Looking Beyond the Individual
As a life coach for teens and parents, I think often about what it means to heal and what it means to truly feel whole. See, we are whole and perfect as we are, but we don’t always feel, know, and believe this.
These words are “hot topics” and messages from the personal development field. And while I believe this work to be important, I don’t see personal development leaders talking enough about how complex this work really is. I don’t see coaches and “healers” talking enough about life beyond the individual. Healing can only go so deep if it’s focused only on me.
True healing, collective healing, involves looking to my family, my community, my society, my world. Furthermore, this means familiarizing myself with systems of power and oppression that are actively causing harm in these spaces. In this article, we will consider the social construct of race, which benefits white folks and oppresses people of color (POC).
I’m speaking in this article as a white woman in the United States. The perspective and ideas I share here come from reflecting on my own experience of race and racism, conversations with friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds, and research about racism. It is my intention that this article serves as an invitation to parents, caregivers, and supporters, especially those who identify as white or “white-passing,” to reflect on your own relationship to race and how it impacts and influences the way you show up for the children and teens in your life.
Here in the United States, whiteness is perceived as neutral; whiteness is seen as the default. If you are a white person reading this, I encourage you to pause. Notice how your body is reacting to these words so far. Notice if any thoughts, emotions, or words have come to mind. Keep breathing. There’s space for your entire experience here.
Next, thinking critically, notice and name the ways your whiteness is centered as the “norm” in the spaces you spend time– neighborhood, school, work, etc. Becoming aware of this widespread truth, is the first step to DEcentering whiteness.
My whiteness is not actually neutral. Your whiteness if not neutral. Whiteness at large is not neutral. Whiteness means privilege that our friends and colleges of color do not wake up to. For example, I’m not asked where I’m from or what my background is; my college education is assumed; I see myself heavily represented in the spaces I frequent (yoga studios, grocery stores, and women in business meetings); I turn on the TV or scroll instagram and see myself all over the place. This is white-centeredness, white privilege, and this is also white supremacy.
These two words, white supremacy, they might scare you right now. And they should. Because they mean power, oppression, harm, hurt, and abuse. White supremacy most simply put says that white means superior. Each of the items I listed above is evidence that in 2018 in the United States, whiteness is still positioned as superior. Yes, white supremacy includes violent acts, hate crimes, and groups like the KKK, but it starts with and is perpetuated by words and actions that CENTER whiteness.
These two words, white supremacy, should also be words that you become familiar with. It’s (past) our time to be aware of, name, and move away from the ways we are complicit with white-centeredness. We have to own the fact that seemingly simple words and thoughts we have contribute to white supremacy. These is the implicit bias we have inherited, the myth we are been sold.
The Real Personal Development Work
THIS work of uncovering the ways we have absorbed and fed white supremacy over time is the real personal development work. This work is required before we can reach the “love and light” and “we are one” ideas that we want to believe in. We will not get free or heal or feel whole if we do not do the work of decentering whiteness in our own minds. Until we name the ways white supremacy shows up in our everyday lives and look it in the eyes, we will be stunted in our growth, our healing, and our personal development.
I’m sure that these words so far have sparked curiosity and a sense of self-awareness. You may be wondering how to channel this energy. Today, I’m sharing 4 practical and meaningful steps you and your family can take to decentering whiteness.
Practical AND Meaningful Steps to Decentering Whiteness
- Notice and name actions and thoughts that contribute to white supremacy. Become comfortable being uncomfortable with your own default thoughts and beliefs. Meet yourself with compassion as you learn to challenge yourself to consider where these came from. Over time, with observation and self-kindness, you will create new beliefs.
- With a generous and curious heart, explore, support, and learn from other cultures. Maybe you start with books and literature that you share these with your children and teens. Maybe you and your family attend local events that center on people of the Global Majority and their traditions. Maybe you explore listening to music from around the world or learning a new language as a family. As you begin this practice, be mindful of your intentions. Be careful not to exotify or sensationalize folks who are different than you; here, the lens of curiosity is of utmost importance.
- Consume a wide range of content. Notice who you and your children see represented in the shows and movies you watch, the social media accounts you follow, the books you read, etc. Introduce new perspectives, voices, cultures, and backgrounds regularly. We have so much to learn from other another! Additionally, and more importantly, reflect and consider differences with appreciation and curiosity.
- Engage in dialogue with other white people. It is not the work of people of color to educate us about race and how damaging this oppressive system has been for generations upon generations. This is our work, and it’s tough work. Find friends and family members who are ready to engage in this conversation; people who are ready to look at themselves deeply, truthfully, and with love. Community is important as we do this deep internal work because we have to talk it out, cry it out, and get messy in order to do better. I’m currently facilitating a Decentering Whiteness group that meets via Facebook and locally in the Austin, Texas area to explore this topic; join us if this aligns with your journey!
As you dig into this work, stuff is going to come up. There will be resistance, tears, apologies, connections, realizations, insights, anger, sadness, remorse, growth… There’s space for all of these feelings because without tapping into these, without discomfort, the cycle of centering whiteness will not come to an end. Along this journey, you may find a need or desire to connect with and feel supported by others. I invite you to explore this guide to building your support system because this work is deep, and you are not alone.