I feel numb and helpless. These mass shootings are a symptom of the USA being founded on white supremacy, and by all appearances we are doubling down on this founding principal. We elected this president. We’re allowing these ideas to survive. We’re doing this.
What can we do to stop this? What can I do? I have no idea. After every shooting, every tragedy, every new racist policy from our governments, local and national, we get a slew of posts just like this lamenting our impotence. Then the news fades. We move on. Whiteness protects itself. Always.
I’m pretty sure I’m just writing this now to make myself feel better so I can move on too. There is plenty of hypocrisy in this post, but I’m just someone trying to improve. That’s sad and embarrassing for me, but I hope maybe I can nudge someone else down a path of learning that helps. Maybe just a little.
The United States of America is built on systematic white supremacy. What does that mean though? That means white supremacy, racism, is part of your national government, local government, communities, schools, workplace, church, friends, family, and most importantly, part of you.
Until we recognize this at all those levels, and act against it at all those levels, nothing will change. We feel impotent because who can effect change across all that except for public figures and politicians? That’s the numbness I feel. I’m stuck against this impossible problem, while still contributing to it!
That numbness is part of the system! If we all feel like that, we all do nothing! Sure, some public figures will stick their necks out and make tiny bits of progress, but it won’t stick unless everyone is involved. And we all fade away after a few days.
But. I see a little hope. We’re part of this system, and we can make a difference, to varying degrees, across every part of this system, every day!
Until we begin dismantling the system at every level we can’t make progress. Here are some examples of that, but there is so much more; you need to figure out what you can do at each level for yourself. It all starts at the bottom of the system, with you.
Did you take offense to my premise at the beginning of the post? Or maybe you just had some “yeah, but this, and this and this”, arguments against it or some justifications? Do you not think it’s systemic? It’s just a few crazy people. Do you think it’s not you, just others?
It’s not. It’s you too. We were raised in this system, and it’s part of us as much as we’re a part of it. I’m racist. You’re racist. We’re racist.
This is hard to accept, I know. But you must. We can’t solve this unless you start working on yourself first.
It’s hard to accept how much you’re part of the problem. How much you’re benefiting from the problem. But you have to. We can’t move forward without you. Please do the work.
But how? To start, listen and believe all the communities who have been trying to tell us this forever. Read books by black people, Native Americans, American Indians and other indigenous groups, Hispanic people, Asian people. And this problem isn’t just about race: misogyny, toxic masculinity, homophobia, ableism, etc., are also vital aspects to upholding the system. Follow individuals and activist groups on social media. Listen to them. Believe them.
When you see something mentioned that you don’t understand yet, go look it up. Don’t force them to do the work and spend the effort to teach you. Listen, and do the work to learn for yourself. That’s the only way to do it. Listen, believe, accept every one’s humanity and inherent worth.
Constantly working on yourself and learning is dismantling white supremacy.
Dismantling your family and friends
I’ll break this up into two parts: parenting and the rest of your friends and family.
I see raising my kids to be aware of this system and the effects it has on the world as the most important thing I can do apart from working on myself. (I can’t teach what I don’t understand in the first place)
How do I do that? First of all, I look up resources on this and listen to marginalized groups’ thoughts on it. I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent, especially with something like this where I’m learning at the same time. So being willing to constantly recognize my mistakes and improve is vital. I’ve taught bad things to my kids before. OK. Try to fix it and move on.
You need to find your path as a parent. I feel so overwhelmed by it that I feel silly giving advice. But you have to do it anyway! Here are some of the principles we’ve learned about as parents that we’re trying to teach:
- Don’t teach the concept of “not seeing color”. Highlight and celebrate the differences between individuals and groups.
- Curate the shows and internet videos they’re watching. So much of racism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity come from these shows. Have you re-watched any 80’s cartoons recently? No wonder we’re so messed up…
- Demonstrate vulnerability to your children.
- Discuss your mistakes with your children.
- Apologize to your children.
Like so many, I always feel like I’m flailing as a parent. But I’ve embraced the fact that I mess up constantly and am trying to turn that into a strength. Yes, not losing my temper and yelling in the first place may be a better demonstration of what we expect them to learn, but you know what I think is also a great lesson? Me sitting my son down after that and discussing how what I did was wrong and I need to do better then reiterating my love for him. That’s a tiny piece of dismantled toxic masculinity every time it happens. We’re humans, we mess up, we lose it. That’s OK.
This same thing applies to race and other relevant issues to this post. When I learn something new that I’ve been doing wrong, I try to discuss it with my kids and explain how I thought wrong and have changed.
I think I’ll always mess up more than I get right, but I hope to keep making progress and demonstrating growth to my children. That lesson is more important than any other.
Raising children who care about others is dismantling white supremacy.
Friends and Family
Anything I write about this is inherently awkward for me, and probably you too. The whole point of this post is trying to demonstrate how we can do something about these mass shootings and white supremacy by doing small actions up the whole system from working on yourself, to the national government.
This is the first level that involved possibly calling other people out on their problems, and not just someone generic you don’t know, but someone you love. I always feel I can’t call someone out given how much I mess up all the time and how much I still have to learn. I’m probably right, and probably wrong.
Writing this post is so much easier because it’s targeted at myself and a generic you. I, and anyone reading, know I didn’t target this specifically at them. So while someone might be offended and disagree, it’s easier to swallow because the accusation isn’t only directed at them. That’s the best I can do right now. Maybe I’ll learn to be better in the future.
That said, the friends and family level of the system is somewhere where you can probably most easily influence others, and should be a large part of our grass-roots process of dismantling white supremacy. If we want progress, our friends and family are the most powerful place to do it.
