Q: What do you identify as?:
A: I identify as a white cisgender woman, first generation American born to Greek Cypriot parents.
Q: What does being a white greek mean to you, being in America?
A: For me, being white in America means confronting and taking responsibility for the uncomfortable and painful truth that my whiteness gives me innumerable privileges at the expense of people of color. For me, being white means being in an ongoing dialogue about how to shift, transform, and heal from generations of systemic inequality and oppression. It means informing the decisions I make with a critical mind, knowing that my decisions can perpetuate or transform systemic racism. Those decisions - those opportunities to engage or not - come up everyday and my white privilege makes it such that I could go on each day without giving attention to the reality of racial inequality.
That is at the core of white privilege - that I can choose whether or not to engage, that my life will not be endangered if I do not engage the reality of racial inequality, that I can survive and thrive without ever acknowledging that my black and brown brothers and sisters are facing racist violence in every manifestation (psychological, emotional, physical, structural, etc.) everyday. I have been thinking a lot about how white folks do or do not enter the conversation and the work addressing the ongoing violence - vigilante or uniformed - enacted upon black and brown people in America. I have heard many express that they will not have these conversations or enter the work if the space feels "unsafe." But this is just another manifestation of white privilege and entitlement, the entitlement to not feeling "icky." There is a significant difference between a conversation being difficult and uncomfortable and it being "unsafe." "Unsafe" is being unable to move through the world freely.
Lack of safety is the inability to simply be without the possibility of violence being enacted upon your being. "Unsafe" is the generational psychological and spiritual trauma that unchecked racist violence has created and perpetuated. For me, being white in America is being in constant dialogue with these realities, and moving forward to shift power and transform inequity. Many times it means stepping back. By stepping back, I do not mean being passive; white folks need to engage not only in word but in action. When I say "sitting back," I mean looking to the leadership of black and brown folk as to how we engage the radical transformations that need to happen, and how we envision what these look like. It is work we need to do together however I do think that I, a white person, need to step back and listen to and be guided by the experiences and vision of black and brown folk as to how all of this can and should transform.
So often, well-meaning white folks engage in these issues in a way that actually perpetuates inequality by positing themselves in leadership positions to the exclusion of people of color. This is a huge problem. White folk are so used to being the center of privilege that they are unaccustomed to stepping back, learning, listening, and being in service to/in solidarity with movements lead by black and brown folk. Being white means working to encourage my white peers to critically engage these issues. Being white and being aware of and wanting to transform racial inequality means being open to the many times I will be wrong and make mistakes in the process; it means always being open to reflecting and revisioning how I engage, based on the feedback I get especially from my black and brown peers. It means being prepared to own that I may at times, unintentionally, perpetuate the problem even when my motivation is to transform it.
Q: Last but not least, if you think there is racial inequality what do you think that needs to be done to rid our nation of it?
A: There is so much that needs to be done and to give it all adequate attention would take pages and pages. Here, though, I'll focus on one important piece of what needs to happen: White people need to take responsibility: white folk built the structures and systems of racial inequality, and white folk are at the center of power in maintaining those systems. White folk built it and white folk need to deconstruct it. Let me be extremely clear though: this is NOT a white savior situation. I am not suggesting the racist and ongoing myth of the all powerful white savior.
No. What I am saying is that white folk have some hard work to do in taking responsibility for the ugly power we still maintain creating and perpetuating racist inequality. We need to look at our collective self in the mirror, we need to acknowledge the insidious poison of racism and white supremacy, and we need to take responsibility to dismantle it. All of this needs to happen in service to a vision that is lead by and informed by black and brown folk. We need to deeply listen to black and brown folk to understand how to be in solidarity in a movement toward racial equality. The conversations, the work, is difficult. White folk: please do not confuse the difficulty and discomfort (these you will inevitably confront if you engage this very important work) with lack of safety.
Stick with the work...stick with the conversation. Shutting it down at the first feelings of discomfort perpetuates the racist systems that have created bubbles of privilege around white folk in the first place. We need intersectionality too: we need to move in this work with an understanding that power is fluid; that some parts of our identity give us power and others do not but none of this changes the reality that systemic racism and racial inequality are real. Our responsibility in engaging movements for racial equality is not relieved because we experience oppression through some other facet of our identity. It could be too that an intersectional awareness can generate the kind of compassion and understanding that will be necessary to get otherwise uninvolved white folk committed to movements for racial equality. Finally we need healing, all of us.
A healing that is fierce, and that begins first with fully acknowledging the ways we've harmed/harm/been harmed, and the ways some of us benefit from those harms.