BLM and White Fragility

Carly

@onthecouchwithcarly Instagram post 02 June 2020

It is not through social media posts that we will ever truly shift the disturbing inequality that we see around the world in terms of whose lives matter. 

Supporting the #blacklivesmatter movement in any way you can does bring awareness and focus to what should be something of our past but continues to fragment our societies and weaken our human bonds as a species. 

Racism is a powerful force because it is overtly and covertly supported by those with the most power. If you are white then you have power in this conversation. 

Supporting #blacklivesmatter means you will call out anyone you see spouting racist rhetoric, using racist slurs or being unkind or unfair to POC. It means calling out even subtle oppression and micro-aggressions towards POC.

It means understanding white privilege and acknowledging your own privilege. It means doing your best to support and empower POC wherever possible and to give equal opportunities to POC in real terms. It means giving POC an advantage. It means giving a leg up to individuals whose ancestors built the country you live in for little or no remuneration. Their payment was trauma, year upon year of trauma. 

Fight for black lives because black lives have been lost so that yours could be as comfortable as it is. Black lives have been lost for your economic supremacy. Black lives have been lost for your elite education. Black lives have been lost for your sense of safety. Black lives have been lost while you and your parents and your children have been looked after by black mothers who leave their babies to love you and yours. 

Black lives matter from the moment of conception yet we expect black babies to do without what we expect for our own. We disadvantage black lives and then we carelessly perpetuate the violent ideas of racism without even realizing. We need to do better. 

If you’re reading this and wondering what emotion comes up around this issue, I can tell you plainly it’s ANGER. Some people are afraid of anger but I’m not. Anger can move things. This is a movement. 

If you’re uncomfortable with this conversation or with acknowledging your privilege that’s okay. It’s really important for you to show up now and feel the discomfort. I can promise you it is a fraction of the pain and discomfort that is experienced by POC. 

Your denial of this pain is the biggest problem. If we can’t see the pain then we can’t see that #blacklivesmatter. 

Wow, the world is an interesting place right now.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and for a while there I thought we would never escape the endless news, stats and debates on Coronavirus during lockdown. But then the American police showed their true colours again and murdered another black man on video and suddenly everyone was focused on something else. Suddenly our attention moved to the shocking news, stats and debates around the #blacklivesmatter (BLM) movement and the global outcry against police brutality and systemic racism.

I have no doubt in my mind that I am for the BLM movement with every fibre of my being. I support the protestors and I stand by their calls for justice. I am for statues being destroyed and police precincts being burned. I am not about to tell anyone how they should protest or get their message across. I have no affiliation with those dead white men and I do not feel worried that we will somehow forget our history if they are destroyed. I am much more worried that the dominant culture has erased indigenous people’s histories, their ancestral lands and their descendants’ claim on land, property and capital. I am much more worried that these dead white men continue to be the heroes of so many of our stories, despite the fact that they are guilty of the most heinous crimes against people whose descendants walk among us today and are perhaps our friends and family members.

I’m saying this to position myself as someone who is generally “pretty woke”.

But now let me tell you the flip side of this “allyship” coin. I hold these concepts inside of my being and have been in relationship to my white privilege over some time. But where I am today is different from where I was 3 months ago, 3 years ago, or ten years ago. I’m not going to go into my history but I can tell you that I grew up in a liberal household. However, it was only at University while studying political and social psychology that I learned about the concepts of whiteness, institutionalized racism and hegemonic power. Reading Fanon, Biko and Foucault helped me understand the power structures that shape the world and socialize us. However, it was only during my internship in Pretoria that I actually gained insight into the lived experience of black people and observed the pain and struggle of my black colleagues who demonstrated to me how the world disadvantages them and how much more work and effort it takes for them to prove themselves as valuable, honest, worthy. Over the years following that stage of my awakening (which coincided with my adoption of a handy new word: woke) I immersed myself in social groups that I had not previously been a part of. I socialized and worked with people of colour and listened to and joined in on conversations around race. A few times I was called out on my own prejudices and assumptions, which I would like to think I accepted humbly.

Fast forward to June 2020 and I am pretty comfortable with my level of education on racism and my identity as a “woke” “ally”.

I use these words in inverted commas because I am acknowledging that I have not arrived at a final destination when it comes to being enlightened on any front and that I am by no means fully educated on racism, especially my own. I am continually learning and growing and adapting. I do not want to claim any allyship that I am not prepared to work hard for.

In the last month I have dedicated a fair amount of my time to deepening my education. I followed and read through many significant leaders of the BLM movement on social media. I took in loads of information being shared by friends. Most importantly I watched Robin D’Angelo’s lecture and then read her book White Fragility. I have bought and just begun to read Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. I am currently in deep reflection on my complicity in white supremacy and racism. I no longer believe it is enough and I no longer think it is woke to say “I know I have white privilege”. That was okay for 2013 Carly but it’s not enough for 2020 Carly. At this stage in my education I am looking at how I can actively promote and participate in anti-racism. I want to model being an ally by understanding that word is a verb, not a noun. I don’t want to continue to feel good about myself, smug with the fact that unfortunately I am still too often the only white person in all-white groups who calls out racism. I don’t want to keep doing performative allyship.

I am okay with the past versions of myself and my naivete. I am not dissing myself or those like me who are still learning. In fact I want to use my extra education to help educate and support the process of other people’s education.

To this end I am doing the following going forward:

I want Carly’s Couch to be an inclusive, safe space for people of colour (POC). I am explicitly excluding white people here in much the same way the BLM movement does BECAUSE IT IS ASSUMED AND ACCEPTED THAT WHITE PEOPLE ALREADY HAVE ACCESS TO THIS SAFE PLACE due to the fact that I am white and therefore my default messages around my and others’ experiences are inclusive and representative of white narratives and experiences.

  • To this end, I invite POC to share your stories of racism with me and to test my allyship by calling out myself and those around me on our racism.
  • I will vow to not act in defensiveness and will not let white fragility get in the way of you being heard.
  • I accept that I will fail from time to time and when that happens I will own it and be clear on how I fell back on my white supremacy programming
  • I want to model being an ally, which to me means demonstrating how to accept and make use of feedback from POC that my words or actions have caused hurt, harm or disenfranchisement.
  • I want POC to use me in this way by sharing stories of times you’ve experienced racism so that I can model how the white person in question SHOULD respond if they were given this feedback directly.
  • In this way I will hopefully be demonstrating to white people how it can be done and to also provide a space for POC to vent and to feel heard and for your stories to be seen and digested and not defended against with white fragility.
  • I also want to hold space for the white people who are doing this work. I want to be a sounding board for you while you navigate your own allyship journey. It’s hard to go into something knowing you will mess up. I want you to know that I will listen to your stories of how hard it is to challenge our white fragility and how it feels vulnerable and raw at times. I want you to come to me with these feelings rather than take them to a POC because we must stop expecting POC to bear the emotional burden of our white fragility.
  • If you want to know “what should I do?” as a white person, I will gladly point you in the direction of resources and processes that will help you on your journey of discovering your internalized white supremacy. I would rather you come to me than demand more energy from POC who are currently battling an entire system built to disempower them.
  • I want to do this and more but right now this is what I’m starting with.

To see this in action:

  1. follow me on Instagram @onthecouchwithcarly
  2. DM me! Write to me with questions and feedback. I will also regularly be asking you questions and getting guests on to chat about these kinds of issues.
  3. Book a session. For a more in depth look into these issues I will be offering once-off or ongoing therapy sessions. To book email carly@onthecouchwithcarly.com
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