The reality of white anger and why we need healing spaces for white people

NOTE 1: I would like to let the reader know that I am a POC. I don’t necessarily believe this should solely determine whether you agree or disagree with where I am coming from. BUT If you are a white person who is upset at the compassion-based nature of my work and writing, please read this.

NOTE 2: If you are a white person and would like to share my work on social media, I recommend reading this little guide: https://selfishactivist.com/a-guide-to-white-people-for-sharing-my-work/

I’m writing this post today as I was beginning to launch my Authentic Allyship Coaching Group, a support program for white allies who are committed to healing their personal and cultural traumas.

I had just announced the end of the test phase to my pilot group when a participant commented that they were looking forward to the next phase and their attention was on the explosive protests (I’m not sure I like this wording) happening in Charlottesville. I have my Facebook feed turned off so I didn’t hear about this news earlier.

Predictably, catching up on what was happening in Charlottesville drew a lot of intense emotions into me.

Now, the idea of racial violence by angry white people is nothing new to me. Yet, this news came with a timing that made me have to really gut check why I am doing what I call allyship nurturance: explicitly holding space for emotions that arise in white people when they are dealing with subjects around racism, colonialism and white supremacy.

From this place, I want to have a real conversation about white anger.

What I have noticed from running the pilot group of my project, as well as having intimate personal conversations with white people, is the truth that: white people, even allies, have a LOT of anger from feeling that there is no space for their emotions in conversations around racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

I have felt this first hand in working with allies.

It comes out unconsciously in their speech, breathing, posture, and other subtle cues, even as they feel ashamed of it. And of course, when they feel comfortable enough, they will just tell you. They feel like they will never be enough as they can never escape their whiteness. The feel constantly dehumanized from being treated like mannequins made of privilege. They feel helpless in finding space for their own healing around their whiteness because it’s not appropriate for them to take up space. They feel exhausted that the burden of a history of white supremacy is being put on their shoulders. They feel powerless to do anything that will actually bring change to themselves or to the world. They feel completely deserted and abandoned by their ancestry.

All of these disowned emotions show up as intense suppressed frustration and anger.

In holding space for their emotions to be seen without judgment, I began to wonder: “What do white people who don’t identify as allies feel?” It was terrifying.

One thing I have come to understand through receiving relationship counseling is that when you disown your emotions, other people tend to pick them up and begin to express them for you. I believe that this is a big part of what we are seeing in the eruption of visible white nationalism – a small group has become a release valve for the repressed emotions of white people, including allies.

Seeing this, I feel a strong urge to put a message out that: we, white people and POCs alike, might benefit from focusing less on whether it is appropriate or not for white people to have emotions, and simply accept that they do. Because they are human.

When white allies feel shame for having these feelings their capacity to actually know where their anger is coming from is inhibited. And the truth is, they aren’t angry at us POCs – I don’t believe that of even the most adamant of white supremacists. Why should they be any ways? We POCs aren’t actually responsible for the shame that white people have. It is just something that is stimulated in them when they are in relation to us.

When white people finally feel that there is safe space for them to unravel, to not have to be perfect, you realize what is really behind their anger. And it’s NOT scary. If anything it’s small, vulnerable and needing of deep acceptance.

What drives white anger at the core are traumas from their family of origin, in the literal sense of childhood, and the cultural sense of ancestry. Racism happens because white people, often unconsciously, misdirect and inflict their emotions from the past on to POCs by using their position of power.

As humans, we naturally project memories of hurts inflicted by our caregivers on to our friends, lover, and neighbours.  This is the core reason why we struggle in relationship. We also do this on a cultural scale. What is underneath the racial violence of white people, from overt attacks to subtle micro-aggressions, is the pain of betrayal, abuse, abandonment, and neglect by the caregivers AND ancestral cultures that were supposed to be there for them*.

*Thanks to Tad Hargrave for our chat in which he shared his thoughts and feelings around this with me. I will be uploading our conversation very soon.

When you give white people the opportunity to feel their feelings, they begin to clearly see how they have been projecting their emotional needs on to POCs. They start to understand where their anger is really coming from, whether it is from having parents who routinely silenced them, or from not knowing how to relate to their ancestral cultures.

