The Importance of Being Uncomfortable
A big part of white supremacy is individualism. I see it operating everywhere. I see it among the type-A, corporate ‘go-getters’, but I also see it shot right through much of our radical communities. On the surface it’s about freedom, autonomy and responsibility. On the ground it’s about elitism and self-congratulation, or about isolation and blame. It’s a zero foot view that ignores our undeniable interdependency and puts everything on the individual, both good and bad.
I want to talk about how it causes those of us with white privilege to react to critique of ourselves and thus of white supremacist patriarchy.
In my own life growing up as a white son of colonizers, it was ingrained in me from a young age that mistakes were not a thing to be made. I learned that authority ruled. I learned both at home, at school and even among friends, that social conflicts were not negotiated collectively for mutual benefit. They were negotiated by authority for control and self-preservation. At home it was my parents, unless they were in conflict with each other, in which case it was whoever could drag out the longer list of grievances and good deeds. At school it was the teacher, then the principal. Among friends it was whoever quickly organized as a moral right collective to denounce and shame the outcasts.
In terms of actual principles it was often contradictory, and rarely fair.
Over time I found that this fostered quick reaction to defensiveness; a moral panic of a sort. If you are accused of anything, it triggers a fight or flight response because you are in eminent danger of losing a lot of social capital very quickly.
This is what I see happening among us, among white people, when confronted with just about anything, but especially when confronted with realities that we don’t immediately understand. Often it’s coming from someone we don’t see as belonging to our in-group and who are usually easily outnumbered by our peers, who we don’t know or have to think about as a real person because we are only interacting with them online.
Sometimes they are not even present because we are only discussion them in the third person. We can treat them as an abstraction. Moreover, we don’t have to be aware of any of that to still use it to our advantage, and we do. Over and over.
Even those who may consider ourselves high-minded, or radical, or generally kind people are not immune to this and in fact make ourselves a greater obstacle by having the appearance of goodness without fully engaging in the practice of empathizing and acknowledging.
What we do is data-mine the information thrown at us for loopholes and ‘gotchas’. We pick holes based on any ambiguous word choices, or for any conceivable flaws or inconsistencies in the speaker. We demand for ‘proofs’ that are impossible, or just slide the goal posts. We play the game mentioned earlier as performed in my family of origin… the imaginary scales of good deeds and grievances. We take comfort in greater numbers, but still think of ourselves as the underdogs. We become like the domineering nation-states that we belong to. *Our* jackboot is on *their* throat, but *they* are about to kill *us*. *They* are monstrous. *They* are the *real* oppressors.
Anything, but become vulnerable. Anything but face our inherent fallibility and step out of our self-preservation. Anything but be uncomfortable in realizing where we stand, what we have become a part of and how we are affecting others and the fact that we don’t immediately know how to do something different to immediately reclaim our ‘good’ status. The realization threatens to leave us feeling exposed and without a rudder.
And here lies the rub. This panicked self-preservation will not and can not ever lead to the kind of world we profess to desire, where people are *actually* equal, and things are *actually* fair. We give our intent more importance than our real world effect. We preserve the perception at the cost of reality, while others pay the heaviest costs.