Updated: May 31
Speed. Silence. Shame.
White supremacy is designed to thrive and flourish on speed, silence, and shame. An essential part of racial equity work to understand that injustice, inequity, exclusion and domination are happening right now in our systems; in this very moment. There is no neutral in systems of oppression.
Speed. Silence. Shame.
White supremacy is designed to thrive and flourish on speed, silence and shame. An essential part of racial equity work is to understand that injustice, inequity, exclusion and domination are happening right now in our systems; in this very moment. There is no “neutral” in systems of oppression.
White supremacy asks all of us to comply with the status quo— smooth sailing and business as usual used as norms that allow for compliance, seeking to oppress action towards undoing systems of oppression in many ways. Here are three of the central ways white supremacy seeks to preserve itself and enforce compliance.
We are all so busy we don't have time to think of what to say to disrupt the status quo. We fail to recognize that the current system is designed to sideline the essential processing, thinking, feeling and resiliency-building to move racial equity forward. It makes it feel like this work is separate from our "normal" work and takes "extra time" that is just not available.
Business as usual means we stay quiet. We question how to say something, what to say, if we are the right ones to say it, when to say it, etc. — and the result is silence. We end up being quiet bystanders while harm is happening right in front of us. And in that moment of silence, of no interruption even if imperfect, the harm continues to be normalized, as does silence.
Connected to silence, we stay quiet because of wanting to be right, perfect or an expert and it gets in the way of saying anything at all. We question how to say something, what to say, if we are the right ones to say it, when to say it, if we know the perfect phrase — we get lost in all of the "rightness" and the inability to humbly be wrong - trapped in shame and fear. We don't want to interrupt the agenda, the conversation, the preaching, or the light banter at the dinner table. We don't want to be the one that is too heavy or serious. We don’t want to be the radical.
The shame white supremacy wants you to feel is not real. Consider different ways to interrupt the status quo so it is not always a burden that can drown out its effectiveness and purpose. Acknowledge that this is hard and that some days won't be your day for this kind of work. That's ok. Also remember, that some people will choose conflict and confrontational no matter your approach. Choose your wellness and safety first. It is also ok to say what you need to say and leave. You don't have to be engaged in the whole thing if it hurts your humanity.
Just try to take a deep breath and remind yourself that the shame is not about you —it's about the the system.
We must develop a practice of curiosity. Asking better questions humbly and courageously can help us unveil white supremacy in systems, norms and business-as-usual. Ask why 5 times: why do we do it this way? Who decided this? Ask what has never been questioned before. Investigate who benefits from complex systems. Ask not only about what you are giving, but what you are withholding. Ask more truthful questions to more deeply investigate systems and norms. Practice responding to urgency not with the tools of the status quo, but the tools of liberation, belonging and equity.
So what can we do?
Practice creative reflection: a moment to reset yourself and see the reality of what is happening so you can choose to show up differently.
Our work is so deeply urgent we have to learn to show up differently.
Take an extra 15 seconds to reflect on the words you use, to breathe, to stretch. Take 10 minutes before a meeting you know might raise racial inequity or power issues and prepare yourself with notes, questions, inspiration and allies. Take the time to center yourself on racial equity, justice, belonging, and liberation. Reconnect to your purpose in this work.