Why White People Shame Other White People — and What to Do About It

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Recently, in response to an article I wrote about white leadership, a colleague asked, “[H]ow does one de-pathologize and de-shame enough to engage in meaningful work, especially when there is so much shame shade being thrown around?” Here’s my answer.

First, step back and realize these things:

  1. We’re in a transformative moment. These early stages of white people becoming aware of the big, white white supremacy myth (WSM) element in the room are looking messy, frightening, and at times intractable. This is to be expected.
  2. In this transformative moment, the first thing many white people want to do is to dissociate themselves with the “other white people” who do things like murder George Floyd, and the hundreds of other Black people who have been killed at the hands of those entrusted with public safety.
  3. They’re trying to dissociate themselves because they too feel ashamed.
  4. When we’re the objects of shaming by others, it triggers in us everything unhealed within us. Most of have stuff unhealed within us. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be so bothered by others trying to shame us. Even with diligent attention, it will likely take some time to heal all within us that activates the shame reaction. In the meantime, try to give it some love, and then sidestep it so you can take positive action.

Then, do these things:

  1. If you have the bandwidth, and it feels context-appropriate, engage with those who are throwing the shame shade. Convey humility, curiosity, and an assumption that you’re both on the same team. Here are some examples of things you might say:
    “There’s a reason that white people are talking with each other this way right now. What do you think it might be”
    “How are you feeling about this issue? Do you want to see how we might be co-allies in tackling it together?”
    “Hey, I’m a beginner at this. I’m willing to work with you in a mutually respectful and curious way in figuring out next steps. Are you game?
  2. If you don’t have the bandwidth, or can’t find a context-appropriate way to engage with those who are throwing the shame shade, do good anyway. Here are some ways.

If you’d like some support and practice in how to talk with other white people about these issues, check out our offerings between now and April, 2021.

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