we dont need another anti-racism 101

March 17, 2009 § 121 Comments

i used to be an antiracism trainer for a progressive organization a few years ago.  i was really really good at.

this year i finally realized after a lot of soul searching that teaching white folks how to be good allies is not helpful to anyone.

now dont get me wrong.  i think that white folks working in solidarity with poc in respectful ways is often a good thing.

i just dont think we should teach them how to do it.

now i have known for a long time that no poc is obligated to teach a white person about racism.  or explain it.

but i am taking it a step further.  we shouldnt do it.

and by this i mean teaching white folks, anti-racism theory, critical race theory, the correct words to use, the words not to use, the correct questions to ask, etc, etc, etc.  is a waste of our time.  and theirs.  and is harmful to building a revolutionary movement or creating good relationships.

the problem is that fundamental to white/euro-centric culture is a break between word and action.  between theory and practice.

and so in my experience, folks can learn all the theory, all the right words, all of it and yet act fundamentally the same, live out the same patterns of thoughts, still hold the same fucked-up priorities.  and yet spout all of the anti-racist rhetoric.

because that is all it is to them.  rhetoric.

people only learn as much as they are willing to learn.

and anti-oppression is not complicated.  you dont need to read a book or a take a training or read a blog to learn humility, respect, and love.

im not sure if this is making sense.  it is something i have seen and lived and trying to put it in words is difficult.

its like white folks who are professional anti-racists and make money off of being and writing about being anti-racist.  which basically means they make money off of racism.  and see no problem with that.  claiming that they should be paid for what they do.  umm…no.  not always.

its like us giving white folks all the correct rhetoric just allows for them to be able to better racists, because they are able to justify their racism using anti-racist rhetoric.

in that they are able to say things like: i realize that such and such is a function of racism and then they continue to do the same fucking thing that they just acknowledged was racist.

this happens all the time.  like.  all. the. time.

do y’all know what i am talking about?

like i know that poc are attempting by teach white folks to be antiracist in order to create a more just world.  but our intentions and our impact are not matching.  which means that we need to change what we are doing.  giving white folks better rhetoric just feeds into the euro-centric mind set.

white folks love love love being told the right words and phrases and theory to use.  because white culture does not take rhetoric seriously.  white culture does not have a function that says: your words and your actions must match.

this is why so often you hear folks say: that wasnt what i meant.  or that wasnt my intention.  have we ever wondered why is there so much emphasis on folks intention?  why do we think that our personal intention ought to matter so much to others? ought to matter more than the impact of what was said or done?

what folks mean when they say: that was not my intention—is—i did not verbalize in my head: abc instead i verbalized: xyz.

and what you verbalized in your head (or heart) ought to matter more than the harm of your actions?

and instead of changing one’s actions, one changes one’s rhetoric.

why? because in white culture what you verbalize (out loud or not), your internal and external rhetoric is important in and of itself.  and yet has little bearing on what you do if what you said when acted upon would undercut or diminish your ability to rise higher on the caterpillar pile.

like its one thing to be anti-racist.  its another thing to be respectful or humble or loving.  to not take that new job position w/o realizing that there are poc who are more deserving.  or to not insult that woc when you know that doing so will increase your readership.  or to not quote a woc when you know it will make you sound smarter and garner more respect from white folks.

im not sure if this makes sense.

i guess what i am saying is that in my experience if white folks want to be respectful of poc or understand where they are coming from–they dont need a workshop.  there are centuries of writing from poc that they can dive into.  there are plenty of poc in their neighborhoods and community organizations.  when white folks are ready to be anti-racist, when they are ready to turn from facing the center, to facing the margins, and stand with us.  we will be here.

they dont need to be converted or preached to.

they dont need to learn the right words to use.  or the right theory.

we dont need more of that.

and it is harmful to them to give them a bunch of new theory and rhetoric while they are still angling to get as close to the center as possible.  to get to the top of the caterpillar pile.

and antiracism theory will just be used as another means, another tactic for them to reach their goal.

and the funny thing about culture, is that culture provides us with a set of assumptions that we dont have to verbalize internally or externally in order to act those assumptions out.  and one of those assumptions in white culture/eurocentric culture is an isolationist, individualistic sense of success and failure.  the: i gots to get mine.  you gots to get yours.

and until folks stop living out that cultural assumption, no amount of anti-racist theory is going to do any good.

if anything it will be harmful because now we as poc have just given them one more tactic to get over.  get ahead.  step on others in the kyriarchy.

§ 121 Responses to we dont need another anti-racism 101

  • little light says:


    I’m gonna have to read this a couple of times and mull it over.

  • Blackamazon says:


  • nezua says:

    i love the spine of this post. of your thesis. like you ive found centering my actions on teaching or improving others with hopes for the results that “ought” to come from it is a waste (mostly) of my energy. just the other day on twitter i said that people cloak themselves too much in rhetoric or titles or labels for what they “do” or “are.”

    a couple other thoughts it engendered in me:

    some of the writing i’ve done on “anti racism” was to teach myself. i just did it out loud. i dont know that we can “keep” the info from anyone. and i do think its worth putting out there. because SOME people actually do learn and make good use of it. so i think its a waste of time to focus on that. but it is not an unworthy side effect of p utting the info out there.

    another thought was that “intent” matters to many people (at least in the US) because our law takes it into account when considering damage done, or rather punishment meted out. and i too do take intent into account. because it does matter to me what someone is aiming for. tho saying you are aiming for the mitt doesnt mean you dont have to replace the window when you miss.

    keep putting the heart and good info out here. it does me good, i know that. 🙂

    • Tari Lynn Barrera says:

      @ Nezua thumbs up!..In putting the info out there is a good thing what anyone does with it after that is left to them not your issue.~Like selling a car someone buys it thats the end of your concern. In educating someone to anti racism it is an awesome start~ if its said enough times and by enough people and it changes only one person it is worth it. I don’t care what color they are. What if that one person changes one other person etc…see where this is going?

  • Jen Cross says:

    Oh damn. Thank you.

  • arvind says:

    This is fantastic! It helped clarify something a bit in my head about how I felt that whites find it relatively easier to become activist about it when they find a cause to champion, as compared to non-whites. Maybe this relative inability to be paralyzed by a disconnect between words and actions explains it!

    • mama says:

      yes! cause championing a cause is theory. you dont actually have to do anything! i find myself going…ok there are 24 hours in a day if i ‘champion this cause’ i will have to re arrange my schedule. do more work. give up more privilege. but i dont. in eurocentric culture championing a cause is a way to not have to act. in a real effective way.

      • Amy says:

        yes, exactly. the thinking is, “if i say i support something, i’m actually *accomplishing* something, no matter what my actions are”.

        there are so many white anti-racists that have zero accountability to any communities of color. they will tour around doing workshops getting props for being so progressive or radical but it’s all just words that create a lot of self-satisfaction and do not contribute anything to the dismantling of oppression.

        in fact these people create a different sort of intellectualized oppression, revolving around themselves being the enlightened “experts”, sometimes actually preaching at people of color about racism, as i have seen time and time again.

  • prof susurro says:

    you are absolutely right. it’s not our job and it is changing anything at any meaningful level. Unfortunately diversity 101 will not decolonize anyone’s mind – not those who benefit nor those who do not. It takes a long term commitment that recent racial flare ups in the “progressive movement” (which mirror ancient flare ups) prove is largely not their despite surface level commitment.

    I stopped doing these trainings when I figured out they had very little structural impact, ie that the organizations generally brought me in to either avoid a lawsuit or to feel good about being “anti-racist” even tho their workplace was no more diverse or diversity retaining/institutionally transformational than places that never had such training. Ultimately, I look back on it as a time when both I and they were mostly idealistic and I made great money doing something I thought would change the way we deal with one another. Now I make less mone teaching students I don’t expect that much change from and who surprise me by occassionally doing the work all those liberals don’t do but could easily quote chapter and verse back to me on the subject if asked.

    I recently went back to my hometown and found the same people who once begged me to “come save our agency; people here or so [fill in oppression] they don’t even know it” doing the same trainings they used to pay me for, using bastardizations of the curriculum I developed and charging twice or three times as much. They did not credit my work or cite my hand outs; some had simply taken my name off or replaced it with their own. If that doesn’t prove how little these things work at a structural level, I don’t know what does.

  • mama says:

    @nezua. oh i agree i dont think that we need to ‘keep’ everything that we write about oppression or racism or whateva from ‘getting into the wrong hands’…i am more arguing that trying to educate white folks about racism is not a good idea. part of the reason i feel this way is because we *do* put our work out there , we have done so for centuries, we will continue to do so…thats enough.
    and intent does matter. i just dont think in general it matters as much as impact. and i feel that it is too easy to wiggle out of taking full responsibility if you can claim that you didnt intend it.
    and that is what i am saying. intent matters and i dont know how good we are at being able to figure out our own intent. like ‘i didnt mean to sound racist i just meant to assert that i know more than you do about your own culture…’ or ‘ i didnt mean to be racist i just meant that i find people who are higher on the social hierachy to be more deserving of my time…’that sort of thing…

  • mama says:

    @blackamazon. thank you! i am emailing you tonight.
    @ little light *waves*

  • ilyka says:

    part of the reason i feel this way is because we *do* put our work out there , we have done so for centuries, we will continue to do so…thats enough.

    To me, that ties in also with what you wrote in “if we build it, we will come.” So may others outside that “we;” but if they do, it will be because they want to be there, not because it’s the thing to do, or because it’s part of their antiracist training, or because they want more help on getting the rhetoric right with no intention of changing their behavior.

    And I love you for all of this and more, but oh thank you for pointing out the disconnect between actions and words in white culture. That is the root of it. That is the engine. Climb, little caterpillar, climb. Don’t stop to reconcile words and deeds or you’ll never make it to the top of that pile.

    My socks, I must fetch them. They have been knocked OFF.

    • mama says:

      ah thanks. yes. this is related to my thinking through where we should focus our energy and why. if we are going to build community…and that is what we do…why do we get sidetracked by trying to teach antiracism to folks who obviously dont give a fuck?
      and yeah…
      climb, caterpillar, climb.

  • Kai says:

    An awesome post, top to bottom. Thank you for this, Mai’a. I’m standing clapping hollering right next to Blackamazon.

    I particularly enjoyed the dissection of why the intent argument comes up over and over again. I totally agree that the reason is the white/Eurocentric cultural norm which separates word and being. For many white folks (though not only white folks, of course), words are deployed strictly from the ego in order to project a propagandistic image of oneself that will aid one’s selfish ambitions; rather than deployed from the heart-spirit to summon the power of the word in manifesting truth and love as we walk the earth in peace. And you know, I’ve decided that I have a problem with that.

    Intent does matter, to some degree. But not always. Drunk drivers don’t usually intend to murder anyone, but if they do, they can get charged with murder. So it depends. I guess the problem is the automatic fallback position white folks take on the primacy of white intent over the social realities of racism and POC experience. If you don’t intend to perpetuate racism, yet do so, where does that leave us?

    So yeah, I’ve stopped trying to teach anti-racism 101 to white folks as well. I mean, white folks are welcome to read my stuff and see if there’s anything worth learning. I suppose we can’t prevent people from dipping into our writings and picking up bits of strategic rhetoric for whatever agendas they’re pursuing. So I guess I just keep practicing speaking truth from the purest place inside myself I can get to on a given day; and whoever can hear it from a pure place, will; and whoever turns it into strategic rhetoric, didn’t hear me at all.


    • mama says:

      yeah. i cant stop white folks from taking my shit and quoting it out of context to make themselves look ‘with it’. but seriously? fuck them. all i can do, and i hear you, is ‘speak truth form the purest place inside myself’.
      and i think that not doing that. that ego matters more than justice. that word and deed are such separate categories.
      yeah i have a problem with that too.

  • Holly says:

    I can tell you a bit about my experiences with racism 101 as a white anti-racist (also anarchist, feminist, animal rights but more importantly intersectional) activist. I have seen a lot of what you talk about – white liberals who use their anti-racism rhetoric to rise in their community, hipsters who make ‘ironically’ racist jokes that they follow with philosophical but emotionless ramblings that they stole from a person of colour. I’ve been to my share of workshops, lectures, discussion groups on racism, but only one has felt right.

    A group of us in Pittsburgh came together with the same feelings – that people of colour are not responsible for teaching white people about racism. We read a lot – on the topics of white privilege, prison industrial complex, racism in social justice organising. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of us had to deal with guilt and the struggle to develop our identities as white people. We ended it on the concept of ‘the work is not the workshop’. We spent a lot of time discussing how to get out there in the community – providing childcare for women of colour involved in local organising, raising money for poc-run organisations, etc. It’s different this time because I have seen some of these people out there on the front lines, not sitting on a couch at a party trying to justify their squinted-eyes joke by quoting bell hooks.

    Thank you for putting this work out there. Some of us are listening with all our hearts.

    -H (@thumbprints)

    • mama says:

      i love this phrase: the work is not the workshop
      and i think that providing free radical daycare is one of the most hardcore thing a bunch of activists can do. seriously. i have a kid. and i am all about folks who take care of her because they realize that what i do is important. and that my voice at the activist meeting is important to be heard.

  • belledame222 says:

    Interesting. Yeah. Hrm. I’ve often felt that way about various feminist terminology, “unpacking knapsacks,” all of that.

    I have been thinking about a sort of “universal asshole bingo,” i.e. power moves in various dynamics, because there do seem to be some ummm techniques that cut across the board.

    I mean, Nez’s Wite Magik Attax, which is more of a guide to recognize how this shit is used as weaponry from the receiving end, I found at least as useful as the more earnest sort of “guidelines for white people to be on best behavior” shit that gets bandied about, which is what you’re talking about.

    also, possibly covered under what you’re talking about here (people using the new words but still playing the same old tune underneath) there’s this phenomenon among white people and other “allies” that I’ve been calling “dirty fork,” after the Monty Python sketch:

    i.e. it might be earnestly meant in some cases, but something about the whole “examine your privilege” deal ends up becoming a way to focus on one’s own hairshirt process as opposed to, y’know, what the other person actually needs.

    “Dude, I don’t need to know your whole life story, and I’m not your confessional booth. All I wanted was a damn fork, and I still don’t have one, and now one of yours has gone to the other extreme in defense of poor, pitiful you, and has brought out the cleaver, and this helps any of us, how?”

  • donna618 says:

    I like to talk about “a lightbulb moment” and what I mean about that is just like the cartoons, when a character gets a bright idea a lightbulb will be pictured above his head. When I talk about anti-racism with white people I am hoping for a lightbulb moment when you see it dawns on them what you mean. In real life it’s best because you see it on their face, but you can still “see” it online too in their writing.

    Anyway, all the times you said, “I’m not sure if this is clear.” Oh yes it is! Do you “see” the lightbulb over my head? I’ve thought that a anti-racism 101 should be useful, could be useful, but probably won’t be useful, but never sat with it to understand why I feel that way. You took out a hammer and nailed it.

    I have a lot of white friends both on and offline. They didn’t need a racism 101. They saw me as a full human being equal to them in the first place, and treated me that way, which is the most important first step. You can’t teach that in a 101. They seek out POC and understanding. They don’t stay in their comfort zone and hope that we show up there and “teach” them. They go to the source and listen. So online it means so much to me to see white people going to POC blogs and engaging in the ideas and socializing with us. Then there are the ones who stay on their own blogs or visit other white owned blogs and talk about intersectionality or anti-racism, but never make any attempt to reach out. We are supposed to come to them in their mostly hostile spaces.

    Anyway, what I think is that there are many people who say they are anti-racist but are not willing to do any work. These are the ones who need a 101…but they are not willing to do any work! The ones who really are anti-racist are right there where we are at and soaking it in like a sponge. They don’t need a 101 because they are learning through practice and not theory, by being there as our friends. We are learning about each other, human to human, the way that friendship should be. The way that white people do with each other but too many won’t with us.

    • mama says:

      yes! if you are dedicated and anti-oppression. you dont need a 101. you need a broom because the meeting space is dirty. i too have white friends (some of my best friends are white) and they know the deal. practice matters. actions count for something. oh donna, i know who you are…!

  • donna618 says:

    Oops I meant to continue this thought to it’s logical conclusion: “These are the ones who need a 101…but they are not willing to do any work!”

    They consider reading a 101 to be work. They won’t do it. They want us to just give them all the answers right there and then in the Cliffs Notes version.

  • donna618 says:

    Oh Gawd now I am multiple posting. In case you haven’t figured it out, donna618 is Donna from The Silence of Our Friends, soofriends on twitter. I forgot that I signed up for a wordpress name and password for something else (no I don’t have a wordpress blog) and I must still be signed in.

  • Isabel says:

    I was actually having this argument about intent with a white friend of mine (I am also white) and there was sort of a breakdown in communication and I think it may have had something to do with what you’ve articulated here.

    And at one point in the long conversation she said something basically equivalent to, well richer people are more likely to have been exposed to the type of education that aims to raise awareness about racism, and it took a while to sink in what a nonsensical statement that is on some level, because – sure if you think of “awareness of racism” as something only white people have, or as something to be articulated in theory, etc. I think she was making that mistake of assuming principles, beliefs, awareness etc. are something that come with being able to write an essay about it. Or, that being able to write an essay about something implies actual awareness about it.

    And, yes, thank you very much for this post.

    • mama says:

      thank you. and i think the class analysis also falls into play. like i have met plenty of upper middle class white folk that think that they cant be racist because they are upper middle class. and thus educated. and thus they understand poc ‘issues’. and yeah they wrote a paper about poc issues. and read some chapter excerpts. but fuck it. i mean, the folks i know who are white and ‘down’ and not about being ‘aware’ they are about being here. now. with me. and it aint theory. they have developed their own theory or theories as to describe what they are doing. but its not because they are more educated. its because they do the work.

  • belledame222 says:

    “this is why so often you hear folks say: that wasnt what i meant. or that wasnt my intention. have we ever wondered why is there so much emphasis on folks intention? why do we think that our personal intention ought to matter so much to others? ought to matter more than the impact of what was said or done?”

    I’ve been mulling over for a while if this isn’t actually a part of -Christian- dominated culture, or rather a specific flavor of Christianity, the kind where emphasis is on what’s in your SOUL (something a radical feminist I knew once declared feminism was all about, as opposed to what you actually DO, which according to her, -anyone- can do)

    It’s always parsed a bit weird to me. I mean, and I’m saying this as a cultural thing, not necessarily any individual’s current practice (or lack thereof). I’m Jewish, but secular; but I do think that there’s something about the way the emphasis has been on

    “You fucked up. Go do something to fix it.”

    as opposed to “having already sinned in your heart” being what’s really important that’s influenced the way I parse this shit. The responsibility is to the actual other people; what’s in your heart doesn’t mean dick if the other person is still hurt.

    not setting any of that in stone or anything, just something I’ve mulled over for a while.

    • mama says:

      @belledame. yes. yes. i was having this convo recently and the other person was saying: oh this is what i would have wanted to be done for me…so i just did the same thing for you.
      and i am looking at him like: ummm….who made you the standard? like, i understand the golden rule but i would have wanted the opposite, and why the fuck didnt you ask me what you want?
      in other words: even the golden rule can get twisted into what the other person WANTS for themselves rather than the other person thinking through the issue…and figuring what you would want….
      not sure if that is making sense
      and i think that there is something there about xianity. and ‘sinning in your soul’. and if your intention is moral then that gives you alot of room…i too am thinking it out…

      • patchouli says:

        Definitely my first time commenting but I just wanted to say you blew my mind there.

        Growing up, I was always always always taught to think this way– not just the golden rule but that version of it where we should treated other people the way we want to be treated. When you’re teaching a kid not to hit people, it’s one thing but when you grow up, it changes, I guess.

        Because it’s a concept I find myself returning to over and over when I fuck up. “Well, if it was me, what would I want done for me?” And then yeah, finding myself surprisingly hurt when they can’t read my mind or my intentions.

        So here’s my lightbulb, yeah.

  • belledame222 says:

    I mean, it’s the sort of thing that interests me, but is probably tangential to your (Maia’s )point. Ultimately it keeps boiling down to what you’re saying: you can torque ANY rhetoric, ANY rules, to serve your own interests. ANYTHING.

    Hillel’s Golden Rule is damn similar to the core teachings of Christ. And people muck it up from all directions.

    Still, though. This whole thing about -intent- versus – effect- is something I’ve been trying to unpack for a while. Thinky thoughts eh.

  • whatsername says:

    Yah… I think you’re probably right about this.

    It’s sort of like the “give me all the answers right now!” impulse so many white folks have. When really, it seems like most of the time, even if you take the time to detail to them exactly what you’re talking about, it falls on ears who aren’t exactly deaf but definitely aren’t hearing you either.

    It’s like, real knowledge is something one has to work for, not have handed to them…

    • mama says:

      exactly. it doesnt matter if it is handed over. if you dont want it. if you dont know you need it. you will drop it. that is the shame.

  • whatsername says:

    Even going by the Golden Rule, would anyone want anyone else to just assume they know what they need, instead of ask?

  • belledame222 says:

    the thing about the Golden Rule is–and maybe with a lot of this other shit as well–it fails when you take it too literally or narrowly.

    i.e. “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself:”

    1) yes, that DOES mean, if you wouldn’t like someone else insisting they know your preferences or subjective experience better than you do, don’t turn around and do it to anyone else

    2) by that same token, no it DOESN’T automatically mean, (for example)

    “gosh, I hate it when people don’t call me ‘Ms.’ Therefore, according to my feminist principles, I’m going to refer to you as ‘Ms.’ whether you say that’s what you want or not. And if you say ‘actually, -I- like being called ‘Mrs.’,’ instead of just saying oh all right while I generally use ‘Ms.’ I will remember to call you by what you prefer, I will stand here and lecture/argue you into the ground about -why- you are wrong to take on the patronymic title. FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, mind you. I -mean so well.-“

  • Fire Fly says:

    So much yes. It’s why I won’t be teaching any more anti-racism workshops.

  • belledame222 says:

    …and, need it be said, for the good of the “movement,” because that’s what I -think- “community” or “sisterhood” is all about. “The personal is the political” means MY personal is the political, because I simply don’t have the empathetic skills to understand intersubjectivity (i.e. that you are an entirely separate person, despite the ways in which we might, indeed, struggle alongside due to commonalities);

    so now (as you’re getting at along another axis, M) I just have another tool with which to wield my assiness. Before, I would’ve just said something like, “you like -what?- Well, that’s just stupid.” Now I have all kinds of neato new vocabulary like “internalized oppressor” and “male identified” and “tool of the patriarchy” to help beat you over the head with in defense of my own ego. Whee!

  • donna618 says:

    I wanted to go back to intent. It does matter. People do take into consideration that it’s a mistake and not meant to hurt, but it’s not central. What is central is that someone was hurt and the person doing the harm should care about that and not want to do it again. It’s the difference between these two sentences;

    “I didn’t mean that the way you read it, but I am sorry that I hurt you. What can I do to make things better? How can we work this out?”


    “I didn’t mean that the way you read it. So you have no right to feel hurt or be angry. So stop whining.”

  • ilyka says:

    People do take into consideration that it’s a mistake and not meant to hurt, but it’s not central.

    Well put.

    And to me, the consideration people take with you regarding your intent isn’t unlimited, either. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but if you keep making the same mistakes repeatedly I will wonder why what you say your intent is, and what you show your intent to be via your behavior, are not the same.

    Someone who means it, who really is trying, makes new mistakes, not the same old ones. Repeating the same mistakes indicates to me that something’s not getting through, not being learned, and nine times out of ten that indicates there was never any real intent to learn in the first place.

  • belledame222 says:

    and also what Donna said.

  • Jo says:

    This is just so *on* with a whole bunch of not-as-well-articulated thoughts that have been careening around in my head, and occasionally on screens &/or paper.

    I’ve participated in a lot of workshops, and intensives, and seminars, and even entire sections of undergrad courses aiming to teach us (mostly) white folk anti-racism or anti-oppression 101. And it always seems woefully ineffective. Not that it was poorly designed or executed, at least not within the parameters it was defined, but that it’s just an ineffective way to bring about this change.

    Especially when the anti-racism discussion groups and class sections require us all to read Tim Wise and Allan G. Johnson – and no writers of color who’ve been speaking these truths for eons. I think the idea, with using the work of white cismen, is that perhaps the “voice of power & authority” will speak more forcefully to those in the most need of listening. But… really? I wonder just how far down the anti-racist road any of us are going to get if we have to be cajoled to start walking by a voice of authority, if we’ve already, off the bat, discounted the voices of poc?

    The problem I, ultimately, end up running into is – how do you teach basic human decency? Those qualities you named? Respect. Humility. Love. You can not find them in a book or in a workshop – no matter how brilliantly taught. The “other people are people, too” lesson doesn’t come with a curriculum.

    The one thing that, I will say, I found useful about (especially) those first couple of workshops was a breakdown and set of examples of what structural racism/oppression looks like. That sort of learning doesn’t necessitate a workshop, and there’s a lot that I learned outside of any structured setting, but I think it CAN happen in a workshop, if someone says:

    “Hey. Let’s look at a couple of things. Let’s look at mandatory minimums in drug sentencing. And let’s look at income tax rates v. investment tax rates & who benefits from that system. And let’s look at where toxic waste is dumped, and where garbage dumps are located, and how difficult it is for a community where the vast majority of residents work 40+ hours a week to make it to the city council meetings to protest ANOTHER environmental hazard being dumped in their neighborhood. And how even if they have time away from work, they might just be too busy trying to navigate a broken healthcare system to address the chronic asthma brought about by the pre-existing toxic dumping ground & the harmful chemicals spewing from the [union-busting] plant down the street at which half of them are [under]employed (or spritzing from the bottles of industrial cleanser they squirt onto other peoples’ mantles & tables) to make it to a meeting on the other side of town (the side without the chemicals in the air & the toxic sludge next door – but with the shiny mantles & tables) to kindly ask, in the calmest of tones, that the city consider not placing another damn hurdle to their own & their kids’ health & well-being in the abandoned lot people are trying to turn into a sustainable community garden. Let’s look at all of these things, and note that they’ve got some things in common – and those aren’t accidents.”

    That’s the one thing that, it seems to me, can be useful about gathering people in a room to talk about racism. Teaching “skills” – not so much. Because of all that you’ve outlined above. But maybe pointing people in the direction of serious, tangible, problems they can do something about & that help illustrate why “being the BEST anti-racist” must NOT be about having the most obscure Audre Lorde & Franz Fanon quotes or the ability to write a paper about intersectionality.

    Or maybe it’d all just get screwed up again, and all of us well-meaning white folks from the anti-racist training would go marching into the neighborhood to ‘help’ halt the construction of a new dump by holding our rally ON SITE (you know, that site that used to have a burgeoning vegetable patch… that we’ve now trampled) while the nanny keeps an eye on our kids and cleans our house so we can be here making a difference.

    I’m wordy. Sorry. Point being: Yes, to all that you said. And what ilyka, belledame222, and donna said.

  • Jo says:


    “the one thing that can be useful about gathering a bunch of *white people* in a room to talk about racism”

  • quinacridones says:

    This is an awesome post and it put into the words so many of the reasons why I’m allergic to the term “anti-racism”. I think most of the discussion reduce poc lives down to our suffering under oppression and reduces that suffering again into a flat caricature that can dissected and rearranged into a convenient product, that will enable white people to say all the right things. There is such a huge gap, like the distance over the ocean, between the discussion of oppression rooted in poc lives and then anti-racist discussions. And lost in that gap is the humanity of people of color.

  • > you dont need to read a book or a take a training or read a blog to learn humility, respect, and love.

    Best line.

    But what’s up with talking about “white culture” like it’s indivisible and uniform? Disclosure: I am a white man. (If you’re white and you don’t admit that it’s great, you are an ASSHOLE!)

    Owning a computer makes me the wealthiest generation in my family’s history on earth. Even though I’ve got richer white people waiting in line to break my arms and legs and I’ve already sold my eyes to settle unpaid bread bills. I’m no paragon of virtue, and the culture I inherit from my ancestors is fucked up in its own ways. But it doesn’t include this:

    > the problem is that fundamental to white/euro-centric culture is a break between word and action. between theory and practice. […] in white culture what you verbalize (out loud or not), your internal and external rhetoric is important in and of itself. and yet has little bearing on what you do if what you said when acted upon would undercut or diminish your ability to rise higher on the caterpillar pile.

    I don’t dispute that there is a dominant, orwellian culture that enfleshes that role in every destructive particular.

    I would say the fundamental problem goes deeper: it’s the disconnect that allows people to disclaim non-human Nature as an object. Once you have a line that lets you to distinguish soul from soul-less, subject from object, master from enslavable– once you’ve alienated yourself from mutuality and accountability –you can do magnificent fetes of manipulation. When you have that line, how much difference is it if you put more things on the other side: enemies, aliens, slaves, children, women, people of color?

    As much as it might be useful to say that this fundamental divide originates with white, euro-centric culture, I don’t know of a single continent that didn’t breed this rapine pattern. The white colonial dynasty wasn’t because white culture was uniquely or superiorly rapine, but because a whole lot of chance (notably plagues) gave European countries the upper hand long enough to build their Towers of Babel.

    Those towers are coming down. And, I fear the fundamental divide will remain with us.

    Maybe I missed the article in which you carefully teased out the definition of white culture.

    Anyway, your articles continue to raise challenging and important issues. Thanks for your writing.

  • Deoridhe says:

    This was such a shoe dropping post. Thank you.

    Donna: I wanted to go back to intent. It does matter. People do take into consideration that it’s a mistake and not meant to hurt, but it’s not central.

    The thing is, I think that you can watch the behavior of the people who didn’t “intend” to hurt someone, and their behavior pattern is wrong.

