Wednesday, April 22, 2015

White Consciousness - What are we missing?


This is a bit of a long shot, inspired by a conversation I had recently about black double consciousness and how it might not be pathological after all , but seen as a resource that us white people are missing.

Du Bois termed double consciousness as a state of being of black American people, a sense of self that is split between the authentic self and the self that exists in the context of  whiteness. The awareness of how  blackness is perceived and judged by whiteness creates the underlying standard to which blackness is morphed into an existence that poses no threat to whiteness, thus supports white superiority.

What is described here as some form of mental illness can also be seen however as an evolved form of being, something that white consciousness lacks altogether. The underlying theory here is  that black consciousness is  connected to a communality, a recognition of kinship amongst black people,  that white people lack altogether. As a white person it is not my place to explore or even comment on this theory in the context of blackness. I  can merely refer to the framework in it's relevance to whiteness.

Maybe white people could evolve by developing a double consciousness, in which they connect their sense of self to a wider community of whiteness, and seek to understand and overcome the many ways in which we have been indoctrinated and brainwashed into perceiving our whiteness as a superior form of humanity. This white double consciousness could be framed in our connection to and awareness of our white brothers and sisters struggling with these issues on the one hand and a sense of humility - open-heartedness and willingness to self-examine - in the context of blackness.

Humility does not imply guilt or shame here. Those are wasted emotions, that inevitably bring up our defences. If we  can be in peace with our roots and our selves, if we accept that we have been deeply damaged through no fault of our own, we can do much better work on evolving from hidden inner racists to openly recovering racists without shame or guilt attached to the "bad word".

If we continue to suppress the indoctrinated, racist part of ourselves, because we are too afraid to acknowledge it, this shadow side will cause damage not only to those around us but to our own emotional, spiritual and physical being. It may even creates dis-ease in the body.  Diseases that are only treated symptomatically will inevitably manifest elsewhere, usually in a more severe and pronounced form. Somatic psychology has long recognized the connection between the mind/emotions and the body and acknowledges the damage our unlived, suppressed parts can cause in our bodies.

It is not surprising that today's cancer rates are higher than ever before. People will attribute this to environmental causes, or a lifestyle that is increasingly removed from nature. This is undoubtedly true. But whatever the cause, on a somatic level cancer is simply a hidden cell (aspect of ourselves)  that starts spreading out of control,  if not recognised and healed at an early stage.

The cancer of our inner racism will destroy us over time if we do not expose it, treat it and ultimately assimilate it into our psyche. We will never be free of racism, this cannot be our goal. The fact that we grew up white in a world, that systematically violates, invalidates and suppresses black people means, we have the gene of racism implanted in us from birth. In the same way that a cancer gene can lie dormant for most of our lives (and in some it will never manifest the disease ) we don't have to be overt racists or even have conscious racist thoughts in order to prove it's existence. Some of us might never be in contact with black people, and thus might never even consciously think about race . But in today's increasingly diverse world with a forever spreading social media network, this is an unlikely scenario, and sooner or later we will be confronted with some of our stereotypes, judgements and prejudices.

It cannot be the role of black people to educate us and help us recover from racism. This has been made sufficiently clear by black consciousness movements, the latest of which here in SA, RMF, has done away with white participants altogether. The role of white people has to be solely that of silent allies within the movement. In addition to that a mandate has been given by RMF to a group of white people to continue the work within their white communities, to educate and explain, and if necessary defend the movement.

This sounds good in theory. But for lots of white people, myself included, this is a tall order. For we have mostly lived our single consciousness existence as self-centred, navel gazing individuals, who socialise in carefully defined boundaries,  fiercely protective of our individual spaces and opinions. There is no sense of connection around our whiteness. On the contrary, to those of us who have a growing awareness of our inner racist, our whiteness is our predicament, we feel embarrassment rather than compassion when confronted with our own and other people's racism. So we avoid it altogether. White people don't talk about their racist indoctrination.

Sure, we make a friend a minute on social networks , but we defriend just as easily anybody who doesn't share a worldview or an opinion with us. Or we waste our time in pointless, anonymous rants that leave us feeling everything from vague emptiness to open rage,  going nowhere and reaching nobody in particular.

We haven't learned how to constructively have real life, real difficult conversations or stick out challenging friendships. We move on to the next thing as easily as we move from one Twitter feed to another. We value connectivity over human connections, always distracted from what is going on inside and thus oblivious of the price our hearts and souls are paying.

So when our brothers and sisters from the RMF movement expect us to educate and challenge whiteness, we shrink away from the task as something scary, threatening our very existence in this world. We simply don't know how to. We don't have a communality, a kinship that binds us beyond Twitter and Instagram.  We have forgotten how to have face to face conversations with open hearts and minds.

And this is what we can learn from double consciousness. We can learn to develop a white consciousness of kinship with each other, in which we are willing to be open and vulnerable. Where we acknowledge our whiteness and the racist that lives in each of us in a compassionate and supportive way. Where we find words for the unspeakable and expose feelings that have never been spoken about.

There is need for a white dialogue, where we all start from the same premise of acknowledging our unearned privilege and inner racist. If we can breathe that in, we can find our double consciousness, our kinship to other recovering racists and our humility in the context of blackness.

And don't get me wrong: I am not the compassionate kind when it comes to racism. This is my biggest shortcoming and in some ways my growing strength, as I increasingly trust myself to call it as I see it. But I will never be the person, who can patiently and compassionately listen a racist and find compassion within. Maybe I haven't integrated this shadow side of mine enough, but that's what it is. I ll never be a politician or a diplomat. I can write better than I can talk. And I am willing to listen and share with anybody, who is able to acknowledge their unearned privilege and racist indoctrination. All the other racists, the defensive ones and the I-don't-see-colour-ones, I simply can't deal with. Bigger people can take those on, and if you are one of them (the bigger ones)  -  I salute you!

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