White exceptionalism & me

This is part two in response to my un-learning in working working through Layla Saad’s book “Me and My White Supremacy“. In the last post I shared some context to my life and how that, along with childhood trauma has created a complex web of unconscious reasons why I don’t take action as I want to in connection with anti-racism. Once again, I re-iterate that I do not speak on behalf of all whites, I am simply unpacking my own learning as I work through this book.

My white colonial upbringing has conditioned me in hundreds of subtle, unconscious ways and these reflections are not excuses. I acknowledge that I have and still do benefit from white privilege, am complicit by being silent and suffer from white exceptionalism. I am doing the work, and this time it is connected to white exceptionalism.

White exceptionalism: the belief that the work of anti-racism doesn’t apply to me

As an open-minded liberal, when I began to read this section in the book, I reacted exactly as Saad said I would. I was triggered. I could not see how I was complicit in this category (I could see it clearly in others, but not here)

Once I started engaging with the prompts though, I realised (naturally) how this applies to me.

More context

In my last post, I shared that I was brought up in colonial Zimbabwe of British parents. My parents were not political beings and I was never overtly or specifically taught white supremacy, and we never had any meaningful conversations about race, privilege etc. But my school curriculum, my privileged life living in the white areas and my parents Britishness had a phenomenal influence and I was conditioned to uphold white supremacy without knowing it.

No one in my family (parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins) was progressive or liberal, but as I grew up, going to university with black people and being exposed to other ideas, I began to think differently, in a more ‘liberal’ way, challenging the beliefs that my family hold about the “good old days” in Rhodesia and their negativity towards the black people in South Africa.

The issue that always makes me angry has always been how the colonial Europeans (British, Dutch, Portuguese, German, French) “invaded” Africa, taking what did not belong to them, imposing their religion, their education and ideas about being better on the Africans, all over the continent. Especially the religion – again, a topic for another time!

So, at my core I believe I am progressive / liberal, yet I have never voted consistently in any elections to bring about change. My “apolitcal” stance has been constant.

This prompt got to heart of the matter

Do I or have I taught my child white exceptionalism?

Yes, I have, unintentionally – again, no excuse. Because I have liberal views, my 20 year old son has grown up with those same views. But as a single mother, with a single child, with very little conflict in our home, I have NOT been a role model for how to deal with conflict, for rebellion, for having a a strong opinion, for taking meaningful action, taking a stand, doing something. Yes, we have always talked about race, social injustice and racism, and he and I are open-minded.

But have I ever shown him what that that looks like in taking action? No. In fact I have probably passed on my “don’t rock the boat” attitude.

So I have perpetuated white silence and white exceptionalism. Now, he must do the dismantling work as well. We both know better and move forward with that knowledge.

I’m sure as I work through this book that I will have other revelations that jolt me out of usual thinking. I will continue to share those that have a deep impact on me. If you are working through these same things at the moment, I’d love to hear from you about your journey.

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