What are we supposed to do about it?

On the left are two open hands in a prayer or meditation position, in the middle left three young people are having a conversation, in the middle right adults huddle in a small group talking, on the far right a group of activists march with signs

By Annie Gonzalez Milliken

So you read the intro and you understand challenge, comfort and processing, right? Ok, then onto practice.
There are so many ways to put our new insights into practice! We can practice personally, interpersonally, communally and systemically.

The personal work involves interrupting the patterns in our thinking and behavior to root out oppressive behavior or internalized oppression. We can practice with mindfulness, body practices, prayer, creative expression and many other methods. I have a note on my computer that says “Stop! Are you centering whiteness?” and I look at it all the time so that I’ll stop and think about it. It helps me remember not to say things like “we all benefit from white supremacy and need to listen to people of color” and say things like “those of us who are white benefit from white supremacy, while others of us know all too well the violence it does to people of color.” I also have started paying more attention to how my emotions manifest in my body. Patriarchy taught me that I could play, learn and work alongside the boys and men if I kept my feelings in check and focused on my head. That served me well through school and into my career. It also cut me off from really knowing myself and made me complicit in making classrooms and professional spaces less welcoming to queer femmes, women with sexual trauma histories, people of color, and others. I wish I had come to this practice sooner and I’m glad I’m doing it now.

The interpersonal work involves interrupting microaggressions or oppressive frameworks when we have the privilege to do so easily, and calculating when it’s worth it to intervene if we’re in the targeted identity. It also means building relationships with people who can serve as comfort, processing and challenge folks. As a white person there are so many times that I have let racist comments pass by unchallenged simply because I wasn’t paying enough attention or didn’t want to deal with the discomfort of interrupting white supremacy. However, there have been other times when interpersonal efforts went well. For example, based on some Facebook comments, an old acquaintance from high school who is white reached out for processing about racism via Facebook messenger and we had a really productive conversation. As a woman, I have also let patriarchy slide many times, because I didn’t think I had enough power in the situation as a young woman or because I was just tired. But there have been times that intervening went well. For example, cheered on by young women colleagues from another of my favorite highly specific Facebook groups, I once reached out to a male seminarian after a phone call to let him know a sexist comment he made was inappropriate and received an apology.

On the communal level, we can practice dismantling systems of oppression wherever we are as well: if we’re students we can push for less oppressive policies and cultures in our school, if we’re a parent we can try to raise radical children, if we’re working we can advocate for better policies and cultures within our workplace as best we can from our position, if we’re part of a spiritual community or other volunteer organization we can offer that lens of dismantling oppressive systems to that group. As a white person working for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), I’ve offered support and resources toward the White Supremacy Teach Ins, for campus ministries, in my own congregation and at the UUA. As a woman in Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ Boston) I listened when other women did a fishbowl conversation on feminism. One dynamic they named was women being the majority of members and men still being more of the “leaders,” so I challenged myself to move into more leadership and stop undermining myself in meetings.

And for systemic change we must join movements. Maybe we’re on the email lists and making the regular calls to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), to legislators, to city council. Maybe we’re cooking the food for the organizers’ gathering or finding them free space. Maybe we’re showing up for the court accompaniment, for the rally, for the direct action. Maybe we’re at the organizing meeting taking notes and sending out reminder emails. Maybe we’re donating money or coordinating fundraising. Maybe we’re out doing one to ones in our community to bring our neighbors along. I try to practice in a wide variety of ways through being part of SURJ: in a local working group focused on combating the racism, xenophobia and Islamaphobia found in our immigration system and, as of today, in an national faith based working group seeking to organize predominately white Christian congregations to divest from policing. These efforts target particular institutions and laws and also are part of a larger effort to disrupt and un-do all the harmful systems: the white supremacist, capitalist, ableist cis-hetero-patriarchy that does so much violence to everything it touches.

Now that you understand challenge, comfort and processing as well as ways to practice, you can check out the self and community evaluations to assess where you and your communities are and where you can grow.