One of the things I'm spending a lot of time on is figuring out how to minimize how much racism I bring into my anti-racism. Because oppression is dastardly like that. Systemic, structural oppression is built in, from the foundation on up, and whenever we work in its house, it works in us too. So anti-racism can be racist. (It can also be sexist, heterosexist, ableist, classist, and a lot of other -ists too, but I'm going to focus on racism right this moment).
There are lots of things that get me thinking on this.
I must have re-read Kil Ja Kim's Open Letter to "White Anti-Racists" and Mai'a's we dont need another anti-racism 101 dozens of times each. I intend never to stop re-reading them - I can't imagine them losing relevance or truth.
I think about Tim Wise, and how, while I respect and value much of his writing and the recordings I've seen of his talks, more and more I am finding myself uncomfortable with him. I see it in what POC are writing about him (and here also) and the truth of their words. In both the post and the comments of this Racialicious-hosted interview with him talking about the role of anti-white racists. In watching him tell Don Lemon what black people want (no transcript on that link). (I know I can't be the only person who found something in that interview deeply creepy.)
I think about the recent anti-racism initiative in Edmonton, which managed to produce a website that, while admirably bringing up discussion of white privilege (often overlooked!), did so in such as way as to minimize the agency of POC in ending racism. An excerpt from one of the critical articles puts it best:
It's true that "white" North Americans have historically been more culpable for the systemic inequities in our society. But racism isn't something that well-meaning white people can "fix" for people of colour. The site reads as though "racialized groups" are passive victims who must sit back, uncomplainingly, waiting for "whites" to see the light. The site doesn't empower "people of colour." It infantilizes them. It mutes their voices, ignores their experience and their efforts.The idea of "allies" has been a problematic one in most (all?) circles (specific links escape me if only because I've seen it come up so many damn times), because it so often goes hand-in-hand with condescension, exploitation, ignorance, arrogance, and all manner of well-meaning, destructive bullshit. Sometimes we deal with this by appending "trying to be an", and acknowledging up front our capacity to fail. Warning: Contents may be full of shit. But even this reflects the inroads that self-absorption and a guilty conscience can have on our productivity toward anti-oppressive ends without really suggesting a way to deal with the problem. At the end of the day, we must learn to navigate the inherent pitfalls of being privilege-fighting privileged people and either put up or shut up.
But what does said putting up look like for white anti-racists? I'm always interested in what POC have to say on this, but as far as I can tell, there is no consensus. I don't expect there to be, actually. It's a complicated issue and last I heard there actually isn't an annual international POC summit meeting on the subject of "So What the Hell Do We Do with the White People?" A brief but exhaustive pamphlet on what I can do to be the perfect white anti-racist and get a gold star and EVERYTHING would be keen, I guess, but at least part of this work is learning how to figure things out for my own damn self. (See: Mai'a's above-linked post.)
So as a part-time kink enthusiast (don't ask), my first thought is that it's time to put some things in writing and negotiate boundaries. With myself. To set limits between who I am and where I'm at and the work I want to do and people I want to support. To be passionate and engaged, but not make it personal. To locate myself within the issues at hand, baggage and all, but not centre myself. To actively centre the voices of people whose voices are being suppressed. To accept and always remember that everything I do will be compromised to some extent until the system that compromises me is put to rest. To avoid personal profit where possible and redirect gains where they are most needed. To seek balance within myself and act in a way that sustains me as a person, but not as a person of privilege. To neither inflate nor diminish my control, my culpability or my credit beyond what is realistic and genuine. To seek validation elsewhere. To seek punishment elsewhere. To first learn, to speak second. To speak when it is vital, but not when it is more than I can bear. To gather my strengths and respect my weaknesses. To shore up the strengths of others, to offer support where it is asked, to ask where it may be wanted, and to respect all responses. To be prepared to be unknowing, for enlightenment to be both elusive and painfully immediate, and for new knowledge to contradict old. To never get comfortable, and never despair of that. To put action over intent. To take this as a contract with myself.
Edit 05/28/11: Two new links to add, one older and one more recent, both amazing.
Word to the Wise: Unpacking the White Privilege of Tim Wise, by Ewuare X. Osayande.
White Privilege Diary Series #1 - White Feminist Privilege in Organizations, by hepshiba.