    When I step on someone’s foot and they say ow, if my first response is, “I didn’t mean to step on your foot! I’m such a horrible person for doing so. Why was your foot there, anyway? I mean really, leaving feet lying around is asking for them to get stepped on. And why aren’t you wearing steel toed boots? You have to protect your toes if you don’t want them stepped on,” then my response would be a lot like the response pattern of people called on thei racism.

    That’s not the behavior of someone who is actually sorry for stepping on someone. It’s the behavior of somoene who wants to appear that way.

  • prof susurro says:

    @ jo – I think you may be being discipline specific. Neither I nor any of my colleagues use exclusively white men to teach diversity (not in class or when I was a trainer); the standard was cis women of color and cis white women. I think when white men entered the conversation as authors of diversity, they became the “experts” in the way you suggest however and precisely for the reasons you suggest but in my experience they are not the standard outside of soc. and Wise in particular has been taken to task for neglecting both gender and class in much of what he writes.

    @John – don’t you think that by replacing white with “you” and “people” is the very obfuscation that is white privilege? While it is true that oppression can exist within a single race, that does not negate the fact that whiteness (as a social construct) functions as a form of hegemonic oppression(s) that places white, cis male, heterosexual, urban, Western, able bodied, monied men at the center and everyone else at varying stages of removal (to use your metaphor) into otherness. I often find it suspect when one is talking about a specific oppression – in this case racism (and how anti-racism workshops don’t dismantle it) – and someone who benefits from that oppression drops in and says “yes, I agree with what you’ve said but isn’t everyone oppressive in some way?” That generally shifts the conversation from talking about a specific oppression to talking about either generalization in which no one has accountability or oppression olympics in which everyone’s energy goes into arguing with each other and ignoring the specific system in place that otherizes the majority of us for the benefit of the few. Racism exists. White people benefit from it and/or perpetuate it. Anti-racism workshops have not dismantled racism. (And in my opinion have often armed people on the left with the language necessary to avoid dealing with racism or racist behavior while people on the right generally don’t bother – look at the “i’m listening and I really want to honor what woc have to say” stuff from this summer that has resulted in minimal change in the feminist blogosphere vs. Imus blaming Sharpton & everyone who was upset about his racist comments for his cancer on his NEW radio show for examples) These are the issues at hand. Let’s stick to them.

  • @prof susurro:

    > I often find it suspect when one is talking about a specific oppression – in this case racism (and how anti-racism workshops don’t dismantle it) – and someone who benefits from that oppression drops in and says “yes, I agree with what you’ve said but isn’t everyone oppressive in some way?”

    That is suspect, but that’s not what I said.

    What I was responding to was this:

    > the problem is that fundamental to white/euro-centric culture is a break between word and action. between theory and practice. […] in white culture what you verbalize (out loud or not), your internal and external rhetoric is important in and of itself. and yet has little bearing on what you do if what you said when acted upon would undercut or diminish your ability to rise higher on the caterpillar pile.

    What I object to is the term “white culture.” Sure, racism exists. Yes, white people benefit from it and/or perpetuate it, even those of us on or close to the bottom rung. I even admit that as a North American, white, hetero, XY male, my blind spots exceed my vision.

    But that isn’t the same as not meaning and doing what I say. Meaning and doing what I say is my culture– and like most folks, I make mistakes, and find support from others in my culture to do better.

    If this seems like a diversion from the main point about Anti-racsism workshops failing to dismantle racism, maybe that’s so– but Mai’a repeated this diagnosis of “white culture” several times in the article, and I think it’s “white culture” is the wrong name for that disease.

    “White culture” does not equal “a break between word and action” I don’t know what term would be better, and I’m willing to hear an argument that bullshit is integral to “white culture”. Bullshit is my word for maintaining a division between ideals (language, concepts), and concrete action (behavior).

  • One more thing: adding my conjecture about what I think is a more fundamental problem was probably a mistake. I concede that it might have been off topic, but I didn’t think so at the time.

  • whatsername says:

    John Stephens, I think you’re personalizing what is a broad socio-political and legal apparatus which is “whiteness”. That’s not necessarily the culture of all “white people” but it is the hegemonic and often legally enforced culture code.

  • Thank you, whatsername. Maybe I am. Are you saying that it’s basically too complex and abstract to talk about using plain, concrete detail?

    If that’s the case, don’t mind me. Standard protocols apply: Continue on with your life as though you had never read this, delete your browser history, backup and reformat your hard drive, and perhaps call off any appointments for the rest of the week.

  • donna618 says:

    Not complex and abstract at all. All of us know what bullshit is, why do you suppose we do? Maybe because it’s common to white culture. Perhaps you would prefer we call it western culture? Appearances matter more than reality which is why the actions don’t match up with the words. This isn’t just about anti-racism, it’s part of the culture in all it’s aspects. How about this example: I know a man who is pro-life Catholic, until his own teenaged daughter got pregnant, then suddenly he wanted her to have an abortion so that no one would find out, not the neighbors, not his parents, and brothers and sisters, not his friends, etc. The appearance was more important than his stated pro-life stance. Words and actions don’t match.

  • whatsername says:

    No that’s not what I was saying at all. I’m just suggesting that you are personalizing something that is a working system and not a personal attack.

    I’d point to similar situations as donna618 is talking about. Most of the time it seems like whiteness gives white folks the freedom to be hypocrites and think nothing of it. That doesn’t mean all white people are in fact hypocrites, but they’re allowed to be.

    • Amy says:

      “That doesn’t mean all white people are in fact hypocrites, but they’re allowed to be”

      Yes. There are a lot of escape hatches built into the dominant white culture, like people are saying here, the “that wasn’t my intention” clause.

      To me, it’s basically that white people are culturally and socially able to escape accountability, because the culture itself has not been accountable for its actions (like, no reparations, or even truth and reconciliation, so people can feel like “hey we can get away with this”) So white folks are brought up in this environment of “if we say all the right stuff that’s good enough”, but there is no true inquiry into *what it actually takes* to make things right. And white folks (especially well-educated white folks) know that it flies, that they can say all the right words and that helps them to “be on top” without having to do the hard work.

  • > whiteness gives white folks the freedom to be hypocrites and think nothing of it. That doesn’t mean all white people are in fact hypocrites, but they’re allowed to be.

    That’s pretty helpful, thanks again.

  • mama says:

    @john stephens, whatsername, donna

    i should just point out. that john *does* know me personally and that may be why it sounds *personal*. he is one of my closest friends, has known me since i was 13 yrs old. i obviously was not speaking about him when i was writing…but i wouldnt be the person i am now if it wasnt for him…i just wanted to make my relationships transparent.

    –whiteness gives white folks the freedom to be hypocrites and think nothing of it. That doesn’t mean all white people are in fact hypocrites, but they’re allowed to be.—

    i think that is pretty much it. that is the difference between personal decisions and culture.
    plenty of white folks work against the tide of culture…i am more trying to say: this is where i think the tide is going…
    because like alot of us are like: wtf???? why isnt all this anti-racism working? why isnt your ‘im an ally!!’ actually affecting how you interact in the world? you got the theory but…
    and im trying to understand that too…both personally and theoretically.

  • Kai says:

    Whiteness is a socio-cultural construct, so of course there is such a thing as white culture. Come on.

    And yes, part of that culture involves a specific use of language which prioritizes the propaganda effect of rhetoric over the manifestation of truth, i.e. a break between word and being (and therefore action and behavior). White folks don’t necessarily do this consciously; but they usually can’t help themselves, it is built into their cognitive indoctrination and is therefore as invisible as their own eyes. The mind can’t see its own perceptual mechanisms; in this context, white folks can’t even imagine that there’s another way to be, which involves a different relationship with language.

    Guerilla Mama is far from alone in making such observations. Probably the most well-known piece on this subject is Hypocrisy as a Way of Life by Marimba Ani.

    Does it surprise me that some white folks would dispute these concepts? No.

  • prof susurro says:

    you know Kai, I was actually thinking of Thandeke while watching this thread unfold. She did cognitive research on white children and adults and found a consistent pattern of childhood cognitive dissonance created through the interaction of open white children with open children of color and closed/sanctioning primary caregivers. She basically argues that in the moment when a primary caregiver sanctions a white child for treating a person of color like an equal, usually before they reach 5, the child’s brain, recognizing there is fundamental disconnect between what they see and have been taught to believe about people and the actions of the adults in their lives creates a cognitive line that allows for racial contradiction. IE the fear of loss of love or care leads to saying one thing and doing another; believing one thing (@ least in theory) and ultimately acting in a way that supports another. Most white people are not aware of this moment because it happens so young and is often innocuous, unless it is particularly jarring. It’s fascinating stuff.

    I’m off to look at Hypocrisy as a Way of Life, which I have not read. It’s likely that when I get the Thandeke on PDF later this semester that I will put it on my blog since it keeps coming up lately. I don’t know why I didn’t include it with the anti-racist feminism reading post I did a while back.

  • […] on why we don’t need another anti-racism 101: now i have known for a long time that no poc is obligated to teach a white person about racism.  […]

  • mama says:

    @kai and susurro

    thanks for the great references. i am going to get both of those books. wow.

    and i am thinking about white identity formation as a form of trauma to young children…wow.

    i mean i would love to read/hear more…deep.


    i can see that sitting together as human being and discussing the ways that racism manifests itself can be a good thing. but my question is why does it have to be a room full of white folks? would that conversation be more difficult if there were people of color there as well?
    and i think that the answer would be yes. the conversation would be more difficult at least for the poc because of the racist attitudes of the white folks in the room. (this has been my experience) and so while i am down with organizing against structural racism in its various manifestations, if you cant discuss those manifestations in a way that is respectful and humble and loving–then what is it worth?
    does that make sense?
    why would a bunch of white folks sit around talking about racism when the fact that there are no poc in the room is probably one of the manifestations of racism…and yet they continue to have the conversation?
    and why not just read all of those books and articles and plays etc etc etc that poc have been producing for centuries about racism?

  • […] am late saying so, but I couldn’t agree more with this post–and yet, for reasons that will become clear, I hesitate to say, “Read it.” But […]

  • […] This post made sense to me, when I clicked on the link the writer posted on Twitter days ago.  I felt self-conscious saying so, though.  Then I felt like not posting much at all for many days. […]

  • belledame222 says:

    and i am thinking about white identity formation as a form of trauma to young children…wow.

    yeah, that is REALLY interesting, says the nascent psychologist who’s also really concerned about this shit, pulling up armchair.

  • belledame222 says:

    going to have to read the Marimba Ani piece a few times to get it.

    is it related to capitalism? but article also mentions the “Christian ethic.” i always thought it was some weird tension between Christianity and capitalism, actually, two ideals that actually don’t mesh. Orwell talks about that a fair amount.

  • […] That if you are lovable the way you are , that people are love able for just not being you. Did you earn the right to make anybody think they had to lead a worthy life? Are you ready for the maelstrom ? […]

  • Restructure! says:

    *bolts up in the middle of the night thinking about this post after reading it during the evening*

    This is great.

    I think I will stop blogging for a white audience, and I will start blogging for people of colour who are younger or who overly accommodate white people due to their naive optimism. I’m not talking about conservative PoC, but my younger left wing self.

  • […] I dislike a particular white antiracist blogger March 30, 2009 — Restructure! we dont need another anti-racism 101 by Mai’a at guerrilla mama medicine: and so in my experience, folks can learn all the theory, […]

  • […] by Jack Stephens on March 30, 2009 Mai blogs: i used to be an antiracism trainer for a progressive organization a few years ago.  i was really […]

  • […] blogs: i used to be an antiracism trainer for a progressive organization a few years ago. i was really […]

  • Kathy says:

    Hi, I found this post via Restructure, it’s a great post, I will probably read it a few times, the comments are really interesting too.

  • Robin says:

    As I see it, someone may be humble, respectful, and loving, but may have a flawed understanding of how best to manifest those values in their behavior. After all, aren’t those all qualities of intention? One may sincerely want to be respectful, but because of ignorance or hastiness, will put their foot in their mouth and offend someone. That is where racism 101 comes in. It teaches a person why it is disrespectful to say or do certain things, so that they can avoid it in the future. A white person who feels respect for poc can say or do something unintentionally disrespectful. And, as you pointed out, such actions are harmful regardless of intention. By examining these actions and learning about them-in workshops or otherwise-such people can adjust their behavior to match their intentions. Not all politeness is subterfuge, and not all rhetoric is insincere. The fact that some people use them as such seems insufficient cause to dismiss the learning process.

    Also, what do you have against capitalization?

    • mama says:

      humility, respectfulness and love are not qualities of intention. they are qualities of impact. better said they are actions. if someone tells you that something is disrespectful to their personhood. accept it and move on. if you need to know why there are plenty of ways to find out that doesnt make that person of color your ‘teacher’. you can adjust your behaviour to match your intentions by listening to what the person of color says is respectful and then doing it. thats all. its not rocket science.
      this is not an issue of politeness. it is an issue of honesty. of radical honesty. why do you need to be convinced that another person should be treated as a human being? why do you need a workshop to convince you that listening to people of color is a good thing to do?
      so what if you make a mistake? use the wrong word? you make the mistake. you find out it was disrespectful. you figure out why it was a mistake. is it that you didnot know your history or the communities about which you were speaking well enough and you used language that reflected your lack of investment in understanding those communities? did your mistake reflect that you have not listened to folks before? did you assume that you knew more than you did?
      that kind of questioning is radical honesty.
      it doesnt require a workshop.
      it requires that you be willing to be wrong. to lose face. to be humble.
      and to not try to find an easy way out.
      it means apologize.
      choose another path.
      and dont make the same mistake again.

  • Marta says:

    “people only learn as much as they are willing to learn.”

    That’s absolutely true. I have only one objection: you consider only the US society. I did not grow up in a multicultural society (I am Italian and 30something), and now I live in one (London). Sometimes I do not know what is the polite way (which is often a matter of conventions as much as of “heart”) to deal with matters related to race (what is the correct term for…? They don’t teach you that at the standard English course! and surely not in a school where everybody’s white!), and I would really like to have somebody to ask about it. So far, I manage looking at how others do. But I am always afraid of offending somebody by mistake.

  • ilyka says:

    Also, what do you have against capitalization?

    . . .

  • […] perpetuate white supremacy.  And  As one of the commenters of the post noted rather poignantly:  “the work is not the workshop”.  So to quote the great philosopher Alan Iverson “We’re talking about PRACTICE .  Not […]

  • Michelle says:

    @ mama, this is just gorgeous clear.

    I am moved by the clarity of by all of it and this especially:

    white folks love love love being told the right words and phrases and theory to use. because white culture does not take rhetoric seriously. white culture does not have a function that says: your words and your actions must match.

    @ Kai, wow I love your comments here.

    And this that you wrote: For many white folks (though not only white folks, of course), words are deployed strictly from the ego in order to project a propagandistic image of oneself that will aid one’s selfish ambitions; rather than deployed from the heart-spirit to summon the power of the word in manifesting truth and love as we walk the earth in peace. And you know, I’ve decided that I have a problem with that.


    @belledame222: About the Ani link, if you are really interested in the scope of what she is talking about, I would suggest you get your hands on the whole book and read the whole thing. It’s hard to buy, but libraries sometimes either have it or can Interlibrary loan it.

  • Michelle says:

    Mama, you write about radical honesty (your comment on April 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm).

    My experience suggests to me that the European/white cultural self experiences even a very shallow form of radical honesty as a threat, and as emotionally/spiritually painful.

    Part of my experience on this is very broad and spread over a lifetime. Another part, what I am thinking more specifically about right now, comes from a pretty horrifying multi-year struggle with a particular person who strongly and aggressively and continuously claimed in words that she wanted to not act from this space, but over and over has done it. We speak about it in terms of the European/white cultural self. It doesn’t help in terms of her action.

    What confused me for so long was this individual’s very strenuous ongoing word-claims that she wanted to act from another space – confusing given that her actions did not match the claims.

    Recently, she has dropped these word-claims, at least for the time being. She is now talking more upfront about where she is actually coming from. It took such huge and painful and long and soul-sucking struggle (I don’t even have extreme enough words for this) to even get to this likely temporary point that I would not recommend it to anyone.

    She has recently told me two things about the situation that I thought about reading what you wrote

    1. She said that she made the word-claims that she wanted to act from outside of this European/white cultural self under the assumption that whatever happened would stay bounded within the European/white cultural limits of what words mean and don’t mean.

    She said that from her perspective, she can make these word-claims (and very strongly) without being afraid that the European/white cultural self will actually come under real threat because she “knows” culturally that she will not actually have to do what she said and she did not expect anyone or anything to be able to successfully push the interactions outside that cultural box.

    She likened what she had been doing to the example of Tim Wise, whose calls for the end of white supremacy — she said — are very likely made with his cultural “knowledge” that his words and word-claims are operating firmly within the limits of the European/white cultural box.

    2. She experiences any critical scrutiny of her actions — no matter how neutrally done — as an actual or potential attack on her good person-ness (internal and/or external image). There is no such thing as honest critical scrutiny of the self’s actions in the European/white cultural context. Everything has to come through “does this make me/make me look like a good or bad person” filter. Everything.

    So your comment above, for example, would go through that filter in #2, and whatever might come back as a “reply” would be done within the cultural box from #1. You are talking about action. It won’t be heard or responded to that way by the European/white cultural self, though.

    IMO the practice of radical honesty and the European/white cultural system are deeply deeply incompatible. It’s such deeply conflicting cultural assumptions that communication across the conflict of deep assumptions about reality is not actual communication.

    LOL, and I am realizing now as I write that this person I am referring to would likely eat up and start to use a phrase like radical honesty — enjoying it as a nice new piece of rhetoric (faux “ideal”) to claim to want to practice. She really deeply loves words and phrases like this.

    And LOL, now I’m picturing a workshop for white “allies” titled Radical honesty: how white folks can move from talk to action in anti-racist practice.

    That’s part of what you and Kai and that Marimba Ani excerpt are highlighting. Words are just …. there’s no accountability.

    • mama says:

      @ michelle ha ha ha
      wow you just laid it out there so well. yes. this is a culture that is about: do i look like a good person or a bad one?

      “There is no such thing as honest critical scrutiny of the self’s actions in the European/white cultural context. Everything has to come through “does this make me/make me look like a good or bad person” filter. Everything.”

      and i love your workshop idea. they would love this workshop. oh. they could struggle over how hard it is to practice radical honesty.

      black amazon says that any system that is not accountable to the people it harms ought to be stopped. and i think that is what folks dont get about whiteness. that it is not accountable to people of color. and thus whiteness must be stopped. we cannot support it.

      what do words mean in the white world? why is it a culture that has divorced words from actions? obviously words have a high value in whiteness but why?
      it is like words are currency unto themselves. and actions are a completely different currency.
      why is it considered such a threat to expect words and actions to match.
      ive known a girl too who has all all the anti racism theory (pats herself on the back for it) but when i comes to a new (racial) situation that she hasnt dealt with – and thus doesnt have the right words for – she acts like a complete ass.

  • Michelle says:

    @ mama,

    what do words mean in the white world? why is it a culture that has divorced words from actions? obviously words have a high value in whiteness but why?
    it is like words are currency unto themselves. and actions are a completely different currency.
    why is it considered such a threat to expect words and actions to match.

    Marimba Ani’s Yurugu, the book that includes the excerpt Kai posted about hypocrisy, lays a lot of information and clarity out about how this culture operates. I don’t know that you could get it where you are (Palestine?). But if you ever can get access to it, she did a lot of work in bringing things to the surface about how the culture is set up and functions. Links to more about the book: Here and Here

    About the word/action disconnect in particular … I can’t seem to get myself to really believe that this goes on. I have experience after experience after experience with it, and cognitively I am very aware of the patterns. But for me it is so outside what could even exist that I sort of spiritually “forget” that it can happen like this and end up having to come up against it again and again. Like my cognitive understanding that this happens is not matched by my emotional/spiritual sense of how reality works.

