She said not to turn away, when we became uncomfortable. The work will make us feel that way. I agreed. I’d heard and understood that message over a decade ago, at a UPenn workshop. I watched folks turn away then, when the work became difficult- when it challenged us to think about who we are. Some denied. Some deflected. One left. The rest of us sat in our discomfort.
You see, anti-racism work makes a lot of us white people uncomfortable, because we have to answer the question we don’t want to know the answer to: ‘How much of my society’s racism has inevitably formed how I think and feel about other people?’
When answered honestly, this personal inventory inevitably leads us to feel badly about ourselves, as the realization sinks in that we have been conditioned by society to hold racist beliefs. Or, before the answers can even be formed in our minds, we may try to justify, deny, or turn away from the reality of our complicity.
The work is difficult, but it’s white people’s work to do.