Me and White Supremacy: “This is Truth Work”

Cover of Me and White Supremacy

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering the rest of Part I: Who is this work for?, What you will need to do this work, How to use this book, and Self-care, support, and sustainability.

There’s a lot to unpack before we even get to the work! But we’re almost there.

Layla gives a shout-out to trans and non-binary folks in her “Who is this work for?” section. In addition to white people of all genders, she also points out that the work is for white-passing people. But while people who can “pass” as white do derive some (conditional) benefits from white supremacy, and therefore need to work to dismantle it, things are more complicated.

It is also important to know that this work will bring up some challenging feelings around your internalized oppression against yourself and your marginalized identities and about how you have also been oppressed by a system that only benefits you to the extent that you are able to present or pass as white and be anti-Black.

[snip]

Do not use this work as a stick to beat yourself with, but rather use it to interrogate your complicity within a system of privilege that is only designed to benefit you to the extent that you can conform to the rules of whiteness.

So if you’re a part of that group, definitely get all of your self care plans prepped and ready.

Layla says we’ll need three things for this anti-racism work: our truth, our love, and our commitment. She says something critically important under truth I think that we all need to pause and take fully on board:

I cannot emphasize this enough: This work is not an intellectual exercise or a mental thought experiment. When we talk about racism, we are talking about people’s lives. This is not a personal growth book that is designed to make you feel good about yourself. It is likely that in doing this work consistently, you will find some level of personal healing. However, I want to make it very clear that this is not the purpose of this work. The purpose is the healing and restored dignity of BIPOC.

Let me assure you from personal experience with confronting internalized misogyny and the fact we live in a world that hates women: this isn’t going to feel great. In fact, it’s going to probably suck quite a lot. But it’s necessary. And it gets better, especially when you’re working to change things for the better.

Under love, Layla reminds us that

Pain and shame are neither desirable nor sustainable as long-term strategies for transformational change. It is my hope that love is what initially brought you to this work. It is my conviction that love is what will keep you going.

We’re going to need a lot of love to power through and change the world. Self-flagellation won’t help. We absolutely need to avoid wallowing in shame: not only does render us less effective, it diverts people’s efforts from fixing problems when they feel compelled to comfort us. Tell your shame and pain to pipe down and let love have the driver’s seat.

Add love to a healthy measure of old-fashioned stubborness, and we can do this thing.

How to use this book is a fairly straightforward section, with recommendations like keep a journal and go at your own pace. I just want to highlight what I see as some critical bits.

Don’t Generalize

When answering the prompts, do not generalize about white people broadly. Do not talk about white people as if you are not a white person or as if you do not benefit from white privilege. Remember this book is about your own personal experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, not those of other people.

The temptation will be strong to generalize and push things off onto other people in order to protect our egos. Realizing you’ve engaged in problematic behaviors hurts. We have to do our best to face our own culpability head-on. We can’t change anything much if we refuse to admit we, too, are part of the problem, whether we want to be or not.

And this next bit is equally important:

Keep Asking Questions

As you move through the book answering each prompt to the best of your ability, dig deeper by asking yourself when, how, and why questions. For example: When do I react this way? When do these thoughts or feelings come up for me? How does this specific aspect of white supremacy show up for me? How does thinking or feeling this way benefit me? Why do I feel this way? Why do I believe this? Why do I think this is true? Why do I hold on to these beliefs? Asking when, how, and why will help you to get down into the deeper unconscious layers of your internalized white supremacy, thus taking your work a lot deeper.

Many of us here either work in STEM fields or are science fans. Asking questions, interrogating our assumptions, and not taking superficial answers as final should be easier for us than it is for people who haven’t been trained to investigate.

Just remember, though, that white supremacy is a helluva drug. It’ll make us want to stop at the surface, where things are comfortable. Push past that and keep asking!

Layla finishes Part I with some self care tips. One of the most important tips is to reach out to others doing this work for mutual support. I encourage you to use the comments here if you want to connect with me and others (click here to report any issues). We can also start a Facebook group if you’d like.

Another important reminder:

Feeling the feelings—which are an appropriate human response to racism and oppression—is an important part of the process.

[snip]

No matter how bad it feels to wake up to the pain, shame, and guilt of your racism, those feelings will never come anywhere close to the pain BIPOC experience as a result of your racism. So instead of getting stuck or overwhelmed, channel those feelings into action and change. Talking to a friend, family member, support group, therapist, or coach will be helpful in supporting you to process what is coming up for you so you can keep moving forward. [Emphasis added]

Just, in talking out your feelings, please don’t dump those on your BIPOC friends, okay? They’ve got enough to handle as targets of white supremacy.

To close Part I, let’s reiterate one of the most important points:

You will have to learn to wean yourself off the addiction to instant gratification and instead develop a consciousness for doing what is right even if nobody ever thanks you for it.

None of us should get cookies for doing the right thing. We need to be very, very careful that we aren’t running to BIPOC and demanding praise and treat every time we do something decent. We’re not dogs. Most of us aren’t children. We shouldn’t need gold star stickers to do what we ought.

The groundwork is laid. Next, we’ll begin the work. Get your tools together, and I’ll see you there!

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Me and White Supremacy: “This is Truth Work”
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