In this post, I will try to write about whiteness and perfectionism. And in doing so, attempt to embrace the lack of clarity and precision that comes from trying to see a new path while still being deeply entrenched in a decades-old rut. But I need to try, for me and the other white folks in my life who are also struggling with this and potentially harming others in the process. So, if you’ll humor me, I will be grateful.
Here are the things I know:
- Perfectionism — which I will simply define as the impassioned desire to do things perfectly or, in its most extreme form, be perfect — hurts.
- It hurts the one who wants to be perfect, and it hurts the one who is coerced into someone else’s idea of perfection.
- It survives and thrives on never defining perfection.
- It is a robust tool for racial (and other forms of) dominance, dividing the perfect from the imperfect, the deserving from the undeserving.
- It has an amazing PR team.
- It serves racial capitalism by messaging that none of us are enough, and we must work until we are.
- It disconnects us from our bodily wisdom, which will always tell us that as human beings we are like rainbows.
The overlap with whiteness is almost too easy. If “whiteness is a metaphor for power” (Baldwin, 1979), then what is perfectionism if not power over self and others? Perfectionism is whiteness’ henchman, its Number Two.
My brain knows all this. But my brain is also perfectionism’s biggest acolyte. It gets scared of loss and believes perfectionism will save me.
So, it seems, as always, a return to nature and the body (which is nature) will be the only antidote. When I feel that pull, that low-simmering or rapid-boiling perfectionism, can I take a deep breath? Look out the window? Pet my cats? Wonder “what if I’m enough?” I’ll try if you’ll try.