This writing represents days 22 though 25 of the You & White Supremacy challenge by Layla f. Saad aka Wild Mystic Woman. She has helped me go deeply into myself and look at some ugly truths about my relationship to White Supremacy. This challenge began on Instagram where you can follow the hashtag #meandwhitesupremacy to see what others have wrote. Currently the challenge is closed and not accepting new joiners. However you can subscribe to Layla’s mailing list to find out when she publishes it into a workbook of the same name. For BIPOC that may be reading this there may be triggering things discussed here in, and so just be aware of prioritizing your own self care.
Day 22: Me & White Feminism
When I first learnt about feminism I was against the idea entirely. As I slowly opened my eyes to the fact that there might be some merit to a discussion of gender based discrimination I specifically only entertained the idea for white women. The goal was still to be as successful/powerful/rich as white men, so BIWOC just had to learn to assimilate into white culture properly to get to where I was then we could smash the patriarchy together. I didn’t consciously think I was better than BIWOC, but statistically I was better off so there must be some reason right? I hadn’t heard of white privilege yet. Today I am uncomfortable calling myself an intersectional feminist. Not because I dont believe in the importance of intersectional politics, but because I dont think I am informed on them. I still mainly learn about feminism based on what effects me and my friends. I have a wider social circle than I did as a teenager so the things that I learn about are also wider, but it is motivated by learning how to be a better friend not how to be an intersectional feminist. Why dont I want to put in the work to learn enough to call myself intersectional? Because I am afraid of getting it wrong and using a label that doesn’t actually reflect how I operate in the world. I organized a feminist arts festival in 2011, and although the event itself was a success, the politics behind the scenes were not. My collaborator called me out/in on having a shallow understanding of feminism. How she did not feel comfortable with some of the marketing messages I had been circulating. It’s been nearly a decade, and I dont remember the specifics of what either of us said, but it was the first time it occurred to me that different women experience feminism differently. I thought that by giving all women the opportunity to share their stories we could create more equal representation in media (one of my primary concerns as an actor), but I didn’t consider the different barriers preventing women from being heard and making art beyond just having the airtime to do so. There was one single mom in the festival who couldnt afford to have her pictures framed and wasnt sure how she was going to be able to show them. We didn’t have resources at the time to help her overcome the financial barriers to showing her work. There was another recently immigrated woman that approached me at work that wanted to apply, but she didn’t speak very much English and I wasn’t sure how to begin to help her get her access to materials and time to get her artwork into the festival. In the end the event felt unsatisfactory, and we did not continue. Organizing successful events is easy for me, but I didn’t have the skills to actually create meaningful change. So I gave up. I burnt out rather. I stopped working actively on anything feminist related for years. Today I am cautious about getting involved in activist circles and falling into those same blind spots. That caution is a safety net that prevents me from spending months worth of resources on projects with no tangible social benefit, but it also protects me from taking any risks or putting my neck on the line for anyone else. I’ve recognized for a while that racism and ableism are two of my biggest blind spots, and I’ve slowly been taking time to educate myself, but I am sure I still prioritize white feminism in more ways than I realize. Even in my decision to take a step back from collectively organizing to focus on getting my life together. I spoke about earlier using self care as an avoidance technique rather than a tool to repair and keep working on the deeper issues.
Day 23: Me & White Leaders
I try to vote for politicians that make promises about better relationships with indigenous peoples, refugees and new Canadians. But this is the first election where my vote has actually elected anyone. I dont feel like I have done due diligence following up to see if my picks are working for me. I just assume that anyone is better than Harper. I feel like the box checking approach to political platforms carries over to other kinds of white leaders. When I’ve heard white leaders that are currently employing me say misdirected and racist things I’ve generally swallowed it as a means of getting to the next pay cheque. But even when there are white leaders that I am paying to follow their teachings or leadership it’s hard to call out or educate because of the sunk cost investment. I’ve been in the situation where I know I can feel in my bones that what you are saying is incorrect and dehumanizing in some way, but think to myself that I can set that aside to take away the “other parts” of what they are saying. As if it is as simple as spitting out the watermelon seeds. It is hard to renounce one part of what they are saying but accept another part. Inevitably either I walk away from the whole thing silently distancing myself or smile and nod endorsing something that I know isnt right in my gut. When I’m looking for people to collaborate with or learn from politics is definitely one of the first things I look at, but usually through a white feminist lens like I discussed yesterday. If I’m only holding people up to the knowledge I already have that aligns with the beliefs I already hold I’m going to end up continuing to follow a lot of these behaviours I’ve outlined earlier in the challenge. When I am in positions of leadership I want to work with a diverse team, where everyone has creative control of their work and their narrative, but when push comes to shove I want to be in charge calling the shots. I’ve struggled with where that comes from, a desire to serve with the skills I have, or reinforcing colonial narratives of power and control. The desire to be the bitch in charge carrying a clipboard and long jacket is celebrated in white feminism, but is filled with loaded histories of nuns in residential schools, slavemasters and lady of the house, all manners of government agency workers just following orders. It’s a desire to be seen as competant in the eyes of patriarchal white supremacist ideas of order and civilization. Its beyond doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job, but subscribing to the sanctity of duty over human qualities of compassion, sharing, and mercy. Not that I always participate to that level, but that is what is intoxicating about that particular idea of leader. A leader that follows orders. Rather than carve a new path.
