happens. But, again, where? Who are the qualified people to guide such a conversation?

Another comment, "We are in a crisis. If this were a flood, or earthquake, we'd need to pull our shit together to get shit done. The person sitting on the curb bawling when we're all trying to move sandbags or drinking water is not being helpful." And, of course, that's true too. And this is my point: my emotional confusion and turmoil inside of most white people as they wake up to what's happening is what keeps them from being able to really see what's happening. The response that, "White people shouldn't be so fragile." Isn't so helpful when the reality of the fragility appears amongst us. A better question might be, "What could the tempering process look like that might help work the fragility out of the metal of their emotional body?"

I wish the situation were other than it were.

I wish white people could see the situation more clearly.

I wish the waking up process for white people wasn't so messy and overwhelming and that we weren't so fragile.

But it is how it is. 

White people need healing as much as people of colour but for different reasons. 

If the core argument is that, "White people shouldn't have pain." in the face of the reality that they do, what kind of argument is that?

If the core argument is, "White people should process that pain on their own." but they don't know how to and there are no safe spaces to which they can go, then what kind of an argument is that?

If these tears are not shed, if these hard questions are not asked, if the wrestling with the issues isn't encouraged, if white people are not helped to see how the same colonization that has brutalized people of colour and indigenous people also brutalized their own ancestors then white people will continue to turn people of colour into validation giving machines and the only possible source of emotional approval for them, their only possible salvation from the deep, deep self-loathing created by a sorrow that wasn't allowed to be expressed.

This all puts an incredible burden on people of colour to do immense emotional labour on our behalf. It's not much fun to be around someone who either dumps their emotions on your or who is still using you to deal with the dysfunction that's arisen as a result of not having given those feelings a proper voice.

White people need healing as much as people of colour but for different reasons. So much of the struggle here is that white people don't have many spaces where they can go to safely share feelings, cry those tears and receive the needed medicine that comes from them.

But where?

Additional Reading:

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears