Me? A Racist?!: Getting Honest with Myself
A few weeks ago, I and other DAF volunteers and core team members took part in three days of training on diversity and decolonisation. I was glad to be there—but if I’m to be really honest (and I must, mustn’t I?), I read the invitation as “diversity and decolonisation”. Those inverted commas, silently added by me, signified a sort of…archness. Because, of course, I’m not a racist: I was attending in order to learn how to help others not be racist. I didn’t need any help myself (thanks, though!). I thought I’d glean ways to spot embedded prejudice and call people out, maybe learn to be a better ally.
Still, I felt a sliver of doubt: I’m not, I’m not. Am I….? And, of course, so it proved. If I’m honest (darn! still? must I?), I had a really challenging time.
On the first day, I was very unsure what to expect – a little jumpy, but feeling somewhat protected by the barrier of my laptop screen. Bless you, Zoom. I was met by around a dozen faces, many of them familiar, and after the initial grounding check-in, we began a series of listenings, reflecting and sharing, which, in honesty, felt like peeling off my skin, layer by unappealing layer. Our facilitator and teacher, Nonty C. Sabic, was far from brutal; she’s a lesson in vulnerability and courage, and quiet, relentless truth-telling. I learned not to investigate whether I was racist, but to deal with my inevitable racism and privilege.
Recognising this was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life. And (oh God!) to be honest, I felt truculent and resentful, like a child with her hand in the biscuit jar, chocolate round her face. I’m usually unoffendable—you can say what you like about my dress style or tidiness, and I won’t get defensive. But clearly my skin is thin when it comes to my self-identification as a Decent Person.
It got rougher. I felt chippiness when an urge to help was named for what it sometimes is, a white saviour complex; frustration, when what I felt as compassion became, through another lens, smug and patronizing; and even that very woundedness was revealed to be white fragility. I stumbled briefly into a slough of Well what is there left for me to feel, if none of those things?
I’m not proud of all this, but at least I found I wasn’t especially alone. Nor was my wallowing in discomfort and shame too long-lived: once I’d accepted shortcomings, gotten over myself (so to speak), that self-justification was replaced with relief. “Here’s the problem, now let’s explore it properly and see how to root it out.” Nonty’s quiet forcefulness, and the open supportiveness of the group, enabled us to surface these hidden things and explore what they might mean.
Other sessions helped me delve deeper into my assumptions, behaviours and schema. Once I’d got my feet out of the mud, the next two days made me feel curious and free.
With a few weeks’ distance and reflection, I realise that I’ve really only scratched the surface, and that it’s easy to slide back into my old “normal”—to become oblivious to the advantages I’ve had in growing up white, in the so-called “developed” Global North/West. There’s work to do, and I need to keep it top-of-mind. And I want to, too, so it’s a blessing that those who went through this training keep me accountable. Our group continues to share regular thoughts, resources, and challenges to be more mindful. And from my initial discomfort has come a hunger to do better, to be better. Early days, “work-in-progress” and all that, but thank God I’m making a start.
Cat lives in the Isle of Man, a small island close to the UK. After 30 years in the finance sector (overlapping with time lecturing and authoring), she now writes and consults on financial governance, ecological/social/tax justice, sustainable practices and legislation – and the interactions between these areas. She also works with a homeless charity and is a director of www.positive.news. She’s a Methodist and mother of twin 14-year old girls.
Artwork: Cat Jenkins, Winter seed head. All rights reserved.