However, encouraging other whites to engage in racial equity work is a very tough sell. There are so many reasons for not doing this:
- It means creating a level playing field, with more competition, which to many whites LOOKS LIKE giving up privileges that they believe are hard earned or deserved.
- Equity work is emotionally challenging (see Dealing with Difficult Emotions).
- It’s very unpopular. You won’t make many friends doing this. In fact, talking about racism can be so divisive, you may lose friends and strain family relationships.
- It means bucking the system with inevitable push-back.
Why would whites want to go down this unpopular road? If you ask anyone who has taken the first steps away from privilege, “Why?,” you’ll get many different responses. You may also start to hear some common themes. Here are some of the reasons we at WARN are engaged in racial equity activism:
It is an important step toward living in fuller integrity. Personal integrity means being honest with myself about my own actions and taking responsibility for them. It means facing the truth. If undeserved privilege is part of the the culture I live in, and creates disadvantages for others, then taking responsibility for my buy-in or renouncement of that privilege is a measure of my own integrity.
I get the chance to work together with other white people who are likewise committed to racial fairness. Finding a safe space to share thoughts and feelings about racism and to engage together in action is a wonderful experience.
Racism continues to wound deeply in spite of my personal connection or lack thereof to enslavement, and in spite of my personal intentions today. I want to remove the sources of pain for current and future generations. I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to understand why racism still exists, how it affects people today – whites and people of color, how these effects arise from the past and present history of enslavement, denigration and oppression, and what I can do to change things.
There is a long tradition in the Judeo-Christian roots of Western Civilization of demanding repair for someone who has been wronged. Forgiveness and healing are dependent on remorse and repair, so my own salvation may be dependent on working for reparations for the crimes my ancestors and those like them committed.
So much damage is inflicted on children and adults of color as they lead their daily lives in a society still operating with centuries-old assumptions about their value. It hurts me to witness that damage, just as it hurts me to see someone hit by a vehicle. If I turn my back, I’m also hurting my own spirit. I want to make it possible for people – both the ones who have been directly wounded by racism, and those of us who turned away for so long – to heal.
Half a century after the 1960′s Civil Rights Movement, if is hard for many of us white people to understand why race relations are still so difficult. Being part of a white anti-racist community provides learning that I would unlikely get anywhere else. It challenges my long-held assumptions, and provides a useful analysis for creating transformational change.
Being part of a history of white anti-racist leaders makes me feel good about being white. Doing nothing made me feel bad. I want to be proud of my heritage, and being part of a community that is standing on the shoulders of those abolitionists and anti-racism activists who came before, and is continuing that committed to anti-racism make me feel proud.
As I open myself to the terrible feelings of sadness and anger that arise when I realize how so many people of color have been deprived and cheated of opportunities that would have allowed them to live their lives more fully and freely, I also open myself to looking at what I as a white person can do to reverse this tragic state of affairs. I find I cannot live my full humanity if I cannot not share in the humanity of everyone. White people and people of color have been and still are separated from each other in so many ways. Making efforts to breach and to undo that separation have become part of what I need to do to reach my full humanity or, perhaps better said, to experience the fullness of humanity with all people.