Toxic Whiteness, the Swamp of Sadness, and Healing

Professional conversations (e.g. this Higher Ed Live discussion and this one via Griffith Consulting with Craig Elliott), world events (e.g. election, violence, DAPL), and personal relationships (e.g. neighbor, friend, parent, partner) have me reflecting a great deal on whiteness lately. The metaphor that I keep coming back to in this reflection is that toxic whiteness is like the muck from the Swamp of Sadness from The NeverEnding Story.

The muck of toxic whiteness (similar to toxic masculinity) is socially constructed. It is mucky for me as it creates obstacles in my efforts to move toward anti-racist work. Toxic whiteness keeps me bogged down in hesitation, fear, second guessing, needs to get it right, and more. This muck is eating up my energy (intellectual, emotional, and physical) and preventing that energy from being directed toward action for racial justice, equity, and collective liberation. Just another way the system works on me and in me.

I’m realizing that in the past when struggling through the muck of toxic whiteness felt hard, I would double my energy and keep working harder. The energy devoted to fighting through the muck is different than energy devoted to getting out of the muck of toxic whiteness. Like Atreyu from the NeverEnding Story, the more I fight the muck the more I get stuck in it. How can I get out of the muck so that my energy is more clear, directed, and effective at working toward anti-racist efforts? The answer seems to be in healing.

It’s important to note that by healing work, I do not mean ignore, dismissing, hiding from, escaping, or otherwise returning to the shelter my racial privilege offers me. Healing means really digging into the painful internalized racism and seeing how it affects me and others in the world I live in, my community, my family, and my own humanity. This shift in my focus from fighting my internalized whiteness to healing from it has been subtle but powerful.

This 10 week online course on Healing from Toxic Whiteness has been great. They use a compassionate activism approach to help white people work on noticing and accepting the harm of whiteness to themselves as critical steps toward healing from it toward racial justice. This model really resonates with me so far. I look forward to learning more.


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