How I started my journey of Detaching from Whiteness
My name is Erin Monahan, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I started facilitating two years ago, and chose to organize groups specifically focused on detaching from whiteness since the summer of 2018. I am coming up on my second session of “Detaching from Whiteness.” The first series was meaningful and powerful for everyone involved. I definitely learned a lot myself.
Before I began the process of detaching from whiteness I was stuck in white feminism. In undergrad, I took feminist theory courses, and I thought that I had systems of oppression all figured out. After graduating, and well into my twenties, my feminism still did not address intersectionality. When Trump got elected I started reading articles authored by Black womxn like Kimberly N. Foster, Margaret Jacobsen, and Kat Blaque, just to name a few, stating that Trump being elected was not a shock. I realized I had some serious and deep blind spots. I started absorbing books by womxn of color, like bell hooks and Angela Davis. I read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Then I really thought I knew everything, and I thought it was my job to wake other white people up.
I would wag my finger at other white people and tell them what they were doing wrong. I was deflecting because I didn’t want anyone to look at me and say, “well, what are you really doing to stop racism and oppression?” I was acting this way out of white fragility. I didn’t stop to look at myself, or question my own thinking and behavior. This is a common reaction from white people who are coming to consciousness, but it doesn’t excuse the harm I caused throughout this process.
I was all of a sudden in a rage, and I couldn’t see that my rage was late. It was delayed. Being white meant that I grew up without having to actively consider race, but passively I definitely did. We all grow up with knowledge of race and racism, and all white people grow up to be racist, but the difference is that white people don’t have to confront it at all because we benefit from white supremacy. Growing up in a liberal family I was taught colorblindness. I didn’t have to stress or worry about racial justice growing up except to the extent of saying “racism is a horrible thing,” never being accountable for my own racist complicity.
What took me out of that phase of being a finger-wagging, self-serving white person was meeting an equity and inclusion consultant named Kenya Budd in Portland, Oregon. She guided me through my process of digging at my internalized whiteness and worked with me through the process of excavating aspects of myself and looking from every angle at my commitment to whiteness. She got me asking myself the perpetual questions: “What does being white mean to me? How committed am I to being white?” And all along I have been going to workshops, facilitator trainings, anti-oppression trainings and working to become better at holding space for uncomfortable conversations.
As a white woman I recognize the complexity and problems that can arise when facilitating these conversations for a group of white people. Historically, white people don’t have a great track record for organizing on their own. At the same time, I think as white people who benefit from and uphold white supremacy, it is our responsibility to bear the weight of dismantling it. I am constantly grappling with all of this, and I think that it is possible to hold all of these truths. Through this work, I have gained deeper empathy, connection, and compassion. I want to share with others how this work has empowered me to show up and be accountable.
In order to co-create a more equitable, safer world for BIPOC we as white people need to know how to cause less harm. By working to detach from the construct of whiteness we can show up in wholeness and authenticity, and with compassion and empathy, for ourselves and each other.
In the live stream below I discuss my ongoing process of detaching from the construct of whiteness. I share how I came to realize my collusion and complicity in white supremacy because transparency and honesty is how we begin to dismantle it.