antiracist practice for white people

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One of the most insidious and offensive forms of white body supremacy is called elitification. It is also one of the most common in antiracism spaces. It occurs when white people use antiracism work to reinforce to ourselves and each other that we are better than other white people and express (often without words) that we know more than people of culture about racism. Elitification is often experienced by bodies of culture as yet another attempt by white bodies to colonize their spaces, extract resources (including knowledge and physical and emotional labor) and take an authoritarian position over their bodies. We must be on the lookout for when we and fellow white people are engaging in elitification and develop language and cultural practices to stop it and repair, especially with fellow white people.

We call this form of white body supremacy elitification because it arises from a motivation to be viewed as an exceptional white body, rather than an ordinary white body who has accepted with humility that it moves and speaks, as all white bodies do, in ways that at times re-wound bodies of culture. At first, it may be easier to see elitification when it manifests in areas of our lives that are not explicitly racialized. For example, obsessively buying the latest reusable water bottles and lunch containers in an attempt to reassure ourselves and those around us that we are not causing harm to our planet, does not actually cause less harm to our planet. Instead, it serves as a way of distracting us from slowing down and examining our reflexive habits to grasp for comfort in superficial consumer fixes. We tend to reassure ourselves that we are one of the good ones who “get it,” and distance ourselves from those who choose not to, or cannot afford to, curate impressive, eco-friendly self-images.

In antiracism work, the elitification trap often leads us to obsessively consume the latest racial justice publication, TED talk, or training experience, and most importantly, seek validation from bodies of culture, to enhance the antiracist self-image we are crafting. Ironically and infuriatingly, this often takes a greater toll on bodies of culture than explicitly racist white people who do not reflexively seek to be close to people of culture in the ways white bodies engaging in elitification do. How can we address elitification in our personal and communal white bodies?

The quickest way out of this intellectual trap is to admit to ourselves and each other when we are caught in it and drop down into our bodies where we can experience the sting of humiliation, the softening of regret and the urge to repair – first with fellow white bodies. Here we can sense our inextricable connection to the entire network of white bodies, families and communities we have been frantically distancing ourselves from as we seek to be a part of racial justice spaces with bodies of culture. While being in spaces with people of culture may help us feel better, that alone will not make us or our people be better.

We must remind ourselves and each other again and again that – despite our conditioning to the contrary – bodies of culture will not be free of racialized wounding because our “elite” white bodies make them free. Rather, white people will cause less racialized wounding to people of culture as we work to grow an antiracist culture that, over the span of generations, repairs in our bodies the damage caused by our incessant reproduction of false hierarchies, including among our fellow white people

InDesign version

Before we dig in to the eight ways all white bodies (ours included) cause harm and four ways we can repair, we want to point out the most insidious and offensive ways all white bodies cause racialized harm. It is also one of the most common among in antiracist spaces.  It shows it in each of the eight ways all of our white bodies cause harm, and we’ve given it its own distinct name because, if you miss it, you will unwittingly misuse these and other antiracism resources in ways that actually cause more racialized harm.  

It’s called elitification. 

Our white bodies engage in elitification when we use antiracism work to reinforce to ourselves and each other that we are better than other white people and express (often without words) that we know more than people of culture about racism. Elitification is often experienced by bodies of culture as yet another attempt by our white bodies to colonize their spaces, extract resources – including knowledge and physical and emotional labor – and take an authoritarian position over their bodies. We must be on the lookout for when we and fellow white people are engaging in elitification and use the language and cultural practices outlined in this course to move into community with fellow white people so we cause less harm.

We call this form of racialized harm elitification because it arises from our desire to be viewed as an elite or exceptional white person, rather than an ordinary white person who has accepted with humility that we move and speak, as all white bodies do, in ways that at times cause harm to bodies of culture. 

At first, it may be easier to see elitification when it manifests in areas of our lives that are not explicitly racialized.  For example, obsessively buying the latest reusable water bottles and lunch containers in an attempt to reassure ourselves and those around us that we are not causing harm to our planet, does not actually cause less harm to our planet.  Instead, it distracts us from slowing down and examining our reflexive habits to grasp for comfort in superficial consumer fixes. We tend to reassure ourselves that we are one of the good ones who “get it,” and distance ourselves from those who choose not to, or cannot afford to, curate impressive, eco-friendly self-images. 

For white bodies in antiracism spaces, elitification often leads us to obsessively consume the latest racial justice publication, TED talk, or training experience, and most importantly, seek validation from bodies of culture, all in an attempt to enhance the antiracist self-image we are crafting.  Ironically and infuriatingly, this often takes a greater toll on bodies of culture than explicitly racist white people who do not reflexively seek to be close to people of culture in the ways white bodies engaging in elitification do.  This guide and the cultural coherence community are resources to support our white bodies in learning to recognize and shift out of bodily patterns that lead us into the elitificaiton trap.

The quickest way out of this intellectual trap is to admit to ourselves and each other when we are caught in it and drop down into our bodies where we can experience the sting of humiliation, the softening of regret and the urge to repair – first with fellow white bodies. Here we can sense our inextricable connection to the entire network of white bodies, families and communities we have been frantically distancing ourselves from as we seek to be a part of racial justice spaces with bodies of culture.  While being in spaces with people of culture may help us feel better, that alone will not make us or our people be better.  

We must remind ourselves and each other again and again that – despite our conditioning to the contrary – bodies of culture will not be free of racialized wounding because our “elite” white bodies make them free.  Rather, white people will cause less racialized harm to people of culture as we work to grow an antiracist culture that, over the span of generations, repairs in our bodies the damage caused by our incessant reproduction of false hierarchies, including among our fellow white people. 

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