Spoiler alert: There’s no pinnacle to this work. . (And that’s what’s so freeing.)
I like to think I’m a good person. It’s a part of my identity.
Law-abiding (except for some unreasonable stop signs), considerate, nice… Hey, I help people for a living.
I started working with an anti-racism coach. And with her help, I started to see all the ways I perpetuate white culture.
Not just benefitting from it, as a white person, but seeing ways I perpetuate systems that oppress people of color around me.
All of a sudden… I didn’t feel so “good.”
I felt like a “bad” person.
Before I started my anti-racism journey, I didn’t believe I could perpetuate racism. (Because, well, I’m a good person.)
So when I first hired my anti-racism coach, I just wanted to be a better white person, especially as a leader and coach. I wanted to do the “right” thing.
Imagine my surprise when I learned – with the help of my anti-racism coach:
I don’t have to be a capital-R Racist to make fundamental mistakes on race.
This doesn’t make me “good” or “bad.”
In fact, this good-bad dynamic and other binary thinking is an element of white culture. Along with the belief that there is (one) “right” way.
As my anti-racism coach points out adroitly, “It’s not a question of if you make a mistake in this process. You will make mistakes. We are talking about deeply embedded cultural conditioning here. The point is, what are you going to do about it? How do you rectify and learn from that mistake?”
In other words, I’m always going to fail.
There is no point at which I can say, “Done! I no longer perpetuate white culture.”
Anti-racism work is a continuum. There IS no pinnacle.
And, therein lies the gift that this work offers.
It allows me to realize that seeing how my deep cultural conditioning plays out in my beliefs and actions has nothing to do with whether I’m a good or bad person.
I don’t have to sit in: Am I good or bad?
Seeing my conditioning allows me to have choice. Instead of unconsciously perpetuating systems that harm people, I can realize, catch myself, disrupt the pattern. Okay. Right. Now, what am I going to do about it?
And that… is liberating.
Choice = freedom.
That’s not to say that when I do make a mistake, I don’t initially feel shame, or “bad,” my knee-jerk, conditioned reaction. That good-bad dynamic still lives within me.
And, challenging that dynamic brings me one step closer to liberation.
As a leader, my success depends on my ability to cultivate trusting relationships with my people. That trust is impossible if I continue to perpetuate white culture without leaning into the work: looking at and disrupting my assumptions. Constantly.
If you resonate with this, wrestle with the same questions, and want to explore this topic in an accessible way, sign up for the workshop being offered by MettaWorks and facilitated by Makeda Pennycooke on Wednesday October 26th from 3pm to 4:30pm ET.
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant
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