The Whiteness Break — Focusing on Ourselves, Solidarity, Healing and Trust
Something has happened. A snap. A Break. A tectonic shift. We have passed a tipping point and there is no turning back.
Many people of color on the front lines of whiteness — and women of color in particular — are tired. We have been tired. We’ve been depleted and have nothing left. The 2016 election sent out a burst of urgency and started activating some people that have never been activated before. Many of us believed that if we worked hard enough, pushed hard enough, gave hard enough, taught hard enough, we could get white people — the ones endangering us — to help make the world safer for our loved ones and ourselves. Naively, some of us hoped that these issues were not as deeply entrenched as they actually are. Even more likely we felt we had no other option.
And we went hard and sometimes it worked. Sometimes there was progress. A few people would get a new insight, several people would start to take some new steps, but then there would be powerful snapbacks into whiteness. The “progressive” white person learns some new thing about race and then wants to come to you and try to tell you about yourself or your racial experience. The “progressive” white person learns some new things but then feels entitled to all of you and resents when they don’t get what they want. “Progressive” white person then does all they can to punish you for not being what they want you to be. The betrayals start coming from closer up and in new ways. They pull you into nonsense battles, make shit about themselves, and then MAYBE decide to loosen up on their white ignorance.
The first time you come across this, you think maybe it’s just confusion, ignorance, stumbles along the way of learning — being a decent human being can’t possibly be this challenging. But after a while, you start to see that these are painful and habitualized patterns. You realize there are much deeper roots here. Roots that run so deep below the surface that they truly don’t see you as fully human amongst the tangled mess. So you give up. In little ways at first — you start lowering your standards, dropping the bar, reaching down lower — you find yourself giving up in ways you never imagined possible and then finally you find you have nothing left to give up on. And you feel like all you have to show for the work you’ve done are short victories between snapbacks, a sore back from bending down so much, and lots of reminders of how little you are valued.
Looking back, I ask myself why we did this in the first place. Maybe some of us had to clear toxicity out of our lives and start to really focus on and care about ourselves. Perhaps some of us are so surrounded by whiteness and white contexts that we desperately needed to push back on white suffocation. Maybe get some breathing space and try to find some semblance of hope for the recognition of our humanity. Perhaps we were struggling to truly recognize our own humanity for ourselves. Perhaps we were feeling desperate and grasping at whatever we could. Perhaps many of us were looking for validation and community. Perhaps there truly was a moment of hope not to be squandered.
And this is not to say that everything was in vain — there have been many transformational moments along the way — but the whiteness retractions and snapbacks were powerful, plentiful and never ending. The seas of whiteness and white people waiting to demand more out of us, was unbearable. That ever-present white weight can take the joy and sparkle out of moments that otherwise might have given back to us, and sour even the sweetest of things.
That brings us to the recent encouraging and challenging anti-white supremacist protests. In Boston, there were 20–40 thousand protesters who powerfully stood up against white supremacy. Stepping up will have an effect, but I had to step back and support from the sidelines. Why? Because I knew being in that crowd, and all the whiteness it was going to carry, would do more damage to me than I had the reserves for. I sat back because as powerful as these protests were, they were also a reminder of all the other deaths and crisis moments that were ignored and how many more will likely be ignored in the future. It took unhooded KKK rallies coming out, for white (and other non-Black) people to pay attention, while rationalizing or turning a blind eye to all of the obvious ways that 45 has been laying the groundwork for and empowering white supremacists from day one. It took a white woman getting killed for white supremacy to matter, but not the scores of our bodies and our children’s bodies that are constantly discarded. It takes white lives being taken or white values being disrupted in order for them to step up. And even with this heightened awareness and motivation, we still have to remind white folks not to make this about themselves and they still forget about us as soon as they feel good enough — many leaving us to the mercy of the police once the “free speech” speakers were protectively escorted out by the police. And none of this is meant to disregard the powerful work of the queer women of color leadership, but the whiteness this stirred up was enormous. It was a potent reminder of how the structural violence of this society keeps costing us our lives while being very aware of what many of us have been, and keep putting in to change it.
At first I thought my tiredness was just me being depressed and despondent — my own inability to keep carrying this overwhelming load — my own weakness. But then I started to pick up on the palpable exhaustion from many people of color around me. That’s when I realized how tapped out many of us were. We had given everything we had to give and taken in or taken on all of the racial violence that we had the capacity to absorb.
At this point, any white person set on rationalizing explicit Nazis is far beyond my reach of influence. There may be some people of color still up for doing that particular white people work, they may not be exhausted yet, still have reason to hope, or have their own needs to work out — and more power to you if that’s where you are. But honestly, it is past time for white folks to be doing this work among themselves anyway, and there are more than enough tools and resources they can use should they choose to do so. But for many of us we have hit a tipping point — a new frontier where something different has to occur.
We (Threads of Solidarity) have argued for the necessity of people of color solidarity, and this tipping point pushes us even more strongly in this direction. We — people of color — need to prioritize our well-being, root out the white supremacy among ourselves, and start building something different — something beautiful — something human — something healing. A new reality based on humanization and construction rather than objectification and destruction. In this spirit, we have decided to work on a series specifically focusing on healing and solidarity across and within our people of color communities. We look forward to strengthening our communities as we seek to build a stronger world.