Charlottesville. Ferguson. Orlando. Neo-Nazis. Police brutality. Racism. Classism. Fear. Fear, hate, and Othering have a figurehead now, and people who were once hidden in their hate are now empowered to come forward. As a white person who gives a shit, it is painful knowing the reality that this kind of hate is on the shoulders of marginalized people day in and day out, when it truly should be the burden of white folks such as myself who are complicit in systems of stolen* status and privilege.
So if you’re one of the many white folks asking, “What can I do?”, I suggest you consider the words of my friend and colleague Lily Sloane: “You have to fight your inner Nazis before fighting the outer Nazis.”
If you are becoming more and more awakened and aware to systems of racism and oppression and the ways in which you are complicit in these systems, my best answer to your question about “What now?” is to dig deep in psychotherapy with a therapist who will help you face your inner oppressor.
Let’s think together for a moment about white guilt, and all the complicated feelings that guilt around privilege and survivorship can bring. “Systems of Othering,” as I’m calling it here, thrive in the realm of projection- all the “bad” or intolerable parts of you being split off and thrown into the Other (whoever is “different” from you). While in general most of us tend to have complex relationships between self-and-other, throwing blame without taking a good look inside yourself at your own compliance with these Systems of Othering can lead to perpetuating the very problems you’re trying to fight against, address, and/or repair.
I use the term “Systems of Othering" to encompass -isms such as, but not limited to, ableism, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and more. Any system in which there is a winner and a loser, a haver and a have-not-er, or where there is a scarcity mindset is not a system set up for abundance and mutuality and leads to amplification of hatred and splitting. These are systems inside of ourselves that we must address before (or simultaneous to, considering the urgency of this work at present) addressing the ways these systems play out outside ourselves. Only then can we truly dismantle these systems. Otherwise, we tend to replace one system with another- basically, passing the hot potato of projection back and forth, unceasingly.
One of the reasons I am a psychoanalytic psychotherapist is to help people pull back these painful and stuck psychic layers and investigate where they come from and how they can be healed. My social justice framework supports the belief that addressing our personal bonds to Systems of Othering is a necessary part of a whole approach to dismantling systems of oppression on a collective, structural scale. We cannot hope to do the external work without simultaneously doing the internal work. Much of that work is deep, long-term learning about how to tolerate distress, guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety. This work can support you in a more sustainable and long-term fight against Systems of Othering and oppression.
*The United States is built on an American Dream of stolen bodies, stolen land, and stolen labor. It is difficult to hold on to something you don’t really own, and I suspect that is why so many white people are afraid to lose their privilege.