White Awake: Waking up to Race


White Awake is a mindfulness-based program, founded by Eleanor Hancock, to become aware of racism and white privilege and become capable of dismantling racism. The following are the foundations of understanding white privilege and institutional racism.

“When something has come to be, we have to acknowledge its presence and look deeply into its nature. When we look deeply, we will discover the kinds of nutriments that have lead to its existence and that continue to feed it.”
– Samyutta Nikaya II, 47

If we want to abandon the thoughts and belief systems of an oppressive racial hierarchy we will need new ideas and paradigms upon which to build a more accurate understanding of ourselves and of society. Waking up to Race is the place in this website where you can find White Awake’s core assumptions about race.

What follows are the basic theoretical concepts upon which White Awake is based. Equally important to theory are the “codes of conduct” that help us do this work together – “codes of conduct” can be found on the Shared Agreements page.

Racism is alive: culturally, institutionally, and at the interpersonal level.
We do not live in a “color blind” world. We do not live in a “post-racial” society. The legacy of racism continues to effect whole communities of people through the historical effects of inter-generational trauma while modern day racism permeates the institutions of society, continuing to produce racial inequality in employment, education, housing, and justice. Changes and advancements have been made, but racism is not behind us.

White is a racial identity.
In a racialized society, everybody has a race. When white people think of race as though it is only something people of color have, we create an invisible “normal” against which all other races are measured, and we are able to see racism as “somebody else’s problem”. When we understand ourselves in racial terms, we begin to take responsibility for our part in a system that awards us unearned privilege at the expense of another.

Questions of power, privilege, inclusion and exclusion are complex.
Each of us stands at the intersection of various forms of privilege and disadvantage depending on the variety of societal positions we occupy at any one time. Our inclusion in the social category of “white” warrants us privilege, but racial privilege is only one part of our identity. Gender, sexual orientation, economic class, educational background and spiritual/religious orientation are some of the other factors that effect our relative privilege or marginalization in society, and this experience itself is not fixed but can change based on our position in life and the various circumstances/groups/situations we move through on a regular basis.

With awareness comes the power to change.
Awareness is a natural precursor to action (such as interrupting racial micro-aggressions on the workplace, showing up in ways that subtly shift the culture of our spiritual communities, or working in coalition with others to target and dismantle specific forms of institutional racism). White Awake is based on the premise that action arises naturally from inner, transformative work, and that this inner work is a necessary compliment to committed social action. We encourage white people to investigate the historical conditions in which racism developed, the nature of what feeds racism today, and the way in which typical white social conditioning supports racial oppression. Furthermore, because of the way in which different social “isms” intersect, we believe that understanding our identity and experience as white people offers us the opportunity to disrupt multiple social hierarchies at once.

Race and racism are not personal issues but societal patterns.
Since the Civil Rights Movement, white people have tended to think in terms of the oppositional categories of “racist” or “not-racist”. Because racism is now socially defined as “bad”, white people at times go to great lengths to avoid being perceived as racist or (conversely) fall into great shame if they display racist behavior. But the truth is, in a racist society racism is part of everyone’s conditioning. Trying to deny the conditioning is a set up for failure, and causes white people to focus on their own self worth rather than on the possible racist effects of their actions. A more accurate, and productive, description of racism would be as a continuum between “more racist” and “less racist”.

Rather than focusing on whether or not we are racist, white people can instead focus on building racial awareness.
A more accurate, and productive, description of racism within white people (rather than “racist” or “not-racist”) would be as a continuum between “more racist” and “less racist”. When the reality of racial conditioning is accepted (and separated from individual notions of “innocence” or “blame”) white people free to develop their awareness of race and racism in a way that helps them becomes allies to people of color and opponents of racial injustice. (Barbara Trepagnier, Silent Racism)

White supremacy affords material comfort and social privilege to white people, but this privilege comes at a cost. This cost can include a loss of connection to our own humanity.
The cost of oppression to the oppressor includes a loss of humanity and a segregation and fragmentation of the self. In the document “Costs of Oppression to People from Dominant Groups”, Diane J. Goodman and Lee Anne Bell describe these losses on multiple dimensions: psychological, moral and spiritual, social, intellectual, and material (in terms of safety and resources).

It is in our self interest, as white people, to eliminate racial oppression.
The “benefits of eliminating oppression for people from dominant groups” that Goodman and Bell outline include: “fuller, more authentic sense of self”; “more authentic relationships and human connection; moral integrity and consistency”; “freedom from fears”; “more resources to address common concerns”; “greater opportunity for genuine democracy and justice”

In acting for ourselves, we act for the whole.
In acting for the whole, we act for ourselves.

It is in our self interest, as white people, to address racism within ourselves and within our society. We pursue this self interest with the knowledge that we cannot separate our self interest from the interests of others. In acting for ourselves to eliminate oppression, we are acting for the benefit of the whole. In acting for the benefit of the whole, we take action to reclaim our humanity.

“A good deal of time and intelligence has been invested in the exposure of racism and the horrific results on its objects. … [Understanding] the mind, imagination, and behavior of slaves is valuable. But equally valuable is a serious intellectual effort to see what racial ideology does to the mind, imagination, and behavior of masters.”
– Toni Morrison

“No one is immune to ideas that permeate the culture in which he or she is raised.”
-Barbara Trepagnier


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