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Engaging In A Race Literacy Journey As A White Woman – Things I’ve Had To Confront To Be Anti-Racist

Written by: Alyssa Johnson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

One of the greatest and most devastating problems in this world is White supremacy. In the United States, supremacy affects everyone regardless of skin color. As a White woman, I’ve received messages since birth that I am superior to people of Color simply because I’m White. In 2015, I began my race literacy journey and have had to reconcile some very painful truths about myself. Below are some of the things I’ve learned about myself as I’ve explored my internalized racism in order to take anti-racist actions.

protestors holding signage regarding white silence is violence

Exposure to Race Literacy


My first exposure to race literacy work was in 2015 during a training about racism in the child welfare system. I had a very stereotypical White woman response: I froze, I teared up, I couldn’t talk about race, I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about race. I didn’t want to talk about race. I held myself out as a “good White woman” who wasn’t racist and wouldn’t hurt people of Color.


My desire to learn more about the child welfare system was stronger than my desire to quit my race literacy work, however, so I kept at it.


And uncovered a lot about my racism in the process.


What is a Race Literacy Journey?


A race literacy journey is a journey of healing race-based trauma. As I’ve learned in my studies, we all hold race-based trauma, but how we hold it in the body depends on skin color. White people hold it as supremacy.


Gender also influences how we hold race-based trauma in our bodies and the feelings that are most present as we begin a race literacy journey. For White men, anger tends to be the forefront emotion. For White women, guilt and shame tend to be the most prevalent feelings. Other feelings exist and they show up as we continue working through our race-based trauma, but anger, guilt, and shame tend to be the feelings that present themselves initially.


Because we’re dealing with trauma as we engage in a race literacy journey, it’s imperative that we go slow and we continually check in with our bodies and feelings to see how they’re processing the information we’re learning. What many White people tend to do is intellectualize racism, which is a defense mechanism. Looking at racism as an intellectual exercise prevents deeper healing from occurring because we’re disconnected from the body and emotions. It also minimizes and often invalidates the experiences of people of Color because racism is a body, feeling, and mind experience for them. The effects of racism on people of Color are extensive as noted by Tracey Lynn Pearson in her article Loving the Skin I’m In - Mindful Care for Persons of Color (January 17th).


As we engage in race literacy teachings, keeping the body and feelings incorporated into our experiences will help us process what we’re learning and heal our race-based trauma at a much deeper level.


The Race Literacy Journey as a White Woman


One of the earliest pieces I had to confront in my race literacy journey was the falseness of the “good White woman” trope. I wasn’t aware of how deeply I had attached my identity to the idea of being a good White woman until that belief was challenged as I worked through my internalized racism.


The idea of a good White woman was created by supremacy as a way to prevent White women from doing our inner work around our internalized racism. White women who are attached to the good White woman image generally believe ourselves to be kind and loving and incapable of hurting people of Color. We probably wouldn’t join supremacist organizations, we may hold liberal beliefs and support candidates of Color, we often love Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and we believe that we treat everyone equally.


The reality, however, is that we deeply hurt people of Color – especially women of Color – because we hide behind the illusion of being a good White woman and we avoid doing deeper inner work around racism. So our supposed anti-racist actions actually stem from supremacist teachings rather than what people of Color share that they need.


The good White woman trope is an ego construct. The ego “create[s] a set of beliefs, patterns, and ideas, that most people label ‘personality.’ Your ego is very defensive about your identity” and generally rejects any messaging that is inconsistent with these beliefs, patterns, or ideas. (The Holistic Psychologist, How to Do Ego Work, May 17th, 2019).


But to grow we need to challenge our ego and our beliefs about ourselves. Constantly looking for information that validates our preconceived notions about ourselves prevents us from doing the deeper inner work to unearth beliefs, thoughts, and ideas that we’re holding inside.


There is no such thing as a good White woman when it comes to race work. Our internalized racism must be examined and addressed to truly move towards anti-racist actions.


When we don’t do our inner work around our internalized racism, it often plays out in the world as: 1) White women not listening to or validating the experiences of people of Color; 2) White women saying things to women of Color like “we’re women and we’re in this together” without understanding that the experiences of women of Color are vastly different than White women; 3) White women bashing the patriarchy without us examining and owning our role in upholding supremacy; and 4) White women not owning when we say or do things that are hurtful to people of Color, but rather breaking down into tears and shifting the blame onto people of Color for making us cry or feel bad about ourselves.