  • prof susurro says:

    I just wanted to pass the link on to Thandke’s piece called “The Cost of Whiteness” turns out it is already on the internet


    It comes from her book Learning to be White

  • […] to this article by thandeke.  i want to read her books.  but after susurro mentioned her in the we dont need another anti-racism 101 post, i looked her up as much as i could to get a basic handle on her analysis. Most white Americans […]

  • A few people have written to me on other channels to dispute what I’ve said here. For that reason, I wanted to clarify one thing: I stand corrected. I found whatsername’s comment very helpful, and I’m no longer confused by the term “white culture”.

    The cognitive reasearch mentioned by prof susurro was also interesting. I study trauma and trauma resilience. Although I can’t confirm the universality of this specific trauma event, the general pattern is consistent with my experience. The idea of “white identity formation as a form of trauma to young children” is very compelling.

    I’ll save my conjecture for another time.

  • nezua says:

    Fantastic stuff here…

    Yes, I think we are on the same page. And I should always say when I have this intent conversation…I dont’ mean to use it as a way out of a person’s own words. I mean that I personally do consider what I feel a person is trying for. What they mean. If someone says “spic” to me, well I take that like I take a hit on the body. But if in someone’s words I hear ignorance and they don’t mean it, they actually are a loving person and have conditioning they dont know they have, but would be willing to work on stopping immediately if they had awareness? I treat that much differently.

    So that is all I meant. But it’s long to explain each time…but I should think of a way to summarize, because in the contexts of these conversations, it is often heard as something else. Probably because when “intent” is discussed normally, it IS being used as an excuse for continuing but just giving lip service.

    • mama says:


      i see what you are saying. its like someone may hit you and it hurts. but if someone hits you by accident vs. someone hitting you on purpose – you account for it differently. most of us do. thank god.
      i admit that i get annoyed with folks though who go around swinging their arms every which way and then are surprised that when they hit you it hurt. like some folks (entitled folks) have been taught and supported in swinging their arms around every which way and expect for others to simply get out of their way if they dont want to get hurt. other folks (not entitled folks, poc) have been taught to walk with their arms close to their side, spending much of their energy trying to avoid other folks hitting them, trying to anticipate everyone else’s move so they dont get hit.
      and then we poc go around to white folks trying to explain to them why they shouldnt hit others.
      we tell them that racism is when you intentionally hit others. when you have the attitude that says its okay, right good to hit those kinds of people.
      sometimes we go deeper and we tell them that racism is when you hit another person of color because you have been trained that running around randomly swinging your arms around in a world full of people is okay. we tell them that they have been taught that they have a right to run around swinging their arms blindly. that they consider this to be freedom.
      but it goes deeper right?
      because really we are all taught that we are not allowed to swing our arms and hit certain people. like adults. or teachers. or police officers. or white folks. or rich folks. or straight folks. or the privileged. the middle class. we ought to respect those people.
      we have been taught a wrong definition for freedom. freedom isnt the right to hit another person. freedom is the right to love another person.
      and then there are those crazy folks. revolutionaries i think we call them. who say: dont hit me. dont hit any body without their permission.
      and if you do hit someone. accidentally. you are accountable to them to make it right.
      a revolutionary says: stop hitting. start dancing.

  • […] 19, 2009 some thoughts brought to the fore by the post we don’t need another anti-racism 101, including the comments by belledame222 and by kathy at restructure where there are excerpts of the […]

  • […] April 19, 2009 · No Comments my response to nezua on we dont need another anti-racism 101… […]

  • […] we dont need another anti-racism 101 by Mai’a at guerrilla mama medicine * For the record, I was unaware of the #amazonfail twitterstorm until I read Shirky’s article, as I had Internet troubles during that time. Although he makes a good point about people’s tendency to rationalize their actions, because I wasn’t involved, I have no emotional investment in maintaining that an injustice did occur. Posted in White People Studies. Tags: #amazonfail, accountability, action, Amazon, ancient, appearance, behavior, behaviour, Canada, Christianity, culture, effect, ethics, ethnocentrism, eurocentrism, history, hypocrisy, image management, injustice, intent, intention, Japan, justice, law, LGBT, mens rea, modernity, morality, orientalism, perception, religion, responsibility, saving face, secularism, the West, tradition. No Comments » […]

  • […] we dont need another anti-racism 101 by Mai’a at guerrilla mama medicine […]

  • Katie says:

    As I read this, I kind of wonder if whether it’s a waste of time or something useful has a lot to do w/ the white person in question’s personality type & learning styles.

    I’ve learned a lot from all that stuff in the “words-only” way you described, in that it hasn’t changed much about the way I interact around POC, but it has changed my priorities about the way I live my life in front of other white people, the things I write my representatives about, the things I discuss in hot political conversations w/ other white people, etc. I think it’ll take the real face-to-face stuff to make some of the changes in me that haven’t happened yet, but I’m NOT a good friend-maker! I think this HAS helped me more than, say, leaving me w/ none of this would’ve…but I do think that’s mostly because I’m so devour-a-book-and-fantasize-about-people-calling-me-up-to-do-something-but-crunch-when-I-need-to-call-someone.

    I can see how it’d set back people who have a stronger learning connection to and amount of social interaction than I do.

    Awesome idea, though.

    • mama says:

      actually it sounds you like you are doing what i recommend. read shit. learn on your own. dont expect poc to be your teachers.
      i dont buy the ‘i learn better from actual people’ response.
      here is why: i dont doubt that some folks learn better from actual people. that this is a much more comfortable way for them to learn. and their learning curve is quicker. or at least they feel like it is. hell, im that way too to an extent. having some one break down for me in easy to digest chunks is well…easier…
      but who said that me learning about my privilege ought to be done in a way that makes me more comfortable. shouldnt it be a bit difficult? shouldnt i have to work for it? shouldnt i be the one who has to use learning styles that is less comfortable for me? how am i deconstructing my privilege if i feel that i should be able to learn about your oppression in a way that fulfills me? who is centered in that type of learning situation?
      and furthermore, i have learned alot about my privilege from other folks. when they want to point me in the right direction. but i have learned alot more from shutting the fuck up and paying attention. listening to what they say. watching the way they interact in the world. if i claim that i learn best from others then i need to be able to be perceptive enough to pick up on the social cues. on body language. on tone of voice. i dont get to come over with my list of questions and pepper folks with it.
      follow me?
      i have to first see folks as equal beings in this world. with me. and then i will be able to see their humanity and learn the details of their experience from being around them. but if i think having explain to me that they too are human and these are the reasons that they deserve to be treated as human means that i am going to actually respect them…ive got it all wrong. from the get go. you know?
      yeah it aint easy. so what? im the one who is making it hard. im the one who assumes that there are folks who deserve to be treated as human beings and other folks who are … not exactly equal to me…
      those are my assumptions that i need to work on.
      and no amount of conversation is going to be effective…until ive dealt with that basic assumption.

  • Katie says:

    (I did decide I didn’t want to apply for a job position based on things I’d read about race, by the way, not personal interactions. I’m quite a hermit.

    Anyway…that’s all…just…mentioning us white hermits. But maybe changing approach across the board and missing us is still a far better idea than trying to figure out which white people learn what how and use multiple approaches. That sounds pretty ridiculous as I type it.

    Okay, nevermind ot everything.)

  • At best, anti-racism workshops are a waste of time, and at worst they are dangerous to the physical well-being of the participants. A case in point is the case of Doug Williams,</a a Lockhead worker with a long history of physically and verbally and emotionally abusive workplace behavior toward Blacks and anyone who consorted with Blacks. When Doug Williams was ordered to attend yet another morning-long “sensitivity training,” he went to work with his gun and shot six people dead while leaving another eight people wounded, after which Doug Williams committed suicide, shooting himself.

    If Doug Williams had been screened and diagnosed by a competent psychiatrist trained to identify Extreme Color Aroused Ideation, Emotion and Behavior, then such a psychiatrist would certain have perceived the emotional lability and lack of self-control that made Doug Williams not just a danger to his co-workers but a danger to himself. The constant color-aroused name-calling; the inability to tolerate bichromatic friendships and relationships among others; confronting people in public about with color-aroused rants, the fact that he continued with this behavior even after supervisors made it clear to him that his job was on the line; and the fact that he had already been penalized at work for this behavior — these were all symptoms that Doug Williams color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior had become “extreme”. His behavior color-aroused illness was debilitating to him in at least one major life area: his employment.

    Unfortunately, psychiatrists believe that color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior are “normal” in a color-aroused society, so it is almost impossible for people like Doug Williams to receive the competent psychiatric screening, diagnosis and treatment that they need.

    The great failure of anti-racism sessions is the failure to recognize that color-aroused illness can be just as serious and debilitating — and dangerous — as psychosis, schizophrenia and manic depression when these illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.

    Each year in the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of color-aroused incidents reported to state and local governments as well as becoming the basis for civil and criminal prosecutions. By now, it should be obvious that a one-day training is no more likely to successfully treat color aroused illness than it would advanced addiction to alcohol or cocaine, or pedophilia.

    Until science takes color-aroused illness seriously as a mental health issue, white men like Doug Williams will continue shooting their co-workers and taking their own lives, while Black people do the same, and also shoot each other like dogs in the ghetto because a color-aroused society makes us rageful and also convinces us that our lives aren’t worth the money that will be spent on our coffins.

    Anti-racism workshops are like cough syrup for cancer. We will never, ever make any headway toward screening, diagnosing and treating color-aroused illness until we acknowledge how serious and life-threatening it can be, and until we acknowledge that psychiatry must play the same role in this psychiatric treatment issue that it does with manic depression and schizophrenia: screening, diagnosis and appropriate treatment for the severity of the illness and the risk of lack of treatment.

    Francis L. Holland
    Editor, The American Journal of Color Arousal

  • otto says:

    I am a teacher. Not a good one, but I’m always learning. Here’s what I think based on some of the things I have learned. What I suspect, and I mean this kindly and encouragingly, is that you may have given up too easily.

    Before I say more, I understand and agree with your analysis, especially this phenomenon: “its like us giving white folks all the correct rhetoric just allows for them to be able to better racists, because they are able to justify their racism using anti-racist rhetoric. in that they are able to say things like: i realize that such and such is a function of racism and then they continue to do the same fucking thing that they just acknowledged was racist.” You have an excellent and sensitive eye.

