I recently trained a 2-day Racial Justice workshop for a mix of ciswomen – black, brown, and white. I did something I do as little as possible. I pushed white people about white privilege and white supremacy. No blame, no shame. Just the facts. One of which is that there is no lack of anything that causes horrible housing, food deserts, inaccessible health care, under-resourced schools and toxic environments. The problem is not crime, poverty, unplanned pregnancies, hunger, disease, climate change, or _____________ (fill in the blank). The actions stem from white and often male privilege and are rooted in white supremacy. When we were problem-solving the root causes of why it is challenging to have productive, authentic discussions about racial justice, the focus turned, as it should, to the white women in the room.
My question to them was: How did you move from the interpersonal level of “I am a good white person who can help you” to looking at inequity from an institutional/systemic level where ‘lack’ is not the issue? They couldn’t answer me. As women, this would require them to step out of their sense of being one down due to gender and step up to embrace their white privilege and own it with white women AND white men. We all agreed that was their work to do so they could be the one initiating and holding the discussions instead of what typically happens – people of color carrying both the negative impacts of white privilege in our lives AND having to challenge it in conversations. Check out this great essay by Minda Honey on doing it in the beautiful outdoors.
Several privileged situations have occurred recently to spark me to write at this moment. I was playing a tennis match at a tennis club with my team. We enjoy our away matches because the amenities are many, and our home courts are Larkspur public courts, in serious need of repair, even in wealthy Marin County. My partner and I were the only women of color on either team. One of the women we were playing doubles against hit a ball out by about 3 inches. “Out!” I yelled, raising my index finger as is the practice in case they don’t hear the call. Yet another ball was hit out so I did it again. “That ball was in. Maybe some parts of it were out, but it was in. And the other call was bad as well.” Out of that pot of rage that is always simmering in people of color, I stood my ground and said: “Both balls were out by a significant amount. If you have a problem, call for a line judge and you will see my calls are correct.” My anger was palpable, so real I imagined my aura was red hot and they all felt it. People do sometimes question calls and I am one of them. The difference I felt and which my body responded to was the clear, unequivocal tone and sound of white privilege. The complete assurance that she was right and the two brown women were wrong.
My inner warrior did not hesitate to leap on her horse and brandish her sword. By slicing through her delusion, she knew I would not accede to her sense of supremacy. She did not question any further calls and did not call for a line judge. It was only afterwards that I understood my quick and sharp response came from that place of knowing, sin duda, what white supremacy feels like, even when dressed in tennis skirts on a beautiful day with smooth, clean courts where I was enjoying my class and educational privilege that so often gets interrupted as it did the day.
The other dynamic is the requests, again and again, to take care of white, alleged allies. A coaching client and I were working through this maelstrom. She did not like a white savior woman who was constantly inappropriate, yet she was struggling to let her go. My response was for her to consider if the shoe was on the other foot. What I said was: “We give so much leash to white supremacists when they would have cut our throat long ago if we had challenged and undermined them the way they do it to us.” My sword again sliced through a delusion of having to be fair in the face of ongoing disrespect. She is on the move now.
We do no one a favor by allowing them an undetermined amount of time to figure out they act from white supremacy. We do it because we are tired and it is not in our work descriptions: “Excellent interpersonal skills in calling out white supremacy.” It should be in the job descriptions of white people! It should be in the required qualifications and in the interview questions and in the evaluation forms of every organization that has words like equity and justice and equal rights in their vision and mission. The question I raised with the white women would be a great interview question and standard by which to hire – how did you move from an interpersonal to an institutional/systemic analysis of oppression? No answer, no job. Punto. #52essays2017