I’m leading a group discussion circle on “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. I’m taking the journaling challenge daily throughout February even though I’m not white. If you happen to be white, why not take the challenge? If I can do it, you can do it too.
Day 15 Questions (from the text):
1. In what ways have you been apathetic when it comes to racism?
2. In what ways have you observed people who hold white privilege in your communities (family, friends, work) being apathetic when it comes to racism?
In week 3 we’ve reached the section on allyship. As this section by definition cannot apply to me personally, I will share some observations that may be helpful for my allies and would-be allies.
- — -
There’s something I’ve noticed about apathy in would-be-allyship that seems to be a common pattern — it is most often visited on those who know all the reasons why it would behoove them to take action, but the inertia of needing to make changes in their behavior prevents them from accomplishing this.
The chapter points out perfectionism as one cause. This can and does manifest, for example, as folks listening to and absorbing material posted in our online facebook group (which is fantastic and very welcome), but being hesitant to contribute to the discussions. Based on the number of folks who have shared this sentiment with me privately, I can attest from personal experience that perfectionism is a larger contributor to apathy than I had previously thought.
Those who have been very candid with me cite not wanting to “mess up” as the reason for their lack of involvement. It seems where matters of race are concerned, this fear is especially heightened (and this is due to conditioning and unconscious bias, fyi). Now, I am an optimist, so my tendency is not to shame people for not doing what I think they should be doing (what is shame anyway but a less useful version of humility?), but rather remind people of this simple truth:
You are going to mess up.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the real issue. It’s not that you are afraid to mess up, it’s that you are afraid to be seen messing up.
Read that again.
Now read this:
Don’t let fear of making mistakes prevent you from doing what you know is right.
When you realize that messing up, learning, and doing better next time are a part of the process (and practicing an antiracist mindset is indeed a process and a practice), you will no longer fear this and might learn to embrace it. When you realize that the impact of your actions does more for you and for this process then how you are seen as “getting it wrong or right” then you’ll begin to not worry about “getting it right”. You’ll begin to realize that your needing to “get it right” is just standing in the way of getting anything done at all. I know, because it happened and happens to me too.
Ironically, if everyone who was brave enough to share their hesitance with me privately would abandon their inertia around speaking up and taking action, they would collectively realize they are in good company. No one is going to get it exactly right, but as you try and make mistakes, you learn how to do better, just like with anything else. In fact others may even learn from your example. I can only imagine that the number of people who did share their hesitance with me is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are far more folks feeling this way and staying quiet about it.
Saad also mentions those that have time and energy for other causes, but not for racial justice. Look, I get that time, energy and resources are limited. I also get that there are lots of important causes to champion, of which antiracism is but one.
However, as I said on day 4 — I’ve had former friends who have marched for animal rights, and posted sentiments like “love animals, don’t eat them” on their socials, who have not lifted a finger or a toe to do the same for Black Lives Matter. Let that sink in.
I also get that burnout is real. Breaks are necessary if you are doing this right. But honestly ask yourself — if you don’t have time or energy to take on this work right now, when will you? Keep in mind that forces to keep racism firmly in place never rest, are well funded, and are currently gaining momentum.
The other thing this chapter touches on is a hard pill to swallow for white people especially, and a huge obstacle to antiracism for those that have white privilege:
If you are truly dedicated to racial justice, at some point you are going to have to give something up.
Be it your time, your dollars, your attention, your social standing. By definition, the act of countering racism necessitates this. There is no way to have a real impact or “do it right” without confronting this fact, and all roads to avoid it, lead to either one of the pitfalls Saad describes in this book, or right back here.
Something will have to give if you are serious about being an ally. I suspect that perfectionism is only a trick we play on ourselves when we attempt to find a way to “do it right” without sacrificing anything.
Hell, I’ve had to give up plenty on my antiracism journey — money, “friends”, and LOTS of time. On the positive side of this — what I’ve given up I’ve gained back twofold in meaningful relationships with people who accept me for who I am, and respect from those whose opinions I feel matter to me.
Finally, there are a select few people I’ve seen fall into the trappings of apathy recently. I am refraining from naming them or referring to them in ways that are obvious. But I’m hoping they eventually come around. Remember always that allyship is a lifelong process if you are “doing it right”.