Is people-pleasing supporting racism?
Once you see, you can't unsee.
It has been unsettling watching events unfolding this week in the USA and Canada that are highlighting once again, systemic racism in law enforcement. It seems like we aren’t getting any better at addressing white supremacy.
I have decided the place to start is with myself. I’m writing this email from a place of privilege. I am a 61-year-old white woman.
I know that most of my readers are white women and I ask you to be open to what I say here today. It is time for us to wake up and face the truth. We have been benefiting from Native invisibility and anti-Blackness. We have work to do in dismantling white supremacy and it means facing ourselves - even if it is uncomfortable.
For those of you who are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC), I thank you for being here in this space.
I mentioned in an earlier email that I have been working my way through Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. For many years I’ve resisted doing this work. I’ve felt confident that I was not racist and that white supremacy was something I was above. As I’ve been working through this book, I’ve started to understand this as ‘white exceptionalism.’ It is a dangerous belief. It gives me permission not to do any of the anti-racism work that needs to happen to make this world safe for BIPOC.
Saad quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
It is easy to settle for a negative peace in our lives. As long as there is no conflict we are satisfied. Right now BIPOC deserve our wholehearted efforts towards positive peace - the presence of justice.
I am only beginning to understand how I have participated and benefited in my life from white supremacy. I know there are layers that I will continue to uncover as I do this work.
It doesn't surprise me that people-pleasing shows up here. If we are afraid to speak up or speak out against racial injustices because we are afraid of what people will think or we don't want to disappoint anyone we are going to settle for a negative peace.
Here are some ways I see people-pleasing supporting white supremacy:
1. You don't speak up when someone makes a racist comment because you want them to like you.
2. You remain silent on this topic on social media because you don't want to make waves.
3. You don't want to make anyone uncomfortable so you avoid talking about racism and white supremacy.
There are other ways that people-pleasing shows up. It shows up in groupthink where people look the other way rather than challenge the system. It shows up when we don't lead the way and choose to wait for someone else to do the work so we don't get labelled or excluded socially in our communities.
We need to open our eyes to see systemic white supremacy. If you need to work through this post, if it upsets you or irritates you, that is OK. And I'm always open to hearing from you.