What ‘Me and White Supremacy’ taught me about racism and anti-racism.
White supremacy brings to mind images of the Ku KLUX Klan. I am not a member of the KKK. I am not racist. Then I read Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. And I had to ask myself if I AM part of the problem, part of white supremacy.
I might not be racist. Am I anti-racist?
Me and White Supremacy forced me to explore my relationship with Layla Saad’s definition of white supremacy — a relationship I didn’t know existed — and it left me feeling hopeless, that I couldn’t win:
White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection, and power — Layla Saad
I was born white. I have never considered I was born into a white supremacist system. I have never considered that I have unearned privileges, protection, and power. So perhaps the author is correct when she says:-
It is a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection, and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. — Layla Saad
Because this is a system designed to keep me and others like me asleep, clearly, the goal is for this book to wake me up, convince me to take action, stop sleeping, to be anti-racist.
A Journal Prompt a Day
The author attempts to wake the reader up by structuring the book in a workbook fashion, with each chapter a new day. A new journal prompt covers another topic. When you realize this book started life as an Instagram challenge, the format makes sense.
This book, like the challenge, is about putting the work in. That’s okay. I don’t want to stay asleep any longer. I want to do the work. I might consider I don’t see colour, that I’m a good ally — but that isn’t enough. We can all improve.
And we can all discover that, in fact, what we think makes us a good ally might be wrong.
Tone Policing and Getting It Wrong
The book really opened my eyes from the point it began talking about tone policing. The chapter on tone policing came the day after I fear I may have inadvertently committed that sin.
I was chairing a meeting where a POC was challenging another member of the committee. While I initially allowed the discussion to take place, I eventually had to shut it down. The discussion was getting out of hand, and I felt that the comments and accusations were unwarranted and seemed aggressive. Reading about tone policing the next day, I had to question if I had, in fact, committed this sin.
The author also made me think about the fact that I live in fear of getting things wrong. That apparently is part of my white fragility. I don’t want to be called out for getting it wrong — even if I know my intentions are good.
I can’t disagree with that statement. When people were posting on social media about Black Lives Matter, I kept quiet because I didn’t want to get it wrong. And I’m not the biggest fan of social media and controversy. I don’t want to fall victim to keyboard warriors.
Does My Voice Matter?
But I also had the feeling that my voice didn’t matter. What can I add to a movement that I don’t understand enough about? I have to consider the volume of my inaction and silence. I have to learn to see something, say something. In the past, I have only challenged people I am comfortable with. In fact, the only person I have challenged is my dad when he made what I regarded as racist comments when I was a child. I need to challenge others.
This book changed me, but I’m not sure if it changed me for the better. Instead, I feel confused. I feel I am wrong for being born white — yet I didn’t choose this life, this body, this skin colour.
I feel I can’t win. If I do nothing, I may be regarded as falling within the white supremacy camp. If I do too much, try to help, I am a white saviour. When I finished the book, I felt I had to apologize for being white.
Am I Being Gaslighted?
According to the author, it doesn’t matter if every interaction you can think of that you’ve had with a POC has been positive, friendly, respectful. It doesn’t matter if you think that every interaction you’ve had with a POC has involved you treating them like you’d treat anybody else. The author tells you you still harbour deep-seated prejudices about POC being violent, lazy, ignorant. Even if you don’t think you do. She understands inside your head better than you do. For me, this book is textbook gaslighting-all presented unironically.
If I try, I’m doing it wrong. If I don’t try, I’m doing it wrong. I can’t act as if racism doesn’t exist, nor can I talk too much about how it exists.
This book is an uncomfortable read that left me feeling confused about what I need to do to help. But it left me feeling determined to do more.
Be the Solution, Not the Problem
I think as a society, we all have to be part of the solution. Unfortunately, this book left me feeling like I can never be part of the solution because I was born white, and because of the skin I was born into, I will always be wrong when it comes to anti-racism.
This book and its prompts forced me to examine my imperfections. But I also know that I have some good points, yet this book focused on the imperfections only and criticized white people for doing nothing — and for doing too much. It was a contradiction.
What I think the book was trying to say was don’t stay silent. Take some action. I agree with that sentiment — and I think that thought can apply to other types of discrimination.
Ultimately, books make us think, not tell us how to think. This book succeeded in that goal. It made me think, even if it left my head spinning and made me anxious about whether I am unconsciously part of the problem.
For me, the answer isn’t to tell me I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. The correct answer to me is to see everyone in every race as individuals.
Words by C. Kelly
Originally published on Medium.com