Yes, white people take up a lot of space, physically, emotionally, politically, economically, and more. In fact, the TAKING of space is very much a part of the white colonial legacy. But the question remains: is the space that they take so forcefully really what their souls are needing? A place where their whiteness is non-judgementally held as pain?

So as emotions begin to boil over, as it looks like we are again at another point in history where gigantic shifts in race relations are going to happen, I feel ever more devoted to an approach that welcomes the full humanity of white people, especially our allies.

I don’t think of this as me being easy on white people. Being fully human is one of the most painful and vulnerable things you can do. As a POC, I challenge white people to experience the kind of grief, anger and hurt we POCs feel when it comes to racism.

And finally, I don’t say all of this from a place of just tenderness. I feel constantly terrified about the realities of racism, especially for my fellow POCs who are much further away from positional power than I am and more susceptible to the harm. Every piece of news that I hear about racial violence makes me feel betrayed again and again. I grieve constantly.

BUT I also know that everytime a white person hurts a POC, the distance they have to travel before they can heal and become human again gets that much longer – and this makes the world that much more dangerous to us.

So, if you think I do this work for just white people, I don’t. I do this for me and for POCs everywhere, who I think about and wish for their safety, every day.

***

I want to thank here, some white people who have shared with me intimately about their emotions around racism, colonialism, and whiteness through one-one-one meetings: Tad Hargrave, Jardana Peacock, Rebecca Koch, Rachael Rice, and Virginia Rosenberg (hope I didn’t leave anyone out!). I also want to thank all those, BIPOCs and white, who have been part of my inner circle of support, even if we have only met once or twice, including my comrades in Turtle Tank, a radical entrepreneur incubator lead by QTPOC/WOC.

And finally, I want to thank all of the allies who participated in the test phase of the Authentic Allyship project. I know that it probably took a lot of courage to show up, feel and heal! But we’re here now 🙂

***

If this post resonated with you and you are a white person I would like to invite you to learn more about the Authentic Allyship Coaching Group (for white people).

10 thoughts on “The reality of white anger and why we need healing spaces for white people

  1. Woah.

    Um, it’s nice that you want to reach out to heal the oppressor in order to solve the problem…. but… that isn’t what I’d do.

    I’m white, very white. Although my blood ancestry is a quarter Ojibwe, it’s also a quarter English. I grew up in a small white village in the USA and live in a white area of Berlin, Germany. I’m also a female.

    “White people” in that stereotype make me sick. Especially white women, who think that they’re priviledged and can get away with cheating, lying, etc. I think White People already have the tools they need in order to fix themselves… there’s all kinds of new religions and practices and whatever. This kind of ‘focus on emotions’ should be happening all across the board, and White People should be last.

    I’ve learned about racism from the oppressed. Black Americans and Black Africans have told me about these negative stereotypes around their skin color. Native Americans have told me about their own negative prejudices against them. It’s a long road from learning / recognizing and then shifting into a space of healing.

    But we should start with ‘POC’ (and please spell that out at the beginning, I had to google what that abbv. stood for)…. we should start by having free meditation groups after school. We should have groups where 1 White family meets with 7 other Black families or Hispanic families or whatever. Where people volunteer and actually talk to each other and find out what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

    It’s great you’re helping people with their emotions, and Whites I guess, but I think focusing on the empowerment of the oppressed is MUCH more necessary. Empower them so that there is no more space in their mind to identify with subordinate, negative, racist / sexist beliefs.

    I might be White, but I’ve been a lot of other things…. raped, homeless, beaten by my boyfriend, diagnosed with cancer…. all my Power comes from growing past those traumas. All the trauma that POC have experienced and lived through directly can be converted to Power. Directly. White people have their problems, too, but I think there has to be a lot more dialogue about what ACTUALLY happened to Black (and Irish) slaves, in the USA and what the Native Americans actually endured in their Holocaust, and continued to suffer on reservations and boarding schools.

