I recently watched this clip, shared by a friend who, as a person of color, felt a certain frustration about being subjected to “white savior” films as a high school student. Click on the words white savior to see this clip of how Hollywood transforms the real narratives (of struggle) for minorities to be more palatable by using a white hero.
Seeing this short clip was eye-opening for me because I liked some of these films! The emotions I felt after seeing some of these films were aptly described in the clip and because of those feelings, the “danged if I do, danged if I don’t” feeling of defense surfaced, too. The thought that maybe I’ll never get this right tries to influence my mindset, but then I realized something powerful: it’s good to feel uncomfortable.
In fact, I often reflect on all my uncomfortable emotions. Defensive attitudes can naturally be the first emotions we feel when we sense white privilege in our lives or see it being played out before us. But feeling defensive is not helpful if you are trying to grow in understanding other people’s perspectives on the realities of life. Sadness is also natural, but wallowing in this emotion fuels “white guilt” and asking others (usually non-white friends) to comfort you is very selfish and harmful for those you ask. I typically respect anger the most because it spurs me into action for necessary change, but anger needs to be checked closely as it can be fueled by self-righteous attitudes and therefore turn off people (who might possibly be influenced to see injustice not noticed, previously).
It’s such a fine line. Emotions can be the lighter fluid of change in a person’s life, but too much can burn the process down to the ground and leave you, and everyone around you, burned…or seriously alienated.
So, what’s a white person to do? This is actually a question I think on all the time, especially when encountering a behavior I do that is discouraging for people of color, such as believing all the Hollywood portrayals of white saviors and believing I’m not racist because I like these films.
So again I ask, what’s a white person to do? I don’t have all the right answers, and if I pretended to know, I’d be lying. But there are some things that help me, and I’ll share those ideas, and maybe you could share ideas with me, too?
First of all, if you are just entering this journey, or have been on this path for a while, I’m so glad we are connecting and I wish you all the best and even hope to have courageous conversations!
I think understanding white privilege and moving away from a white savior mentality is that you have to observe it, and when you do, don’t ignore it. I wasn’t able to see these behaviors or thought processes on my own, but thankfully my friends of color felt comfortable to speak into my life and the scales fell off. So find your close friends of color and initiate a conversation, and if it’s your first time, just know that it will be uncomfortable as many of us were raised “not to see color” or refrain from making a person feel uncomfortable by speaking about our differences. BUT embrace the discomfort and lean in. That pain, that conviction, that challenge to what we previously believed is the catalyst for growth.
And then what? I don’t know, just keep learning. Follow Twitter chats like #ClearTheAir or #BreakRank or #EduColor. There’s no way you can follow these discussions without feeling all the feels. You will feel the whole gambit of emotions. And if I were you, I wouldn’t offer much, just listen to others’ words. Understand the anger non-white people have regarding the injustices and stereotypes they encounter every single day. Understand that there is more to their stories than how we grew up. AND If you’re brave enough to ask a question, you’re feelings might get hurt with the answers- so embrace that, too.
I realize that I cannot predict your path of understanding nor speak for anyone besides myself, so know that your path may look different than mine and that’s life.
But, Mel, I don’t have any friends of color?
Maybe start there. Why don’t you have a diverse group of friends? Do you really want that in your life?
I do. My friends are incredible people. Who doesn’t want to know incredible people?!?
My Fellow White Friend, there is no easy answer. That’s why I ask so many questions!!!
Personally, my blinders regarding the separate worlds and realities between our cultures and races, have come off through growing in my relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ. He put the desire to be united with His creation in my heart. I can’t help but think that all this separation saddens Him, or angers Him, to a degree we’d never understand with our human minds.
I believe that harboring racist thoughts and actions is a sin that separates us from each other and from God. You may not share my faith, but you can definitely see how being separate from our neighbors has harmed our country in quite a few ways.
So start listening to people who have more melanin than you. Maybe you’ll find many more commonalities than differences? Maybe you’ll grow a deeper friendship with someone you only thought you knew well, beforehand?
I’d love to hear all about it and wish you the best.
Let’s talk more, later!