Dear Fellow White Americans,
My hope with this article is to speak to white people about the guilt and shame that they are feeling so as to lessen the burden upon our black sisters and brothers to have to deal with white peoples guilt and shame. I accept that I am still, and will always be unlearning racism, and so I apologize in advance for any missteps or blunders — perfectionism has no place in authentic connection or in learning, so I am dismissing it at the door.
So let’s talk about white privilege, and what you may be feeling about that now:
Does it make you terribly uncomfortable for me to name your race like that, and the color of your skin?
Are you feeling awkward and judged based on the color of your skin instead of the content of your character?
Does it feel as if you are scrutinized and even feared based on your white color right now?
I know it doesn’t feel good, but you need to let it sit with you. And you need to not run away from it no matter how much you want to. It is a friend to you, and a teacher. You need to let it wash over you, so it can wash through.
Because that is PRECISELY how our black sisters and brothers and people of color feel EVERY SINGLE DAY of their lives. This is what they carry, on a daily basis, that we do not. It is always there with them. And it is not for us.
Your mind may try to tell you that that feels like a negation of your own struggles and pain in life — it is NOT. Every human carries their own legacy of pain and struggle — and this is not negating that in any way. But we DO NOT, nor have we ever, had to carry THIS pain.
This pain of feeling judged, scrutinized, ignored, suppressed, denied, de-valued, feared, violated, misunderstood, abused and literally killed based on nothing but the color of your skin.
Does the term white privilege make you feel as if the validity of all your accomplishments have been questioned?
Does it feel as if you are misunderstood and have to PROVE you are good because there are assumptions that you are bad based on your whiteness?
Does it feel as if you might not be safe? That you might not be safe in your own communities and homes?
FEEL. THAT. PAIN. Don’t run away from it. Take those feelings and multiply that by ten thousand over hundreds of years…
Because that is PRECISELY how our black sisters and brothers and people of color feel and have felt all of their lives. It is a deep pain, a generational pain, a pain that is normalized through hundreds of years of stuffing it down to survive, a pain they’ve had to acclimate to from the time they were tiny children, and it’s enough. It’s way past enough, and it’s time for it to stop.
I implore you and challenge you to expand the reaches of your empathy bigger and wider than you ever have dared to before, and to simply sit with that discomfort you are feeling.
The fact that you have white privilege does not negate what you’ve been through or done… it simply, finally, ACKNOWLEDGES that people of color did not have the SAME equal rights and opportunity that they should have had too from the very beginning, because of the deeply entrenched systemic racism in this country that is being unveiled at this time.
To acknowledge someone’s pain is not to invalidate your own. Growing up involves us learning how to allow our different life experiences and realities to exist at the same time. We were taught there is only one right way and reality, and it was a LIE. There are billions of truths to be honored. And honoring the very real and lived pain of your sisters and brothers is the way we begin.
So don’t try to fight it. I know you are squirming. I know it’s uncomfortable. I know you’re afraid that the guilt and shame will consume you — but it won’t. I know you are afraid if you open that door that shame and guilt will never leave. That you won’t survive it. But you will. In fact it will be the key to us all thriving in a whole new way. The shame will not “leave” but it will TRANSFORM into something so much more beautiful, which is: a deeper love. It will transmute into love and transform YOU, and this relationship you have with your human family.
It will open your heart. If you just stop running away from it. If you just let your heart break, it will break open wide enough to let so much more in than you ever dreamed.
Admit that you have no idea, and that you cannot ever have any idea how this is or has been for them to be a person of color in this world, and then listen. Listen as you would listen to your child, your friend or partner. Feel your pain so you can feel theirs too. Allow both of your truths and differing experiences to exist at once.
Hold your own pain so you can hold space for theirs too.
Then you won’t have to run away anymore. You won’t have to turn your back — knowing all the while it is like a storm growing bigger behind you. You don’t want that. You can’t live with that anymore, and you know it. And this is why this is happening now.
It’s a gift. A time to heal. A wound that’s been festering for FAR far far too long.
This isn’t about shaming, it’s about connection. Connection to yourself on a whole other level, so you can connect with your human family on a whole other level. That is how it works. It will not just improve your relationship to your greater human family, it will improve EVERY SINGLE RELATIONSHIP IN YOUR LIFE.
I want you to think about all of the fights you’ve had in your life with your loved ones. Think about how horrible those felt while you were still in the midst of them. Now think about those fights that ended in laughter through tears, and reconciliation. Think about how GOOD that felt — to have faced a particular demon and felt and seen it out to the other side — to the other side where you finally SEE eachother again, and feel your love in a bigger way than before.
This is what I want for us. This is what I want for our human family. And I KNOW you want that too, in your heart of hearts.
We will not get there by trying to return to normal. By trying to move on and sweep it under the rug. You know how that goes. You know how that FEELS. The only way out is THROUGH. The new normal is so much better than this! But we cannot get there if we don’t walk this through.
Choose something you CAN do. Instead of throwing your hands in the air about what you can’t. Read, learn, un-learn, donate, gather, have the hard conversations, stand up for the equality you believe in, just pick one thing and start there.
The minds favorite tactic for stagnation is overwhelm. Notice how it tries to tell you: it’s too much, and what can you possibly do, and it’ll never be enough anyway so why bother. Nonsense! It says the same thing whether you’re talking about doing the dishes or doing your dreams.
It’s the same voice that would have you not give $2, because you can’t give $2000. It IS enough, every tiny thing actually DONE and not ignored adds up to more than any of us could ever dream, but it will not be enough if we keep listening to that voice that says it’s not and do nothing. It’s just an old tape. An old tape that’s afraid of change — change that will make your whole world and life better! Pay no mind.
Proceed to do just one thing you can do… and then another, and then another. Pick the way you would like to help that feels most natural for you. We each have our own strengths and we come together like puzzle pieces to lift eachother up when we honor those strengths and do what we can, together.
Some people are activists, some people are teachers, some people are visionaries, some people are donors, some people are gatherers, some people are disruptors, some people are space holders, some people are sharers, some people are healers, the list goes on and on. You can be an antiracist in your own lane as long as there is both knowledge, empathy and action. Honor what you are, and figure out how to be part of the solution in what feels most natural to you (this is not a substitution for doing the uncomfortable work of examining your own biases or speaking up when you see and hear injustice and racism — it’s in addition to that).
But most importantly, the foundation for any action you take must be to cultivate a more expanded love within yourself.
You may say that you love all people, you may insist your love is already expanded… but can you love people in their pain and anger? Can you love people in rage and rebellion? Can you love yourself in that?? Because the latter has everything to do with how you handle the former.
The human heart heals like a flesh wound. And the heart of the human race heals the same way.
You have to see how deep and how bad it is before you know how to treat it, so it can heal. It’s gonna look ugly before it looks better. But wounds bring us together, you know? People around come running to help.
The people who CARE do, anyway. And I know you are a person who cares, because you’re reading this.
So let’s use this opportunity to learn, and to grow, and to bring forth the new world… the new normal that will make us all question how on earth the old one could have EVER felt normal at all, shall we?
— Sunni Chapman, June 4, 2020