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Letter to the Editors, Volume 53 Issue 13: Re: Why Do White Settlers Hate Themselves?

As a white settler in Nogojiwanong, Peterborough. I am grateful for the time, effort and heart that Brendan has put into this piece; it hits home for me in so many spots. I am writing this to speak to white folks like myself involved in any kind of anti-racist work. The points that I want to underline the most are numbers 3 and 4.

Everything that I have learned about racism and colonialism has been through my relationships with Black and Indigenous people, through their free labour and education. Due to all of this labour, I have come to recognize the certain spirit that exists within white folks (and of course other people as well, but I am speaking to white folks right now.) That spirit that feeds on our white guilt, and thus motivates our actions. When our actions to ‘do good’ or to stop being complicit are motivated by guilt, then our actions are at best murky and unclear and poorly thought-out, and at worst self-serving, insincere, and actively doing more harm.

Activism should not be motivated by a desire to be ‘the good white person’ in our group of friends, or our community spaces, or our classroom, or whatever. Something that I see a lot of white leftists/radicals/whatever we call ourselves doing is trying to participate and lend a hand in things, while all the while terrified that they will make a mistake and determined to never fuck up (or fuck up in front of other people) and this in itself is a harmful mindset to bring with you into anti-racist work. Lots of people get stuck right here, in these feelings, and we do not progress past this point. If we are operating from a place of anxiety and fear and dislike for ourselves, then we are not bringing all that we could be to anti-racist efforts.

We need to be right with ourselves first; we need to know ourselves and where we come from, we need to own who we are and where we come from, and we need to hold others to this account. Building relationships with racialized folks and people we have privilege over should start with honesty and transparency about who we are, at the very least. If learning about our histories, our complicity, the lies we’ve been taught, and the long legacy of violence that we benefit from and continue to uphold makes us hate ourselves, then I don’t believe we are in a healthy place to be doing any kind of anti-racist work, because we end up putting so much of the burden on racialized people to heal us when we are perfectly capable of healing ourselves and each other. Some of us who insert ourselves into anti-racist spaces take and take and take so much and then realize that it’s actually ‘easier’ to fall back on our whiteness and our money and our privilege, and we turn around and write books about those nasty radical Indigenous people who made us hate ourselves and then skip off to the other side of the world to become lawyers (that is an extreme example albeit something that actually happened at Trent). We do these kinds of backhanded things in smaller ways all the time, every day. If we want to do work, we have to find ourselves in our community first and we have to come in a good way. Thank you to Brendan for continuously offering your perspectives, the things you’ve been taught, and the love you have for this community.

Kaz de Moraes

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