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Revealing Blinds Spots of Racism: A Conversation with Tammy White and Rev. Deborah Johnson

October 11, 2019 | By The Pachamama Alliance

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Revealing Blind Spots of Racism

The global Pachamama Alliance community came together with Pachamama Alliance Board Members Tammy White and Rev. Deborah Johnson (Rev. D) to explore blind spots of racism.

For people committed to building a thriving, just, and sustainable world, the growing anti-immigrant, white nationalist sentiments and violence towards people of color around the world highlight the huge barrier that racism represents in creating a world that works for everyone. The increasing attention on institutional and systemic racism invites us to examine how racism lives within each of us.

Exploring White Fragility

The Pachamama Alliance staff and Board used the book White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo as a vehicle for exploring the construct of whiteness, which often gets overlooked in discussions about race.

Tammy shared about the profound impact that the book had on her. “When I read White Fragility, something happened that transformed everything. I felt like my whole world shifted, because I got something about the issue of racism that I’d really never seen before. And that is that it doesn’t exist out there, it really exists over here. And when I started to turn and look inside, at me as a white person and my collective participation in white culture, white race, and see my own white fragility and blindness, it was just a powerful, powerful impact.”

Robin DiAngelo’s description of undoing racism as lifelong work resonated with Tammy “because I don’t have to learn it all, I’m going to always be learning.”

Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished. Yet our simplistic definition of racism—as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals—engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete.

- Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

For Tammy, that exploration has opened up new possibilities in her relationships with the people of color in her life. “I feel like I’m connecting with them in a completely different way, I have access to a level of intimacy that’s really different. It’s access to my humanity at a different level.”

Acknowledging that some people question whether engaging in the exploration of race simply reinforces racism, Mario Trigueros, the Pachamama Alliance Programs Manager who hosted the call, highlighted that “engaging in this exploration doesn’t reinforce racism, it builds a sense of its inherent falseness. It builds more compassion, more interconnection, more intimacy, and restores a sense of your own humanity.”

A Role and an Opportunity for Everyone

Rev. D observed that “what makes getting to the heart of racism so difficult is we can’t really have these discussions unless everyone can locate themselves in the construct of race. The word race is usually a euphemism for people of color. For us to be able to do anything about this thing called racism, we have to be able to deconstruct it, and we can’t deconstruct it if we’re not willing to look at it.”

She added, “when we are able to take the blinders off, when we’re willing to see people and all of their humanity, there is something that happens that is rich and rewarding and deepens our humanity. We can’t heal what we don’t feel. We can’t change something that we deny even exists. The way out is through, and I want to encourage us to continue in these discussions.”

And when Tammy shared that she is not an expert and is still on a journey trying to figure out her white racial identity, Mario said “it is so crucial to give everybody permission to wrestle with this, and to not have to be an expert on it. To allow yourselves some bit of a journey. I want to acknowledge for folks on this journey how liberating it is for a person of color to hear that. Hearing that puts me at ease. I’d be worried if you came with all of the answers.”

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