Ever feel like you are not doing enough as an ally?
I am talking to white people here. Anyone else feel like your internal values and beliefs about how the world should operate is not showing up enough in your own daily behaviors? Ever feel like an imposter because you did not make it to that protest event, spend enough time calling voters, give enough of yourself to anti-racist community organizations? Knowing so many of you lovely people who still accept my emails into your overly full inbox, you are the kind of humans who feel guilty and feel you should be doing more. At the very beginning of my course on white anti-racism and action, turning attention to these feelings allows us to reflect on what can stand in our way and what can propel us forward.
Our old friend cognitive dissonance
I know many of you are very familiar with the social psychology of cognitive dissonance. And for those newer to the term, CD occurs any time two parts of you are out of alignment. For example, you believe in healthy nutrition, but you keep eating those cookies your friend baked for you (thank you Asia!). You despise the damage done by capitalism, yet you overspend on birthdays and holiday gifts. Or my personal favorite because I worry about this myself: You deeply believe in racial justice, but sometimes play it safe when it comes to anti-racism.
Any and all moments of awareness where we have two beliefs, attitudes, behaviors (or any mix of these) that take us out of alignment can cause much stress, anxiety, and guilt. Sometimes, that agitation leads to avoidance so that we do not have to face the discomfort. Sometimes, we embrace that agitation as fuel for changing our behavior.
Whiteness and (mis)alignment
Over the summer of 2020, many more white people faced an awareness of misalignment between their:
- values of fairness and rejection of racism;
- core beliefs about the police and the criminal justice system as trustworthy; and
- lack of engagement in anti-racist actions to dismantle systemic racism.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I value equality, justice, fairness, wholeness, freedom, safety, happiness, joy, & healthy communities?
- Do my actions loudly and explicitly illustrate my values?
- What am I doing to ensure systemic racism is eradicated?
Did the contrast between your own values and (possible lack of) action make you feel a little uncomfortable, twitchy, or even upset? Trust- no judgment here. This is a description of what I feel most days as a white person trying to find ways to live out the anti-racism values in my heart and soul. I struggle with this. White people striving to be authentic allies and accomplices tell me they struggle with this as well. We do not have to feel guilty, stuck, and paralyzed by the values misalignment we feel. White people feeling stuck and unable to progress in our own anti-racism does not serve anyone. And it certainly does not serve racial justice.
On embracing discomfort
Cognitive dissonance has immense potential to move us from inaction to action ONLY IF we choose to stay in the twitchy discomfort and strive to convert behaviors to match values. In fact, being uncomfortable is a good sign that some serious advancements in personal growth and learning are about to take place. The key is to stay with the discomfort, explore it, and reflect on what the discomfort can teach us. There is a pretty common myth that learning should be easy and “safe” emotionally and psychologically. That myth prevents white people from advancing in their knowledge of systemic racism. And without the knowledge, we cannot begin to develop as effective allies.
Let’s take a moment to focus on emotions that may come up for aspiring white allies (also applies to able-bodied, white, male, cisgender, for example) as we learn and grow. Some very common feelings for white people learning about systemic racism and white supremacy are:
anger, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, shame, discomfort, hurt, frustration, fear, anxiety.
AND white allies may feel hope, inspiration, and a reduction in the negative emotions as they build knowledge and skills for taking action.
When considering your own whiteness and the spots in life where you aspire to be an effective ally or accomplice, consider these questions:
- What emotions stand out for you?
- How might these emotions hinder your work as an ally taking action?
- What coping plans can you make in advance to apply when emotions threaten your progress as an ally?
- How might emotions support and sustain your work as an ally?
Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies and my group coaching program for social justice academics called Choose Your Own Adventure. Drop your email to get social justice updates (resources, tips, and truth-telling).