I didn't use to talk about white supremacy. When I first began to really learn about the injustices facing people of color in America, it was in the context of reconciliation. I learned that white people and people of color were separated and our communities relationships were badly fractured. These fractures required reconciliation.
That is all true, but in the past few years, I've begun to see that I moved too quickly to reconciliation. I moved straight to reconciliation as if there was not a power imbalance between the people and communities in need of reconciliation. I wanted to move straight to reconciliation without confronting and dismantling the systems, both external and internal, that created these fractures. I didn't want to confront my own role in white supremacy.
Recently though, it's all I think about. How are my thoughts, words, and actions complicit in white supremacy? What does it mean for me to be a justice seeker, while always benefiting from unjust systems? How do I understand my whiteness not as something to hate, but something to leverage. Am I always going to be "problematic?" And worst of all, is this always going to be hard work?
I've found comfort in the analogy of canoeing. If you've ever paddled a canoe before, you know it takes effort, even on a still lake. If you stop paddling, you stop moving forward. If there is a breeze, perhaps your small boat starts to turn in the other direction. To make progress, you have to keep paddling. I think the same is true for white people confronting white supremacy. White privilege and white supremacy always work to my advantage- that's how the system was designed to work. White supremacy is designed to keep white people in positions of power and privilege at the expense of people of other races. Unless I actively work against it, I will continue to perpetuate a racist, sinful system.
If I want to dismantle White Supremacy, both inside me and in the world around me, I have to keep paddling. Some days, it requires more effort than others. There are days where the wind is raging and I must paddle with all my strength and energy to move forward. Those days are so long and hard that I wonder, "Is it going to be this hard forever?" But I have also found that there are other days. Days when the lake is still and all I have to do is gently paddle here and there to keep moving forward. Although I can't stop paddling, it doesn't feel like quite so much work on those days.
Dismantling white supremacy is hard work, there's no doubt about it. I sometimes get overwhelmed when I think of a lifetime of this work, but it's then that I remind myself to focus on the next step, the next paddle stroke, as it were. The work may be hard, but it's also liberating. Oppression hurts the oppressed and the oppressors. To dehumanize others is to dehumanize yourself. I can't be free while my black and brown brothers and sisters around me aren't free.
I'm learning, slowly yes, but I'm learning. Learning to advocate for reparations. Stroke. Learning to bite my tongue when all I want is to defend myself. Stroke. Learning what it means to steward the finances my privilege has earned me. Stroke. Learning to find my voice without silencing others. Stroke.
It's hard to make mistakes, to feel like I'm floating backward despite all my efforts. On the days that I feel like I've failed, I'm learning to pick up my paddle and take one more stroke. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.