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Three Tensions at the Heart of Fighting Racism as a White Person

On Being

3. De-center whiteness and learn about other cultures vs. objectify, co-opt, and/or disrupt sacred spaces.

No doubt many of you have heard the brilliant Heather McGhee. She spoke right before our panel this year and told the now famous story of how a guy named Gary from Indiana called up a C-SPAN show she was on and admitted to being racist and earnestly asked for her help in changing. Heather and Gary have now become friends in real life, and Gary has been on a journey to read about and experience cultures outside of his own, including, according to Heather, showing up at a black church. I cringed when I head her share this detail because it reminded me of one of the other common tensions that white people must struggle with. [...]

All of this adds up to a wiser way for white people to pursue lives of meaning, to be part of shifting culture and power, to make our lives — as small and insignificant as each one may be in the scheme of a daunting racist history and present — matter. It’s more complicated than I was socialized to believe it was, and yet, I am starting to understand just how rewarding it can be. Heather McGhee said:

“We have to tell the many stories of how white supremacy is materially and psychologically harmful to white people.”