Posted by permission of Susan Nathiel
The question you asked was why white people do not get it – or not seem to really take in the history and the reality of the massive racism in this country for over 400 years. Renee Harrison talked about shame, which is definitely part of it.
For me, taking in the reality of hundreds of years of violence and cruelty and dehumanization of millions of Black people, — my reaction has been like waves coming in on the shore, farther and farther with each tide. Horror, shock, trying to minimize some of it somehow – then deep deep grief and paralysis and depression, and then grasping that these were “my people ” doing all this. My ancestors. White people just like me. The shame and guilt is relentless – even as I know it’s not helpful in doing anti-racism work, but I think white people need to sit with it for some time.
Then there was seeing how complicit I am, how much I have benefitted and still benefit, how embedded I am in white supremacy thinking and being.
At that point I started to feel really fragmented. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Like my whole life was a confusing lie, opposite from what I thought. I was lied to from childhood, about who I was and who other people were and what it all meant. My personality – is it me or is it what I was taught about being white? My values – some of them are just white. What do I really believe? What’s me and what’s this toxic poison I swallowed for decades?
I was beyond “I feel ashamed” or “I feel guilty>’ I was in “I don’t even know who I am anymore” territory. My reflex was to try to find my grounding, find myself again – but I couldn’t. It was frightening, like being in free fall.
I came up with a kind of extreme scenario that might give you an idea of what I mean. It’s a little gory but I hope you understand.
Suppose you found out that you had blacked out – for some reason – and found out that you had gone out on the street with an ax and beheaded some random person.
Would you feel “I feel guilty” or “I feel ashamed?” No. you’d feel
WHO AM I ???!!! You would feel the ground under your feet just melted. You wouldn’t even know what’s up and what’s down. You knew who you were – but this action you took is a million miles from who you ever thought you were.
That’s kind of the feeling. Who am I? Saturated in white supremacy thinking my whole life. Complicit in everything I detest and condemn. And not just one or two incidents – but 400 years of being monstrous to millions of children, women, men, families.
I imagine you’ve asked that question lots of other times and gotten various answers. Does this add any new dimension? I know there are more conscious ways white people resist taking reality in, but for me these seismic shifts in my identity are still the most profound ways I’ve experienced confronting reality. I’m more re-integrated now than when all this started to hit me, but it’s changed me permanently. There’s no going back.
Thanks for listening