A guest post from my dear friend Shannon: Shannon Vanderpol Hennessey, a graduate in Systematic Theology, is currently the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Woodside Priory, a Benedictine school in the Bay Area. She lives in Oakland with her wife and 3 beautiful girls.
White politeness is killing Black people.
Embedded into the fabric of white supremacy are the intersecting threads of power, complicity, and silencing. We, I, have been socialized to please others; to uphold the status quo at all costs. By its very nature, whiteness does not tell the truth. It conspires, avoids, diminishes, shames, mocks…it trades on the currency of secret-keeping.
The dance of socializing while white means keeping the conversation comfortable, and if something (or someone) is to be critiqued it’s never oneself- always that “other person.” If there is conflict, a tidy resolution will be found to the infraction, often by appealing to someone’s fragility. If there is any truth-telling, it’s conditional and does not “cost” us much beyond personal vulnerability. It’s hard for us to stomach the disdain of others. Rarely will we sacrifice status or the affection of others.
By this, we keep getting invited to the party.
In the last couple of years I have learned much of the nature and scope of Alcoholic Family Systems, and the lengths that families will go to in order to silence the truth telling…and the truth tellers. “People aren’t pleased when you stop pleasing.” These families…or organizations…or countries…cover-up their own abusive history. They protect the sickest in the group. They maintain a version of their history that ignores the very real harm done to the most vulnerable. In the event of a whistleblower, they circle the wagons to denounce that person and their message.
We, white women especially, are an Alcoholic Family System. We uphold the social hierarchies in our families, our book groups, our parenting circles…we are conspirators of politeness: a deadly combination of validation-seeking and conflict-avoiding.
To those who enter-into white spaces from the outside, there’s a sort of cognitive dissonance; a feeling that they’ve stepped through Alice’s looking glass. In social circles, just when the conversation arrives to the edges of “the dance,” one of two things invariably will happen: either someone rescues it back into the acceptable zone of abstract ideas OR it will go off the rails, and the social system will break down into chaos because whiteness has the emotional intelligence of a 4 year old. The actors follow the invisible script they’ve been socialized to - that which holds the fragile equilibrium in place.
We’d rather talk about that recent New Yorker article or AMAZING podcast we just listened-to than our sadness, our disconnection, our fear, our blindness. White Supremacy has sold us a false bill of goods: that we are whole and innately good and that our brand of reality is worthy of celebrating.
In truth, we are lonely and we are broken.
Naming our dysfunction is what will save us, not clinging to it. It’s time to fall apart.
It’s time to give up the control and insulation which we think will keep us safe. Dismantling our racism begins by acknowledging our “family secrets.” It’s an inside job, and we have a lot of our own de-colonizing to do.
We can’t keep expecting those in the Black and Brown communities to hold our family interventions.
Our secrets are keeping us sick.
written by: Shannon Vanderpol Hennessey
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings