WFH Week 11 – I Pass For White & I Know What That Means

Did you know this post was part of a seriesCheck out all of my WFH recaps here!

Amidst the death of George Floyd and the protests and riots that have ensued as a result, I have been wracking my brain about what to say, if anything. On the one hand, I want to express my grief, utter disgust, anger and frustration. But then am I just virtue signaling? Expressing my outrage just to boost my own ego and gather validation from others that I am a good person? On the other hand, if I say nothing and thus avoid accusations of virtue signaling, I help the oppressors. My silence makes me part of the problem. As a “happy” medium, I’ve reposted articles instead in which others express their outrage and I can simply agree. Not much thought has to go into this action and I can go on my merry way feeling slightly better about myself.

As I sat in meditation on Saturday morning, I realized that this is what white privilege is. The ability to be mildly or temporarily outraged, like a few comments from others expressing as such, and move on with my day as if the world around me isn’t on fire. I am biracial – my father is African American and my mother is white – but I pass for white and I know what opportunities and privileges that affords me. For one, I can repost an article on my FaceBook wall that indirectly expresses my outrage and move on with my day. I can take a nap, take my dog for a walk, buy groceries, go for a jog, all without worrying about getting murdered by those who took an oath to protect me and my fellow citizens. Going out into the world and living their daily lives is an act of bravery by black people. It is time for me to also be brave by speaking up against the injustices that occur all around me as a result of systemic racism and white supremacy.

Some of my white friends have expressed concern about speaking up for similar reasons that held me back from saying something until now. They fear accusations of virtue signaling or worry that they may offend someone, especially their black friends. If you are one of those white or white passing people, I urge you to be brave and take a stand regardless. Black Americans have fought against the injustices and violence incited by white supremacy and racism for centuries. They can’t continue this fight alone! It is the responsibility of those with privilege and power to fight along side them, to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and to rectify the injustices embedded in our racist society.

Admittedly, I would much rather shut myself away from the world and stay in the comfort of my own bubble. But again, this is my privilege talking. The fact that I even have a bubble to take comfort in!

Discomfort precedes meaningful change.

It’s time for us to be uncomfortable, to recognize that our society needs a fuck ton of work and it starts with white people. Because of the status and safety and comfort that is afforded you and me by virtue of our light skin color, we are the ones responsible for challenging the status quo. Here are 5 steps to get you started:

Recognize your privilege

The first step is to recognize your own privilege. What can you do, as a result of your whiteness, that black people cannot? Check out these 21 examples. Be mindful of this each and every time you step foot out of the comfort of your own home. Be mindful of this each and every time you return safely and unharmed to your home as well.

Educate yourself

Read! Read the news. Read books by black authors. Pay attention to and elevate the voices of black people. Make sure you do your own research, rather than asking your black friends or colleagues. It’s not their job to educate you on how to be anti-racist. The good thing is that there are lots of people who have put together helpful guides and resources such as this one!

Act

Are you white or pass for white? Then do something! Here is a small list to help you get started and here is a bigger list to help you keep going.

Be skillful

One thing to keep in mind as you go forth with your newfound bravery, is to go forth skillfully. Anger and outrage, while great catalysts for change, are not always the right tools to then enact that change. Always practice compassion, both for those you seek to protect and those from whom you protect them. I am writing this post through the lens of Buddhism, as that is the philosophy I practice. This article, in particular, put a lot of this – this being skillful activism rooted in compassion – into perspective. To give you a taste, here is a quote from the article that had a profound impact on me:

“We have to decide whether we want to just fight or fight the good fight. The Buddha said that hatred is never overcome by hatred. If hatred is what’s motivating and propelling me, I’m not able to fight the good fight. Then I have to step back and deal with what is rising up in me. When that’s taken care of, then I’m qualified to fight the good fight. Some people want to do a good thing, but they haven’t taken the route of discipline to subdue their own demons. So their action carries the energy of where they are. It’s incumbent upon us to find out where we are. Count up the cost before you go into battle. If you can’t handle it, don’t go. But if you can, then go. Don’t necessarily expect that you’re going to see the fruit of that. You may never see it in your lifetime. Does that make a difference to what you do? Some of us are stepping forward and initiating things that we will never see the fruit of. But we know that we planted the right seed and gave it the right energy, and in its due season it is going to bear fruit. That’s how we have to go into every struggle, particularly in a time like this when there is no stability to be found anywhere. The only stability is what I take with me. We turn our practice back to ourselves continually, and we get an idea of what we can do that will be fervent and yet effective.”

Ven. Dr. Pannavati

Lastly, be kind to yourself

Now is not the time to beat yourself up about your previous inaction or pre-existing prejudices. Nor is now the time to continuously chastise yourself for not doing “enough”.

Sometimes we have to intervene and sometimes we have to pass and care for ourselves. Sometimes we intervene at the individual level in our relationships. Sometimes we intervene at the group level and we find people like ourselves. Sometimes we intervene at the institutional level. But we can’t intervene in all of it all the time. There needs to be some choicefulness around how we respond to the wackiness that’s in the world.

Ruth King

So, how will you be choiceful today? Perhaps you can begin by demanding justice for George Floyd and ultimately those who came before him.

Justice for George Floyd

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