Dismay is No Longer an Option
Allyship and the Need to Embrace Discomfort
Each time something horrible happens in the world that is motivated by White Supremacy, there is an outcry from many. Social media shifts and many state their beliefs either for or against the actions taken. Many also stay quiet hoping this will pass. But who are these many? Even holding the belief that this will pass is an indication of privilege. We also know that we see what we choose to see. During the elections in the US last year this was in our faces and each time there is a new inciting action, we see it again.
What has shifted through this process is that we may discover beliefs about people we called “friends” in the past by paying attention to their views, on social media. I have seen it before and certainly, I have colleagues who have been exposed for their beliefs. I have friends who have cut out family members and former friends and acquaintances because the views expressed are not congruent with their own. What results from this purging, is that everyone is in agreement with us. We believe that the people closest to us express the views we also believe and then, when a new event happens, we experience outrage. Who are these cruel people? Who could possibly act in this way? No one I know would believe this or act in this way!
But they do. And they are.
I have heard such talk at weddings and dinner parties and I have heard such talk at schools where I have worked. I lose friends in these moments. Silence is not an option. There is no neutral.
So each time this happens we (the liberally minded well meaning White folk) react with surprise, shock, and dismay. Each of these responses is an indication of privilege.
Two weeks ago, the events that unfolded in Charlottesville were no different. We saw a flurry of social media posts conveying our pain, disgust, hurt that such a thing could happen — but what has changed?
What is this social justice through social media posts? It is like the requests I get to post something random in support of cancer research. Does it really make a difference? I go for voluntary mammograms each year as part of a study on breast cancer. That is action — not posting a ❤ on your Facebook wall. Just saying…
So what does action look like? How do we move from empathy to action? How do we find an authentic voice as an ally? How do we even have the right to claim ally-ship? Is the very act of claiming problematic?
I watched a session that Brené Brown did on Facebook last week about Charlottesville and then a friend tagged me in this post on Instagram by Catherine Madden, a data visualizer, which highlights the key points in the talk and then she also did a blog about it, Privilege, Perspective, and Power.
Then, I listened to this podcast by Code Switch, called, Charlottesville. (other podcasts and blogs from Code Switch linked below). One woman named Kate says, “I think People of Colour need White folks to stand up to the powers that be because we don’t get arrested…we are white and we need to fix it.”
The general feeling from these White people who stood up in what is described as “a liberal college town” is shame about what happened there. Not just about this event but about the history of this town which was founded by Thomas Jefferson and his plantation which sits at the top of the town, watching. Klansman often use this town to draw together White Supremacists. Some of the White folks interviewed admit that there is significant racism in this town. But when a Black man, who lives in this town, says clearly that there is significant racism in this town — Black folks not allowed to purchase homes in certain areas, Black folks arrested for no reason, Black folks pulled over by police officers — there is racism — even if the White folks don’t want to believe it or see it.
So here’s the thing…we think, in Canada, that this isn’t our story. We watch with dismay as this happens in the United States as if it isn’t about us. We like to believe that we are a country of liberally White folks. We like the story of the north star and the underground railway. We don’t engage in the stories of Indigenous Residential Schools , Chinese head tax, Japanese internment, and turning away the ship, the St Louis to name a few. We don’t want to engage in our practices that are anti-Islamic, anti-Black and anti-Semitic. We don’t want to admit that we still live, support and sustain a racist society where White folks benefit from privilege each and every day.
And then I read this article: No, Tina Fey, White people must put down the sheet cake and start fighting where the writer, Josey Ross, insists:
From the Chinese head tax to residential schools to the Komagata Maru,our history is steeped in racism, and that racism endures today. If you think that it doesn’t, you’re not listening. White Canadians need to listen to people of colour when they tell us their experiences and how those experiences affect their lives. And if we feel ourselves getting defensive, or thinking, “Well, I’ve never seen it, so it can’t be true,” every single White person needs to stop and consider that people of colour have knowledge and experiences White people will never have.
And then I read this, from Paul C. Gorski:
We MUST ask ourselves, as Gorski urges:
So the question is not, “How am I as a White person distinct from those jackasses?” Rather, the question I grapple with this morning is, “In what ways do my beliefs and behaviours overlap with, and result in the same sets of conditions as, the beliefs and behaviours of those jackasses?” It is a difficult and essential question and I am useless to any movement for racial justice when I stop asking it.
In the spring, I was invited to speak to a group of Principals and Vice Principals in a Southern Ontario board. The context I was provided was that it was a predominantly White group and my belief is that we cannot enter into this learning until we embrace and seek to understand White privilege. I wrote a blog about this experience, Seeing the Water: Learning about Equity and Inclusive Leadership as a White Educator. Using Marshall McLuhan’s quote about fish not being the ones who discovered water, I invited the leaders to be open to the fact that White privilege is real.
Stop challenging that White privilege exists. Stop denying it. Stop responding with dismay, alarm, surprise or shock . I guarantee that our brothers and sisters of colour do not. They know it is always there — sometimes bubbling under the surface, sometimes out loud and in your face and sometimes, with weapons and cuffs but it is ALWAYS there — in Charlottesville as much as anywhere in Canada.
- ‘We’re Not Them’ — Condemning Charlottesville And Condoning White Resentment
- Tracing The Dark Origins Of Charlottesville’s KKK
- How To Talk Race With Your Family: Ask Code Switch
- The Trickle-Up Theory Of White Nationalist Thought
- How Charlottesville Looks From Berlin
- In Charlottesville, White Nationalists Try To Seize An Elusive Spotlight
- Making Sense of Charlottesville: A Reader’s Guide