I spent Saturday afternoon in a Presbyterian Church I’d never heard of, in a suburb I rarely visit, for a racial justice training. I’d do it again. Show Up For Racial Justice is an anti-racist organization meant to organize white people for action. The underlying premise is racism is white people’s problem and it is on us to fix it. I went to a training for people of faith. Do it. If you have the opportunity, just do it. Here are a few rough ideas that I got from it, which I wished to share.
Perfection is the expectation of white supremacy, the facilitator, Rev. Anne Dunlap, said. Aha, she is right. Your actions are unworthy if not perfect, you shouldn’t speak up unless you have exactly the right thing to say, your tone of voice and delivery have to be perfect. The person needs to be in the right sort of relationship with you. The stars need to align and then you can talk about racial oppression, this giant machine that pushes forward with every turn of even the littlest gear’s teeth. Your work is slowing the machine, sanding down the teeth, maybe even dismantling the gears. White supremacy demands waiting for the perfect sized hammer that will never come, instead of the one you can reach.
It was illuminating. Prior to that moment I’d struggle to understand what people meant by white supremacy being a scourge on white people’s souls. Listen: my concept of my own soul is like a cup of water held over a lake, only without the cup, just in your hands. It spills out, it’s poorly bounded, prone to evaporate – I mean, what is my soul? My humanism sits on the border of secular and religious. And to say it damages us when we were never meant to be whole to begin with (who gets through life unscathed?) seems a bit melodramatic. I have so little patience for that. But the expectation of perfection made sense. I’m not sure if it’s whiteness or the supremacy (what is whiteness without the supremacy?) but I appreciated that insight.
I’d been saying this, but I appreciated hearing it elsewhere: too many progressive tactics create boundary policing instead of persuasion. Are you a good person who agrees with me or a bad person who does not? Turns out the insult of saying someone is wrong or bad (white supremacy demands perfection for value – being wrong is a threat) is not really strategically effective. So ways to pull someone over. And I appreciate this because I keep finding myself in circumstances where it seems we’ve all forgotten we have to share this country with people we disagree with, and that is frustrating. I would like a shift towards a cultural value of compromise.
White supremacy has defined racism itself, and the way to cope with it, in such as way as to prevent it from being unraveled. Speaking of whiteness is taboo. I have started describing myself as white to strangers looking to meet me, and I sense discomfort with naming my race. It is invisible, co-opting a national culture as its own and claiming everything else is deviant. We have racial prejudice and system participation as making someone “bad” and then made “bad” the worse thing you can be, no acknowledgement of human failing. Thus confronting racism becomes a threat to a white person’s self-worth.
I wonder if having experiences where I feel I can no longer claim moral purity helps on this path. For instance, I’m not a vegan anymore. For a time I was an ardent one. And I wish I could go through the world with the vegan vision: not harming any other life with my own. I learned the hard way that a plant-exclusive diet was incompatible with my health. It was a myth, anyway: we live in houses made from the corpses of trees, wear clothes from the corpses of either plants, cows, or dinosaurs, farming hurts rodents, and I accidentally and unknowingly kill bugs as I walk. Washing my hands kills bacteria. I remember realizing this and felt like it had to be possible, if I just tried harder! Life requires death. I hate this. It’s a tension for me, that I hold, because I do value my existence, and the health of the other two people who have relied on my body for their well-being. And so white supremacy is also a tension, and confronting it feels less like an existential threat to my goodness because goodness is an ideal more so than a reality of perfection.
In any case – good training, you should go.