Saturday, October 21, 2006

Moving Forward As A White Anti-Racism Activist

Maxjulian has graciously requested that I examine any unconscious motives I may have about wanting to get close to black people. I have argued with him profusely that I am working hard on this already. He suggests that I need to listen.

So he's keeping me on my toes.

25 ways to tokenize or alienate a non-white person around you
The following was written by a group of activists who assembled 25 instances that they had experienced and seen exemplifying daily examples of racism. I thought it was a great list and one with which I could identify. There were several things there that I had either experienced or done myself.

25 ways to tokenize or alienate a non-white person around you
(or, 25 examples of the racism we witness on a regular basis)
Link here.

I liked number 12 for obvious reasons!

12. use the identity of white anti-racist as a shield against accusations of racism.

25. if you're white and confronted on your racism, cry.

About item #25... My thinking on this is that crying is good, but it is racist to knee-jerk cry in order to be comforted by the person of color who is pointing out the racism in you. After apologizing, I do suggest finding a listener who you can cry with about your little racism problem. Uh, a trademark of Listening For Change. (Happy one year anniversary to LFC, btw.)

Also, it depends if you have a relationship with the person of color who is telling you something you've done or said is racist. If you don't, I agree, it's racist to make the person "counsel" you.

A couple three years ago I was scribing at a workshop for a woman of African heritage. She instructed me to simply write on the board what she told me to write. Very soon thereafter I was turning toward the audience and "helping" her count responses. I had no clue.

She stops and announces, "To us this just looks like racism." and looks at me. She explained again and I apologized and then did the job correctly. She did say, "Sorry helps." I turned my back and wrote like I was told. ( I remember how difficult it was to just face the board and write.)

It went well.

Afterward, everyone broke up and another woman waited on the sidelines to take me into her arms so I could sob. The sobbing was part of me digesting what I had just been taught. Which was among other things, not to take over. I didn't need to think for a black woman. She was doing just fine without my "help."

Me and that particular black woman have gone onto become very close and today she can tell me her deepest fears and rage toward white people. She knows me well and I know her. When she needs to work on rage at white people I am one person she welcomes in close.

I'm saying we get to notice racist patterns within ourselves, acknowledge it when poc point it out, but it doesn't mean to throw in the towel when you've made a mistake. Mistakes are good in a certain way. As white allies a mistake means we are doing something.

We aren't sitting on our arses.

The mistake needs to be cleaned up! And then go on and get back on the horse. Keep doing the work.

Just a month ago I was again a scribe at a workshop. This time with a different black woman. But someone I had a relationship with. I remember smiling to myself because I had come so far in those three years. I was tuned into the woman and we were connected. I was writing down what she told me and not concerned about "running things." I keep getting told by various anti-racism teachers that they are seeing my "stuff" move. So, yes, I am pleased with myself.

I know my stuff has moved and it is moving.

By the way, racism isn't "ours". It isn't "my" racism. Racism has been stuck to me but it is not me. My nature as a human being is closeness with other people regardless of skin tone. So bottom line is we all get to have good relationships. Even if some racist patterns are not fully discharged, there's always the human being underneath all that that hasn't been programmed.

What I'm saying is, as white allies, we don't wait until we're perfectly and 100% free of racist behaviors or unaware attitudes in order to ally ourselves with other humans. We start where we are and do our damn best. We study and learn all we can and we process that as deeply as we can into our psyches. But, in my opinion, feeling badly about our mistakes beyond the first "I'm sorry" and going on from there is not useful.

Being completely pleased with one's self simply for being alive and a part of the planet is everyone's birthright. We get to take up space. We get to exist. We get to love and laugh and cry and create. We get to get mad and push up against each other. That way we know there's somebody there.


Blogger Maxjulian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:39 PM PDT  
Blogger Maxjulian said...


I can't speak to how far you've come, but I can tell you my experience of you. In reflecting on our last phone call,

I feel that:

- you objectify people of color in order to gain validation and affection through quasi 'closeness'

- this is a compensatory behavior designed to meet your needs, but not those of the 'object'

- you (mis)use anti-racism for this purpose

- you listen far less than other white people with less grand objectives

- you thoroughly tokenize people of color; your defenses against SEEING this are the most elaborate I've yet seen (crying, persistently getting in people's faces and trying to convince them, touching, etc)

You think you are engaged in this work to create change through listening; but if, as in my recent experience, you aren't really listening at all, then the true motive lies elsewhere. People of color become the 'tool,' the "ways and means" that will allow you to get what you want.

POC's get little or no validation from white society/people. Into this void step you, who is seemingly a one-woman, anti-racist wrecking crew. But looks can be deceiving.

