I Broke Up With White Comfort and It Cost Me

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Woman looking off screen with shadows on her face. Text reads white comfort wants anti-racism work to be neat, not angry - raisera mccolluh

My ancestry runs both ways — the coloniser and the colonised. This has shaped the way I navigate the world. 

I am an expert in code-switching. I recognise the privilege afforded to me as a light-skinned brown woman who is not Indigenous to the lands we now call Australia. Being from the Pacific was a very different kind of “blak.” I once remember someone saying to me that I was too pretty to be Aboriginal, as if that excluded me from the pain and confusion that statement caused.  

As a biracial young girl, I had choices. When asked where I was from, my Pacific Island heritage explained my melanin, and in a twisted way, explaining that I had an English mother allowed me the choice (if I wanted) to “bolt-on” to whiteness. This choice was something never clearly explained to me. Perhaps, I just knew from an early age that by identifying with the dominant culture, I would be afforded more acceptance. Regrettably, I chose this often and cosied up to white comfort. 

I was blinded to the ways in which whiteness operated in my world. While I was busy pursuing a convenient middle-class life, I rejected the need for self-reflection and in turn, neglected some deep internal racial trauma of my own. I was also oblivious to the harm I was causing.

***

Fast forward a few decades: I am a mother of two white-passing daughters, married to a white man, and the only person of colour in our worshipping community. 

There have been several occasions where I have felt the color blindness of my friends in this beloved community. My stories of being racially profiled were met with disbelief and denial. Seemingly, this kind of thing only happened to “other dark-skinned” people. I was somehow different. Or in a weird sense, the same as them. 

When I told friends of my encounter with obvious racist verbal abuse, it was silenced with a shrug and a polite “maybe that isn’t what she actually meant?” I learned to brush these situations and remarks off, work around them, and sometimes, even ignore them altogether. 

Then one unassuming Sunday morning church service, it hit me.

I was standing in the front row when I heard a sweet instructive whisper from Spirit, to turn around and look at the room. Almost 100 people gathered. These were friends who had become family. People who had allowed me to feel such belonging and yet, all of them were white. 

Not a single brown-skinned body in the “body.”

I felt a strange mix of sadness and relief. I could not unsee the homogeneity. The feeling of safety in here was something I could not take back. I exhaled and let peace fill my lungs. 

I knew then ― I needed to break up with white comfort. 

***

When 2020 descended upon us, my family and I decided to leave our community. When it was time for me to break up with white comfort, I realized that I needed to raise my voice and face my all-white church community. The explanation we offered for leaving seemed weak, but we were firm in our desire to enter a space to do racial justice work and pursue a peace that passes all understanding; we needed to throw ourselves into the wilderness. 

Last year, when I watched George Floyd being murdered in cold blood, in broad daylight, I understood deeply how racial trauma is held in brown bodies. My own body reacted in ways that I had suppressed for too long. 

My pulse raced every time those I trusted and worshiped with would form a case against George Floyd and tried to discredit him. Social media became a hotbed for hashtags and virtue signaling, while my body was barely making it through a day. 

I had to speak up. I had to use my voice and my words to speak truth…
Black lives matter.
Silence is violence.
White theology is toxic. 

My words sounded harsh to those who knew me. They were often explicit and unfiltered, both online and in real life. As I spoke up about the individual and collective suffering of Indigenous, Black, and Brown bodies, I found myself in conversation with well-meaning friends who revealed the insidious nature of whiteness. 

Speaking up and out taught me a lot about white comfort.

***

White comfort has an abusive way of policing. It is the heartbeat of supremacy. Its aim is to safeguard white peace. Its goal is to control the narrative so that even if we become aware of injustice, our feelings are trapped in Saviourism. 

White comfort forbids any cultural response to racial trauma that sits outside the way dominant culture would express itself. It dresses up pity as compassion. It asks those of us who use our voice and platforms to expose whiteness to ensure that we are “articulate,” “concise,” and “contextualized.” 

White comfort wants anti-racism work to be neat, not angry. No critiquing white theology or white churches, no jokes about folks becoming suddenly “woke.” Nothing is to be implied. It must always be explained thoroughly and absolutely with no use of humor in the form of memes. 

***

Breaking up with white comfort has cost me. As a biracial woman, the path towards liberation meant I needed to break up with white comfort and heal from the racial trauma I endured.

Dealing with racial trauma while being surrounded by white comfort is like a child being asked to be seen and not heard. Your hurt can be on display for consumption. Your story can be shared to boost virtue, but a line is quickly drawn when anti-racism work elicits an unwanted response in white bodies. You become a problem that needs healing.

(Ironically) white churches have dominated religious thought on racial justice. Those in opposition to a social justice gospel often hand-pick scriptures to support their desire to keep the peace. White churches continue to preach unity while forsaking justice, relying on certain doctrines to not only excuse away the harm done by white supremacy and colonisation, but deny it altogether. It has folk suffering amnesia about the history of stolen lands at the same time they sign a new mortgage agreement on an investment property.  

It was these kinds of normalised behaviours that led me to break up with white comfort. I no longer wanted to participate. I wanted to dismantle the status quo. But it cost me: I lost friendships that could not hold the whole of me, but I found ones that could. I am also learning the art of decolonising discipleship, choosing to sit with the harmful theologies that shape contemporary Christian thought and ensure that they are not seeping into my own revelation of the gospel. 

White comfort protects white comfort, which leaves no room for the work of restorative racial justice. Breaking up with it may have cost me some sense of certainty but it brought me a new sense of faith. This kind of liberation is centered around the gospel and what Brown Jesus can offer; it is the kind of liberation that finds comfort in being disturbed ― only to realise that being disrupted out of oppressive systems can lead us to the one who offers true freedom. 

***

Blessing for those Breaking up with White Comfort.

Blessed be the deep longing that has been awakened in you.

There are now things that you cannot unsee.

The journey towards discomfort is directing you to lean in closer and test if this new scent is indeed sweet.

Blessed be the ego that has been coddled in the comfort of whiteness searching for infinite certainty. Oh, how we have been nurtured by the smell of success, demand-feeding our sense of self daily by inviting ‘the’ hustle to break bread with us.

Blessings upon this new sunrise onto shadows.

Shine on White Supremacy as you shine on the White Comfort and now here, we find ourselves………. left with nothing but our scarcity mentality.

Bathing naked in our want to be accepted by the dominant culture, the one that tells us we are not enough. The one that tells us that if we toe the line, then we will be.

May your breakup with White Comfort lead you away from the race to consume, to stay silent, to play nice with the church and its harmful theologies.

May your breakup with White Comfort lead you beside the still waters.

May you be still.

May you be still.

May you be still and know.

 

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