Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Destruction of a Movement, Sinking into Privileged Despair

In the scheme of things it's a small thing, really. There's so much that comes together to subvert and destroy what is an essential movement to develop...white people coming together en masse to work toward racial justice. But, I just bumped into myself again, and came face to face with one aspect that I don't hear talked about nearly enough.

Many of us (white folks) feel like if we can't be like the premiere, perfect anti-racist person then we might as well give up. (Yes, I know that privilege oozes out of that statement and could rightly be considered the most important aspect to discuss. But, that's where my conversations with other white people trying to act responsibly usually go.) What I don't hear very often is the discussion over what sets that feeling in motion.

For example, last night I sat down to offer up a post. As a newbie in this realm I wanted to link up my topic to Tim Wise because I respect his work and often find his analysis more well-crafted than my own. I learn from him...and I think plenty of other people should too.

But, as I cruised his blog (Tim's Main Blog) and saw how much he really offers, the feeling swept over me...what in the world do I have to contribute? How could my voice possibly add in a beneficial way and not just be unhelpful clutter? My sense of self sank and I ended up not writing a post. In fact, I sank into a sense of personal self-pity that left me unmotivated to do the other work I'd intended to do that night.

Why is that a big deal? It's because my lack of motivation for doing my own work showed up because I was in some way disappointed at not being at a Tim Wise level.

Again, I'm already recognizing that it's a privilege position to even sit and reflect this have the time and opportunity to follow my own emotional self-pity into laziness and not have it adversely affect my life.

And, yet, I think there's something to be gained by realizing that if there are lots of people doing what I'm doing then we need to really deal with it. If I (and others) can resist entering that place of "well he's doing so much...I can't do what he I'll just go over here and sulk" then maybe, just maybe, we'll be more likely to resist our privilege to do nothing and figure out a way to contribute in our own way.

After a night of destructive thinking, I awoke this morning realizing how much that tendency to compare might be stopping people from taking up action.

Although it remains true that I respect Tim's essay-writing capabilities and appreciate that his voice is in the world, I also have to remind myself that there's room for ALL white people to find their unique voice and speak out about racism, privilege, and how we can work more effectively for racial our own, hopefully continually improving, way.

For me, today, more effectively means that I search within myself for my own offering to the conversation without worrying whether or not I've achieved my perfection standard. Yes, I'll make mistakes. Yes, there will be times when I add to the clutter. But, my belief must be that struggling to learn and speak about how white privilege and whiteness show up in my life and how I allow them to derail my efforts at times can perhaps shed a bit of light, on occasion, and perhaps, just perhaps, support others to do the following: Stop the comparison. Use our voices. Speak out against privilege whenever and wherever possible. Create community around our attempts at subverting racism. And, stop the cycle where we as white folks allow ourselves to turn away from working at racial justice (even for a moment) because of our own insecurities.


  1. Dear Dr. Tochluk,
    Hello, there, Dr. Tochluk! I am a 47-years-old black/African-American woman from Iowa City, Iowa. I eagerly read your marvelous and enlightening book, Witnessing Whiteness, and I could barely put it down because it was so readable, progressively informative, and helped in my own healing as a black woman to heal from past racial hurts, and to learn more about the very humanity of white people in general, and my white friends and sisters in spirit who I love dearly as close friends and family, wanting to understand them more so and where they are coming from. Your book and all of your outreach efforts are very sharp and insightful, and I am blessed from having bought and read your wonderful book. Please be patient and gentle with yourself! It is a lifetime recovery healing and processing learned racism, and it is also a lifetime process dislodging from white privilege. You are trying from a spirit as an ally who joins in the fight against racism in all of its aspects, and you are putting up the good fight as you not only reach out to blacks and other people of color, but also work with other white people to work for justice, and to find like-minded white anti-racist persons. I thank you dearly and deeply for all of your honest and hard work! Please keep the faith, your journey does not have to be a perfect journey, progress not perfection! God Bless You Always!
    Ms. Sherry L. Gordon

  2. Sherry,
    Thank you so much for your words. It took me awhile to write a reply mostly because I was so moved by what you wrote. I really appreciate your kindness and am profoundly grateful that my story/book/work has been supportive to your process. Knowing that you've found it helpful makes whatever challenges I feel I've faced worthwhile.

  3. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! I have had a long journey since I was a lot younger working toward my healing as a black woman in terms of past racism and discrimination against me, and in terms of processing old hurts, resentments, and anger, and have read many books and other materials on the subject over the years. I just enjoyed and learned from your book so much, one of the many reasons being that of all of the books and materials I have read, your book was so readable and accessible, and complex thoughts and ideas were easy to understand! Your superb book helped me to gain a greater perspective on my life. I have lived in Iowa City, Iowa since September 1990. I am originally from suburban Cleveland,Ohio from Cleveland Heights. I was from one of the inner city areas of Cleveland until November 1967 of my kindergarten year, when my family and I moved to Cleveland Heights. In 1967 Cleveland Heights was mainly a suburb with white inhabitants. I grew up black middle class. For many, many years now I have been working on my healing and growth over hurts and pain from the sometimes racism and discrimination I experienced growing up, but also I have always been more open to white people, and there were still good things that happened there where I grew up. Your great book, even more than others that I have read, helped me to get a perspective on my growing up years in a suburb and community that mainly had white inhabitants, and to understand confusing and painful things that happened to me, seeing the very humanity and sense of loss and angst many white people grow up with and continue to have as adults. I have learned that racism is learned, and that often when my white friends and classmates were mean to me or were confusing, they were under pressure from their parents and other family members, they were just children, trapped, learning racism from their parents and other family members! My friends and classmates were probably enduring any number of struggles from within their own families, which led to how they sometimes acted. I for my part have looked at my misunderstandings andt misinterpretations, and know that I am doing the right thing by not holding on to resentments and anger, I have come a long way over all of these years. Shelly, your book gave me such more clarity, and a keen personal look and insight into what white people think, their internal struggles over their own identity, their sense of loss as to how to deal with racism and white privilege, and the great good in white people, and their need to heal and to be whole. I am just so excited at all the great ideas and better perspective I gained from your great book, and I have learned so much, and benefited greatly from it, and your wonderful website also! Thank-you so much again, Shelly! God Bless You Always!
    Sincerely always,
    Sherry Gordon