    But to explain the reason for the disconect between what you did as a “really really good” antiracism trainer and the lack of real antiracism that developed in your students as soley the function of inadequate students (in this case as the result of the rhetorical ethic) is a cop-out for a teacher. As it usually plays out in lecture halls or classrooms or workshops, teachers have more power than students. This also means they should bear more responsibilty for the education that is supposed to take place.

    You know everything that went on and know it well: it shows up in your post. A teacher can’t teach anyone anything, or as you put it, “people only learn as much as they are willing to learn.” Indeed. So if a teacher adopts an objectifying or scholastic approach to their job—if they think teaching is about changing people’s minds by filling them with right answers—they are setting themselves up for failure. If the teacher thinks, “I, the teacher, am going to do something [educate] to you, the student, so that you will be, according to me, better than you are,” they will come to the same point of frustration that you did. Because real education, the kind that can undo racism, takes place subjectively, internally by the student. It cannot be imposed. When an objectifying, imposing approach is tried, it results in rhetoric, superficiality and hypocracy. The student does not internalize, feel or believe the lesson, but they adhere to its trappings because someone in a position of power told them to. What happens is exactly what you describe and upsets you.

    Also, because racism—and the fear, hatred and violence that comes with it—is far more an emotional issue that an intellectual one for most people, trying to change minds with words and information does little to affect the heart, which is precisely the place the change has to take place. When someone’s heart changes, then the “respectful or humble or loving” actions you would like to see will follow. As you point out, the right words or theories ain’t got nothing to do with it.

    So what do you or any of us do? We can help create emotionally safe environments—because no one is going to openly consider new ideas if they feel threatened— where racists might come to their own conclusions about the inhumanity of their emotions. Blogs like yours and the Unapologetic Mexican’s are great efforts along these lines.

    Great conclusion about putting community above “isolationist, individualistic sense of success and failure,” by the way.

    Don’t give up just because you encountered some resistance.


    P.S. Don’t be fooled: The rhetorical ethic is a function of dominance, hegemony, aggresion, violence and imperialism. It is not confined to any particular ethnicity. Sun Tzu, for example, was a master.

  • […] may be the problem that Mai’a identified from her experiences conducting anti-racist workshops with white people. Teaching white people […]

  • […] should be treated but in the sense of not being looked down upon by me. Which is to say that, as belledame222 mentions in the comments here, I hope that it works for […]

  • Aquaeri says:

    This is an excellent post, very thought-provoking for this white person. And also so many of the commenters are very wise. I’ll be digesting for some time.

    and the funny thing about culture, is that culture provides us with a set of assumptions that we dont have to verbalize internally or externally in order to act those assumptions out. and one of those assumptions in white culture/eurocentric culture is an isolationist, individualistic sense of success and failure. the: i gots to get mine. you gots to get yours.

    Absolutely, I’ve been noticing problems with the isolationist/individualistic approach myself (even though I’m steeped in it). I’m also reminded of my students (I taught science) who were there to pass the exams and graduate, rather than learn the material.

  • china says:

    aha, I’ve found it! This post was on my mind, someone I came across it yesterday and this morning I thought about it some more and wanted to post to it , and couldn’t find it again.

    well, goodmorning and hello mai’a !!!

    I was just thinking about if some of this intersects with the problems I have had in the last two years with discussing/trying to learn about “white privilege” from white people I perceive to have more class privilege than me

    its been so complicated, and so much about words, and so alienating and so strange. But I think in general I had been in hard conversations (on race and class with all kinds of peeps, including my best friends) and have to be glad about how over all, the whole thing helped me grow, and that over all, I have to keep focused on the positive part and what I want, and stay away from the stuff that just tares me down to inactivity

    but I have had a real hard time critiqueing any white person who is an anti-rascist because if I say anything, its like then I don’t agree I JUST DONT GET IT, and if I talk about my experiences trying to discuss I am sometimes told my my experiences just aren’t the norm, and when I have trouble in discussions with radical people of color, they tell me to go talk to the white people about this stuff – not them, white people have to work it out among themselves, but I dont’ like a lot of the white people who are triggering me with class stuff – but CLASS is a downfall of white anarchists who derail conversations on rascism and can we focus on race, and yes I want to thats the point I am here, but you are being classist in your assumptions and I have a hard time then participating so… sometimes I have no one to talk to.

    And then I like to read books, books by women of color, and just live my regular life – because I find more stuff in that.

    I feel like I have grown so much more since last I “talked” to you via email, but you were so friendly to me, as a person I didn’t know and as an editor – it really meant alot.

    I want to stay critical, stay learning, but keep warm, and forgiving and more on the positive side when dealing with others too – because it can be so hard, you dont’ want to go on, and what is the point of that? a radical movement that is not nurturing nor substaining, nor gives you the space you need as well to make a mistake or go your own way.

    its a really sensitive subject, but I have not yet been able to articulate my problem with self proclaimed white anti-rascists who I perceive to have more class privelege than me. maybe I never will. but *I* am starting to understand better in myself so I feel better about it.

    also its little things in how people treat each other, that counts. NOW i know we can be rushing, or stressed, and in a bad mood – and rub each other the wrong way. certain behavior or words can remind others of something else and trigger peeps. I know its easy to have misunderstandings, thats why I try to give others some benefit of the doubt and gentleness, like I like myself.

    BUT still, some things do build up. when I watch an older white woman who is a very active “anti-rasicist” teacher disrespect my radical childcare space, try to use it to prepare for her workshop – then talk over past her time and leave without ever looking at me and my issues …its this bad feeling I have for her, that builds up.

    I KNOW its just a little thing. But for instance, I try, if I can, and stay for the next workshop after my presentation and listen and learn – no matter what they are talking about. Sometimes its subjects that don’t even seem like something I want to know about – THAT ARE SO INTERESTING and I learn so much. If you go to a conference you are there to learn and exchange and should be respectful to those near you, looking at books next to your books, conference speakers who speak after you and stuff like that.

    these little things, in how we interact with others are important.

    OF COURSE this is not my problem. Its language and its teaching but laughing and being snarky at me, but you barely know me or my life. its assumptions that take middle class white lifestyle and say thats how all whites live, and try to teach me then about myself – like I say, if I say anything, I am laughed at or made to feel bad, stupid, uneducated, or ignorant, and worse of all – like a rascist, more of a rascist then you, because I dont’ get it, or disagree with anything you say.

    (OK, now I am talking the “you” is the educator antirascist white person). ALSO I am so confused by folks who say they have white middle class male privelege and then talk alot at the start of the meeting and them saying they have white privelege excuses their bad behavior.

    I was going around and sharing this story and asking folks “REALLY? REALLY? Is it true if you say you have white privelege before you speak that people will like you more?” and everyone told me Yes, it was true.

    but it seemed so …..weird to me. how this man was acting. and just lately I remembered this story and told someone it and the woman laughed WITH me and said “I hate that too. its like they are just Words you use, but the person goes on acting this way, and it is not good”

    Its very complicated and sensitive subject and there is alot of racial tension but it is important to talk about and I am greatful, I guess to everyone who talks about it, but some people …and for a while there…where really driving me crazy! They seemed so ignorant to me but had very educated advanced theory speakings – to teach. and this was what I was supposed to learn from. the white folks. I keep saying I want to put together more class and race issues and that bugs alot of people, but when I finally figure out how to say it better what I want to say, maybe people will like it then.

    but also, we are yes, human beings. and I hope sometimes I am forgiven for being liked for other things I do that have been good and seen as where I am and critiqued and called out (rarely happens, but in a round about way, and also at workshops too, we have things we need to work on more)

    OK. I am babbling. but I have felt if I say anything against any self proclaimed anti-rascist, then its like I am a rascist, and I dont’ like that dynamic at all, that its very hard to talk or speak or discuss. white people would always drive me crazy, never p.o.c. because the p.o.c. would be speaking about an issue that affected them dirrectly – but it could be a boy half my age who lives in a state far away from mine who tells me, stuff about me, if I try to speak, I am shamed as “I dont’ know” or I dont’ want to learn about white privelege. and I do want to learn.

    i’ve rarely gotten in any discussion on race and class without hurt feelings and its been horrible – but its been getting better. still , super sensitive! its not just easy to use words, words, words, words, words, words.

    ALTHOUGH I am also learning HOw important it is to use my words. mission statements, naming names, inclusion.

    but other times, life is more about people, neighbors, friends, issues, and yes, like I said, showing polite skills to others around you, like making sure the door doesn’t close and hit them and saying Hello, and thankyou, and excuse me. now I sound like my grandmother, which I am not like that.

    but just some people are really arogant. the teachers are always the students. thats what I see when I do a workshop. embrace that and learn, its a beautiful thing.

    AND yes, I am glad this is way, way back down your blog because I hope you understand what I am trying to say with ESP. my writing is very sloppy here and I deffinately have a hard time translating some of my feelings and experiences and there is so much to write and do.

    but it was just on my mind this morning, when I woke up. like Huh. maybe that has something to do, in a way, with some troubles I have experienced in a peripheal way, with such folks as you describe.

    lots of love – mamaphiles is coming out late, but it is coming out. We are printing your whole piece – word count be damned – will have email update on that soonish

  • china says:


    your writing, your blog, is amazing! I have so much respect for Blogs made by radical mothers of color – what is going on in blogs. Its not something (blogs) i feel as comfortable with as zines – because the blog world is HUGE and never ending and it has comments and links and moves the speed of lightening and its more easy to have drama —

    but ever since I went to the AMC , it really solidified for me, to have so much respect and to see so much is Going on, with women of color and blogging. its the only reason I read blogs, the only blogs I read, are women of color. Its all I know. basically Noemi and Fabiola – my whole knowledge of blogs, comes from them, which I met them from zines.

    but the writing up here, on your website and others. Its immense. Thank you!

  • […] we dont need another anti-racism 101 « guerrilla mama medicine: …teaching white folks, anti-racism theory, critical race theory, the correct words to use, […]

  • Nkei says:

    From my head to your blog. Marry me!!

