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What does it mean for me as a white woman to be anti-racist? I'm learning  that these things are imperative: learn about the system of white supremacy, grow white consciousness and deeply understand power. Anti-racism is not a destination nor a way of being; it's a leadership and learning practice that is more relevant and necessary than ever. 

Everything I know about white supremacy I have learned from People of Color. Yet I see white supremacy culture evidenced more clearly every day in myself, my relationships, our institutions, and U.S. systems. Recently Sam Sanders, on NPR's It's Been a Minute, interviewed Claudia Rankine. Dr. Rankine shared that "Black people didn't create racist systems; it's up to white people to fix it."

022421_Deanna Blog Quote-1Recently I was invited by the Senior Minister of a historically (and presently) predominantly white church to talk about my anti-white supremacy and anti-racism journey from the pulpit. In the next three Leadership and Learning Letters, I'll share excerpts including highlights of my learning, some of my many mistakes, and the precious wisdom of my teachers. I share about this not to earn a flimsy ally badge, center myself, or feign perfection, but because it will take all of us to dismantle racism. While there's breath in my lungs, I will speak out against racial oppression, especially because we white folks benefit from and perpetuate it, often with good intentions.

Racism is a symptom of white supremacy. When you think of white supremacy, what comes to mind? Of the hundreds of people I've asked this question, most say: white hoods, violence, cross burnings, and the KKK. Let's ground ourselves in a definition; it may surprise you. 

White supremacy is "A political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings."
- David Gillborne

As we swim in the water of white supremacy, it is often invisible to us. It can seem normal, just the way things are. It may be new for many of us to understand white supremacy in this way, but this framing is not new.

Racism, and specifically ant-Blackness, is a symptom of a white supremacist system, a system of hierarchy based on race, a social construct with no biological basis. Yet it's a matter of life and death for People of Color. It would be great if we didn't have to face difficult things, but looking away, denying it's reality, or opting out of the mess won't help us overcome what we say we hate: racism.

My desired impact is that we deconstruct and rebuild a future deeply rooted in belonging.

I believe white people can handle the truth about race in the United States. Black women in my life have taught me to call the thing the thing. We white folks are typically sheltered from race-based stress. We don't experience the horror of racism, so let's be brave enough to handle the truth of it.

People of Color teach us that anti-white supremacy efforts need to be the labor of white people. Typically Black people are asked to share their trauma, to inform us about racial inequity, and are expected to do the labor to fix it. Ironically, when People of Color speak the truth about racial inequity, we white folks often respond with a myriad of harmful behaviors to alleviate our discomfort and protect the status quo.

022421_Deanna Blog Quote
I surely do not have every answer. Yet I am committed to imperfectly walk alongside Black and Brown colleagues, friends and neighbors, as we white people do our work. I constantly make mistakes, fail mightily. I'm listening and learning, unlearning and relearning. When it's uncomfortable, slow and messy, it usually means I'm moving in the right direction.

This is a call for us to do better.

If you identify as white, how are you finding your courage today to listen and learn about anti-racism and anti-white supremacy? As you lead, how can you apply this learning?

Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage and resilience for the journey.

Peace to you,

Deanna Signature


What Im Reading-1

What I’m Reading
Regarding Anti-Racism and
Anti-White Supremacy:

  1. Why Talk About Whiteness? We can't talk about racism without it by Emily Chiariello
  2. Let's not conflate white supremacy with white people by john a. powell
  3. Dismantling White Supremacy in Education | Noelle Picara | TEDxYouth@UrsulineAcademy
  4. Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun

Questions to Consider

Questions for Consideration
Regarding Anti-Racism and
Anti-White Supremacy:

  1. How is this definition of white supremacy similar to or different from how you defined it previously? What words from David Gillborn's definition of white supremacy jump out at you?
  2. If you are white, do you experience discomfort talking about race or about whiteness? Why might this be?
  3. How have you unlearned and relearned something in the past? Could you apply that to this topic?

Upcoming Topics

Leadership & Learning Topics:

  • Part 2: Anti-White Supremacy: Mileposts on My Messy Anti-White Supremacy Journey
  • Part 3: Anti-White Supremacy: Calls to Action for White People Wanting to Be Anti-Racist and Anti-White Supremacist
Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
Post by Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
February 24, 2021
Deanna Rolffs (they/them) is a strategist, facilitator, coach, systems thinker, and Process Consultant who works with executive leaders and teams at the intersection of organizational theory, leadership development, justice, and equity. Their process consulting approach focuses on organizational transformation via thriving teams, brave leadership, equitable systems, and inclusive communities. Deanna served as a Senior Consultant with Design Group International since 2018, became a Senior Design Partner in 2021, and launched L3 Catalyst Group in 2023.