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  • Kristen Genzano

White Women, Anti-Racism & Self-Compassion

Like so many others, I’ve been experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions over the past several months. Since George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, like many educated white women I’ve taken to reading, learning, and unlearning. I’ve also felt a lot. I’ve felt fear. I’ve felt anger. I’ve felt overwhelm. I’ve felt shame for feeling fear. I’ve felt guilt for feeling overwhelm. I’ve frozen in silence. I’ve exhausted myself in action.

I’m sharing just a taste of my personal experience not to center myself or to pretend I have any idea of how to “do” Anti-Racism work. I’m sharing it because, until now, I’ve stayed quiet for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. I’ve silenced myself, which simply perpetuates the problem. The problem that white women can hide behind the veil of perfectionism. We have the privilege of hiding behind the mask that we are just learning. We don’t want to upset anyone. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We want to be nice.

Re-owning our Whole Selves

If things are going to be different, we – white women – must acknowledge and re-integrate the parts of ourselves that we have split off, the parts we have disowned.

We often allow ourselves to be sad, to cry, to seek protection and comfort. We’ve even grown comfortable experiencing guilt. But is it “okay” for us to feel rage? Is it okay to acknowledge our own deeply seeded fear that if we hold a Black Woman’s experience as valid we will inevitably lose the benefits we gain from being a white woman?

All of this exploration – which let me be clear is just scratching the surface – requires that I sit with and tolerate the parts of myself that are ugly. My hatred. My rage. My power. My competitiveness. My own whiteness. These are human experiences that White Supremacy wants us, needs us white women to continue to disown.

So how do we do it? How do we engage deeply and honestly with the ugliest parts of ourselves that we and white society have relied on us rejecting, ignoring, disowning?

Mindful Self-Compassion as a Container for Wholeness (the inner work)

I don’t have the answer, but my answer has been self-compassion. Mindful Self-Compassion has been my path to not only tolerating the rejected parts of myself, but to holding them with kindness, curiosity and understanding. Concretely, my self-compassion practice has allowed me to do the following:

  • To learn about racial inequity and to truly feel/tolerate the shame, guilt and helplessness that comes with being a white woman.

  • To hold, process and allow these emotions to move through them has provided me the inner strength to do the emotional work rather than to rely on Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) to support me.

  • To look at myself with compassion and ask why I am afraid to express my anger, to have my voice heard or to feel the need to support the societal status quo?

  • To support myself in holding dialectics such as - I am a good person and I am also complicit in white supremacy. To remind myself that I did not create this system and I am responsible for it.

  • To learn how to use my tears for my own self-soothing rather than as a power play.

  • To use kindness and compassion with myself as I consider my lived experience and how I have benefitted from a racist society; to be willing to admit the advantages I have by virtue of being white

  • To reclaim parts of myself that have been lost.

  • To feel empowered to challenge our societal expectations and to challenge systems that support a dominant white male culture.

  • To comfort myself when I (inevitably) experience the shame that comes from long ignoring these societal wrongs, because I could.

In her post on why women need fierce self-compassion researcher and educator, Dr. Kristin Neff reminds us that the aim of compassion is to alleviate suffering. By using self-compassion to be kind with myself as I look at the ugliness of my own white supremacy I’m able to start to hold all facets of my own experience as a white woman. From there I can take action toward racial justice.

From Wholeness to Action (the outer work)

As so many Black Women such as author and teacher Layla F. Saad have warned, when we engage in anti-racist work we will make mistakes. Period. I believe this is where self-compassion can step in to buoy us. To serve as an anchor in our own resolve and commitment to being anti-racist. What does this look like?

  1. Mess up.

  2. Give yourself compassion for your mistake so that you can move away from defensiveness and centering yourself.

  3. Take right action.

  4. Do better next time.

Unwinding my layers of perfectionism has been and continues to be an evolving process for me. A process by which self-compassion has been at the core. There’s no room for perfect in anti-racist work. And so, it’s through self-kindness and fierce compassion that I move forward.

So how can mindful self-compassion help us sustain ourselves and move towards being braver in our actions?

  • To support ourselves in changing and taking back our voices, anger and power in support of Black Lives.

  • To stay engaged in uncomfortable conversations without the need for the other person to soothe me, reassure me or make me feel safe.

  • To support myself when, inevitably, I make a mistake and do harm to BIPOC.

If we, as white women, are to do this work we must become whole. We must be able to be with all of ourselves. And, most crucially, we must be able to acknowledge that we are not, cannot, and will never be perfect. We must unsaddle ourselves from the lie of perfection and the reinforced desire to please others (read: white men). It’s deep work. It’s profound work. It requires courage and I just don’t know another way to do that besides being compassionate with this one right here.

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