  • Nkei says:

    I got sent this in an email. I just realized the date this was posted. Well…I was starting to ramble in your comment box, and I figured I need to post it on my blog instead http://one3snapshot.blogspot.com/2009/11/whats-white-gotta-do-with-it.html

  • […] of this blog comment. She certainly deserves credit for inspiring the title of this blog. (update: https://guerrillamamamedicine.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/we-dont-need-another-anti-racism-101/) Anyways, I think that she is correct to an extent; sometimes an examination of one’s white […]

  • Indie says:

    Old post, but thanks — as a white woman trying to figure out how to be less racist, I get a lot of people (both people of colour and white people) throwing me rules and rhetoric and etiquette, and then I see so many of the white activists running on a script and not really thinking about why they do what they do. They think that by following rules they get cookies (even if one of the rules is not to expect cookies from anyone).

  • teachermrw says:

    I think it was kismet which brought me to your site today. 🙂

    What clinched it for me was a very simple, albeit powerful, sentence in your very eloquent post: “You dont need to read a book or a take a training or read a blog to learn humility, respect, and love.”

    You know, I’ve been trying, since a white colleague said to me last year following a rather heated discussion, “You (me) need to decide if you’re going to be part of the movement here on campus to help bring things along.” Yes, this was said to me. I basically said to her that it’s not my job to do that. With kids, yes. With adults? I am finished with them.

    A colleague of color told me several years ago, “POC need to go into one room and celebrate, and white people need to go into another room and get their ish together.”
    I think this is what I will say the next time a white colleague tries to get my face w/r/t race, etc. And, I’ll email a copy of your post as well.

  • ian says:

    Some really great points, but doesn’t this white “culture vs poc/women” dichotomy risk all kinds of reductionist essentializing? That is, doesn’t the idea that poc/women are somehow inherently unracist/unsexist or able to detect racism/sexism ignore or at least downplay the lived experiences of all people in our consumerist culture?

  • […] We don’t need another 101 on racism. What we need is just people to treat us equally and fairly. […]

  • matt says:

    have you ever read “for america to live, europe must die” the speech by american indian activist russel means? (it’s available online) i think you two are on the same spirit-page. you raise critical! points. thanks you.

  • china says:

    wow. I have never read that Matt – “For America to Live, Europe must Die” by Russell Means. I love this, I love this on so many levels. I think its amazing.

    I do think, and I don’t know, I couldn’t presopose, but my gut feels that this one thing has changed in the last 30 years … that talking about people being one color on the inside and different on the outside, and having slang words for it, or being wary of folks going to college … this strikes me as a little OWie, because I know the kinda pain these kinda titles can bring, I think the world today is much more a biraciacial world and a less binary world in so many ways, that complex different forces come together and we make complex choices. that was just one comment I wanted to make on that.

    but overall – what an astounding speech! from the very first line! How true. I think of practices I have learned and want to share, in radical childcare for instance, and the last thing I wrote I worried how it would be taken because it was written and wrtten things can be taken so many ways but some practices are best shown in life as practices.

    i dunno. just thank you for sharing this matt. I feel like words aren’t good enough, but just silence, to listen, is all I want ❤

  • Sarah says:

    Late to the party, but I wanted to thank you so much for posting this. It’s amazing and powerfully written and enormously helpful to this (yet another) white person who’s trying to be less racist. Your insights on white culture, rhetoric and the struggle for status are spot-on. I’ll be thinking about this and using it to evaluate my actions for a long time.

  • […] we dont need another anti-racism 101 (read the comments, really) […]

  • Joyousandjuicy says:

    What is “white culture”? I should never expect to speak so monolithically, essentially, generally about “black culture” or “brown culture” without it being called out.
    “White culture”? Really?

    Teaching anti-oppression and anti-racism is never a waste of time. Having language around these issues – language which, YES, must be used (and yes, must be -ENACTED-!) responsibly and ethically – is crucial.

    being a poc doesn’t make it your job to talk/teach race critically – it sure doesn’t mean you have the ethical responsibility NOT to, as you suggest.

    we need anti-racism 101 until we don’t need it anymore.

    we need women’s studies 101 until we don’t need it anymore.

    and it needs to be done by whoever’s willing, skilled, and knowledgeable enough to do that work. and that has nothing to do with your skin colour.

    • Joyousandjuicy says:

      also, oppression is complicated. so of course a resistant anti-oppressive praxis will be complicated.

  • […] Haut rein, muss aber! Weil es wahr ist … Hinterlasse einen Kommentar Geschrieben von momorulez am April 3, 2011 „and so in my experience, folks can learn all the theory, all the right words, all of it and y… […]

  • jeffitron says:

    I am a white man, and I don’t know what to do. I grew up in a racist family, and have been trying my best to act non-racist, not just talk non-racist. I think that I am aware of the undeserved privilege that I have as a white person. I think that I am aware of the centuries of prejudice that my ancestors have inflicted upon the world’s cultures. I think that I am aware that people are people, no matter the color of their skin and that a person is a person first, not their race. I think I have humility, and compassion, and love. But I don’t know anymore. I know I can’t fully understand what it is like to receive racist actions. I don’t know. My wife is Japanese, and she is dealing with racism at work. And I’ve tried to be supportive of her, I’ve tried to tell her that she needs to treat those people as ignorant and educate them of their actions being racist. I thought I was being supportive. I thought I was understanding. I thought I was helping her to empower herself, to be proud of ethnicity. To have strength. But I guess that I was wrong. She said she hated me because I was white. I’m sorry I am white. I suppose it is a curse, because if I lose her because of the racism of other white people, I have nothing. I’m sorry I am white. I know that saying sorry doesn’t make anything better, but that is all I know now. I’m confused.

  • […] this at guerilla mama medicine, an example of what I like to think of as “left anti-political […]

  • UppityBlackWoman says:

    I read this post often and I frequently refer it to other people, usually as a reference for why teaching anti-racism to white people is counterproductive.

    But today, this paragraph stands out to me more than ever:

    “and the funny thing about culture, is that culture provides us with a set of assumptions that we dont have to verbalize internally or externally in order to act those assumptions out. and one of those assumptions in white culture/eurocentric culture is an isolationist, individualistic sense of success and failure. the: i gots to get mine. you gots to get yours.

    and until folks stop living out that cultural assumption, no amount of anti-racist theory is going to do any good.”

    To me this speaks so much to the cultural dissonance that’s taking place in Washington right now. That assumption you defined is the pervasive thought among people so rich, they see anyone poor or even middle class as only being able to survive through their largesse.

    I also encounter this attitude among white people towards blacks. If you dig deeper into a conversation with a lot them, they harbor deep suspicions and resentment that all black people are only surviving on their sufferance and charity. They say things like “we give them education”, “we give them food and a place to live” (welfare), “we take care of them” and “this is the thanks we get?”. It’s the old slave master argument and it’s going to take centuries before it goes away and before white people believe that more black people earn their living than live off welfare. I don’t think the average white person believe this at all.

    That being said, Jeffitron’s post is very sad. That part where he talks about if he loses his wife he has nothing touched my heart and makes me believe he isn’t just pandering but seemed like a real cry out for help.

    I know it’s been awhile, but Jeffitron, if you read this, and I hope you figured it out already, the best “gift” you can give your wife is the gift of your belief. If she says how someone treated her, looked at her, spoke to her, ignored her, derailed her or insulted her was racist BELIEVE HER. Take her words at face value. Do not try to explain it away or make her believe that what she is experiencing is a figment of her imagination. Don’t try to make her view her experience through your eyes or anyone elses.

    If you love her, BELIEVE HER, and let her know it. Tell her the words you spoke here: That you love her and your life without her is nothing and you don’t want the racism of others or even your own biases to be the reason you lose her.

    Believe her, love her, hold her, comfort her and cherish her. Like it says here:

    “anti-oppression is not complicated. you dont need to read a book or a take a training or read a blog to learn humility, respect, and love.”

    Be on your wife’s side. Anytime you tell her to “just ignore ignorance” means you’re telling her that all the work of anti-racism to do is her own. Not yours, not her co-workers. She is by herself in dealing with their bigotry. You’re not supporting her, you’re leaving her out on a limb. You’re not validating her, you’re validating racist behavior and the people who are hurting your wife.

  • Zach S says:

    This was a very interesting read, in that I found myself initially resistant to a lot of your ideas, but upon reading the comment thread was more and more able to connect to what you were saying. As a white person, a man, even, I guess I was personally affronted by the suggestion that there is a monolithic “white culture,” although once the point was clarified in the discussion thread I let down my guard a little.

    It just occurred to me that a couple of times, in interactions with people of color (a term I’m not entirely comfortable using, but it’s not my identity being described, so who am I to argue), I’ve been guilty of assuming a generalized culture, and trying to use whatever knowledge I may had of said culture to relate to the other person. I have realized after the fact that I had done something vaguely racist, but not been able to articulate why it was racist, and thinking about this article and ensuing discussion, it crystallized: in assuming that the person in question would relate to this presumably shared bit of culture, I was not only unintentionally patronizing (b/c the culture in question was lowbrow stuff), but also imposing my concept of what a black person is supposed to be (the specific person I’m thinking of is black) onto a living, breathing black person. One who grew up on the other side of the country from the black people I knew growing up and must necessarily have had a completely different experience from theirs, which of course was also completely different from mine. Maybe this knowledge subconsciously made me reach for the lowest common denominator, it’s hard to know for sure.

    Anyway, in trying to relate I was actually dictating. This is a behavioral tic that I’m sure is not common only to me, and in my case it mostly stems from insecurity around people I don’t know very well, (and I’ll admit it) especially people of color. You would suggest that I make this right, and I guess I should, if I can figure out how to broach it. The insecurity on my part comes from the fear of doing so awkwardly and making things worse. At any rate I can at least recognize the behavior in myself and try to curb it in the future.

    I know this is an old thread that I’ve just stumbled onto, but thanks just the same for the provocative discussion.

  • ilyka says:

    Hi mai’a. Just stopping by to say I return to this post more than any other. It’s been over four years!

    I’ve been lazy about my internetting, which is not always a bad thing, but I had to come hug this post again. Much love and best wishes to you and Aza.

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You are currently reading we dont need another anti-racism 101 at guerrilla mama medicine.


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