Getting Free From White Supremacy and Racism in My Personal Lifescape

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness. ~ Michael Harriot’s grandmother

James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro In this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” And goddam am I in a rage today! Not unlike the rage of the last 4 years under a genocidal, pathological liar, racist, white supremacist, forever impeached piece of shit POTUS. For years, I have been asking, begging, pleading with my family and closest longest time friends to become better educated. I’ve written blog posts, I’ve made Facebook statuses, I’ve interrupted their racist tendencies when I come across them on Facebook. I’ve deleted some folks when it is clear they do not wish to learn and are quite comfortable with their racist behavior and are quite content with their white supremacist systems. It’s sad. It’s regrettable (they’re behavior that is). But most of all, it’s infuriating. *For clarity, I am a biracial Black woman raised by a white family, in predominantly white spaces, who attended predominantly white schools, and I have never known my Black family.

In past blog posts, I have chronicled some of the shit I’ve heard from these white family members: being used as a prop to assure others they are not racist when being called out for voting for a racist piece of shit for president (my sister-in-law), the constant re-positioning me as outside of my biological white family (my pastor cousin of my mom’s generation), explaining to me that something they said or a friend of theirs said isn’t racism (my other sister in law and a few of my cousins) – as the only Black person in the room, I’m wrong, the backhanded compliments, the objectification and exoticization, etc. To this list I’ll add, telling me or my multiracial kids that we shouldn’t fear police, that our rage is not justified, that we should all come together in some kumbaya type of lovefest, that we shouldn’t be so angry, and the tone policing.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

I’m not even going in on all the ways in which their racism has been on display during my life: discussing how people from different cultural groups smell bad, using pejorative language to describe people of different races, using racist phrases – like who hasn’t heard the racist version of “Jerry rigged”. I mean, this shit isn’t coded, it’s blatant and it’s clear. It always was. In the past I’ve piped up and said something – to no avail, ignored the racism, or glossed over these things. And while I know there are so many valid reasons I didn’t call them out as vociferously as I do now, by not calling this out, I allowed it to live and fester. I allowed them all to believe they were just fine with their racism and so was I. I don’t know why I’ve kept these people in my life. They’re family. I’ve felt some responsibility, some affinity, some desire to have a family. I don’t really know. But, the bottom line is that I once (and for too long) participated in my own oppression and the oppression of others and I am not willing to do that anymore.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

Now the truth about any abusive relationship is that when the person being abused parts way with their abuser, the abuser is usually angry and lashes out. For women leaving an abusive relationship, research demonstrates this is the time she’s in the most danger. Having left my own abusive partner (the father of my daughter), I survived the next 13 years of his verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse through texts, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations. It was at its worst immediately following our split and was really bad the first 5-7 years and then tapered off as my kid grew older. The main way I was able to survive that was by learning some skills through Al-Anon and eventually, I moved to a place of indifference. I’m moving toward indifference with my white racist family members. I’m already there with most of them. And as I draw my boundaries, they are testing me.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

My kids rarely weigh in on racial things on social media. In fact, my daughter posts so infrequently to Facebook, that when she does, I’m shocked and have to see. Also, not going to lie, when she posts something that I know is going to set off her racist family (or mine), I pop over and leave an innocuous comment so that I’ll be alerted when the stupid starts. She might post once a month, on average. Sometimes she doesn’t post for months at a time. So when this popped up, I knew I had to do my innocuous comment stuff just to moderate the bullshit I was sure would ensue – the white rage, the white tears, the whitesplaining, the white fragility hemorrhaging on her wall. Turns out, I didn’t have to wait long until one of my sister’s in law commented.

My daughter’s post

And then my sister in law weighed in. I’m only going to say this once, I’m pretty confident she was intending no harm and was not considering the weight or the context of her words, given the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the Central Park Polly code-lynching Christian Cooper, and the thousands of men and women murdered at the hands of cops or white terrorists (which is sometimes one of the same). So I weighed her words and read them several times before I responded. She said, “So, let’s lump all police officers into a group of racist murderers. That’s not stereotyping at all. How about we just call the guy an evil murderer and not blame every police officer in the world for the few bad ones. This is sad.” Queue the whitesplaining. Whitesplaining is when a white person explains matters of race and racism to a person of color.

