I Hate White Supremacy But Do I Really Hate White People?: The Struggle of Black Survival and Spiritual Wellness

I often think about the ability for white people to love and humanize Black people within my journey of understanding my relationship with white people.

White supremacy affects us all, therefore the oppression of Black people does not just harm us but creates a spiritual and moral defect for white people. White people do not see Black people as fully human. In general, white people mock Black tragedy, make a spectacle of Black pain, violate Black bodies, poison and gentrify Black communities, fetishize and sexualize Black bodies, and would rather silence us than change their participation in our destruction. This is global. This is structural. This is interpersonal. This is everyday of our lives for the last 400+ years in varied mutated forms. White people are born into a world that ingrains and arms them with racist and anti-Black ideology as truth. There is no way white people cannot be inherently racist, anti-Black, or violent. There is no escape from the pervasive violence that is so deeply integrated within our daily navigation and systems of power.

I contemplate if I’m capable of humanizing white people because I’m constantly unlearning my attachment, investment, and obsession with whiteness and white people. I am constantly being violated by white supremacy and white people in my daily survival and navigation as a Black fat femme. In exploring my relationship with white people, I'm conflicted. I don't think about white people often in my work because I choose to center my healing and my labor around Black people and our navigation, survival, and experiences. But the way my morality is set up, sometimes I feel bad about cutting off my physical and mental sensory from white people’s humanity.

Let me be clear though, my dilemma is around white people rather than whiteness and the power of white supremacy.

I will never center whiteness but rather question my moral dilemma in making space for white people in my personal and political capacity. This dilemma, though, seems to be difficult to differentiate between my investment in whiteness as a power system versus opening the possibilities to humanizing white people in different ways while also maintaining my allegiances to my people and our liberation.

The clearest discrepancy is that many Black people have relationships with white people in some capacity. And that's the thing- our personal relationships with white people that are based in intimacy and love are the most complicated to understand when we're fighting against white supremacy on a structural and interpersonal level. From white partners to white parents, there are white people embedded in our lives in ways that challenge us to wonder how we balance our emotional labor towards them when fighting for our humanity and safety. Whether it be using our bodies as a site for learning and inflicted violence, or using our limited emotional energy and labor towards our white loved ones’ to explain our seemingly unexplainable physical and mental trauma from white supremacist violence - we are constantly in struggle with these relationships and people in our lives that claim to love us but may not ever know how to love us.

In my personal life, I’ve had two significant relationships with white men that left me emotionally drained and questioning my worth more than I did before entering in the relationship. I realized that the love they gave me could never be enough for me to survive because they would never be able to fully empathize or affirm my pain and experiences. And often their love and affection was predicated on praising my Blackness, fatness, and beauty under the guise that I was exotic and more special than other women. This fetishization was something I employed as a veil of self-worth in navigating inside my relationship and outside of it. After a while, I needed white men to desire me once I was able to access an interracial relationship. I became dependent upon the power that came from my white partner and from how people viewed me in being a second hand recipient of white acceptability. I felt that as a fat Black girl, that was denied love so often, given the opportunity to date a white man - someone who represented power, white beauty standards, and dominance - that I was seen as more valuable to the world because I could get this white man to love me and display me publicly. The colonization of my mind behind my logic seems so ludicrous and disheartening in retrospect. But nonetheless, helped to guide me in my decision making around my investment in white people in my personal life.

But this example of my relationships with white people, particularly cisgender straight white men, is complicated and is not the end all be all of how complicated relationships with white people happen. I was a participant in my own violence in many ways within those relationships. Not to blame myself for being a victim of racist partners, but rather understanding that my consciousness did not develop until after those relationships ended in order for me to understand and comprehend the violence that happened to me. I’m not sure if I would have ever come to consciousness about my worth and my Blackness within those relationships, or if they would’ve been willing to learn how to hold space for my humanity while claiming to love me.

I often wonder how this balance works for others. I think about how difficult it must be coming to more consciousness about your Blackness after already investing in a relationship with a white person (i.e. marriage, having children, business/ legal partnership, etc.). I think about how emotionally taxing it must be to have a white parent and have to hold space for their guardianship and love, while also critique their privilege, power, and ability to affirm and protect you. Or the difficulty of the trials and tribulations of having to hold space for white people in our intersecting communities (i.e. queerness, trans and gender nonconforming identities, disabled folks, etc.), where often our communities are not centered but we need resources in spaces dominated by whiteness and access. As someone who has had to learn and is still unlearning how to radically divest from whiteness, white romantic relationships, and white spaces, I still have concerns.

Some questions that arise for me are:

  • Is it possible for a white person to truly love me or humanize me?

  • How can a white person hold my trauma while being recipient of system that affirms the violence against me?

  • Is it possible to rely upon being desired by a white person you love while also divest from white beauty standards and white affirmation?

  • Can the social programming of white supremacy ever be undone enough for white people to see the depths of violence against our bodies?

  • Can the sacrifice of a white person to dismantle white supremacy ever be great enough to trust them?

  • Does love conquer all if love is often shaped through violence within white supremacist context?

  • If Black people are still unlearning anti-Blackness while simultaneously surviving anti-Black violence, how is it possible to expect a white person to be conscious of this violence enough to love us fully?

  • Is my ability to humanize white people something I should expect from other Black people living and surviving different trauma and experiences?

  • How can I decipher between humanizing white people as spiritual wellness from investment in whiteness?

There are white people I love and care about but I realize that it does not change the fact that I believe most white people are not worthy of my empathy. In general, I do not cry for white pain, white guilt, or white tragedy. I do not give my energy to white spaces or white people unless I have to for survival. I do not feel bad when I ask white people to leave particular spaces I'm in to make sure myself and other people of color and Black folks feel safe to talk about our feelings. I do not feel bad when white people feel uncomfortable about my militancy in bringing up the sociocultural reality of anti-Blackness and violence against my body. Mostly, I am unmoved by white people who are "allies" and do "good deeds" for my people. I am uncomfortable with giving space, attention, and money to white people who do what they're supposed to be doing - whether that be collecting their problematic cousins, or reading radical books to learn about our violence, or dismantling white supremacy at any given opportunity - I don't need to hear about it because we praise white people everyday while we're still dying in the street. I don’t need to see it posted on my timeline because I’m focused on my saving my people from a system of violence rather than saving white people from themselves. I reserve my tears and my compassion for my people because there is a need and a drought for the love, space, vulnerability, sympathy, and benefit of the doubt we so desperately deserve.

But I often question if I'm truly surviving or if I'm doing something spiritually vehement by cutting myself off from compassion for other people. Am I inheriting an immoral dysfunctional ideology within my spiritual being by denying additional capacity to love and hold space for another human being? Slavery, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness did not just dehumanize us as Black people. This violence dehumanized white people too. These systems created a religion of demonizing Blackness, immortalizing whiteness, and revering violence as normalcy. This spiritual disconnect seems to be an affliction for all us surviving white supremacy in different ways. As a Black fat femme, I’m realizing that my spiritual being is not guided by my ability to make room for white people but rather coming to terms with my spiritual understanding being influenced by my circumstance and systematic oppression. I am not a monster for not actively making room for white people in my personal and political capacity, but the energy I put into recognizing this dilemma proves to me that I am humanizing white people beyond the levels white supremacy allows them to see myself and Black people as a full, lovable, worthy human beings. This conflict is one that I have not come to terms with, or come to definite conclusions or answers. But I want to continue to have critical dialogues about what liberation looks like for us as Black folks, but also what it looks like for our navigation of relationships and interpersonal politicking with non-Black people, particularly white people.

Ashleigh Shackelford