    We have to have ALL info on the table before the Whites can start ‘letting go’ of their shameful ancestry. It’s not as easy as ‘oh, that wasn’t me’ …. this kind of intent lies dormant in the blood, or in the upbringing and mindset / paradigm. We have to completely own it, to talk about the past in detail (including the sentiment and emotions around a social / political movement) so that Whites can shift from their oppressive mindset, to heal that and tame their ego and pride.

    1. It seems as though the more I “let go” of my past trauma, the more compassionate I am to other people — period. I find that compassion is happening more often, and it is natural and effortless. Of course, “letting go” is not a public display or narcissistic endeavor. For me, it is just stopping and noticing when I am feeling anything unpleasant — anger, frustration, grief, sadness, judgment — and instead of projecting it onto another person, I just go quiet, relax, watch, and feel into it. Most of the time whatever is happening dissolves and I gain an insight, but even without an insight, I instantly (in real time) lose the impulse to blame, shame, or lash out. For that reason, I am all for feeling and healing the wounds that produce thoughts and emotions that I mistakenly assume are the “fault” of other people and not just ghosts from the past. (I am white, and I think if we all did this, it would change the World.)

  2. But don’t they have enough spaces to work that out emotionally? Isn’t therapy more accessible for them than colonized folks? Don’t they already form groups similar to this? I mean, i just don’t get where the need is coming from.

    1. I totally agree with you in that. At the same time, I see an abundance of healing wisdom in POC cultures as a whole, something that white people often lack. And also Western psychotherapy itself is based on POC wisdom from indigenous shamanism, Buddhism etc.

    2. I think perhaps the issue Tada has identified is that the kind of therapy White folk tend to have access to is itself a product of Colonialism. At best, counselling never seems to ever touch on ‘hot-button’ or ‘general’ issues like racism. At worst, it’s reductionist and psychoanalytic, and enforces Euro-centric ways of thinking about the self and others.

      In all my years of therapy and during my years studying psychology at university, not once did any other white person ever even think to address the wider problems of Europeanism, the impact of colonial history on the *ways* we think, or facilitate cultural empathy beyond a kind of slap-dash combination of International Food Days and multi-faith school projects. I’ve done my best to become an ally through growing up with a liberal and humanitarian family and educating myself, but there’s definitely still issues that lurk in the back of my psyche that would simply never be addressed by the average psychotherapist.

      I think the problem with privilege is that it creates a very literal kind of blindness, even in well-meaning people. This blindness operates more firmly at the community and social level than it does on the individual level, and it’s still pretty damn tenacious on the individual level.

      1. Thanks for the comment James. Just want to reflect perhaps blindness and the use here could be ableist. Wanted to note that. Not that at all I believe that is what you are trying to do.

        I am totally with you re: mainstream psychology.

        But I also want to chime in, as a therapist, that psychology is certainly a diverse field, and for me, it has strangely lead me back to my ancestry. And I am grateful to my teachers white and POC for that.

        Body-centred modalities have a LOT of influences from East Asia specifically. It’s an interesting place.

  3. Hi Tada,

    It sounds like you’re doing really worthwhile work. After the events in Charlottesville, I’ve been thinking about how we cure — or maybe heal — that kind of hatred.

    As a white woman, I’ve never been able to relate to the shame of being white. Maybe it’s because I’m working class, so not quite as privileged as some, or maybe I’m just really pragmatic.

    I live from a place where people can’t be blamed for things they have no control over, like what race, class, gender or orientation they happen to be. I acknowledge whatever privilege I have and commit to using it to help all of us.

    I hope white people, and anyone else with privilege, can use the cause of their shame as a source of power to make the world a better place for everyone.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m getting off the hook easy, or like I’m missing something. Shame only happens when I do something I feel badly about, but not for who I am as a person.

  4. Thank you for your kind article. One thing I’ve been feeling concerned with is how white people tend to be spoken of as a homogeneous group. The word “whiteness” implies a colorless homogeneousness. Actually, there are many different white cultures, communities, and ancestral backgrounds there. A lot of it is very atomistic, with little sense of community among white people. It’s hard for many white people to even grasp how why they are seen by most POC as part of a group or culture because of the fact that white culture is so fragmented and atomistic

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