dismantling: dear fellow white women

*important note: i am a white woman, writing to other white women/folks, in an attempt to do my part to call others like me in. i am an imperfect vessel for these messages, but we cannot wait until we are perfect to act. it is not feasible to place our individual comfort and fear of getting it wrong above the well-being of people of color whose very lives are being threatened. we have white supremacists marching, faces uncovered, in the streets, with torches. we have a white supremacist nazi sympathizer holding the highest office in our land. this is a national emergency, and waiting is not an option. it is the responsibility of white people who aspire to allyship to shoulder the emotional labor and burden of educating ourselves and other white people. that being said, an essential part of this is listening to the words and experiences of people of color, and using our privilege to elevate those voices. it is in this spirit that i have compiled a list of resources at the bottom of this post for white folks to access to decolonize our minds and hearts, and to do our part to dismantle white supremacy.

“if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Desmond Tutu

white women: it is no longer enough to simply do no harm.

i have always loved the concept of “do no harm / take no shit.” it embodies what i feel is an essential duality; one side balances the other. to remain in stillness when violence is being visited upon others is an act of violence in and of itself, and so, there needs to be both.

in a 2012 study, sociologists Su L. Boatright-Horowitz, Marisa E. Marraccini, and Yvette Harps-Logan observed the reactions of white students to discussions of the concepts of white privilege and white supremacy as compared to the reactions of students of color in the same discussions. their research showed that many white students had strong negative reactions to any discussion of white privilege, and that “white students may feel overwhelmed, guilty, or hopeless when they [learn] about this topic.” (Boatright-Horowitz and Marraccini and Harps-Logan 2012:905). the white students expressed vehement denial over the concept of white privilege, displayed high levels of defensiveness, and expressed discomfort and despair over feeling like “the bad guys” in society (Boatright-Horowitz and Marraccini and Harps-Logan 2012).

i would guess that there is no white american alive who cannot say that they do not see something of themselves in the students of this study. it is not easy to face these truths. all of us have felt, at one time or another, paralyzed by guilt. all of us have felt defensiveness, have wished to hide behind denial. but this is not possible. this is something we must acknowledge and then move past. we will be uncomfortable. we will be challenged to do better. but to become frozen with guilt, hopeless and despairing, is to fail our brothers and sisters of color. this guilt and paralysis is, in itself, white supremacy. at its core, it is the belief that we are central to this conversation. it is the belief that our discomfort is more urgent than the lives and the well-being of people of color. it is our belief that we are entitled to comfort, to being sheltered from the violent effects of oppression, to enjoying our privilege without feeling guilty about it. it is not easy to admit that we hold this belief, nor is it easy to fully realize how much our psychic comfort has been placed in priority over the lives and freedoms of individuals and communities of color.

and, it bears mentioning that it is also indicative of the fact that the violence and the harm of white supremacy does not flow in one direction. there is a true smallness in a life such as this: one that must hide and cover and pretend in order to sleep at night. one that must hide instead of one that must act. one that is paralyzed by guilt and despair rather than empowered and integrated. white supremacy is against nature, and it harms white people, too. this is not the only or the most important reason that we should act, but it is a truth that we must hold as we do this work: to remember that dismantling these structures is the work of aligning our communities and ourselves with the forces of decency, love, freedom, humanity, and compassion.

this discomfort is a gift. it tells us the truth: that before we can hold ourselves, our communities, our families, and our ancestors accountable, we must be prepared to look the darkness in the face. and it is ugly. it is violent, it is hateful, and it is heartbreaking. it is not easy to stare it in the face. we must do it anyway.

