This post isn’t going to be a long one – it’s not an area that I like to spend too much energy or time on, merely because I’m busy looking after a multitude of other kaupapa – and this kaupapa is one that is really best cared for by others anyway.
I’m talking about White Fragility.
How do I know it’s best handled by others? Well experts in the field like Judith Katz carried out the research for all of us quite some time ago through years of anti-racism training and wrote about it in her book. She’s not alone – many others contest that the best people to educate white people about racism is white people. This is exampled really well by the Andrew Judd phenomenon.
Andrew Judd didn’t say anything new. He didn’t say anything that Maori haven’t been saying in a myriad of ways – through calm reasoning, through protest, through song, through lobbying, through civil disobedience and peaceful but resolute resistance, through education and publishing… Maori have been repeating the SAME message since forever and have achieved much through holding that space. They also got ignored by the mainstream media, but that’s because the mainstream media is racist too and tends to under-report Maori voices or characterise them as radical and dissident.
Not so with Andrew Judd. Because he’s white – and a mayor at that. He looks like the older white man who sits up from you in the boardroom – who better to listen to? If he’s calling NZ racist… it’s GOTTA be, right?
Andrew didn’t say this in a different way, he didn’t bring a different light to it, and the peace walk was NOT Andrew Judd’s peace walk. It was the Tū Tama Wāhine Peace Walk that Andrew took part in. The mere fact that people characterise his discussion as somehow more peaceful and reasonable than Māori – even as Andrew himself was raising awareness about the epitome of peaceful resistance that is the Parihaka story… says a LOT about the wilful blindness of some. He didn’t say anything new – he just got attention because he’s a white man in power.
What Andrew did do though – was incredibly valuable. He examined and acknowledged his own role in this biased system. He correctly deduced that being a white male in a position of authority accorded him extraordinary privileges – and most importantly he used that fact to cast a light on racism in New Zealand, he used it to recruit attention to the lessons of Parihaka and most importantly he used it to advocate for POWER SHARING.
Subsequently – the Andrew Judd Fan Club facebook page has rocketed in popularity but even that is not immune to the ravages of white fragility – and much time seems to be taken up with roughly the same discussions being had elsewhere online, where white people problematize Maori frustration and project their hypersensitivity on to Maori. The discussion is not “Those damn Maori who think they have rights” but rather “Those damn Maori who are angry and won’t let me give them their rights”. Time and time again the catch-cry “Andrew wouldn’t do it this way” is thrown up in defence. Apart from the very obvious point that Andrew Judd isn’t the messiah and isn’t actually THERE to deliver his sermon and instructions in the first place – the very POINT that is being missed here, the very POINT of what Andrew did, was to highlight systemic racism and the insidious nature within which it infects the social psyche. That INCLUDES the entitlement that white people assume to being gently led through the process of self-critique, that INCLUDES the privileging of the white voice over a brown one, and it includes the insidious nature in which white voices wind up coming out of brown mouths (like when Maori start criticising their own for not being nice enough, or projecting the common white trope of the angry Maori onto their own).
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not now, nor am I ever, going to advocate for abuse. You use cusswords to call someone a name at any point – you’ve lost all credibility.
But let’s be clear about abuse. Let’s be clear about anger, and about what it looks like to ‘get ugly’. Because recounting the brutal facts of history is NOT rage, and blunt statements about the ubiquitous nature of colonialism and our racist society is NOT abuse.
Hypersensitivity is a PART of the crime of racism. It means that we’ve been ignored so long we have to shout to be heard. It means I have so many fires to put out by now that I don’t have TIME to break it down into gentle whispers for you. And it means that even if I did, you’re so unused to my voice that even a whisper still sounds like a shout, to you.
And let’s also be clear that when you set up a situation that is intended to address racial injustice but then wind up perpetuating injustice through enabling passive racism – that’s going to frustrate Maori – some will be able to identify and articulate it well. Others will not. The crime is then compounded when they are singled out as angry and crazy. Again – I’m not advocating for the raging abuse that comes out of them – I’m just pointing out that passive racism contributes to that rage and incites it.
