“If only we could just get along. If only we could just be one happy, human family.”
It’s a good dream, a valid dream, and one worth investing heart and soul into. And us White people want to believe that including people of color will get us there.
But it won’t. Inclusion isn’t enough. Let’s take a moment to look at why.
We’ll begin by asking “What are we including them into?”
We’re including them into our deeply flawed, white-washed world. We’re assuming this is what they want. But is it? Do people of color really want to be assimilated into a white world that is determined to avoid the very real discomfort of owning its privilege?
Inclusion is a wonderful dream designed to soothe and regulate the white nervous system. It’s an attempt to downplay difference by up-playing similarity. Inclusion provides welcome relief: instead of keeping them at arm’s length, we finally recognize “People of Color belong here!” and “They’re human…just like us.”
Yes, it’s an important, dignified, and necessary step in awakening from racism to be able to see and welcome the humanity of People of Color! We can, and should, honor this as progress to be celebrated.
But there’s further to go…
In the warm, well-intentioned embrace of inclusion (which, in spiritual communities, shows up as focusing on on our existential “unity” and “equality”) very real differences are subtly minimized. What we’re really saying to People of Color is “Yeah, you’re welcome to come to my party… but please play by our rules, don’t make waves, and don’t bring too many of your friends.”
Only when we’re willing to sit down with that token Black or Brown person in our white neighborhood or organization and really really listen to their experience, will we begin to realize that yeah, they’re human, like me, but their daily lived experience is excruciatingly different than mine.
We begin to realize that this painful difference in lived experience is based on deep, systemic dynamics of oppression in which we White people are overvalued and given unearned privileges, and People of Color are devalued and bear undeserved hardships.
Growing up beyond inclusion requires White people to be willing to stop seeking comfort and relief from the awful truth of racism, and the way in which it is alive in us and the way in which we benefit from it.
It means being willing to be uncomfortable, and to acknowledge that our discomfort (heartbreak) is encouraging: it indicates that we’re reclaiming our humanity. That our frozen, dissociated hearts are starting to thaw out.
To grow up beyond inclusion, White people need to let themselves be shattered in two ways. First, by the sheer horror and reality of the brutality and suffering that People of Color endure. Second, by the recognition that we are complicit in their suffering — we’re not innocent — and that the comforts and privileges we take for granted (don’t even notice?) come at an extremely high cost to People of Color.
I’ll address these two forms of necessary shattering in more detail in another blog post.
But for now let me suggest that you don’t do this growing and unthawing process alone!
Find other White people who are also willing to hold the gaze of People of Color and not turn away. Who are willing to learn about the history of racism and how it’s alive and well right now. Who are willing to help metabolize the inevitable shame and guilt activated by holding the gaze.
Find, or co-create white-only, anti-racist spaces where together you can bear the unbearable truth.
Then, once you’ve been humble to a good degree, join hands with other beautifully uncomfortable, awakening, and willing White people to start addressing and dismantling systemic racism in your organizations. Join hands with other awakening White leaders to overturn old, oppressive laws and policies, and endorse new laws and policies crafted in deep, respectful collaboration with People of Color.
Ultimately, however, we need to somehow move beyond our self-interest and not just acknowledge, but let go of all the special privileges and benefits we enjoy from being White and overvalued.
When we’re willing to sacrifice our comfort and self-centeredness, and when we willingly and respectfully give wide berth for our beautiful brothers and sisters of Color to fully occupy and express their power and sovereignty, then perhaps we can finally join hands with them and co-create new a world beyond dominator culture and Beyond Whiteness.
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Note 1: The term “dominator culture” comes from the work of Riane Eisler, author of the groundbreaking The Chalice and the Blade, and whose most recent book, Nurturing Our Humanity offers one way forward.
Note 2: The term “beyond inclusion” comes from Dr Leticia Nieto’s brilliant work, which you can learn about in her excellent book Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment
Note 3: I am available to provide Beyond Inclusion training for groups as well as individual coaching. If you’re interested, contact me at [email protected]