#MeAndWhiteSupremacy is not a hashtag I made up. It is a reference to Layla Saad’s 28 day challenge, Me and White Supremacy. Each day she has given a different prompt for white folks to do some deep thinking and digging about and then share our responses. I started the work late but am going to complete the 28 days anyway, and I thought I’d share some of that here.
First of all, follow Layla on instagram: @wildmysticwoman and follow the hashtag #meandwhitesupremacy. She also has PayPal and Patreon. She created this challenge for free and she should be paid for it.
I am on day 6 of the challenge, but I want to share prompt 5, which is:
What Have You Learnt About You and White Superiority?
Here is my response:
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to dig deep but still somehow present myself (and see myself) as one of the “good ones.” I’ve read other people’s comments on this prompt (which is part of the challenge, and you can find them on Instagram), and several people have mentioned this. It’s bullshit of course, because if presenting myself in a certain way is my goal I’ve already failed at being honest.
So fuck it. I’m terrified and I don’t want to share the answer to this but I know I have to and accept the evil I’ve participated in. Deep breath.
I was a grammar snob for many years. I have only recently realized this was a part of my internalized white superiority. I started my career as an educator at a facility for teens on probation while living in Los Angeles. The thing that is breaking my heart in half right now is that I tried to correct the way many of my students spoke, especially black students. And I didn’t even consider that I was being cruel. I thought I was being helpful. I thought I could point them in a “better” direction, and I now see that the better direction was just a whiter direction.
I loved those kids, yet was somehow convinced that my perspective was better than theirs–more educated, more “right,” which means it doesn’t fucking matter whether I loved them, I was doing harm. People use love as an excuse to hurt people every day. “But I love you.” No. Fuck you. If you’re doing harm you’re doing harm. And I was.
At one point I started learning about AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and was reading an article about how it is (of course) a valid way of speaking that people did not need to be trained out of. I remember having a conversation with my cousin in which I tried to make the argument that it is bigoted of us to try to make people speak whatever our definition of “proper English” is. My cousin just scoffed and shut me down. I felt stupid. He said we would be doing students a disservice by not “fixing” the way they speak. We’d be doing them a disservice by allowing them to speak in a way that was wrong. And this is not about my cousin, this is about me and how I just stopped trying to argue. I gave up immediately. I let him convince me that he was right. Know why? Because he’s WHITE. Because he was educated at some elite school. And because it was easier for me.
That was a long time ago but it weighs on me. I wish I could find every one of my early students and hug them and tell them they’re perfect and apologize for the harm I did. But I can’t, and even if I could I can’t undo the damage I’ve done, which makes me feel physically sick. I was just another person telling them that they were wrong and they needed to be more like white people. How has hearing that message over and over affected those people? Those beautiful human beings? They deserved so much better.
I was teaching until a few years ago, and part of the reason I left was because I wasn’t completely sure I wasn’t still doing harm due to my unconscious belief in white superiority, my belief that whiteness was better than. But then I think, maybe it was a cop out to leave. Maybe that was my ultimate white fragility. After all, what am I leaving them with? Most of their teachers are white and most white people are not willing to do this work (ALL TEACHERS, ESPECIALLY WHITE TEACHERS, SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO DO THIS ON AN ONGOING BASIS).
So who am I serving? Have I ever served my BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students or have I just been contributing to white supremacy all along?
These words are painful to write. I am terrified that anyone reading this will think I am an evil person, but I have to let go of that terror if I actually give a shit about dismantling white supremacy and being an actual ally/accomplice. This is not about my feelings, and that doesn’t mean my feelings don’t matter, it means the feelings that come up for me cannot be used as an excuse to stop. And when I find myself wanting to look like one of the “good ones” it means I need to dig deeper. Stop. Sit in my discomfort.
If any white people are reading this, I am begging you to join me in this work. I’m on my knees here. I am only one person, but if we were all outraged enough about how BIPOC are treated in this world to DO SOMETHING about it, we could actually have an impact on the world we live in. I’m pleading with you: Get out of your fucking comfort zone. I will support you. Because the thing is, this is not optional. If we want to actually change the path of violence our European ancestors began by COMMITTING FUCKING GENOCIDE and then BUYING AND SELLING HUMAN BEINGS, we have to start here. And “here” is looking inward. Here is looking at the ways we have been and are complicit. We all are. It’s not a matter of being a good person or a bad person. It’s a matter of truth, and the truth is that BIPOC are dying because white people continue to stay silent.
Nia Wilson was murdered a few short days ago. She was 18 years old. She was with her sister, who held her as she died. She was killed by a white supremacist whose name I will not speak. The pain her family is feeling is unimaginable. It makes my heart hurt and my empathic feelings don’t mean shit. If you are a person who is thinking, “Wow, that is horrible. So sad.” but you also think of it as an isolated incident, I’m going to ask you to stop. STOP. It was not an isolated incident. Nia Wilson was another black woman killed by our system of white supremacy.
I’m speaking the fuck up. I’m digging deep within myself and it’s painful. But I am a white person in a white supremacist society and this shit is necessary. I need other people to join me. Please join me.
*The image used here is a photo of a beautiful piece of embroidery I bought from Oh My Golly Embroidery, and you can find her work here: Oh My Golly Embroidery