***

in shadow work we are asked to reckon with the darkest parts of ourselves; to meet those pieces with open, clear eyes, and with what Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls “merciless compassion”. it is this form of compassion that asks you to be unflinching; it is this form of compassion that asks you to know what is true; that asks you to see, openly, what is dark within you, and even so, to hold onto yourself in love. only then can you resolve and integrate that darkness. only then can you fully embody yourself, your actions. you can’t help dismantle oppression when you are shrinking from yourself.

i was recently struck by the words of john o’donahue, irish philosopher and poet, who said, “there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility.”

i was struck because it is from this place where the work begins. dismantling white supremacy both enables you to access those places where you are whole and wholly human, your soul places, and to do the essential work that must be done. it is spiral magic, it is soul magic. and it is here that we find the strength and the humanity to do the work that must be done.

the threads of white supremacy and violence must be broken: this is urgent work, and lives hang in the balance. it is a thread that runs through our ancestral lines, and as such it is up to us to use our hands to break it. we have seen white supremacy show its face openly in a way we have not seen for a long time, but friends, this is not new to anyone who has lived as a person of color in our society. to be surprised is to be living with tremendous privilege.

but you are surprised. aren’t you? and so i invite you to examine the quality of your surprise. i would wager that it carries within it: horror, anger, grief, confusion. these are good places to begin. these are good footholds. so follow that horrified feeling: what is it asking of you? is it the horror of viewing a level of hatred that feels as though it lies in opposition to nature itself? is it your humanity that is horrified? if so, stay with that. that is where you begin.

once you begin to face the horror of white supremacy and accept that it has defined the fabric and fiber of this country, you will begin to notice its echoes everywhere. and that is where the work of dismantling begins. but to dismantle it means to face it. it means to examine every place within you where the pollution of white supremacy has settled and face yourself with merciless compassion.

we are not perfect. we cannot be. it doesn’t matter. we must put our faith in the fact that trying and failing is better than keeping still and silent. not one of us can change the world all by ourselves. white folks will not be the saviors in this story. it is not up to us to be the saviors. it is useless and harmful to try. we are not central to this narrative. but we are essential to it. white supremacy will not fall until white people do their part to knock it down. remember that more than half of white women voted for trump. we own this, like it or not. and so it is up to us to undo the harm that has been done; to act, to listen, and to dismantle. it is up to us to use our power to fight white supremacy, nazism, racism, colonialism, and all the forces of domination that seek to oppress so many for the benefit of the few.

you can start here:

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh, 1989. [Link to PDF]

“White Supremacy Culture.” From ‘Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,’ by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001 [Link]

“Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism.” [Link]

“I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy” by Layla Sadd [Link]

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feast days

August 1 marks Lammas, the first of the three festivals of autumn. Until recently, I lived in central Texas, where the wheel of the year does not fall neatly along seasons, and so time passes strangely, especially to one like me who grew up in a different wilderness entirely. My time there often felt like a blur of heat and color — wildflower season, high summer, or thunderstorms were often the only markers of the turn of the year.

We are settling now into our new home in the Pacific Northwest, where life feels markedly slower, and I can feel that old pull, that seasonal tether.

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the freneticism of creating

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Hummingbirds belong to the bird order Apodiformes, which is Greek for ‘footless’. This is a slight misnomer, because hummingbirds do have feet, but it is accurate in that hummingbirds cannot walk due to the placement of their legs on their bodies. They will land, sometimes, but they are nearly always in flight; their breath, their heartbeats, and their wingbeats rushing at an incredible pace. They are at once determined and frenetic. They dart in and out of view, hiding, then being seen, then hiding again.

Creative work can feel like this. For me, it has meant darting from medium to medium, needing to create work but sabotaging myself by overthinking it, tacking meaning about who I am and what is my worth to everything that I endeavor to create. Letting silence or disinterest or another’s fear of connection be an ultimate judgment on the softest, tenderest parts of me. Taking constant inventory of the but why, the for whom, the to what end, yet being borne along by something that doesn’t exactly reside in the coherent world of the mind. Hiding, then being seen, then hiding again.

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wildlife

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New Orleans was brief, and freezing. The first night we wandered around for hours, clutching paper mugs filled with hot black tea and whiskey; ducking into little cafes and restaurants just to get away from the cold. Not wanting to turn down onto Bourbon Street, which already looked as though it was swaying and sodden with booze, we darted sharply right, climbing up a small set of stairs off a cobblestone street and into a tiny used bookstore with narrow, labyrinthine stacks of books. This New Orleans was beautiful, with the lights of the homes and restaurants glowing warm and gold against the freezing wind, but it was the New Orleans of the next day that has tucked itself somewhere in my bones.

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