So no, potential ally who wants to examine your role in this state of affairs – I don’t want you to victimise yourself and crumble under your perceived weight of blame. That’s of no help to me or to us as a nation trying to progress.
It’s not an easy process – it’s traumatising, it’s laden with self-analysis and you have to avoid the pitfalls of self-loathing because the system is set up to benefit you. You have to be strong, and come through it… just as we have had to be strong with our load, just as we have had to bear much over the years, and still do – so, too, must you be strong. You can. And you must. You have to be strong in your space and hold that up, so we can continue in the business of being strong in ours.
And what does that look like? What does it look like to be a good ally, to be a helpful ally?
Well first of all – stay white. You can be white and learn te reo. You can be white and learn tikanga. You can be white and support and celebrate Te Ao Maori. Please, god please don’t abandon who you are in shame and try to “become” indigenous. New Agers do it all the time and it evokes something like this from us.
Seriously – I’ve seen ALL those expressions in response to Dolezal-ism (it’s a word).
In fact it’s vitally important that you stay white (not least because it will cost you a bundle in expensive fake tan solutions and failed hair do’s) – but also because your whiteness gives you access into spaces and discussions that we are shut out of. Just like so many white NZers did with Andrew Judd – white people will listen to you more then they will I.
So stay white… and speak up. That’s going to be the next level of discomfort for you. Your white friends and colleagues may not appreciate you dropping the truth bomb into what was previously a safe-zone for racist dialogue and decision-making. Rest assured that at least you will get more mileage from their ears than if it were me saying exactly the same thing. Jane Elliott is living proof that you can be incredibly blunt and confrontational with your own and get marvellous results (and of course she has had to deal with her fair share of resistance as well, including physical assaults).
Stay white – speak up – and stay strong. Stay in the conversation even when it’s uncomfortable. We didn’t get a free pass from trauma for the past 200 years, so no point in you expecting one.
Let’s be clear on this: Your participation in this conversation is not a gift to anyone else but yourself. It is not a service to Maori – it is a service to yourself, and a duty to your community. If you check out on this conversation you are checking out on your own self-improvement, you are checking out on your OWN duty to your community. It WILL get messy. You WILL encounter rage. And you have the capability to acknowledge that for what it is, understand it’s underpinnings, and use that as further justification for your commitment to work towards a more just community. You don’t need to be pulled down by it, you don’t need to subject yourself to abuse – you just need to stay true to the course. What does the language look like?
“I understand your rage, I’d be pissed too if I were subjected to the injustice you’ve been subjected to – I wish to god I could change what happened, it was shameful, and unjust – but I can’t – all I can do is commit to making a change here, and now, and support the call for your rights to be restored, which is what I intend to do.”
Understand that even THAT might not be enough for some of us – but still… bless them on their way, hope for them that they find peace, and continue on your own path of self improvement and supporting the cause for better justice. Understand that if you choose to check out on dealing with colonisation, based on their behaviour – that is still your choice, and it’s one that we don’t have.
And there are so many spaces to do educate yourself in this manner, if you choose to.
Which brings me to the final point. Self help.
We’re busy. This blog is already longer than it should have been. I’ve got dinner to put on, I’ve got assignments to mark, and assignments to write, and a class to plan for, and funding apps to write and soap and shampoo to make and juicing to do and well the list could go on but please don’t add to that list by expecting me to educate you. Where we do make time for that – it’s great. But it’s not an entitlement and don’t WAIT for us. Learn from each other. Seek information out – the internet is full of wonderful resources. Watch a Jane Elliot clip. Read some Linda Alcoff. Get busy, because the sooner we tackle this beast the better, and it’s going to require ALL of us on the frontline.
That’s it really. Stay white. Speak up. Stay strong. Self help.
Good luck on your journey.
(ps will post my soap and shampoo recipes up next)