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 🙂
Are you a therapist, facilitator, organizer or healer called to a deeper exploration of subjects discussed in this post?
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