It’s no secret that I’ve been exploring issues around racism and oppression for a while now. I’ve been learning about these issues and the ways that they apply to my life, my unschooling practice, and also my social interactions. A while ago I was called racist for trying to engage in online dialogue about the role of self-directed education in dismantling colonial systems and it stung quite a bit. I truly believed that I was acting as an anti-racist person, so I had to do some digging about why this person’s perspective was so at odds with mine.
The reality is that I am a white person talking about oppression – talking about raising free people – which is really kind of ridiculous because my kids already live with all the privileges that one can receive in our colonial culture. I am trying to raise free people insofar as they are free from the compulsory education system and all it’s effects, which is an important piece but when Akilah Richards uses this term of “raising free people”, I believe that there is more to it than just “schoolishness”.
I justify my actions by claiming that this is “the work” that I am doing: to help raise the next generation of kids to stop perpetuating racist system of oppression. By living with them now in ways that dismantle power-over dynamics, I can give them a tangible and real example of how to live in relationships of equality.
Some days, this work feels worthy and valuable and just. Some days, like today, this work feels fairly insignificant.
I also justify taking up this space by making statement like “If I’m not doing this work to dismantle systems of oppression, then I am only continuing to perpetuate those systems through my inaction”.
I’m not sure if that’s true, though. There’s a lot of space between placing myself in a position of authority and a complete lack of accountability.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been thinking a lot about white fragility. I’ve been feeling, frankly, fragile, especially after the aforementioned accusation of racism. In my self-pity, I’ve been feeling like racism demonizes me and my actions because of the colour of my skin, that this is divisive and contributes to this great divide between the right and the left, even pitting the left against each other. I’ve been looking for other answers that will help my explain away my discomfort on being called fragile and racist. I desperately want there to be some distinction between people that I can point to that are aggressively racist and people like myself that are trying to be anti-racist but just keep fucking up.
There are a lot of answers out there to help me feel better. It would seem that a lot of other white people are also looking for answers to explain away their own discomfort.
Because some days, there does seem to be these double standards when trying to be an anti-racist white person: Be an ally but don’t take up space! Don’t racially profile but acknowledge black culture! Don’t be complicit in colonial culture but make sure you pay BIPOC people for their work!
But these statements are at polar ends of the spectrum of possibilities and in reality, there are so many step along that spectrum that are filled with nuance and uniqueness and subtlety. The act of existing within a racist, colonial, capitalist culture while trying to build out new non-oppressive systems is a total mind fuck sometimes. Thank goodness for Meghan who always manages to bring me back when I fall down these rabbit holes.
One of the pieces I’ve noticed when I’m trying to justify my fragility is that I really want racism to be intersectional. I want to explore the intersection of race and class and gender and ableism. I get tired of these identities being pit against each other and long for a framework where we can examine all these inequalities under the same lens.
Intersectionality and racism doesn’t quite work though, and I’m still piecing this part together but I believe that because the centuries of slavery, torture, and death in the name of colonialism mean that my white skin makes me inherently unsafe. If I want to see the end of these injustices that were built on white supremacy, I need to acknowledge this understanding. While it may make me uncomfortable, my discomfort doesn’t make the statement any less true.
Here it is: white people need to stop taking up so much fucking space in this world. In racial justice education. In anti-oppression training. In politics. In education. In society. We write books, we teach classes, we occupy positions of authority and leadership.
White people have been colonizing the planet for the last however many centuries and we’ve just been doing a fucking horrible job of trying to take over the world by committing genocide after genocide of cultures and people that knew far more about how to live in relationship to this land and it’s inhabitants. It’s time for us to step aside.
By default, my next question becomes “how do I do this?!” but that question is instantly moot. What I need to do is get out of the way. Stop talking, stop taking up space, stop centering myself, stop thinking that I can fix these huge cultural and societal problems. I need to learn to be quiet and listen. It’s not at all the right question to ask.
A better question might be “how do I stop?” but I’m not sure if that’s right either. Or maybe “how do we collectively empower?” or “how do we uplift?” or even “what does it mean to be equal?” (that last one has a whole lot of unpacking!).
I only have questions, but at least now I hope I’m asking the right ones. For whatever it’s worth, I will continue to acknowledge my fragility and how that fragility can perpetuate violence. I will try to get out of the way and take up less space. I will try and learn and elevate the voices who teach me.