Shining a Light on the Shadow of My Racism

White Exceptionalism.

There’s a new term for me. 

In Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, she uses this term to refer to people who feel like they are finished with their self-examination of racism, have passed the test, and are good to go. As if once they are “woke” they don’t have to continue their awakening. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like all the work I have been doing to dismantle areas of my personality, areas I didn’t even know were there, has prepared me to hear from BIPOC in a way I was unable to before.

How do I know?

Because I can’t unsee all the times that I have ignored BIPOC who tried to tell me that I am part of the problem. All the times I said, either to myself or out loud, “You don’t understand me…I’m different.” Or frankly, “You don’t understand racism.” The balls (or ovaries) on me.

I really thought I’d done the work and had conveniently surrounded myself with people who reinforced this belief on my behalf. People who called me to ask me for my thoughts or people who told me “I don’t mean you.” The ego loves to hear, “everyone else but you.” My ego certainly did. I still catch my ego in the act of loving that, despite knowing the truth.

I’ve had this awareness ~ like a big “aha” ~ that the reason I had been led to the Enneagram as a tool and accompanying spiritual work (literally, daily), over the last several years, was to wake me up for this.  Prior to that, I was blind to my own racism. Racism was a shadow that followed me 24/7 and while BIPOC could see it with clarity, my white friends were complicit with my ego; they either did not see it, or did not call me on it. 

{As an aside, the psycho-spiritual work I both participate in and teach to clients, required me to explore some really, really dark places in myself while people I have come to love, acted as my witnesses (which I think, now, is an essential part of this work); they held me accountable and continue to love me through it. I had to be willing to do that work, so that I can now do the work of dismantling my own racism, which, like the Enneagram work, will be a lifelong project for me.}

I must have known, at a subconscious level, that I was being prepared to look at my role in white supremacy because as I reflect, I see that over the last couple of years, I started following the social media accounts of more and more leaders in the BIPOC community. I had always taken an interest in racism and classism, but as an outsider, not as a participant. It was all academic. It was absolutely, as Layla Saad calls it, “white exceptionalism.” This was more of that.

And then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

My heart broke. I felt responsible. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. I spoke about it with my teacher and my group….it felt egotistical to feel responsible and yet I did. I think I was confused because I was holding on to being a “white savior,” while also holding “white exceptionalism,” along with a deep, subconscious, “inner knowing,” that I am, in fact, part of the problem. I was holding all of those parts of this without the clear awareness or language. These were all shadows and the light was approaching them.

After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, something felt different. It was not academic. I felt it in my heart. It physically hurt. I felt broken. Where I used to treat racism as something I had to learn about but was apart from me, I actually felt like I had participated somehow. I was no longer an outsider to it.

Something opened up. Everything got clearer. What lived in my shadows was clear now. This is what they mean when they say the light shines through those cracks that made us feel broken. 

Like the work of thinning out my ego, thinning out my racism is not “either/or.” I used to think I was either racist or not. Now I know that I am both/and. The paradox of illuminating my own racism while also being an accomplice and ally to BIPOC is clear. 

Being a good ally is not about not being racist; being a good ally REQUIRES me to see my racism. Over and over again. I have to be willing to hold my racism and my anti-racism, my white supremacy and my ally-ship, my need to understand in my brain and feel in my heart all of the pain that comes with this, while not making it all about me. 

What I have learned is that I will always be part of the problem.

For what it is worth, I feel whole. I feel open ~ a bit broken open, but open, nonetheless. The parallels of looking at the darkest places of my personality and looking at the darkest places of my racism are uncanny. Until I wrote this, I didn’t actually see that they go hand in hand. I think that my own racism is a dark place in my personality. To yield to that means that I have to give up the illusion of “better than.” And as I give that up, I see yet another paradox. When I relinquish “better than,” I embrace, “BETTER OFF,” both individually, and collectively. 

Until my white exceptionalism came out of the shadows, I had no choice in it. Now that I see it, I do. Now that I know better, I’m committed to doing better.


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