I went to an eye-opening workshop the other day. It was called “Working while white: bringing critical self-awareness of whiteness to racial justice work.” It was put on by a group called European Dissent, which is “a collective of persons of European descent who recognize that our varying ethnic histories have been forged into a common White identity in order to uphold racism.” This group does a lot of anti-racist work in the Seattle area.
This workshop was designed to make it clear that we white people don’t really leave space for other cultures and other ways of being, especially in the workplace. We tend to have an internalized sense of racial superiority and rest comfortably on unearned privileges.
Okay, I confess that basically I knew all of this. But wow, I have to say I never really took a hard look at it before. Just walking into the workshop it hit me right between the eyes. All around the room were posted various white cultural norms and standards, and when reading every single solitary one, I had to say to myself, “Yep. That’s me.”
Here they are:
- Perfectionism (As in: making a mistake is confused with being a mistake.)
- Sense of Urgency (In me, this manifests itself in arbitrary self-imposed deadlines.)
- Defensiveness (Does anyone like to be challenged?)
- Quantity Over Quality (If it can’t be measured, it has no value.)
- Worship of the Written Word (This blogger waves at you.)
- Paternalism (I know best. Don’t worry your little head.)
- Either/Or Thinking (You’re either right or wrong.)
- Power Hoarding (Hey, you, get off of my cloud.)
- Fear of Open Conflict (Oh yeah.)
- Individualism (If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.)
- Progress is Bigger, More (Never smaller and therefore more efficient. Oh, no.)
- Objectivity (The belief that you can set your emotions aside and be logical.)
- Right to Comfort (And how did I earn this right, exactly?)
Here’s what was embarrassing about this workshop. I’m 51 years old, and I never once stopped to think that all the qualities mentioned above aren’t universal. I never imagined that there might be another way of being, thinking, or doing. Talk about a right to comfort. I’ve never had to think about these things because most systems and organizations in this country think that these are the norms, too. I’ve just been able to sit back and relax and just… be white.
I’m not feeling very proud of myself at the moment.