Facing your complicity in white supremacy hurts, but suffering it hurts more: On being a good white

Stephen Eyes

In November, last year, I received an message from an old friend from university concerning my attitude towards white supremacy and the complicity of white bodies in it through acts of whiteness. I probably read and re-read it a great many number of times, fiercely debating with myself whether I should ignore it, give a fuck-you response (because whiteness) or use this as an opportunity for constructive dialogue. More importantly, I found myself deeply annoyed with myself for spending time fiercely debating myself about this when I knew, deep in my bones, that this was an unproductive use of my time in my work around anti-racism. Here is the missive reproduced unedited save for the removal of the authors identity:

Comrade J, you are a person I always looked up to in res. But seeing some of what you put out there on social media now about white South Africa’s makes me feel a sadness. Yes, I agree that many of us are fucked up, but this is not reserved for ‘whites only’. There are times when I think, jesus, these blacks are fucked up, and then I realize it is people, not a race group. If I look at what is happening in our parliament then I am left despairing that there is no hope for our country to truly lead the way in changing the social fabric of society, as was once the vision. The problem is not ‘whites’, or ‘blacks”, it is people who view themselves as separate from society and their environment. I believe that addressing these people in anger and generalizations will only move us further from that vision and into the hands of the Vervoed’s and Malema’s. I fear for a bloody future because people won’t open their hearts. I am not saying you should love your racist white neighbor, but I am suggesting that you look into yourself and to a better future. What does Samuel L represent to you in Django? To me he represents the bad of our past, he represents the black playing a monkey for the white. I agree, we need to talk about where we are, we cannot pretend like things are fine and dandy, but talking for progress and talking for hate are two different things which have two very different outcomes. Yes, I too hate most of the whites in this country, but we need time to work and change. Blacks are not precluded from this task either. We all need to work and change, for me it’s about whether we are doing this for the better of each other, or for the worse of us all. You are still someone who’s opinion I respect, but I do not respect being disrespected on an open platform such as Facebook because of the colour of my skin. People, both black and white fought against that in apartheid, and each of us needs to try and uphold those values, even if our hearts are filled with anger at times. I believe that only through this commitment to something bigger and better than us and our current situation will we ever be able to move to a truly free and fair society. This will not happen today, or tomorrow, but maybe our great grand children will be able to look back and say, shit, those old fuckers really did try make things better for us. I’m not urging you to stop activating about what is in your heart – this is a special thing, but I do urge you to consider the effect that the manner of this has on the people around you. Always.

My non-response, because I was busy fiercely debating myself on whether and how I should respond, republishing some old posts and organising a progressive people’s pride protest-celebration in between my actual life would be followed by this next missive:

I was hoping you’d engage me, not retort with a narrow answer about the colour of the people in photographs. Andiyazi, mlambi because nintsi umhlobo wam i abantu bamhlope I am racist

I was astonished.

It would be some four months later that I would sum up the patience and power to put aside some time to offer this free Black labour of love and revolution, and respond as follows:

Dear XXXXXX

It’s taken me a great deal of time to come back to this message which has been niggling at me since you sent it, last year. Then I wasn’t sure how to respond. All I have is living memory and rage and despair about nearly 400 years of colonial-apartheid inscribed on my body.

I think any genuine engagement on the effect of and solutions for the colonial-apartheid legacy by white bodies in this country, on this continent, in the Black world needs to come from a base of humility and acknowledgement of the living horror that persists through your skin whether you want it to or not. Structural power has material effects.

A basic truth about whiteness is its obsession with itself and its proliferation. It is victor and victim at all points, reactionary, and just taking up space wherever it is to be found, even on issues that are simply not about it.

A transformative whiteness, and I’ve written about this so many times before , knows that sometimes, most times, all times, all it must and can do is listen, and not act, save to address the insidious problem of whiteness to whites, for whites.

As to whether I think you a racist or not is irrelevant. It’s for you to reflect on given your own compromised positionality, being white, understanding that white-racism is not simply about overt acts of aggression against Black, but finds its power even in banal yet audacious assumptions that Black bodies occupy their time seeking out and branding white-racists wherever they can. My revolution is structural.

Nearly four hundred years of living memory etched into my skin by whips and dogs and bayonets and canons and bullets. This body has done it’s time, XXXXXX. It doesn’t have to be polite and hand-hold and coddle the bodies that represent the hands that held those sjamboks. And to expect that of this body is an act of violence.

I’ll leave you with something I wrote yesterday:

#LessonsToWhiteAllies Your inclusion in the anti-racist movement, white ally, cannot and will not happen on your own terms. The sooner you understand that you are not here by choice but by invitation, the sooner you will be allowed space to speak.

Best wishes,

But this wasn’t the point of this post. I was simply reminded of this exchange (which still concerns me – why, Black Jesus!?) when I saw this post by my dear friend, T.J., in which he put together this most excellent cheat-sheet/reading-list for whites (and some Blacks) who, when Blacks candidly discuss white supremacy, white racism and the violence it wreaks on Our bodies daily through white people, feel it especially important to except themselves from complicity, though they benefit from it, and believe it necessary to assert in no uncertain terms just how wrong We are about how it operates on Our bodies.

The point of this post is, for many of us in these bodies, we are no longer prepared to be exhausted by exacting demands (mostly from white people) to prove white-racism and then provide lesson-plans and tutorials about how white-supremacy manifests in both the overt conduct of white-racists and (mostly) in the banal day-to-day interactions with people (strangers and intimate) who believe themselves to be “good whites”.

The lesson, here, is simple:

  1. If you even remotely think what you are doing or allow to happen in your presence is white-racist, it probably is, and you should revisit this list of free Black labour and DO SOME CRITICAL REFLECTION to understand why it likely is and what you can do better, next time, that it is never allowed to happen again.
  2. If you are told what you are doing or allow to happen in your presence is white-racist and your immediate reaction is to violently disagree, it probably is, and you should revisit this list of free Black labour and DO SOME CRITICAL REFLECTION to understand why it likely is and what you can do better, next time, that it is never allowed to happen again.
  3. If you feel compelled to enter a discussion with Black people about what white-racism is, how it manifests and, most importantly, what white people should do about it, before you ask any Black body how to be a “good white,” start by DOING YOUR OWN GODDAMN WORK by revisiting this list of free Black labour, and DO SOME CRITICAL REFLECTION because we’re exhausted having been in the service of whites and whiteness for centuries which has distracted us for as long from plotting and inciting the revolution that we need that we may, at last, live for ourselves.

P.S. This list T.J. offers us is by no means exhaustive. These lists are compiled daily, from all corners of the world, by countless people who, in love and revolution, offer their free Black labour, and in good faith, to you, self-identified, “non-racist”, white-ally. Please use them before you abuse Us.

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