Often fellow white people ask me for advice on how to approach conversations about racism, supremacy, diversity, etc. or they want advice as to how they can make their organization, film, Instagram post, event, or flyer more inclusive. There is no simple answer, or straightforward solution.
Coming to consciousness is not an easy process. For me, it felt like a sudden jerk when Trump was elected and all of this literature from Black women flooded my google searches about how white women were the biggest threat to social justice. It felt like the ground I was standing on was falling out after I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’, “Between the World and Me,” and I realized my entire upbringing and education was a complete lie. Because I was a feminist. Of course, I couldn’t be part of the problem. I was progressive. Coming to this realization that I hadn’t been doing enough to move the dial of social justice, or really anything for marginalized communities, put me in a tailspin of desperation to point a finger at anyone but myself, as well as to seek and absorb as much information as possible, so I couldn’t be the problem anymore. I had to be the wokest white so as to deflect blame and shame.
What I didn’t realize was that this process of coming to an awakening, and then seeking to wriggle out of the equation in this way, was the formula for being attached to the construct of Whiteness. The commitment to the construct of Whiteness is the phenomenon of having to ensure superiority, of having to deflect accountability and responsibility, of having to point the finger, of having to deny, deny, deny, and plead innocence. I was a “good” white person. I couldn’t be “bad” or part of the problem. My white fragility couldn’t shake this binary thinking of good/bad, which in and of itself is a mindset of deeply entrenched whiteness. I came to realize through the help of several women of color educators either in person or online, as well as rigorous, extended self-examination and self-study, that this attachment to binary thinking was keeping me from living a more connected, communal, and empathetic life. And on top of that I was impeding my ability to create co-liberation with the people I thought I was “helping” (re: white saviorism).
It is difficult and ongoing work to reject collusion with White supremacy at all costs, in all the myriad ways it shows up. Since there are so many ways we benefit from supremacy, and there are so many opportunities to slide back into our privilege, it can be challenging to consistently act in alignment with our values and with integrity. In the podcast called “Seeing White” created by John Biewan and Chenjarai Kumanyika, at one point Chenjarai asks John, “How attached are you to the idea of being white?” This led me to ask myself that question. I was perplexed for days. It put me in a tail spin of thinking in circles about my identity and how I have come to think of and about myself. It is in this question where the heart of the work lies. It is the start of our digging that never stops.
Healing from internalized whiteness requires support from fellow white folks who are also committing themselves to create a better world and reality for everyone. We need each other to hold ourselves accountable so that we can stop denying what must come to the surface. We need to hold space for acceptance as to where we are at, as well as compassion for each other on our individual journeys. Because I am on this journey as well, my goal is to offer fellow white people what I have learned. I want to help others on their journey towards detaching from the construct of whiteness, which will help all of us lead more fulfilling lives. By detaching from whiteness we grow our capacity to be in community with each other and everyone around us.
I believe working towards detaching from whiteness can lead to better work environments, relationships, and better organizing. We cannot heal the world without healing ourselves.
Erin Monahan is the founder of Terra Incognita Media. She’s a writer, facilitator, and rock climber based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing focuses on detaching from the commitment to the construct of Whiteness. You can follow her on Instagram @erin.k.monahan