Judgement, Comparison, and Keeping Score Are Side-Effects of White Supremacy
When I first read Tema Okun’s list of White Supremacy characteristics I was taken aback. Everything on that list describes my life in various ways. When I showed it to my mother she said, “well, these are just general and vague things. These show up everywhere, at schools, at work places, it’s in the way I was raised, the way I raised you.” And I said, yes, exactly. Because white supremacy is so embedded in our culture we teach it to our children, and we reinforce it, without thinking twice. This is what it means to be committed to the construct of whiteness. This intangible, imaginary construct with very real, deadly impacts, has our allegiance and it’s so seamlessly woven into our culture, our way of life, our day-to-day, that we don’t second-guess it.
But when I started second-guessing my life, and seriously taking into account my position as a white woman in a white supremacist culture, I nearly had a panic attack. I had to reassess my entire life. What was a lie and what was true? What was my personality and what was my white supremacist conditioning? I couldn’t sleep. I had an intense acne break-out. I went into a depression. I don’t say this to gain pity, but I say this to be transparent about this process so other white people who may find themselves in a similar place can know that having an intense reaction is not abnormal. I also had no support because I didn’t know any other white people who were really, deeply grappling with their whiteness. This is why I started the series, “Detaching from Whiteness” so white people could gain a cohort of supportive folx going through the process.
Below, are some side-effects of white supremacy that I have reflected on and still struggle with today.
Perfectionism is included in the list of White Supremacy Culture characteristics written by Tema Okun. We are quick to point out what is lacking, what is inadequate, especially in ourselves. I grew up constantly comparing myself to others, judging others for their circumstances and for what they wore, and how they presented themselves. I used to blame the patriarchy for this, but because the patriarchy stems from White supremacy now I see that my impulse to judge stems from my need to be in power, in control, to feel better than. I needed to judge others, figure out the hierarchy, so that I knew where I stood. I speak in past tense, but today I am only more aware of my impulse to do this. Judgement is still very much what I have to work on to this day. Every day.
In the same vein as perfectionism, comparison is also related to either/or thinking, which is rooted in white supremacy. Comparing myself and comparing others meant that I could deduce what is the “right” way to live, the “right” way to speak, the “right” way to express myself, the “right” things to eat. And of course, that meant I could figure out what was the “wrong” way to do things. I engage in comparison when I am desperately seeking outer validation. White supremacy tells us that we are not good enough as is. When we resort to comparison, we often simplify others’ narratives, as well as our own. When we engage in comparing ourselves to others, we don’t appreciate each other’s fullness, wholeness, and complexities.
Recently, I was upset with my housemates because from my perspective they were not keeping the kitchen clean enough. I felt like the burden of cleaning the kitchen always landed on me. One way I show respect and care for my housemates is by making sure my dirty dishes are always cleaned up and put away, so I expected them to do the same. But after some tense conversations, I realize that they do other things to show care and respect. I was ignoring the full picture and not considering the sacrifices and efforts they were making in other ways, like refraining from doing the laundry (which is right over my room) when I am asleep, and generally keeping quiet after a certain hour even though some of them are night owls. They were adjusting their behavior and accommodating me, and showing me care in ways I was not registering or taking notice of.
I was keeping score with the kitchen, which prevented me from appreciating the myriad of ways that we all show respect and care. As Chetna, @mosaiceye, explains, “‘the tracker’ counts what she does and what others do, feeling scarce with her sweetness and making sure everything is even as if ‘even’ exists in the myriad of abundant ways we each express care.” Seeking for this “evenness” I ignored the multiplicity of expression of care. Like Chetna says, love and care is abundant in its forms and I was not recognizing that. White supremacy crept up in my blindness to acknowledge the effort of others. I approached the situation in a very individualistic way, not appreciating that we all have busy, stressful lives, and that quality of life is more important than keeping a spotless kitchen.
Everyone’s process of detaching from whiteness looks different. This is a window into mine. It’s ongoing and never stops. If you’d like to go deeper, I facilitate a series called, “Detaching from Whiteness.” This six-week series is online with a cohort of 4 individuals where we all learn together, hold each other accountable, and offer support. You can hear what previous participants have said here.