My White silence
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to talk about White silence, my White silence.
I thought I was someone who spoke out, who did not let things lie, who took a stand. Concerning racism I was typically White, inactive and silent. And due to my silence, I have done harm.
I want to share some learning, how I fell short, and the complex embodied noise that went on inside me, as I was impacted, defended and tried not to see, what is so clear to marginalized people.
It was 2020 and I was part of a multiracial workshop. Some of the BIPOC members noted that they were having to initiate the discussions, and the facilitator named it: the presence of “White silence”.
Instantly I felt shame and withdrew further, not wanting to be who I was in that moment. This state of course compounded my confusion and silence.
I felt viscerally frozen, bewildered. I knew this is where I had to sit so as to discover a way to move towards understanding, growth, forgiveness and connection to others.
Fortunately, later that week, a White friend who was actively studying how to dismantle White supremacy, found me. She heard my confusion, my self-condemnation, my self- preoccupation. She held me steady, and at the same time she was having none of it. She was compassionate in her insistence that I need to sort out the bewilderment, and hear what was being said.
As a White person figuring it out, I needed another White person to provide what Nikkia Young calls ‘pressure and support’. I think Tara Brach calls it “settling the nervous system enough to be curious”.
My White friend helped me enormously by letting me safely talk, without fear of further harm doing towards BIPOC people, about the hard realities I had to get to know. She listened and invited me to learn what needed to be seen. Nikkia’s phrase might be that I was “able to allow shame to be the guardian of my integrity.” In DDP terms, I needed my shame (destructive) to become guilt (constructive) so as to repair, anticipate and head off White silence next time.
I understand now that White silence is a harm that preserves White privilege and White comfort. But Res Menakem has already pointed out that for too long “White comfort trumps black pain.”
I wish to repair with my BIPOC colleagues and discover how this will further inform my practice, my training and my consultations. This is my promise to them and more importantly to myself: Silence for me will be no more.
Publisher: ddpnetwork.org (Apr 2021)