Your zeal, the pained, empathic smile, the tears, the shaking, might convince others, but raised suspicions in me. But the other day, I saw - and then I knew for sure.

You operate what you call "Listening For Change," but you don't listen. You did NOT want to hear what I had to say - at least, if it diverged from the image you are cultivating.

REAL closeness requires being present with one's whole being; unexamined issues create splintered people incapable of effectively holding space for another. At the moment of truth, when the true closeness of difficult words are shared - you leapt from the metaphorical listening seat.

So much for listening for change.

I don't begrudge you feeling good about yourself. I don't dislike you. but if you deny, Deny, DENY, shift the focus to OTHER white people not named SEA...then, you're just moving the goalposts - like any good white person drenched in racism.

When they get trapped between truly listening for change and image management - IM takes precedence over LFC.

I'm no sucka for white people. And I ain't tryin' to be close to anyone, unless they are keeping it for realz. I don't care what other POC's have told you, or what you've done to win them over. I know what I see and you can take it or leave it.

"White people who have not dealt with and synthesized their own trauma and racism, cannot lead others to a Promised Land they have never seen.: It is the folly and arrogance of whiteness to even try.

2:37 PM PDT  
Blogger Maxjulian said...

PS I'm sorry for the harsh verbiage - but I stand by the content 100%. I REALLY feel you need to check yourself. I don't know if you can but, like with recovery, denial can be incredibly thick and resistance can be impregnable...but change can happen if you're open to it.

7:21 PM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

Hang out with me sometime long enough for me to calm down about how interesting it is to be near you.

Check out how I check myself sometime. You've spent a couple minutes with me.

I'm hearing you and beleive me it's going in and some synchronicities have happened since you wrote that such as a friend of color being straight with me about how damn sweet I am that it comes off as overbearing and weird. But she said it in the context of calling me up and wanting to talk to me. It was only after I told her what you had just written that she said, "Sea, can I tell you this advice and don't take it wrong?"

She said, I think you need to be a little more standoffish. You need to slow down a little. (She also said if people don't like you tell them to fuck off!) lol But I know you didn't tell me you don't like me. Those words did not come out of your mouth.

That was cool. More later.

11:12 PM PDT  
Anonymous LA said...

Hi all,

I'll chime in here--as opposed to privately--because I think there are some KEY issues at play here that must be openly addressed if we hope to accomplish the "greater work".

As a white woman who calls-out my culture and attempts to address racism--I've experienced many reactions. The most brutal (by far) from my own people.

I've come to understand that MANY white women have come before me--and most have left a swath of damage to the very people they were soooo trying to "help". Good intentions can be a few layers shy of pure sometimes--if unexamined. It has been healthy and humbling for me to examine my intentions--constantly--to keep my cultural-tendencies in check. I know I have some distance yet to go.

I've had very good teachers. Very honest. I've witnessed other white women respond to their feedback and seen where many of our blocks lie.

When confronted, we seem to first hold out our bleeding hearts, like "See...I'm for real!", but if that doesn't work we get defensive and snarky. Most of the time, nothing is INTERNALIZED. We end up rationalizing our behavior and plowing ahead full steam. Cuz, WE know our intentions are good and WE know what we're doing is right...right?

Rarely do we sincerely listen. Take it on the chin, stay in the chair, filter it through our layers, laugh at ourselves, yes, cry...and then hopefully get honest.

Our zeal can make us blind.

It is flat-out problematic when we white women set ourselves up as "experts" in issues dealing with racism. We are not the experts on racism. How can we ever be experts on something we'll never experience in the same way? :) The expert can take many forms--non-profit executive, professor, blogger, and yep, radio host (guilty).

Does this mean I should quit? Not exactly...

I've been told that the best thing white people can do is to share our our privilege, our platform so that People of Color to tell their own story. As a radio "host" (white woman in charge) I'm walking that thin line every time. I often slip into "white women ways" ("WWW") :) To do so in public is very humbling and a good motivator to learn from my mistakes.

It's a constant examination of intention, motivation, suffering & pay-off. Some say I go too far.

As white women in this arena, I think we have to walk very thoughtfully, very honestly.
How are we wielding this platform? Are we abusing our "power"? This may seem offensive to even suggest, but these are the caliber of questions we must ask...every day. To overcome our raisin'. :) When someone takes the time (and risk) to have the difficult conversations with us, WHO are we if we don't give their words careful consideration?

When all is said and done, we must remember that it ain't about US at all. Whether it's Listening For Change or Bread & Roses, our name should never eclipse the message.


11:30 AM PDT  
Blogger Maxjulian said...


Your reply was interesting: dismissive, petulant, shallow. You indicate that I haven't seen enough of you to know what I see; I've only been around you for a couple of minutes.

