White culture operates in hierarchies. There’s a constant jockeying for who is superior. As I get better at recognizing when this sense of superiority shows up in my own life, I also find myself grappling with worry and self-consciousness, afraid I’ll cause harm yet again. My instinct is to pull back so I don’t cause any serious damage. But that won’t solve the problem. If I focus on NOT acting superior, I trip over myself. If I take a step down and believe that everyone else is superior to me, that’s not helpful either. But if I focus on what I’m learning, then I start to make progress.
The Cost of Superiority
This sense of superiority is what drives racism. It’s embedded in our institutions and laws. It’s tightly woven into the fabric of our society. It has infected our thinking and determines our choices about where we live, who we bring into our circle of friends and who we invite into our homes. It freezes our hearts.
No one is fully free from racism’s pernicious influence, which means that we are all learning how to overcome it. We are all on the same path. Some of us are farther along that path, but it’s the same path. Some of us have not yet begun the journey, but it’s the same path.
Focus on Learning
So if I focus on traveling this path, focus on learning, then my brain has something more productive to do than trying NOT to act superior. I can learn from other people, learn from books and films and even TV shows, learn from people’s stories and examples. And I can learn from my own experience.
It’s not just racism we’re learning about, either. We’re learning about the thing we need to replace it with—bringing people together. The essential challenge this world is facing is how to see ourselves as one human family living in a common homeland, planet Earth. This one challenge is at the root of all the intertwined problems we face: racism, climate change, economic disparity, gender equality, public health crises, and the list goes on. Once we see ourselves as one people, one family, we’ll be able to muster up the collective will and coordinated action to solve all these problems.
A Common Path
This is what we’re learning about, this is the path we are on—becoming one united human race. How do I focus on what brings people together? How do I connect? How do I bring my heart to this work? This is what pulls me out of my self-consciousness about overcoming a sense of superiority. The work before us is too vital and too urgent to let white fragility keep me trapped. How are we fixing the sundown laws in our towns? How are we addressing inequities in education? How do we respond when a friend tells a joke that puts people down? How are we connecting people together? How are we welcoming people who are different from ourselves? How are we learning together?
And yes, I still need to be vigilant, because that sense of superiority will show up again and again. But I can use it as a trigger to remember to focus on what I’m learning and how I’m connecting.
Check out these links for more posts in the series: