In December, 2014 I began an anti-racism project out of my Facebook page. Here is the history, as originally posted on FB.
Note: incoming big long personal and political thing. Pretty self-involved, really, but it feels necessary to my mental health, so here we go!
Hi, friends. I just wanted to take a moment to explain what’s going on with me, and talk about what’s next. Since the mid ‘00s I’ve gotten more and more politically aware, and more and more involved with social justice. First, it was body image/body justice/fat acceptance stuff. This led to feminism stuff, which led back to body image stuff, which led, in 2012, to anti-racism. I’m still baffled and angry that I grew up with liberal politics, got a fancy education, and was still completely unaware of the majority of racism in our world today until TWO YEARS AGO. When I think back, I knew that racism wasn’t “over” exactly (despite what I had been taught about it being “fixed” in the 1960s) starting in ‘07 and ‘08 during the campaign and election of President Obama, because there were things said that were so ignorant and hateful that even *I* got that they were racist. Still, most of it, and my own place in it, was invisible to me.
In 2012 I attended a queerness and body justice conference as an ally, as I don’t identify as queer but the conference was welcoming to straight allies, and obviously body justice stuff applies to my life. At the conference there was a two part workshop about anti-racism. I won’t go too deeply into its specific content because it wasn’t a public event, but basically, on that day, I learned that by virtue of being born with white skin, I had been born into a complex, vital, robust system of privilege and oppression that gave me chances in the world that other people, by virtue of being born with skin that isn’t white, would never be given. That what I thought of as American culture is actually white American culture, and that the history I was taught is white history, and that the level playing field that we think we’re all born on is a white supremacist construct that does not exist, and has never existed. In other words, that US society, culture, and media (other white majority places, too, but I’m focused on the US because I’m American) is essentially The Matrix. I don’t use that reference in jest, but because I find it hugely instructive. We don’t know we’re in it until someone unplugs us and shows us the truth. Some folks, when the plug is pulled, would do anything to go back. I am not one of those people, but we see them all around us when we talk about social justice. Confronting the untruth all around us is hugely painful, nauseating, and full of grief. Being able to go back into The Matrix is a white privilege. Choosing to unsee it is a road people of color can never take.
After the conference, I saw examples of unchecked privilege (people talking about the world from inside The Matrix) and microaggressions (small instances of words and acts that reinforce that people of color are below white people in the collective conscience of America) all around me, and it made sense, because I had similar awakenings around body justice and feminism. There is so much horrifically oppressive messaging in our country, and when we’re in The Matrix, it all seems perfectly normal. It’s what we’ve always seen and known, and makes sense to us. Now that I was unplugged, the world looked very different, indeed.
I talked with teachers, mentors, and friends about what I was seeing. After some time had passed, and my eye for this stuff was keener, I was challenged on it. I was asked if I ever speak up when I see racism right in front of me. I confessed I did not. I was asked to think about why that was, and to consider speaking. After Michael Brown’s death, in August, I began to call out racism and privilege in one of my FB groups, where I know very few people personally. It was completely exhausting, but didn’t hurt me actively, because engaging with strangers is emotionally low risk, and I’m protected, emotionally, in any race discussion by my own whiteness. That group was undergoing a major shift, because his death brought out a lot of embedded racism in its white members. I wasn’t ready to take on anyone I knew personally, but I did work on my engagement skills. I worked on my arguments. I worked on seeing a conflict through until the other person started to get it, or quit, or I was blocked. I wouldn’t chase them, but I would respond to them until we got to one of those stopping points.
My eyes were really open, now. Seeing racism is one thing, fighting it is something else entirely. It’s taxing in a way that is difficult to describe. The repetition. The pleas for people to stay on topic. It’s incredible. I learned so much. I’m still learning.
Which brings us to this week. The lack of indictment of Darren Wilson brought out a fresh wave of privilege, aggressions big and small, and racist and supremacist postings from people I know. This time, I’m ready. This time, I have some skills. This time, I won’t be a bystander. I’ve been told that one upsetting aspect of events like this for people of color (beyond the obvious rage and grief) is troubling silence from white people. What does it mean if we don’t speak, now? It’s essentially the same as when any upsetting event happens in front of us: if we fail to object to it, we are tacitly approving of it. I don’t approve. It’s not okay.
After just one short week of involving myself in discussion with my friends, I found myself really disoriented, troubled, exhausted, and heartsick. I clearly can’t go at it all day every day. This is my truth, and I’m troubled by it, as well. What I can do, and this is the other point of this post/essay, is have a plan.
Friends, starting today I will be running a project out of my page that I’m calling Wake Up Wednesday. I’ll post about an aspect of anti-racism in depth, and moderate whatever discussion comes out of it. This project’s goal is unplugging other white people from The Matrix. My allyship is very important to me, and though I will be “leading” this project, I will be making room for and taking lessons and corrections from anyone who knows more about these things than I do, especially any people of color who care to participate in any of these discussions. Being a white woman focusing on unpacking/unplugging other white people, I’m aware that I’m taking up space in the anti-racism movement in a way that might be tricky and problematic, and I’m saying here and now that I’m committed to evolving the project in awareness and solidarity, and with the mind of a student.
The rest of the week, while I will share social justice truth bombs that I find helpful, I will mostly be the friend and mother you’re familiar with. Sharing my life and new motherhood with you all in a way that feels connected and meaningful to me.
So! That’s what’s going on. My first Wake Up Wednesday post will be going up later today, as my 1 year old son allows. 🙂 Thanks for reading. Edited for typos. UPDATE: it’s up now! #WakeUpWednesday
I’m going to collect these articles here. Thanks for reading!