June 13, 2020

White People: Here’s How to Avoid Burnout while Unlearning Racism.


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By default, I’m an anxious person. 

If someone gives me an assignment or a book to read, I will read that book, do that assignment, and do 56 other matters related to going above and beyond.

Learning is great, and I need to grow.

When Black Lives Matter hit the ground after the murder of George Floyd, my white privilege, as well as my lack of understanding of anti-racism and police abolition, hit me in the face. 

So, I vowed to do my work—to fix or edit whatever was necessary to have a deeper understanding. And I vowed to help get information to those who also needed to change. 

I wanted to support the movement in any way I could—protesting, supporting protesters, writing, reading books, working through the Netflix catalog on Black Lives Matter, listening to podcasts, donating to charities, signing petitions, and changing the brands I shop at.

I’m a white person with privilege—I know that now is the time for white people need to step up. 

Unfortunately, as an anxious person, this deluge of information leaves me in a predicament. 

There is no possible way in hell I can get through all the material I want to get through in the next week, or a month, or next couple of months. I’m on a year (or longer) endeavor. 

Except right now, I’m sprinting, not running a year-long marathon. 

Not to mention that as a white person, I’m not used to having to do this work, day in and day out. And that’s a problem. 

For me, it shows up in severe anxiety. It manifests itself as a ridiculous inability to sit still for more than five seconds. 

A typical Zoom meeting has me thinking: do I need to do that? Or this? Or get up? Or maybe I should move now? Maybe I should check this tab while I’m in this training?

Oh my dog, it ever ends! 

If I’m going to do this work and be a safe person for the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community, I cannot be an anxious, fidgety, spikey, porcupine. 

Therefore, I need to manage myself. I, along with all the other white people suddenly doing this work, need to be calmer, safer, more conscientious, and more thoughtful. We are unlearning decades of racist dogma!

How do we even do that? 

Well, firstly, take a deep breath. While that is a cheesy suggestion, using the approach of a deep breath toward the work we are doing allows us a softer mindset as we do it. 

Secondly, do all of the stress management techniques. Mine involve a ton of moving, lifting, massage, petting my dog, being outside, talking to a friend, lying on the floor, and hammocking. 

If you don’t know what helps you, seek out people to bounce ideas off of. Reach out to a therapist, or friends, or do a quick Google search of stress-relieving tips. Trying the suggestions out one at a time are reasonable next steps. 

And finally, remember that we cannot unlearn it all at once. Unlearning racism, becoming anti-racist, and changing our unconscious biases is a process. It’s a long process of cultivating awareness combined with a determination to change. It’s a commitment to varying our sources of media and consumption. 

Not all opportunities for change will even be on our radar right away. We must play the long-game. Invest in literature, learning, and courses. Now. Yes—do the work now. 

But we have to remember not to inundate ourselves. We cannot burn out on something so important. 

Because of our privilege, our muscles to hold racism and its awfulness are weaker. Like strength-training, we can’t put 400 pounds on our back and expect to complete a squat on our first day. 

Commit to one thing per day. Learn something every day. 

And we must notice when we are hitting our limit. If we do, take a break and then come back. 

And we keep managing ourselves so that a year (or two) from now we will have upended our racist upbringing, and changed our communities and ways of interacting with people, fundamentally.


Watch an anti-racism hour with Jane Elliott talking with Waylon Lewis of Elephant here.

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