This is not the first time one of my white sister’s in law have gone out of their way to jump over to my daughter’s page to school her about how race and racism really work. Never mind that she was a teen or is a younger adult, never mind that neither of these two women engage my outspokenness about matters of race, racism, or white supremacy on my Facebook. Which is exactly how white supremacy works – prey on people thought to be weaker, convince people of color that the racism they see isn’t really racism or isn’t really as bad as what they think they see. White supremacy is the original bully pulpit of this country. It’s a bludgeoning tool and we’re all supposed to bow down and cower at the might of white supremacy. Except, like any bully, once called out, the veneer begins to crack and peel because it is grounded on falsehoods and stands on sifting sands.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

The original commenting sister in law is also the sister in law, who after my fiery blog post following the 2016 atrocity of an election where the brazenly and openly white supremacist, racist, wholly incompetent, morally repugnant, fully unfit, and forever impeached POS POTUS was elected, she posted that she couldn’t be racist because she has Black family and friends. Straight out of the racist handbook of white people across this nation. Now, maybe these two things aren’t related. It’s highly likely she was not responding to me. But she was responding to somebody who had called her out or called out racism and something in that made her uncomfortable enough that she felt compelled to announce to all of her Facebook that she isn’t racist, cuz Black family. For me, it isn’t hard to see who she’s talking about because I’m the only Black person in my immediate family and for much of my extended family. She is an in-law, so perhaps she does have Black family members that aren’t me. Regardless, white people calling upon their Black relatives and friends to absolve them of their racist thoughts, behaviors, and practice is 1) using their relative or friend as a Black prop, a token, an object. It also, 2) is a sort of claiming of ownership – this is my Black person who knows I’m not racist. And 3) it’s racist as fuck. Full stop.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

So, I went in as gently and firmly as I could. I kept my tone civil and that she believes this tone to be uncivil just speaks volumes as to the level of white supremacy in which she is awash.

My response, part 3

But the conversation didn’t stop there. I outlined why what she was saying is problematic. I gently and firmly pointed out she has work to do, even offering one way she could work to change the systems of oppression so that people, all people, could maybe become more comfortable with policing. I gave her the lowest bar. And she is disinterested in actual change, she’d just rather people didn’t hate on all cops because a few of them are problematic. Never mind that police abuse of power is a nationwide pattern of policing that disproportionately murders Black and brown people and is gatekeeper to mass incarceration where, again Black and brown bodies are significantly disproportionately represented. And of course she replied. Because why wouldn’t she? The white woman can’t be bothered to agitate for racial equity, is not bothered by the pattern of police abuses levied on Black and brown bodies, and would like us Black folk to get back to pretending all is a-okay in Amerikkka. Tone policing is much easier than actual allyship, even when the person impacted is a family member I guess.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

She continued, “I agree the cops are all responsible for his death. I have to disagree with the rest. Hate incites hate no matter the narrative. It is no different if you hate minorities, cops, whites, males, women, etc. this is a heart issue.//Also, trying to make me feel stupid by using your shark analogy wasn’t necessary.//I have lived in ______ and currently live in ______. Have been terribly treated in both places because I am white. You may not believe it, but my whole family has experienced it. At this point, I believe it’s best to agree to disagree. I do love you.”

There is literally so much in there to unpack. Whether people of color can actually be racist (the short answer is no because POC literally lack the power to enact racism – prejudice + power = racism), asking that cops are held accountable and that desire being viewed as hate toward police (a long history of white supremacy embedded in this twisting of reality), whether a white person being a minority in a minority-majority space is experiencing racism (they aren’t, they are just not used to – and thereby uncomfortable with – being decentered and sure, they may experience prejudice but that is not racism and this is pretty common white supremacy thinking), and the analogy I gave her was me trying to make her feel stupid rather than illuminating my reasoning. She didn’t like the analogy. Oh well.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

I responded, because of course I did. She is a family member. I’ve known her since I think freshman year of high school.

To which her response was, “I’ll forgo your resources and end this now since you have no interest in a civil conversation. I never assumed anything, so please don’t imply I did. Racism is racism. I think it’s unacceptable no matter who or what race it’s directed at. Hate is hate is hate.//Have a wonderful evening.” The purposeful misinterpretation of my tone from one that is actually quite tempered, given her need to admonish my daughter and brush off of knowledge is many things and is a typical rhetorical move of white supremacy.

First, race, racism, anti-racism are an area of expertise for me. I have studied how these things work for over a decade, and lived in this body for 50 years. While I’m certain my SIL did not intend for her blow off to be read this way, this is very much grounded in white supremacy. White people have made themselves the purveyors of knowledge and have worked to suppress the knowledge of people of color, often and historically violently. People of color are often ignored across industry, not taken seriously, white people too often assume a person of color is the help instead of the attorney, doctor, professor, expert. And in that thinking, blowing off people of color for their expert knowledge is commonplace. The recent kerfuffle between a bunch of white historians working to undermine the good work of Nikole Hannah Jones and her contributors on the 1619 project is but one example. And it’s truly abominable behavior. I give people a lot of grace and because my family is not close, it’s possible my SIL does not know this is an area of expertise for me. Regardless, it definitely communicates she doesn’t believe she has anything else to learn on the subject and she is definitely not interested in resources from me, specifically.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