I don’t know how to do that though, I’m too afraid to hurt people I love. This post is my attempt somewhat, but like I said, I’m doing it indirectly because that’s so much easier for me.
With that said, friends and family, consider this long post as my plea to you. We all need to improve. I love you and want you to see how racism shapes so much more about your life than you realize. You have to do the work to see it and I hope you do.
Helping friends and family understand their role and that they benefit from this system is dismantling white supremacy.
Dismantling your church
This is another awkward topic for me to write about, so I’ll keep it brief. I think probably most churches drive patriarchy, misogyny, anti-queerness, ableism, and racism deeper into our society than most adherents are willing to recognize. I get it, this can be harder for some to accept than these problems being rampant in the other layers of society. I know that’s true for my former religion, and it’s the largest part that drove me away from it.
I think if you believe in your religion, and that it is a force for good in the world, you have a responsibility to try to make your church’s organization and the culture around it better at these issues.
Do I have some responsibility to improving the culture I grew up in even though I’ve left it? Probably. But I’m going to focus my influence on friends, family, community, and work.
I’ll just share one more piece here because it’s affected my life so profoundly and I believe it’s relevant. There are many things that reinforce the system that we choose to do nothing about, like mass shootings. Another is suicide.
Suicide is an epidemic across the USA, and being in a religious community increases the risk of someone following through on their thoughts. I believe the estrangement of living outside dominant expectations in your surrounding culture are huge drivers of suicidal ideation. To me, this should be a sign to any church or community that they have discrimination problems on multiple fronts.
But we continue to hide death by suicide by not talking about it and ignoring it. By people “dying peacefully in their sleep”. Who does that help? Nobody. It upholds a system that can’t accept differences in individuals. If we wanted to prevent more suicides, we’d talk about them and educate everyone about it. We don’t. That’s wrong, and we have to do better.
Improving your church and the community around it is dismantling white supremacy.
Dismantling your work
There are so many things we can do in our work and industry environments to improve the world. But it’s really hard.
I’m running out of steam on writing this post, so I’ll just give one example of a battle in my industry which is overrun with all the problems I’ve been talking about, and the tools being built by the tech industry are being used to amplify and spread white supremacy across the globe.
There are many people in tech pushing for better hiring practices, ethical product development, and diversity and inclusion across the whole field. This is happening everywhere, but I’m watching and participating most closely in my field.
Despite many studies showing diversity/inclusion creates a happier, more productive, and more profitable work place there is huge push-back. They say the “Social Justice Warriors” are trying to bring politics into the workplace, and that everything is fine how it is, those people just aren’t here because they’re not good at tech.
This argument is ridiculous and thoroughly disproven, but the basis for it being believed and supported is the assumption that actions reinforcing a primarily male and white workforce are not political. That’s an assumption that whiteness and maleness is the default. That’s systematic white supremacy.
You can push back on this in your work. It’s correcting comments made by coworkers. It’s improving hiring practices in your scope of influence. It’s helping HR improve company practices. It’s putting a CoC on your project and enforcing it. It’s doing these things even when it’s uncomfortable.
Whatever your industry is, you can make a difference there too. Find the marginalized people talking out in your industry and listen to them. Believe them.
Improving your work and industry in small and large ways is dismantling white supremacy.
Dismantling your schools
Our children are not being taught about our country’s foundation on racism and this is one of the biggest upholders of white supremacy. It’s so much harder to learn about and accept this as an adult.
We weren’t taught this and we must push to improve the curriculum taught to our children. First we must augment their education with these lessons ourselves, but we must also try to help improve the system. That’s from talking to your child’s teacher, to supporting groups building and pushing these lessons, to passing laws enforcing what’s right.
I think most of the push-back on the Common Core for all these years is so that many states can keep teaching false histories of our nation and the world. For example, so people can continue to believe the confederacy was fighting for anything else but upholding slavery.
One reason I love the Open Education and OER communities so much is that this movement is explicitly a social justice movement. We’re trying to make learning and learning materials more inclusive and dismantle the structures that prevent them from being so. I’m just a small part of this, but it’s wonderful to be helping a little.
Improving schools and teaching the next generation that every group is worthy of support, that every individual is human is dismantling white supremacy.
There is so much to say here, but I’m totally out of writing-steam and I’ve done so little here myself. The wave of new groups of people running for office, winning, and making a difference is super inspiring. If that’s you, do it! You’ll be awesome! But that’s not me, and because of that I sometimes think there is nothing I can do besides voting when I can.
I think there are plenty of other things we can do. I don’t know them all, I need to keep learning. Being an informed voter is not nothing though. With each local and national election, familiarize yourself with the issues and the candidates. For each policy I try to ask myself who they hurt and who they help. So often they’re hurting the already underprivileged. So often they’re supporting white supremacy.
Once you see it you’ll be shocked how much of it there is. So vote accordingly. That’s something.
You should also talk about it which can be hard. I don’t do that but I should. Maybe just something simple like posting somewhere for friends and family what you’re voting for and why. That’s simple, that’s something.
This is more cross-cutting for the categories I’ve laid out, but support protestors and activist groups. We saw in Puerto Rico recently the power the people can still possess. There were lots of posts praising them and lamenting that we can’t do that here. First, Puerto Rico is here. Second, that has been happening here and we haven’t supported it. For example: Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. They were out there for months trying to dismantle police brutality and white supremacy. We watched. We did nothing. Whiteness protects itself. Always.
I’m still numb and feel helpless. But writing this and recognizing there is so much for me to do just in my spheres of influence helps me have a little hope and energy to do more.
“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”Angela Y. Davis
You can make a difference in yourself. In your family, your friends, church, workplace, community, schools, and government. The only way to make progress is to do it in all of these places, and we can’t do that without you.