Flirting with Whiteness
This weekend I was presented with the opportunity to acknowledge my privileged and downright rude white behaviour and act on it, to make a change. Biases aren’t just here to be examined. They call to us to surface them, acknowledge them, and repair any harm they may have caused. Once we have gone through these first steps we CAN make changes in our biases and behaviours and their concomitant outcomes .
I was out shopping with my mother. She is 88 and has Alzheimer’s. At this point, the disease makes her fatigue easily and she becomes overwhelmed quickly by input. Shopping is stressful for me at these times. I want to buy whatever it is that she requires fast and keep her feeling as safe and steady as possible. I become tense quite quickly.
It is at these moments, the times of tension and stress, that pertinent unconscious biases are most likely to surface during difficult situations. It’s at these times that we need to practice mindfulness.
Arnold Mindell has developed a type of psychotherapy called Process Psychology. Once of the techniques that I have learned from him is becoming aware of flirts. No, not like in relationships. But becoming aware of flirts from the cosmos and investigating why they caught your eye. I think of this as surfacing a flirt. Something flickers in our awareness. Usually, we don’t focus on them. For example, seeing a face in clouds, or driving on a street where a particular house feels inviting as you drive by. It’s moments like these that need you to stop and get curious about what’s catching your attention? And more importantly: What is it trying to tell you? I used this technique to explore my whiteness over this past weekend.
Back to shopping with my mother. I had left her sitting at a nearby café while I scooted off to pick up her prescription at the pharmacy. I ran all the way to the pharmacy and, as I approached, saw a lineup. I butted in in front of a black woman who was clearly first in line and I waited to catch the eye of the pharmacist. As I waited, I caught a glimpse of myself as if from above. I took that flirt that had my attention and got curious about what was going on there. First I examined it through my visual field. What I saw were two women vying for the attention of a pharmacy technician. One of them, though, thought she had a “right” to be attended to first because of her eldership, status and race. That woman was me. Then I gave voice to what I saw. What I heard was the rationale “I am only going make a quick transaction. The woman behind me, well she might take longer…..” As I put my voice to these thoughts, I began to slowly walk backwards. I was embarrassed by my behaviour. Her "otherness" began to dissolve into humanness. I looked this stranger directly in her eyes and said “I’m sorry. I am sorry for pushing in front of you.”
I then walked behind her knowing and showing that actions speak louder than words.
When you are stressed, try using this approach to surface your unconscious biases.
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