Then my racist cousin chimes in days later to more fully illustrate that I should identify with my abusers, oh god! Why am I not more like Patty Hearst? Damn me!!!! And I’m denying my white side.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

My family loves me! Oh good! I’m so glad to know this. However, what use do I have for a love born of white supremacy? Or racism? Is it not enough that I’ve lived this, internalized the white supremacist messaging I’ve received either explicitly or implicitly? Is it not enough that I learned to make myself small and invisible because of these lessons? Love is not this. Love is not, hey let me abuse and ignore you until I’ve had my fill. Love isn’t a blank check and it’s rarely unconditional, even between parent and child, it’s just the closest relationship that approximates unconditional love.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

So again, I go in as gently and firmly as I can. And mind you, this country is mourning the deaths of so many Black people murdered by police and lynched by white terrorists most recently, and the long history of the extrajudicial murders of Black people dating back to 1619 and all the forms of inequality over the centuries and decades since the arrival of the first slave ship. The world is under pandemic, we’re all getting a little nutty. Suffice it to say, my cousin reads my suspicion and distrust of white people as hate. What a convenient cognitive space to occupy. Abusers abuse people and when the person being abused says no more and I don’t trust you, it is read as the abused person hating their abuser. That’s not the way it works. Hate may come but generally, and I speak from personal experience, it was hard as hell for me to stop loving my ex-husband. It took a long time for me to get there even as I clearly saw his abuse in hindsight (not so much while I was trying to survive it, I didn’t have time or space to think and denial was strong). And still, I don’t hate him. I wish him well and hope he’s happy, healthy, and whole. I have a ton of resentment that will likely never fully disappear but I do not hate him. I never did. I voiced it, gave it air. But in the end, my hate was fear. Once I no longer feared the damage he could do to our child, I moved to indifference, and the hate I thought I had, was gone.

Further, that belief system is fully embedded in white supremacy. It is the fear of supremacists that if Black people got the right to vote, they’d upend everything and enslave white people. Yeah, it’s stupid. Yet, this is a belief given by many a white supremacist. Expressions of disagreement, holding our institutions accountable to the aspirational promises of our Constitution, claiming and exercising our civil rights is viewed by those for whom white supremacy works so well as a threat, an act of violence against white people. It’s hypocritical and profane.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

And I particularly love when white people explain my own experience and understanding about living in my own skin to me. And oh, the stories I could tell about how well I was treated by some family members, this one in particular but I’ll save it because it’s off topic. Let’s just say, I find her white tears ironic, absurd, and a strange ploy. Has she forgotten my teen years and all the various introductions she made for me? However, it does become clear to me that she has not done any reflective work about things she’s done that have negatively impacted the lives of those around her and I’ll leave it at that. And of course she responded.

White people, by and large, cannot handle hearing that you do not feel safe around them or do not trust them. This is white fragility. An appeal to emotion because feelings are hurt that they could be seen this way. And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a twist of anger. Whiteness demands fealty. In white supremacy whiteness is innocent and pure. It is unquestionable and honorable. The main thought of white supremacy is that white is the norm to which all others strive. And when that isn’t the case, it throws everything out of whack. To distrust white people because they are white, regardless of how the 401 years of history for which we have receipts, goes against the social order and all the brainwashing we were supposed to digest. When that order is questioned, the water works begin.

Now I am sure my family members really think they love me and that they have demonstrated this. And I’m certain they did not interpret their words or behavior in these ways. I share these things, not to malign them but to demonstrate how common place and insidious white supremacy is and what these behaviors communicate to the people of color in white people’s lives. I will also say that I have definitely shared care and concern with all of my people but I am definitely identifying, calling out, and better interpreting white supremacy more now which has me questioning my entire relationships with people. And I’m realizing, like I mentioned in a previous blog, that I don’t feel safe around these people and many others, haven’t for a long time, and likely should never have.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

So, now that I am seeing more clearly and thinking about the ways in which shit in my own family could have gone differently, I’d like to give some suggestions for folks about how things can be better in multicultural families.

For people who have a person of color in their family, find themselves raising multiracial kids, or have adopted a child of a different race and/or cultural background, consider some things. This list is not all inclusive. These are merely starting points. It is up to the people in the child or family member’s life to do the work and this is a lifelong journey.

