Fellow White Allies: Your Guilt is Hurting the Cause

Angela Davis said, “Freedom is a constant struggle.” We don’t remind ourselves of this enough.

A lot of posts flying around on social media are reminding you that anti-racism is the goal, not being “not racist.” But what does this mean? And more importantly, what should you DO? What should you be doing RIGHT NOW? Should you post the black square, or no? Should you be talking about race with your white friends, or should you be listening? You want ANSWERS. You want to do this correctly!

The problem is how we are conceiving of ourselves, and of our goals, and the problem is everything. To help, to understand anything, we have to simultaneously do a ton of things at once—we have to not only learn about race, we also have to learn about class, capital, gender, etc. We have to understand oppression as a systematic issue, we have to be intersectional in every aspect of our lives—in our politics, in our thinking, all of it. What the fuck am I talking about?

I watch a lot of my well-intentioned friends wanting to be allies, and I see them fearful of saying the wrong thing. They really want to know what the right things are, and they are ready to say them!!! But what is this mindset rooted in? Guilt, fear, and perfectionism.

Perfectionism is antithetical to activism, because it is a capitalist mindset. What I mean by that is, capitalism teaches us that our worth is equal to our output. If we are not producing useful things, or working all the time, capitalism tells us we are worthless. Capitalist mindsets also look like thinking in terms of scarcity—if you have not considered how capitalism has shaped your thinking on every issue, you will struggle to be antiracist, because you will think of EVERYTHING in terms of scarcity. Capitalism tells us that if someone else is getting more—more social status, more resources, more whatever—then we will get less. So until you dismantle your capitalist modes of thinking, you will struggle to be antiracist. Scarcity mindsets are bad because those who hold them will think that Black liberation can only come at the expense of other racial groups and this is a lie. Human rights are not like pie—there is enough for everyone and there has always been enough.

Guilt is also unhelpful and stands in the way of change. When you feel guilty, it’s because you are convinced that you are intrinsically bad in some way. A lot of white allies, I think, feel guilty because on some level, they are still holding the false belief that Black people hate them or resent them, as a bloc. But when you’re thinking like that, you’re still making wild generalizations about entire groups of people. Yeah, some Black people will never fully trust you because you are white. And can you really blame them? Personally, I am fearful of almost every man I meet. But it’s not a choice I am making—I have been harassed and manipulated and leered at by bad men my whole life. I know not all men are bad, but I can’t stop fear through logic. What I’m trying to say is, wanting to win the approval of an entire race of people is a bad desire you have to eradicate within yourself. No group of people is a monolith. (If you’re worried specifically that your Black friends secretly hate you, I have to ask—why don’t you trust your friends?)

Rethinking everything you thought you understood is a LOT OF WORK. Rethinking your own thought patterns is VERY HARD. Decentering yourself and decolonizing your brain is a process that will never end. By decolonizing your brain, I mean realizing that:

–we are not in competition with other people
–Americans are not at the center of the universe & we must fight for all people of the world
–all human beings are intrinsically worthy and enough!! including u

I wrote this paragraph several years ago and it is still true now:

“Finally, the last realization (and maybe the hardest) is understanding that ON TOP OF relearning/ rethinking basically all of history and working to de-center yourself every day, IT IS STILL IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY YOU ARE NOT RACIST. Everyone wants to view themselves as a good person. Everyone wants to feel like they’re the exception to this system. But no matter how committed you are to being good (and I think most people truly want to be good), racism is ingrained in all of us, because it’s structural and because we all hold unconscious biases to varying degrees. And I think it’s this point in the process where a lot of people get stuck for a very long time, because to this point, their attempts to learn about social justice have been motivated by the desire to prove to themselves and to others that they are NOT RACIST. And yeah, it feels hopeless the first time you come to this conclusion, because who wants to accept the fact that they can never truly stop ‘worrying’ about being racist?”

And people get very upset about this because it feels heavy, but when you think about it, it’s not like this isn’t true in other aspects of your life. You don’t EVER get to determine whether people view your actions positively. And while I’m not involved in activism for attention, there will certainly always be people who will see me that way—but that’s out of my control, and I can’t get hung up on it.

I one hundred percent think it’s a good thing to ask questions like, “When you say Black Lives Matter, do you mean it?” Or “What is your intention with this post? What are you trying to accomplish?” Because self-examination is always a good thing. But it is work that never ends and it is work only you can do.

But let me stress again how crucial it is that you stop feeling guilty right now—there is no correct set of opinions. Y’all will not be helping these movements you care about until you realize that no other person will ever absolve you of guilt, but no one is asking you to feel guilty in the first place. When you carry all this guilt, you unconsciously take it out on other people, and you will continue to focus on your own feelings and shame more than focusing on the work, and doing the things that need to be done.

[For further reading, I highly recommend reading this incredible zine: http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/?fbclid=IwAR0dNRlcpty0MabjK-G5JyYS56ST0lyxJi-tQbj6mhZIScheqB7ivqIC7Yw].

Published by Elizabeth Clausen

writer/person. I delight in terrible puns.

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