Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Critiques and Defenses

Whenever white conditioning is discussed within the white community, I find two reactions to be the most common:

1. One is a defense of being white, along the lines of "I shouldn't have to feel bad because I'm white."

Let me be clear: Identifying White Mind doesn't mean being guilty or ashamed to be white; on the contrary, I see it as a mark of strength and pride in fighting for the humanity of white people.

Here are the assumptions I begin with:

- It's great to stand rooted in and to take pride in my own version of being human. Being white is a particular ethnic and cultural experience, with infinite personal variations, each story as unique and valuable as any other human story. That is not what I'm referring to when I talk about White Mind.

- White Mind develops not as a result of us being white, but as a result of white people being the majority and dominant race. It's what our brains have internalized from all the unconscious things we've absorbed based on being the norm and the reference point in this society.

- White Mind is not what you believe, what you value, what you think, or what you intend; it's what sneaks out sideways despite your best intentions. It becomes visible in the impact and the outcomes. And in the testing of brain researchers.

- A critique of White patterns is not an attack on white people. It's an attempt to bring our social conditioning to consciousness so that we can make changes if we choose to. (Just as when women - and men - call attention to sexism, it's not, usually, an attack on maleness itself, but on the attitudes and behaviors that result from the ways males are socialized.)

2. The second response is distress that racial difference is being emphasized, because after all, "there's only one race: the human race."


The problem is that at this time there are social structures, institutions, and a lot of confused people who make it impossible to live this truth. The object of the exercise is to clear the obstacles that are in the way of equity, justice and common humanity for all.

It's precisely because I believe that we are all one human family that I want to remove anything that's in my way, keeping me from acting on this truth. I want to be able to look at anyone of any race and connect deeply with the complete humanity that is there, person to person. I've discovered that the patterns I've absorbed unconsciously as a result of being socialized as a white American sometimes keep me from doing this fully. I've noticed that some of my internalized attitudes, behaviors and habits are problematic. I want to be free of them.

My assumptions:

- Recognizing the common humanity of all people in all our glorious colors is the destination we're all aiming for.

- Unfortunately, racism is still alive and active. If I personally believe in and practice not judging people by race, I have a responsibility to join in the work of freeing all of us from all the ways in which people currently are judged by race.

- Living in a society defined and divided by race affects us all. Whether I can see it or not, I, like everyone else, have developed patterns and coping mechanisms in response to this society. Some of these aren't useful, and contribute to divisions. It is within my power to become conscious of and work on freeing my mind from anything that isn't aligned with my belief that we are all one family.

- Practicing colorblindness is not an effective way to address where we are now; it doesn't honestly address the current reality, which is nowhere near colorblind. Practicing colorblindness allows white centrality to remain unchallenged.

For me, it's love that motivates this work - love for my sisters and brothers of every race, and love for myself. I want us all to have each other.


M and M said...

Anne, I am SO GLAD you are here, I am SO GLAD I found you, and I am SO GLAD you are writing and publishing. Please count me as a fan. And, as an ally.

Thank you. In solidarity, MW.

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Thanks, MW!
I look forward to your contributions to this conversation.


Anonymous said...

So this piece is wildly helpful, again. As an newcomer to the use of the term; "white mind" and a way too new comer to the work over all, your blog is like an immersion course. What I found really helpful here was the explanation of "what comes out sideways..."I see that in assumptions I am making about others, in my own mind, and how often I am leveled by my own internalized racism. I want to know "where did that thought come from?" And how the hell do I get in there and remove that loop? I wish our brains came with a white mind cleaning solution!

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Maybe it's like getting rid of mold, Mama C: we can use an astringent (that startle when we recognize a thought or behavior we wish weren't there), then lots of sunshine and fresh air (the practice of bringing the thing up into consciousness and unpacking it).

The hopeful thing is that just as our brains were shaped by the associations we absorbed growing up, we can reshape them now with the associations we consciously choose to expose our minds to.

Natalie Bernstein said...

The thoughtfulness of your blog is astonishing. I have been sharing it with the diversity committee at my elementary school, which has grappled with these ideas for years; you are clear, succinct and profoundly helpful. Thank you!
Natalie Bernstein

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Thank you so much for commenting, Natalie. It's lovely to hear that what I'm trying to do here is useful.