  • Unlearn. The number one most important thing anyone can do is learn. And the first thing you need to do is unlearn white supremacy. Some places to begin that work might begin with Tim Wise’s book – White Like Me, Carol Anderson’s book – White Rage, Ijeoma Oluo’s book – So You Want to Talk About Race, and Ibram X. Kendi’s book – How to be an Antiracist. And for white people, I’d recommend going in this order.
  • Learn. Learn all you can about the person’s racial heritage, learn about this group in relation to citizenship in this country. Learn about how people from that background came to this country. Learn about the myriad ways in which they have been and are now being oppressed. Read books written by white people about this group for other white people, read books written by people of color about their own group for white people, and read books written by people of color for people of color. (Taken from a Tweet from Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race). Do the same with documentaries and popular movies. Listen to music made by people of that group, listen to the lyrics. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read memoir and young adult. Or here is a great list that is organized for people at different places along their journey to understanding race, racism, and anti-racism.
  • Battle. You have to unlearn a lifetime of white supremacist lessons and learn as much as you can about race and racism so that you know how to be an advocate for your child in every system they will interact with and every ignorant family member who claims they love your child or family member. Because you will need to be prepared to wage fucking war for your child, particularly if you live in a white dominant space. This is non-negotiable. Be a fierce advocate for your child because this country will chew them up and spit them out. They need you as their safe haven and their champion.
  • The talk. Have the talk with your child of color. You know the one, it’s the one Black parents have to have with their children so that they will survive encounters with the police, so that they know how to behave, how to quell their terror, how to not make sudden movements.
  • Community. Find a community of people from your child’s background and make sure your child has connection to their cultural roots. Participate in holidays and traditions. Learn the language and customs. Practice them in your home. Cook some of the foods, working them into your usual rotation of foods. Visit restaurants. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding community for your child to be immersed within.
  • Resources. Have a resource rich home that incorporates your loved one’s cultural heritage. There should be things like folktales, music, history, maps, books, decor, etc that speak to the child’s heritage in the home.
  • Follow. Follow the lead of people of color and follow people of color and news sources and organizations created by and for people of color on social media. If you don’t know who to follow, ask someone who they follow. For news sources created by people of color for people of color, consider Electronic Intifada, Color of Change, The Root. For organizations, follow Council on American-Islamic Relations, Black Lives Matter, The Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Credible. And don’t forget the information literacy. Learn how to evaluate information sources and be sure to evaluate what information you’re consuming because there is a lot of disinformation out there on the interwebs and so much white supremacy that is only interested in maintaining oppression.
  • Vote. Consider every vote from school board to the president and how your votes support white supremacy. Right now it’s really easy to see. The Republican Party is the the new nationalist party. Also vote with your money. Support corporations that take a firm stand on all forms of oppression, support businesses run by people of color, support causes and organizations supporting the people of your child’s culture. Do not support candidates or businesses that dehumanize or demonize people of color. Support those candidates and businesses that are pushing for full inclusion for all people, specifically for people of color.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

If you’re working to get free from your oppressors, I don’t know that I have a ton of advice beyond you have to love yourself more than you love those who harm you. I did a lot of internal work by working real hard to change the records I play in my head. You know the ones, those that keep us paralyzed, make us believe the worst in ourselves. I started a campaign to talk to myself better. I wouldn’t let anybody talk about a friend the ways I used to talk to myself. I intentionally set to work to change that. It is not something that happened overnight, it took a long time and intentional practice. When that harmful self-talk would start, I’d remind myself that I did not deserve to be spoken to that way and I’d find something I did appreciate about myself. It was so hard at first and I didn’t catch all the harmful things I said to myself, but with my intentionality, commitment to myself, and constant practice, my harmful thoughts became quieter and less frequent and eventually, I didn’t need to remind myself anymore. And something magical happened because of this practice. I started realizing and finally believing that I have value, that I am worthy of love and kindness and respect, that I have contributions to make to this country and world. It has boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence in ways I couldn’t have imagined for myself 15-20 years ago. To be sure, it has been a long road and I am far from finished. Occasionally an old record will play and sometimes I’ll play with it, wondering how I could have ever imagined myself small, meek, quiet, invisible. Well, no more.

I had to learn to love and value myself more. I deserve better.

A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.

I am so thankful to Michael Harriot for sharing his grandma’s wisdom with us. I’ve been meditating on her words since I read them in March and I am letting the full weight of them sink in. I’ve been puzzling over these things and trying to reconcile my feelings, connections, and full well-being in relation to my family and friends. Her words gave me a framework for understanding that I have never had. I don’t hate my family. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. But that burden is worth my full emancipation. In fact, it is necessary for it. I hope for their own well-being that they begin to explore how white supremacy has impacted their lives, how it is toxic to the body politic, and their roles in sustaining or resisting that. But like dealing with any abusive relationship, I have to step away to allow myself full healing and a fuller freedom.

For the Michael Harriot’s full Twitter thread –

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