I’ve done all of the aforementioned behaviors and have deeply hurt people of Color in the process. Since the idea of being a good White woman was taught to me under supremacy, my actions flowed from supremacist messaging rather than race literacy messaging.


Truths I’ve Had to Reconcile About Myself to Become More Race Literate


As I did inner work around my good White woman ego construct, I realized that it was a total lie and a defense mechanism to avoid confronting painful Truths about myself.


Truth No. 1 Owning My Hurtful and Violent Actions Towards People of Color

One Truth I’ve had to reconcile with myself is that I have deeply hurt and been violent toward people of Color, especially women of Color. This has played out in a myriad of ways.


Specifically, I haven’t spoken up against racism thousands of times. I’ve looked the other way and stayed silent when the correct response was to speak up and challenge the racist comment or behavior.


I’ve also asserted my own needs over or at the expense of women of Color. And not only have I asserted my own needs over women of Color, but I’ve also expected and demanded that they meet my needs by providing me with emotional support or help with my work. This is directly related to enslavement.


I’ve failed to listen to women of Color and have ignored or minimized their experiences. I haven’t believed them when they’ve shared racist experiences in Life or experiences of police brutality. I’ve said things like, “that can’t possibly have happened.” Whatever they shared absolutely happened and perhaps multiple times, but because I experience Life very differently as a White woman, I haven’t had empathy or compassion for their experiences.


I’ve let people of Color be hurt so I can maintain my privilege. I like my privilege and have wanted to protect it so I’ve thrown people of Color under the bus to maintain what I’ve believed to be rightfully mine.


Lastly for this article, I haven’t owned my behavior. I’ve shifted the blame to people of Color when I’ve been called out for my racist comments or behaviors. I’ve said things like “you didn’t understand what I meant” or “you’re overreacting”. They absolutely understood what I meant and they didn’t overreact. I wasn’t looking at myself clearly or honestly and I couldn’t handle that I was being racist.


Truth No.2 I’m Racist

A second Truth I’ve had to accept is that I’m racist. This was a hard pill to swallow because supremacy taught me that racists are bad people. And that racist acts and behaviors are only done by supremacist organizations.


Both of those supremacist teachings are lies. The world isn’t divided up into an either/or equation where racist = bad person and not racist = good person. It’s an experience of bothness. I can be a good person and be racist. Which is what I am. I’m a wonderful person who has absorbed supremacist messaging since childhood.


Racism is also much wider in scope than supremacy taught me. Racism touches every part of our society. It's a core component of our country’s creation and it affects education, medical care, governmental structures, politics, jobs, housing, the criminal justice system, and so on. It’s pervasive and not limited to the actions of a supremacist organization.


Once I reconciled and addressed this incorrect information and the corresponding wounding within me, it became my job to speak out against racism and do my part to dismantle supremacy. I had a choice to make. Do I do my part in White allyship work or do I continue to stay silent and allow supremacy to hum along nicely while people of Color continue to be harmed?


Next Steps on the Race Literacy Journey


Addressing and healing race-based trauma takes time. As White people, we have a lot of humbling realizations and reckonings that need to occur to heal our race wounds. Ultimately, we have to realize that we are very hurtful toward people of Color.


But the healing can be done. We have to go slowly and keep our bodies and feelings engaged.


Once we’ve created some internal resiliency, the next step is to speak out against racism and do our part to block and prevent racist policies from being implemented in society. There is no shortage of ways to get involved in anti-racism work within the community. Allow your interests and passions to lead you to the organizations and causes where you want to get involved in anti-racism work. Although you will face massive resistance and opposition from White people who don’t want to do race literacy work, you will find allies and make friends in the most surprising of places.


Keep at it. It will take all of us who are willing to do the work to dismantle supremacy.


Follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Alyssa Johnson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alyssa Johnson, Esq., is a formerly practicing attorney who now works with lawyers and legal organizations on topics related to lawyer well-being. This includes emotional intelligence, stress management, menstrual cycle-syncing, and experiencing more joy and pleasure in Life. Additionally, Ms. Johnson is passionate about ending White supremacy within the legal profession and engages White lawyers in race literacy work.

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