Sorry: I don't need to be near you to know what I see, though you imply that I couldn't possibly.

I find that assumption racist, besides being ignorant. You're actually pretty easy to read:
Your obsession with being "close" to me and other people of color is a sickening smokescreen. 'Us' being close is not going to end the system of racism/white supremacy which is controlled by people who look like you. While you are grinning in black folks faces we are being killed like cock roaches. Funny, how you spend all of your time with the victims of white supremacy, rather than with those who maintain and control the system.

We don't need the Red Cross, or Florence Nightingale bullshitting us, listening to US for change. YOU need to change! You need to be fighting your people and changing this monstrous system, throwing a monkeywrench in the machine. All you white folks wanna do is walk and talk.

But then, doing any more might affect your privilege as a white person; far easier to bamboozle some tired, beaten down nigga into thinking that you "care", rather than you doing something, sacrificing something, being something other than a narcotic for a nigga wantin' a high.

This is bullshit. You aren't for real. I tried, but you can't see or stand the truth. I'm done.

11:58 PM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

Maxjulian: This is what I think.

I regret that whatever I say or do looks phony and worthless to you. However, I do not need your stamp of approval to validate my work.

7:11 AM PDT  
Blogger Maxjulian said...

Here I am, a real live black man telling you, that you are deluding yourself in important ways that obviously "HINDERS your work." You don't see and you don't want to see those blindspots. That's how the white world is, "we are who we SAY we are..."

You say you want to help people of color, but when people of color complain about "your methods, your sincerity or your authenticity," you assault them with 'we need to do sessions,' but YOU don't change.

Your response, from Day One, when I pointed out my issues with you has never changed: "I don't have the problem, you do...I'm good, we were all born good." So was Hitler.

You have never taken any criticism of mine seriously and to heart - EVER. Clearly you can't. You dismiss it as an irritant getting in the way of your righteous crusade that doesn't have time to be concerned by 'inconvenient truths.'

Its not vital info you should take a serious look at; its the words of a crazy black man who won't drop flower petals in your wake, or give you the props you deserve.

Niggas are the props in your sick dance, the good missionary tending to the poor, savage 'natives.' Only a black ignoramus could not see through that set piece. You're like 'Blanche DuBois,' with your delusions and fainting spells.

Its not that what you say and do LOOKS phony; it IS phony! God help black Portland!

10:18 AM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

"Here I am, a real live black man telling you, that you are deluding yourself in important ways that obviously "HINDERS your work." You don't see and you don't want to see those blindspots. That's how the white world is, "we are who we SAY we are...""

You're not "here" you're there in your isolated cubicle typing. If you want to give me a hand with my delusions then stop attacking my very character and commit to the time it takes to assist someone to wake up.

I identify with Sandra Bullock's character in Crash. But Blanche Dubois might work in a pinch.


10:48 AM PDT  
Anonymous LA said...

I continue to see the same OLD patterns repeating here...

I'm not in this arena to make/keep friends as much as I am about the "greater work", so I will speak--even though my initial post was completely ignored.

A POC is voicing an opinion, more importantly an objection, about strategies that target/impact his community. The opinions are based on his direct experience and his voice is discredited because it doesn't follow a set of arbitrary rules--Haven't spent enough time with you, not in close enough proximity, "character assassination" (too angry, not polite enough), etc.

THIS is the bigger problem. Why are POC always forced to hold our hand, smooth our ruffled emotions and make the effort to guide us through the OBVIOUS?

Sea, as white people, especially those involved in this work and ESPECIALLY if the blog/platform is called LISTENING for Change--the KEY is listening, letting our character be assassinated once in a while and learning from it. If we don't, WHO are we? Are we really that weak that we can't take any heat or criticism?

To ignore or deny the credibility of our critics is a primary example of white privilege.

Again, this ain't about YOU or ME. It's not about OUR feelings or OUR work. Right?


11:37 AM PDT  
Blogger Maxjulian said...


You get it at a profound level. I know that you were able to grow to this level because you had "good teachers," but the student had to be ready, willing and able. Clearly, you were.

You can sea, feel and hear the nuances of racism/white denial that I have been vainly trying to get across here. At least there's one white person who can put down the koolaid and see shit more closely to how it be...

Why is that the people who DO get it are always marginalized, not recognized and ignored, while their ego-driven, mike-hogging, awareness- -is-only skin-deep-Cousins seem to scratch and claw their way to center stage like they are the second coming?

12:25 PM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

Thank you Maxjulian and LA.

I will take your words and work on it.

4:46 PM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

By the above I mean that you are seeing where I'm confused and I will work on it.

Thank you.

4:47 PM PDT  

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