White Folks, We Do Know What to Do

Meredith Reitman
2 min readOct 21, 2022

For the past few years, fall has marked the start of me leading another cohort of white leaders on a 7-month journey of dismantling whiteness under the supervision of my smart, caring and dear friend and Director of Diversity at a long-time client. Though not my primary bread and butter, this is in some ways my favorite type of work in that it challenges me in all the ways I want to be intellectually and emotionally challenged as a white person — helping other white folks find their path while illuminating my own bumpy path, the two joining together hopefully with compassion and kindness (not niceness — thank you Shereen Daniels for that very helpful distinction).

One of the things that’s a real stumper, however, is when I hear the words “I don’t know what to do.” I often hear it at the end of the 7 months, when they’ve seen the list of to-dos at the beginning of each session, we’ve read at least ten articles that include to-dos, they’ve brainstormed very concrete to-dos with each other, and well, you know, Google (or Ecosia! Plant trees!).

And there’s such a plea behind these words. We are really feeling it. But I’ve come to the conclusion that that feeling has nothing to do with not knowing what to do but instead with knowing what to do. I’ve come to think there’s a missing piece at the end of that statement — the complete version is, “I don’t know what to do while still maintaining my [sense of myself, control over my time, money, people, or projects]”

It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we’re afraid of what will happen when we do it. Will we mess up, threatening a sense of ourselves as good people? Will we need to carve out time or money, threatening the time or money we have cultivated for different things we prioritize more? Will we lose control over people or projects we feel we need to control in order to accomplish those things we prioritize?

What if instead of stopping us, that fear was the sign of something good? Something exhilarating? The moment right before Rey uses the force to free herself from a watchful Stormtrooper. We can escape our own conditioning and behaviors — we know what to do. We just need to take that step.

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Meredith Reitman

Dr. Meredith Reitman, is a qualitative and quantitative researcher who specializes in exploring how race operates within workplaces. www.reitmanresearch.com