Breaking Down the "Good White People" Paradigm

Confession time: I want people of color to see me as a “good white person.”  My brain knows that the dichotomy of good white people and bad white people is not useful or accurate, it reinforces the social divisions that feed racism, and it prevents white people from being honest about their own unintentionally internalized belief in white superiority.  My brain tells me that being seen as a good white person is not the point of the work. 

And yet, at the White Privilege Conference in April where I was both a workshop presenter and a white affinity group facilitator, there was a moment in which I was acutely aware of wanting to be a good white person.  I was attending a workshop about unlearning internalized white dominance.  The presenters were white, there was only one participant of color, and the room was packed.  When the presenters put up a slide asserting that white people believe in white superiority, a white man spoke up: “Isn’t that a stereotype about white people?”  Immediately, there was a buzz of incredulity around the room.  A white woman near me said, quite audibly, “Seriously?! You believe that?” ...

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How Racism Harms White People

It was the beginning of the school year, and I was in first grade.  I lived in an almost entirely white rural town in Connecticut, and it was three months before I would move close to a city.  Even though I was in a large classroom, my only memory is of the bubble of space around my desk.  “Don’t talk to her.  She’s dirty,” a white boy said to me.  I turned to my right and saw a girl sitting at the desk adjacent to mine.  She was looking straight ahead at the front of the room, and her skin was slightly darker than mine.  Was she dirty? I wondered.  Was he right?  Should I heed his warning and stay away from her?  I was confused and afraid.

This is my only memory of that classroom.  As I think back on this brief interaction, I am incensed.  My insides wrench, and I feel hot tears in my eyes.  My heart breaks for that girl as I imagine the ways in which her sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging were undoubtedly and unrelentingly assaulted at that school.  Yet my heart also breaks for my child self.  I remember that scene the way one often remembers trauma: in vivid detail...

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