Day 24: Me & My Friends
I’ve noticed myself avoiding this prompt like the plague. I’ve also had a very busy week, but this is a hard one to answer. So lets look at that.
Looking at the circles of friends I frequent they are very white, and I can say this is not intentional but there is also clearly an unconscious bias that causes me to seek out mainly white social spaces. When I am with my theatre peers there is a lot of head shaking about “diversity” and “inclusion” and “who gets to tell this story”, but I feel like very little action. I participate in these conversation with my theatre friends in efforts to try to unpack some of the very colonial patriarchal racist practices of theatre, however a lot of the conversations amount to nothing more than virtue signaling and tokenizing the work of companies like GTNT. Often repeating the same tired lines about how things should be without a very serious look at why they are how they are. This is a form of white solidarity by agreeing to talk about the problem of race in a certain way that codes the obvious lack of diversity on stage and shifts the blame onto the victims of the oppressive dynamics that me and my white peers are benefiting from. We celebrate white feminist productions as diversity even though our success is largely built by adhering to certain aspects of white patriarchal structures such as traditional white beauty standards or access to disposable income/family money. In my music circles of friends there are a lot more activists who have lots of things to say about the lack of diversity in the scene and seem more willing to engage in grassroots change. However I also see that small group of people making slow change if any, and I dont do anything to help beyond a like on Facebook and another white body at a show. I see their work and I think that is good they are doing it, but that it’s not for me because it doesn’t play to my skills which is a coded way for me to center my whiteness again by only getting involved in projects that I personally benefit from/impact me. I have rarely called out or in a friend or accquaitance in the music scene because I view myself as outside of it as a passive consumer rather than influencer or activist only here to have a good time. In my yoga and hippie circles the whiteness feels the most enforced. There seems to be the least willingness to openly discuss race or white privilege or appropriation. There tends to be more focus on individualism than community. There also tends to be more focus on profit and branding. When I am in these spaces sometimes I like to stir the pot and ask questions that are intentionally drawing attention to the whiteness of it all, but usually I lack the skill knowledge self awareness or willpower to follow it up with any kind of meaningful exchange. I have tended to escape the uncomfortable feeling these social spaces bring in me by practicing alone at home. However even if I pursue these things alone I am still part of a white culture that is fueled on cultural appropriation, genocide, and white privilege. The cognitive dissonance in this area is one of the main reasons that I began to seek out more information, but I have not reached out to local practitioners to learn and have these conversations. Online I am more likely to delete a racist comment and block that person from my online than take the teachable moment. Mainly because often I dont know that I have anything to teach them I just know saying that is wrong. When I do take the time to call a friend in online it usually goes well, so you would think the positive reinforcement would make it easier over time, but I also feel like most of the time it won’t do any good so I just don’t bother. When it doesn’t go well I blame the other person, and dont look at how my words may not be lining up with my actions. Face to face it is easier to fall into not wanting to rock the boat. We are already here present with each other if you dont take this call out well it is going to change that space into something awkward and uncomfortable where as online I can just scroll away unnoticed. I might make a mental note to distance myself from them socially, but I won’t actively cut them out unless it is very blatantly racist. Even with my very close friends I find it hard to talk to them about whiteness because most of the time it goes unnamed in our conversations. If we say something racially insensitive it’s usually assumed it is from ignorance and the call out will be taken well. But some of these bias are not so easily named, and sometimes they are coded into other privileges of access to education, family money, land, or social status. I find myself keeping quiet about things that dont sit right convincing myself I dont have the full story or I don’t really understand these issues. But mostly it is out of learned social white solidarity to not question the status quo so much. I find myself wondering if when I screw up and reiterate racist bias, beliefs, comments if I have a social network that will call me out or just validate my good intentions. I appreciate friends that keep sharing their words and processing in the open and hosting workshops and otherwise making social spaces to talk about and deconstruct these issues online and off because I learn so much from them. Because of one friend sharing a post on Facebook I found Layla’s work and this challenge, and I would not have begun this depth of work without their unknowing nudge.
Day 25: Me & My Family
I lost my writing from this day so I had to go back through Instagram for it.
I avoid talking politics with my family for the sake of keeping peace. I try to keep visits with my extended family short and sparse to minimize opportunity to get into a fight. I don’t keep my politics a secret, and there have been fights that have disrupted all manners of gatherings. When I was younger I cared more about standing up for what I believed in, speaking up to power, and trying to convince my family to see things my way or at least care about what I was saying. Now that I’m older I have the belief that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, and banging my head against the wall of their bigotry is not good for my wellbeing. Maintaining relationships with them in a perfunctory way is easier than completely cutting them off, but sometimes they function in the same way. The only people I talk openly and in depth about politics with in my family are my mother and my sister. Even though I know we can have these conversations without jeopardizing our overall relationship it still can devolve into a lot of white fragility or deflecting blame onto other branches of the family tree. I still appreciate that they usually listen, and actively call me in as well. The rest of my family does not appear to be interested in any type of anti-racism work. My mother’s side of the family is from rural Alberta, vote for the Wild Rose party, and fly Confederate flags. They blame immigrants for their problems, think indigenous people should not have access to health care or education, but think they are best friends with the family that runs the local Chinese restaurant because of friendly customer service. This is the side of the family I have fought with the most about their racism because it is do blatant and proud, but this is the side of the family that also always makes an effort to be part of my life at all important occasions which keeps me from cutting them off out right.