Aimee Reeder, a white women and newest member of the World Trust staff team, shared these insights after watching the World Trust film, Light in the Shadows.
Wanting to be a "Good" White Person
One reason white people don’t want to engage in authentic conversation with people of color is because we don’t want to say the WRONG THING. We want to craft the right answer. White women in particular are often raised to "people please." You are supposed to figure out what people want to hear, what the right answer is, and say it. A pleasing response is rewarded, rather than the expression of genuine thoughts and feelings. You learn to study people to tell them what they want to hear. You research the answer in books. If you are a participant in an inter-racial circle like you see in this film, you want kudos for showing up. You want people of color to tell you what a great person you are. You want the chance to be a "good girl" again in a whole new context.
Fear of the "Bad" shuts us down
When we begin to understand how systemic inequity works, we learn about our white privilege and internalized racism. These are things about ourselves that we can feel shame about. They aren't pleasant and lovable and admirable. In authentic conversation, we are being asked to stand up and say YES, we are racist, YES, we benefit from privilege, YES we perpetuate it.
The result? We want to run like hell. We don’t want these uncool, unloving, unprogressive, uncompassionate, unexamined, unchallenged, ignorant, BAD, beliefs/defaults/instincts out into a circle of people who are have been hurt first-hand by these things.
Staying at the Table
It is incumbent upon white people to recognize this emotional pattern and learn to handle it when it arises. The option of disengaging from conversation is yet another form of privilege. Developing as allies means building our capacity to push through our own discomfort and to take risks. Doing so will help enable us to have more authentic relationships with people of color and to build cross-cultural community.
Light in the Shadows is a glimpse into dialogue among two white women and several women of color. This diversity training video uses their conflict as a learning tool to illumine how conversations on race often break down along lines of race and power.