Unlearning my white privilege

This is the first time I am giving words to my white privilege.
I am sorry that it has taken me this long.

First, some context, as I attempt to hold myself publicly accountable and release A Guide for Unlearning White Privilege into the World Wide Web.

I know this Guide is not perfect. It was not my aim to create something that perfectly unravels white privilege. I am sharing this because it’s my hope that it is ‘good’ and in service of the movement that is moving me.

As an academic, I have been trained to get to know the author of literature and models I come across. I believe it’s important to glimpse into the heart and mind of the human who has shared their creation. So, it is necessary that I share my own truth with anyone seeking it.

As someone who identifies as an ally, I have contributed my resources to supporting oppressed communities of people for many years. However, I am realizing that my silence has been working against my allyship. I am learning that my silence has actually caused harm.

Indeed, I have heard the call out from many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and by now, you likely have too. But, in case you haven’t, here are words from writer, professor, and thought leader, Dr. Roxane Gay:

“Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance.

We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other marker of identity.”

And, perhaps most importantly, as a family member and friend, I feel my inner circle needs an update of where my heart is, during one of the most pivotal moments in this #BlackLivesMatter revolution.

In June 2020, I’m waking up from a mostly quiet and comfortable slumber.


Re-cap of my first cycle with the Guide:

E: An experience that made me encounter my white privilege

Last Tuesday, black squares by white people took over my instagram feed. It didn’t feel well in my gut. I sat with the feelings. I felt them move around my body. I moved my body. 

I investigated into where hashtag BlackOutTuesday originated and what it’s intent was. What I found were leaders on the frontlines of the BLM calling for white people to stop posting the black squares. White people were taking up valuable space.

I listened. I understood that it didn’t feel good for others either, no, white people posts actually caused more pain. Someone suggested: “If you’re going to post about something, post about your white privilege”.

I shared their voices with white friends. I questioned why white people felt the need to post this publicly; what real contribution they believed it made to the movement.

I listened some more. I witnessed as a few people deleted their post, some apologized for it, some defended it.

A few told me they are seeking to educate themselves on white privilege but are overwhelmed by the influx of information out there. I offered to compile a guide (this guide) to support their learning. In doing so, I learned too.

 

R: My reflection on that experience

On Tuesday, at first, I felt annoyed that I didn’t have time to mute all white people so that I could learn from #amplifymelanatedvoices as intended. My feelings evolved over the course of that day to be personally offended that white people would post a black square. White noise? Really? Now?

At the same time, and most surprising to me, I felt grateful. I felt grateful because the black squares stirred me to engage in conversations that I may not have otherwise had. I believe goodness is growing from this.

(It’s complex that these emotions can co-exist, I know).

Also at the same time, I felt unfazed that white people inserted their voices into this movement in this way. I recognized this as yet another product of what our system is designed to produce:
literally, encouraging white voices to rise up while pushing black voices down. 

On white people taking up space
I’ve been aware about my whiteness for as long as I can remember.
I am half white and half Filipino. I’ve experienced much confusion and exclusion due to my not being totally white.

I’ve been bullied and discriminated against through “harmless” remarks and overt abuse. On the playground, at work, and in my own home. On the other end of that spectrum, I’ve also been oohed and awed over because of I look “exotic”. I fit in no where and everywhere.

I am also visibly more fair-skinned. Most times, I walk into boardrooms, classrooms and other places of authority and am automatically granted space. And, all the time, I walk around freely without fear of being stopped, questioned or murdered by police due to the colour of my skin.

My parents represented the oppressed and the oppressor. I witnessed my father, a white male, make people of colour (and especially women) feel lesser than. He physically, verbally, and emotionally oppressed my mother, his brown-skinned wife, as well as my biracial, child self. He carelessly and habitually took up more space. 

Admittedly, my whiteness takes up more space in my own mind. I was taught to believe that being white was the safer, easier, better way. My Ego, shamefully, loves that. 

It felt easier to blend into classrooms of white people than to raise questions of why our cohorts lacked diversity; easier to quietly send funds to Jamaican friends living in poverty than to engage white friends in conversations about how our unconscious bias upholds capitalism and poverty; and easier to not share my grappling with my white privilege than to publicly own it.

On my own silence
Last Tuesday was the first time I challenged white people’s thinking about how to stand in solidarity with BIPOC. 

I battled with the voices in my head that told me “good girls don’t talk about stuff like this” (#oppressionofwomen), “this issue is too complex to talk about” (#fear) , “maybe they meant well” (#whitefragility) and I did it anyway.

I felt hopeful after having those hard but fruitful conversations in my kitchen, group chats, private DMs. And, I heard that my white friends did not know they were causing me or BIPOC harm. I spoke my truth, heard apologies, and felt my relationships growing in love.

Let me be clear: I am not angry at any one individual for posting the square.
I was angry at the system that teaches us that one person, one country, one race, etc. should take up more space than another. I’m angry at white privilege, ignorance, excuses, and white silence.

So, I get to work.

As an educator, I believe that we cannot learn what we do not experience. We don’t change when we keep doing what we’ve done. We might be able to take in new information, but information alone does not change the shape of one’s soul. 

I’m realizing that many have not accessed the “check my privilege”-type education I have, or worked in non-white communities, or walked a day in non-white skin.

I feel it’s time for ME to talk about white privilege within my own home and social network.

 

C: Conceptualizing and evolving my thinking

I recognize that this work is LIFELONG. I will learn more and again, day after day.

Even through workshops on privilege, my involvement with black communities over the last several years (@TAPoftheArts #theRAFT), and work with a therapist to unpack my own biracial experience…

I am still awakening to my white privilege and how pervasive it is.  

I am learning how to take action toward reparation. 

New terminology I read about while doing this exercise include:
#whitesilence
#whitefragility
#whitepassing
#WhatHappensNextIsUpToWhitePeople

 

A: Taking action

I apologize for the ways my white self has upheld the oppressive systems I am against.

My silence and, at times, taking no action because I felt paralyzed by my overwhelming feeling of being ‘powerless’ … were cop outs. All stem from my privilege, white fragility and fear of what this would do to me or my relationships.

I now see that it is my responsibility to speak up. I CAN and WILL be part of dismantling our system, which has stolen too many black lives and hinders BIPOC from living well every day.

 


With this public examination of my white privilege, my apology, my commitment to unlearning and holding myself and others accountable to do the same, I am changing the way I show up within this racial justice movement.

Let’s see if we can become reliable in this revolution… so that we might become helpful and not harmful with more white noise.


Note: There is no one-size-fits-all, fix-it-in-a-day way to understanding or unpacking your privilege. It’s hard work to ingrain this practice throughout your life. So, PLEASE, in this process of learning, do take good care of yourself. You’ll face harsh realities that you didn’t even know existed. You may fail. Your feelings will get hurt. You might have an existential crisis.

Have courage and do it anyway.

“Here’s to doing what is right and not what is easy.” – Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy

Links:
Roxane Gay (2016), “On Making Black Lives Matter”,  Marie Claire
It’s White People Who Are Responsible for What Happens Next, 2020, Time
How I Can Offer Reparations in Direct Proportion to My White Privilege, 2017, Yes Magazine
Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad

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