Many white people experience difficult and upsetting emotions as we confront the historical and contemporary impact of racism and face the personal meaning of accountability for white privilege and institutional racism.
Members of WARN have almost all experienced one or more of the following: sadness, remorse, guilt, shame, grief, despair, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment and depression. At times such emotions can be so strong and powerful that they become overwhelming or paralyzing in intensity. A common response is withdrawal, isolation, and avoidance. The difficulty of dealing with these emotions turns many away from this work.
Moving through such emotions in a way that leads away from toxicity to engagement and community requires patience, self-compassion, and support from mentors and others who are also on the same journey.
Some suggestions about creatively and courageously working with emotions:
- Remember your deeper motivation for engaging in racial equity work — remind yourself of the rewards of engagement. The sense of reward varies with different individuals but often includes an experience of greater integrity and deep satisfaction in working to right a terrible wrong.
- Accept that such feelings are a normal part of the process of moving toward accountability for white privilege. Take time to take care of yourself.
- Let yourself feel. As uncomfortable as emotions such as guilt and grief can be, allowing the emotions to speak to you may lead to healing and courage.
- Be intentional about building a support community of other white people to help you when you need it. Be compassionate toward other white people having an emotionally hard time with this work.
- Whites may unconsciously look to people of color to help take care of them as they process these difficult emotions, leading to awkward and inappropriate situations that promote mistrust instead of healing. Don’t put people of color in a care-taking role.
- Similarly, some may experience a powerful need for forgiveness or exoneration. Don’t look for this from people of color; rather, find meaning and redemption in your work, your action and your support community.
- Self-identity may be threatened as one takes ownership of the role of the oppressor. Remember to be compassionate with yourself and focus on taking small steps to recreate a more holistic sense of self.
- Remember that we did not choose to be oppressors, but rather inherited a system of oppression that we may now choose to support, intentionally or unintentionally, or work to dismantle.
- Trust that educating yourself about the history of oppression in the U.S. is ultimately liberating: in addition to oppression, our history is full of anti-oppression activists.
- Remember if feeling overwhelmed by the pervasiveness and magnitude of racism and inadequate to make a difference, that small steps over time can lead to larger changes, and that taking action with others increases your impact.