There’s racism stuck in my teeth

Have you seen Jay Smooth’s talk on talking about race? He helps us stay in it when we’re on the receiving end of a “that thing you said/did seemed racist” conversation. The title of this post will make sense once you watch it. I watched it with my spiritual community (well, one of them) yesterday. That experience yesterday motivated me to finally finish this post I’ve been sitting on since Charlottesville.

As I watched the VICE news segment on the protests in Charlottesville and our president’s commentary from the Tuesday following and realized that explicit, extreme racism is picking up steam on its path to re-normalization within the U.S., I was taken back to a training I participated in about two months ago. Of course I want to decry the neo-nazis, the white nationalists, the white supremacists, and anyone who went to Charlottesville with the intention of committing violence. But that’s easy, and I regret that we seem to be approaching a day when that becomes controversial. I left that training earlier this summer wanting to acknowledge my collusion in racism and white supremacy, and to recommit to working to dismantle racism and other kinds of oppression whenever and wherever I can, beginning within myself.

One of many transformational experiences from that training came while sitting in a circle of supportive white folks. One of the ways we supported each other in “white caucus” was by acknowledging our own racist attitudes and behaviors, and relating to each other, admitting when we’ve thought, done or said similar things. I want to share some of what came up in me and what I related to during that time. The examples that became seeds for this discussion came from a list developed by Dr. Kathy Obear.

When trying to help people of color, I’ve felt annoyed if they haven’t enthusiastically appreciated the help.

I have sought approval, validation, and recognition from people of color.

I have failed to notice the daily indignities faced by people of color, and when I have noticed them, I have sometimes tried to explain them away with Perfectly Logical Explanations.

I have accepted and felt more comfortable around people of color who have assimilated and are “closer to white.”

I have focused on my good intent as a white person and downplayed or ignored the negative impact of my behavior.

When confronted by a person of color, I’ve viewed it as an attack and focused on how they engaged with me rather than on my original words and behaviors.

I have resented taking direction from a person of color.

I have been afraid of getting called out as racist.

I have exaggerated my level of intimacy with people of color.

I have failed to interrupt racism happening to people of color in my presence.

I have rephrased the comments of people of color.

I have approached other white change agents from a starting point of mistrust and criticism.

I have minimized, ignored and discounted the talents, competencies, and contributions of people of color.

I have assumed that the white teacher/coach/facilitator/employee, etc. is in charge and that people of color are in supporting or service roles.

I have judged a person of color as overreacting and too emotional when they are responding to the cumulative impact of racist incidents (of which I’ve been a part).

I have competed with other whites to be “the good white:” the best ally, the one people of color let into their circle, etc.

When confronted by a person of color, I’ve shut down and focused on what to avoid doing or saying in the future rather than reflecting on my own socialization and unconscious bias that led to my behavior.

I’ve disengaged when I start to feel discomfort.


I felt freedom in that circle, admitting that we white folks who consider ourselves agents for social justice still contribute to racism. I feel that I am more effective as a change agent now that I’m no longer afraid of being found out as a racist. I can simply admit that yes, I am racist. I have been (and continue to be) socialized as a white person in the United States. Unlearning that socialization and replacing it with a practical vision of unity amidst diversity within a beloved community will be the work of a lifetime. I can simply apologize, and reflect on my beliefs and behavior. I can also remember that a person of color may not be reacting only to me, but to a litany of micro and macro aggressions, of which I have become a part. Recognizing this helps reduce my defensiveness and helps me have the compassion necessary to avoid causing more harm as I seek to make things right.

If you’d like to use Dr. Kathy Obear’s list to reflect on our own attitudes and behaviors, you can find it here.

I’ve reflected a bit on how I’ve been racist. In the next post I’d like to reflect on the ways that I prop up white supremacy culture.

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