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From complicity to antiracism: White people’s role in the struggle against ‘pseudo-white supremacy’

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Three white people talking about race is usually just a meeting of the know-nothings who’ve got a whole heck of a lot to say.

Not this one.

Christian Theological Seminary students Kerry Connelly, Cassidy Hall and Mason Mennenga had a virtual discussion Oct. 8 about the roles white people — particularly white people of faith — should play in the struggle against white supremacy.

That is, if “white supremacy” is even the right term.

Connelly, author of “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice,” prefers to add a “pseudo” to the beginning because language matters. Whiteness is designed to be invisible to white people, she said, and it’s important to reinforce that white supremacy is not some natural fact; it’s a construct.

Combatting pseudo-white supremacy, then, requires white people to get uncomfortable because, as Mennenga said, white people are the ones who have to carry the burden of undoing it — not Black people, not Indigenous people or anyone else.

Hall, who co-hosts a podcast called “Encountering Silence,” told a story of her time at a preaching conference last year when she instinctively sat at the table where all the other white people were. It was a shameful experience, realizing that even as she practices antiracism it’s apparently still so easy to cling to the comfort of complicity.

“I dragged my ass up out of that chair and asked if I could sit with the Black women nearby,” Hall said.

White people span a wide breadth of the ideology and structure that say whiteness is superior. Some openly embrace it, others never have to confront it, and some actively oppose it.

What’s needed, Connelly said, is a sort of white liberation theology, which isn’t about overcoming oppression, but rather overcoming oneself and a false sense of dominance.

“We have essentially suffered a failure of imagination,” she said.

Mennenga said he has more hope in white people’s willingness to confront racism because of the protests over the summer, which he was in close proximity to as a resident of the Twin Cities region, where police killed George Floyd in May.

White people’s commitment to the cause, he said, should go as far as being willing to stand up in front of Black bodies and “take a bullet” — and hopefully the bullet is rubber.

Getting white people to buy into this idea that they have to experience some kind of racial awakening to recognize their false position atop a made-up hierarchy is one of the first obvious challenges. Even white people who are invested in the work — these three students included — can reach a point where they feel the weight of the system is too much to overcome.

But that’s just an excuse, Connelly said. Yes, the system is big, but she said people should try to understand how their identity plays a part in that system.

Contrary to some common advice, Connelly said social media can be a tool to individually rail against that system. She said she spends time debating online with people who are committed to not understanding her, but the conversation isn’t for them. It’s for everyone else who sees it.

What’s not an option for white people, Hall said, is to opt out altogether by saying they want to focus inward and contemplate in silence — not because contemplation is bad, but because the next step has to be action, which gets back to being uncomfortable.

White people who say they just don’t want to rock the boat are endorsing complicity, she said, because that boat is what’s protected them this whole time.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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