On White Leaders Who Dehumanize Black People and Danielle La Porte’s New Program

Sara Haile-Mariam
8 min readApr 30, 2018

The above image was sourced from Facebook and is part of Danielle La Porte’s promotional push for her new program — which is titled “Lighter”. These images have since been removed following public outcry, and an apology has been issued that I will comment on in a moment.

First, let’s talk about these images.

If I’m being generous, I suspect that the use of this imagery was an attempt to make this program feel more accessible to people of color. I suspect that the decision to name a program “Lighter” and then pair that program with images of black naked bodies — or to piece together pieces of a human’s body so as to create a multi-color human (which was also done, photo included later in this piece), is all an attempt to say this program is for you! This program is for everyone! But here’s the thing- nothing about that intention changes the fact that black bodies are not yours to use. Nothing about that intention changes the fact that these images, in this context, are dehumanizing. Nothing about that intention changes the underlying assumptions therein. The idea that we need you to create things for us. The idea that you are entitled to create things for us without doing the work of understanding how or why to do so. The idea that simply having the intention of making something accessible, is what makes it accessible.

White supremacy tells white healers and teachers and leaders — that the act of simply thinking about us, superficially and relying on their own sole perspectives, is enough to warrant our attention and respect and gratitude. It teaches white healers and teachers and leaders to assume that we need them. To lead us. To save us. To use us towards their own ends all in the name of “humanity”. It teaches white healers and teachers and leaders that their work — created in the tunnel vision of their perspectives, white washed and immersed in the wounds they are taught not to see, is worthy of us. And up until now, this has worked for them. Because we didn’t understand the truth of our worth. Because we didn’t think to demand better. Or maybe we did demand better, only to face isolation and repercussions.

I’ve consumed Danielle La Porte’s books and programs and newsletters for years. I use her planner! But I always have to do the extra level of work — of reading her words, and then applying them to my own circumstances which are actually humanity’s circumstances.

If we are going to heal then why wouldn’t we place our energy and attention on the deepest and most systemic wounds?

So I read about boundaries and I think of it in the context of white supremacy. I read about self love and I think of it in the context of centering myself and a wholeness that doesn’t need to take from others. I read about self care and I consider it in the context of disengaging from people who don’t see me. People who don’t create work that respects me. People who expect me, to thank them for the crumbs that they’ve served. A few weeks ago, I unfollowed and unsubscribed from all of Danielle’s online platforms. Because I realized that these kinds of crumbs couldn’t feed me anymore. Because I realized that anyone who thinks, even subconsciously, that I’m deserving of an effort so careless, so thoughtless, so nominal — is not actually for me. I deserve worlds better than this:

We can’t even get white people to share space with us, and somehow that doesn’t stop them from feeling entitled to pretend like they share bodies with us?

What a mess!

What an illustration of how white supremacy self perpetuates. This is someone who people listen to and follow and look to for direction. This is someone who professes to believe many of the same things that I do!

This morning Danielle issued a new post announcing that all of these images had been removed. A previous post, which had garnered comments from countless black women and women of color sharing their wisdom, and their insight, and their clarity, had also been deleted.

In this new post, Danielle opened by announcing that she had been “schooled,” and later went on to stress that she had been “attacked”. Her post addressed the emotional labor of the women of color who had come to her with their wisdom, and their insight, and their clarity — and yet those sentiments felt meaningless in light of the fact that those same words had been deleted — effectively silencing and shunning those women — by her and her team. She talked about compassion in the context of herself. She focused on, and implicitly asked us to focus on, the hurt that she felt, as opposed to the hurt that she caused.

Ultimately she wrote a post with white audiences in mind, a post that further demonstrates her participation in white supremacy.

This happens all the time. When a white healer, teacher, leader — is shown the harm that they’ve caused, the instinct is to run from it. To delete it. To fight it. To make those who have come to them with the pain that they’ve caused out to be some sort of mob. To act as if the reaction to the harm that they’ve caused is the teaching moment. To treat the people that they have dehumanized, or belittled, or refused to see, as monsters. Rather than people, who they’ve been taught not to see. People, who have endured a history of being unseen. People who are on the receiving end of systemic callousness, and systemic harm, and systemic hatred.

Marianne Williamson, Tony Robins, and Sally Kohn, are just a few of the many individuals who have done this in the very recent past. We’re taught that white healers, and teachers, and leaders are beyond reproach. And they in-turn perpetuate the idea that white people are beyond reproach to everyone that follows them every time they react with anything but humility and accountability when they are wrong.

In Sally Kohn’s case, she responded to the harm that she caused by emphasizing her admiration for the person, and it would turn out to be people, that she hurt and used. As if her admiration was remotely relevant. And yet, white supremacy teaches white people that their admiration, their acceptance, and their approval, is worth more then their care and their humanity.

This is the truth of where we’re at.

If we are going to truly heal, then this is what we must elect to see. Not with the intention of shame or self pity or denying someone else their own humanity. I’m sure they mean well… but that’s a pretty low bar. We are taught to tolerate so little from ourselves and each other. We are taught to believe so little in who we are capable of being. We are taught to extend that lack of generosity to others.

These times demand more of us. This healing refuses to be trivial, or partial, or rooted in anything but a love that knows what’s what.

If someone elects to spend their life as a healer, or a teacher, or a leader— than it is their responsibility to first and foremost do the work of healing and teaching and leading themselves. That means looking at their wounds — both past and present, both conscious, and ancestral — and being with them. And excavating them. And honoring them with the time and attention it takes to heal them. It means recognizing when they are out of their league. It means recognizing when they’ve built companies or careers on being appropriative and unintentional. It means being accountable, and honest, and deliberate. It means fucking up, and not making it someone else’s problem. It means taking ownership of what is yours to heal, and doing everything you can to do that work without harming others. If you harm others, then be accountable. If you don’t understand, then be teachable. If you don’t yet have clarity, then show some restraint.

Sometimes that means spending seasons in brevity and quiet. Sometimes that means hiring expert help. Sometimes that means taking a step back to simply witness life with an open heart, focused on understanding how you participate in the things that you claim to be against. Focused on how your actions are an indication of where white supremacy, or patriarchy, or islamaphobia, or xenophobia, or ableism, or anti- semitism, or fat-phobia, or transphobia, or homophobia, or hatred, are given life through you.

I believe that white supremacy is the attempt to love oneself through the subjugation of others. Therefore white supremacy will never be my responsibility. I didn’t earn it, and therefore I cannot end it.

But I believe that white people can heal white supremacy.

White supremacy does nothing to make white folks more free, or more whole, or more human. It does the opposite. It is a prison masquerading as a palace. It keeps you small and codependent on the suffering of others. It keeps you righteously in your wounds.

Why would you elect to go lighter — when the only rational choice at this particular moment in time is to go deeper.

Anything short of that, will not be tolerated anymore.

If you want to create content for black people. If you want to create content worthy of black people, and worthy of the cultures and images and traditions and experiences that you have been taught to take and distort and use, then I don’t care who you are; DO YOUR WORK. It may not be comfortable. It may not be convenient. It will not get you cookies. But it will allow you to stand in the integrity of knowing that you have treated these paradigms, these wounds, this history, our ancestors, and us — with the respect that they and we deserve. You don’t get to create multi-color people, and conflate issues, or deny histories, or diminish circumstances, or deflect responsibility and call it a day. The fact that you think you do — shows you something unhealed about your own humanity.

What you do unto us, is information for you.

Use that instead.

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