• margothovey

I’ve been experimenting with engaging in dialogue about the impact of Whiteness over the past few months. I am a white Canadian woman and I’m interested in understanding how my race lands in different contexts. The inquiry arises: what is the experience and impact of (my) whiteness in this context?


In this blog I’ve spoken about the history of socially aware and conscious women in my family. I understand now though that when it comes to race, it’s a conversation I am only just beginning to have in my family and with other women. When I speak of (my) whiteness I am connecting to my biases, assumptions, and privileges in the world. I am aware that whiteness and race is socially constructed. Yet, they are real and have impact in this world. It is this impact that I am particularly interested in.


To begin with, my whiteness grants me privileges. I am grateful for the privileges that it has entitled me to. These privileges can be seen spatially as if apart of a hierarchy. And it is this hierarchy that leads to white superiority.


From an equity point-of-view, these privileges demand that I do what I can to level the playing field. What else do these privileges ask of me? When I was a teen, I was guaranteed summer employment at the company where my father had been employed as the Treasurer. He died when I was 11 and (this is the way white privilege works) but they were true to their commitment many years later. Many of the people in the Executive circle he had associated with were still employed there and those relationships remained in effect for me.


At this time, there were only white folks working at this company, employing over 500 people. The Executive was all white and the factory floor was all white. That is unthinkable now in 2019. The 60’s were very different in Montreal. Like the rest of Canada, the immigration laws have allowed more people into the country in each successive decade. It is clear to me now that First Nations people, though, were not employed at this organization. The very people who were on this land before the Colonial immigrants.


While I was employed there I heard heart-felt stories about how my Dad had assisted them. First I heard that he walked around the factory floor every day at lunch. As he strolled he engaged in conversations with everyone. Everyone, that is, that was English-speaking.


At that time in Montreal, the French culture which considered at a in a lesser-thank power relationship to the Anglophones. Being an Anglo in Quebec at that time had its own associated privileges. I’d have to say I don’t know if he spoke to the Francophone employees because I never heard those stories from them. Was that as a result of my lack of French-language skills or was it because my father’s prejudice or lack of French speaking skills prevented him from reaching out to them?


That’s hard. It’s challenging confronting the origins of our privileges. I feel embarrassed and small. The legacy of a privileged social group casts a long shadow.


As a bracket, it’s important to note that other identity-based influence social positioning. Especially, when it comes to privilege. The “founding fathers” of Canada were both English and French. Together, they form a cohesive White power that is privileged. When they are separated, they fight, compete and dominate each other.


While I heard stories from many Anglophones about how my father had helped them with immigration matters, getting papers so that they could live and work in Canada legally, navigate many systems that as immigrants they were unfamiliar with. As I listened to these stories, I was filled with pride. They taught a powerful lesson to me about sharing privilege with others as a form of gratitude. Sharing privilege is a way of demonstrating gratitude for my (and one’s own) privilege.


This is the first result of this inquiry question. I’ll be forming gatherings around this question over the next few months. To participate, contact me at margot@margothovey.com.

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I’ve coined the phrase “awakening to white”. White people need a wakeup call to understand that they participate in a worldview shaped by whiteness and to be aware of this worldview, they need to initiate a process to investigate its origins and understand its implications. This is NOT, however, a process that exists solely in consciousness- it is necessary to modify one’s actions and consequences of one’ social and political, cultural behaviour and activities to align with this awakening.


We all need a wake-up call to change our worldviews. Or, as Jack Mezirow said, a “disorienting dilemma”. Mezirow is famous in the world of transformation. He says a disorienting dilemma is the catalyst for perspective transformation. Dilemmas usually occur when people have experiences that do not fit their expectations or make sense to them and they cannot resolve the situations without some change in their views of the world. Disorienting dilemmas alter our worldview, including the values, beliefs and assumptions that form one’s view of the world.


People of colour and others have criticized the trend that we white people focus on changes in consciousness that exclude acting for equity. It’s no wonder. To make actual and real social change, we are compelled to act out from inclusive perspectives. To rejoin the world in a way that is trust-worthy, we need to demonstrate that we have learned the damage of the effects of Whiteness and white culture and are willing to take some responsibility. Yes, responsibility going forward.


The motivation isn’t guilt. White folks have long talked about their guilt to no end. That is, guilt doesn’t stimulate authentic and aligned action. The alignment I speak of is alignment to one’s values. It’s a core alignment. Alignment between values and actions provides a power and an energy that is authentic. It’s authentic action that is true. And in this truth, lies trustworthiness.

And now we are talking a language that all people can recognize and rely on. Relationships are built on trust and authenticity. Going forward these are the relations we need. To get there, though, .reparation is required, reparation that speaks to the hurt and the betrayed, reparation that must be addressed in the mediation of relations.


Awakening to white requires a perspective shift. In research I did for my dissertation (Overcoming Resistances to Transformation of Consciousness: An Integral Journey Towards Inclusion) I identified competencies and capacities to guide perspective shifts of worldviews. I’ll be looking at these qualities and abilities in the the upcoming weeks. Or, if you can’t wait, contact me at margot@margothovey.com.

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I facilitated the last book club on Whiteness. That week, we discussed, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. This was the smallest group, with the fewest attendees since starting the group this winter. I posed the question to the group, “why are there so few of us here? The answer came back:“this book was the hardest, most challenging” we had covered.


Interesting.


They weren’t ready for this conversation? This gives me pause to contemplate what developmental step could I provide to ready members for this conversation? It does show me that a developmental approach to discussing Whiteness is appropriate and useful. Last month we were exposed to such an approach. I even handed out a self-assessment for participants to use. It could be they weren’t ready for that either.


The conversation focused on our reactions to race conversations. The chapter on White Women’s tears was especially poignant (to me). It brought to mind a recent conversation I’d had with a native woman who was connected to the Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. I blurted out that my mother’s family had roots there as well. And because I was feeling so stressed, shared with her that my great-grandmother might have taught at a residential school there.


You could have heard a pin drop.


She smiled and said that there is still a lot of pain around Residential schools.

Later, I felt that I had forced this information upon her when she wasn’t expecting it. In a gush of emotionalism, I sent a message to her apologizing. That very act felt like I had made the conversation about me. I was so uncomfortable with my connection to a Residential school that I exaggerated my own emotions and made those that she was describing seem smaller or not as significant as mine were in that moment.


Diangelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy. The chapter on White women’s’ tears hammered the point home for me. When white women cry during a discussion on race they hijack the conversation, often completely manipulating and redirecting the attention and power to themselves. That is, AWAY from those who have been insulted, abused, or hated.


As Diangelo described White Women’s tears I saw my actions mirrored in her apt description. That, was and still is, humbling. I was looking to be forgiven by her. Thankfully, she did write back to me eventually and explained that she wasn’t that easy to hurt and I was on my own path.


I reached out and heard back from my cousin who is the holder of the family records. It was funny. He sent an audio message from Japan saying that my theory was very, very, interesting. He hadn’t thought of my great-grandmother’s life before marriage for a long, long time. Certainly, he said, he hadn’t thought of her at a time when First Nations experience had entered his consciousness.


The tears are justified, just keep them in your own space. Better yet, gather around exploring whiteness and share them with other white people. If you’d like support in creating a book club on Whiteness, contact margot@margothovey.com.

© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD