Pegi Eyers is the author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, a survey on the interface between Turtle Island First Nations and the Settler Society, social justice work, rejecting Empire, and the vital recovery of our own ancestral earth-connected knowledge and essential eco-selves. A Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, Pegi is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. She lives in the countryside near Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada) on a hilltop with views reaching for miles in all directions. www.stonecirclepress.com
For me, the everyday question has become “Do I share what I know, or remain silent like everyone else?” Making the rounds in my own community and calling out the implicit bias I hear from friends and neighbours, or the imbedded colonialism in our gracious cultural institutions, or the cause-and-effect of endless consumer choices made possible by white privilege (and how our lifestyle is killing the planet), can get me in a world of trouble. And heaven forbid I point out that we live in a white supremacist society – that one really paints a bullseye on my back! And yet I can’t help it – Rejecting Empire and participating in “whiteness speaking back to whiteness” is who I am, and I am a Dangerous White Woman. There is no turning back.
I feel for the white folks who freak out, or turn away, or ignore me, or block me on social media and in the real world, I really do. It wasn’t too long ago that I was blithely unaware of the harsh realities of white supremacist capitalist abled supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy, but instead of fulfilling my destiny as an artsy zoomer, I had to go and get decolonized. Over the years my bohemian need to relinquish the corporate dream for a simpler life had already put me on the margins so to speak, and coming to terms with critical race theory, white privilege and allyship for the first time was not such a big deal. And contrary to my outward upscale jovial appearance (I do dress neat!), poverty and a lack of opportunity also kept pace with me on the outskirts of middle-class life. From my own experiences I was able to identify with marginalized folk, and the other contributing factor to my career as a Dangerous White Woman and my blossoming as a radical dissident author-activist, was my pain-in-the-butt habit since childhood to question everything (including authority)!
I am incredibly grateful for the explosion of social justice training and individual or collective actions in recent times that have dramatically enlarged my understanding of the intersectional oppressions. My personal journey through these movements has led to a more neoteric alignment of my heart and mind, and like activists everywhere, I am dreaming the collective dream of a world free of patriarchy, white supremacy, racism and the insatiability of capitalism. Part of my work is encouraging other white folks to have the same epiphanies and learning opportunities that I have had. On the periphery of First Nations community here in Canada I have seen the effects of the colonial apparatus up close, and have witnessed the disgraceful legacy of historic and ongoing attacks on indigenous people by genocide, segregation, residential school and assimilation. Outrage is our best response, and discussion and study are the first steps, but our learning will grow exponentially when we actively work for social justice by attending rallies, demonstrations, meetings and cultural events, practice allyship, and join committees or organizations.
There are no shortage of tools for the highly-relevant learning curve that Allen Johnson calls “racial reconciliation and cultural competency.”1 And whether we are approaching anti-racist activism as a new direction or have been working as a change agent for years, it is extremely useful to look at the model of “The 8 White Identities” by Barnor Hesse.2
There is a regime of whiteness that governs society through racial rule and there are socially visible, action-oriented white identities in everyday dialogue with that regime. People (not only white people) may identify with whiteness in one of the following ways.
The 8 White Identities
- White Supremacist
A White Supremacist maintains and advocates a clearly marked white society that preserves, names, and values white superiority.
- White Voyeurism
A White Voyeur would not challenge a white supremacist’s stated beliefs. They desire non-whiteness because it is interesting and pleasurable to them, and they seek to control the consumption and appropriation of non-whiteness. They may express a fascination with culture, for example: consuming Black culture without the burden of Blackness; consuming and appropriating Native American cultures, clothing, or spiritualities without the burden of racism or prejudice.
- White Privilege
A White Privileged person may critique white supremacy, but they maintain a deep investment in questions of “fairness” and “equality” that normalize whiteness and white rule. They may have a sworn goal of “diversity.”
- White Benefit
A White Benefit person is sympathetic to some aspects of anti-racism, but only privately. They will not speak or act in solidarity publicly, because they are benefitting through whiteness in public.
- White Confessional
A White Confessional person will speak about and point out whiteness to some extent, but only as a way of being accountable to People of Color after the fact. A White Confessional seeks validation from People of Color.
- White Critical
A White Critical person will take on board critiques of whiteness and invest in exposing and marking the regime of whiteness. They refuse to be complicit with the regime, and might be seen as whiteness speaking back to whiteness.
- White Traitor
A White Traitor actively refuses complicity in the regime of whiteness, names and speaks about what is going on, and intends to subvert white authority and tell the truth at whatever cost.
- White Abolitionist
A White Abolitionist changes institutions that are historically based on white rule, dismantles the regime of whiteness, and does not allow the regime or white rule to reassert itself.
For me, initially learning about “The 8 White Identities” was a great blessing, and I refer to them often as a way to stay focused when confusion, doubt or weariness creeps in. In my own case, hovering between 6 and 8 often makes me feel like the crazy Doomsday Sayer up on a soapbox, and when “call-out culture” becomes the only option left, the appellation of “white traitor” definitely applies. Educating others on the history of colonialism, patriarchal white supremacy, the origins of racism, white privilege and how one goes about performing social justice work is key, and with writing, one-on-one discourse, workshops and the free-for-all that is social media, the challenges are immediately apparent. The majority of the whitestream have no interest in breaking their bubble of complacency or getting their hands dirty with real issues in the real world, yet there is a minority of those open to the altruistic impulse, “making things right” and contributing to the paradigm shift in themselves and others. Learning about the colonial systems of white privilege and the deplorable machinations of institutionalized racism for the first time can be very unsettling, as we have to think about what it means to be white in our time and place. Taking in the truth of our colonial history is difficult, but before anyone can sink into an abyss of guilt I like to say, “The shock only lasts for a day or two, believe me, you will soon come to terms with this new information. These are systemic inequalities created by psychopathic white men, and you are not supposed to take it personally!”
Some of us are willing to sit with the truth, but unfortunately many folks indulge in inventive sidesteps and clever justifications to deny these painful realities, and white fragility is by far the most common response. Centering on hurt feelings and personal issues is also typical, but this kind of reaction will never lead to change. Becoming an anti-racism spokesperson automatically makes one a target for hostility, anger, denial, and online opprobrium from other members of the dominant society. As I have learned, you will find that there are literally thousands of creative and angry rebuttals those in the overculture will come up with to evade responsibility for their hegemony and privilege. Many white folks feel that their “whiteness” is above reproach, but this is just not true. In my condemnation of “whiteness” as the historical colonizer, the dominant culture and the ruling elite, I have been accused of racism against white people, but I refuse to fall into this trap. It is not more racism to see clearly that the source of racism and racist behavior, both historically and in modern times, is coming from white people, and it is we who are white that need to make change, not any other group. After centuries of unquestioned superiority, white folks need to challenge our deep sense of entitlement and learn new skills for honest discussion and actions on “race.”
Examining and owning my own white privilege has allowed me to truly look at the oppression of the “other.” The bottom line is realizing that Empire in the Americas was founded on a land grab and the genocide of the First Nations who occupied the land, and built with the labour of black slavery. Clearly, it is wrong that the patriarchal founders and robber barons of Empire, the rich, rapacious, entitled, racist, privileged, greedy, misogynist, bloodthirsty, warlord, bible-thumping, immoral, power-mad, dysfunctional white men and their policies have imposed their will on our bodies, minds and souls, and have dictated the destruction of our world. And Dangerous Women everywhere need to object! Suppressed for so long, the fierce rage of women is the most threatening force on the planet today, and coming into our full power means embracing this transformative energy. Many of us are angry, and we can embrace it as an appropriate response to the elite who shape our reality by controlling resources and power. Instead of hiding our anger, Dangerous White Women can be motivated to speak out (!) on the intersectional oppressions that surround us, and the privileged white people who refuse to take the first steps in understanding these dynamics.
So I will remain on the alert, challenge racist acts directly, and call things out. I will not just think about injustice when I see it online or in the media, I will act! I am obligated to use my knowledge and proficiency in community building, social media and internet activism to make things right. When raising awareness, I will tone down my provocative position with concrete actions that everyday citizens can take. There are exciting new movements happening that promote the enlargement of our empathy by stepping outside of ourselves, discovering the lives of others, and expanding our moral universe. For example, empathy was a major driver for the principles to abolish slavery in 1834, and nurturing this connective power across colorlines, time and space can lead to monumental social change. Forming empathic bonds with oppressed and marginalized people has made me more compassionate as I feel empowered to speak out, and I believe that at some point in the future a determined collective force will undo racism. According to the original Quaker definition, “speaking truth to power” means communicating first to those in power, then to the citizenry, and finally to the notion of power itself. In collaboration with all the Dangerous White Women who have resisted injustice in the past, present and future, I invite you to join me in the struggle!
- Allan Johnson, Washington State University Interview 1, dialogue focused on Allan Johnson’s books Privilege, Power, and Difference and The Gender Knot, 2015. www.agjohnson.us
- Barnor Hesse, PhD, “The 8 White Identities,” widely-circulated lecture notes from his course entitled Unsettling Whiteness. Barnor Hesse, Associate Professor of African American Studies, Political Science and Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. http://whatwhiteswillneverknow.com/post/66689944256/nativnuance-the-8-white-identities-by-barnor