Until recently, I hadn't realized that I had been contributing to the fear-state of American culture by being a covert racist.
In fact, my "white liberal goodness" had failed, been unable, or flat our refused, to acknowledge that any of my actions could possibly contribute to anything considered remotely racist.
But I was wrong.
And taking accountability for my actions will help me become a better advocate for racial equity and eventual equality, while also - hopefully - shining a light on the subject for other white people who've also been covertly complicit to racism.
WHAT IS Covert Racism?
Covert racism is racial discrimination that is disguised and subtle, rather than public or obvious, and is often conducted through evasive or seemingly passive activity.
It is the privileged opportunity to ignore, deny, or benefit from overt racism because the covert racist is not directly affected by the racism they're experiencing or perpetuating and, thus, feels validated in their commitment to non-racist tendencies.
Covert racism is not direct and, often, it is not intentional.
Rather, it is deemed "justifiable" by convenient circumstance or alternative reasoning.
For my own transparency, I have expressed covert racism in a variety of ways that ultimately boil down to both accidental and fearful intentional racism.
In short, my participation in covert racism has been many opportunities in which I expressed or witnesses racism and did not take the time to address it openly with the intent to eradicate its continued persistence within society.
Ashamed though I am to admit it, I have been complicit to white supremacy by ignoring overt racism, all due to the privileged luxury of being white.
MY OVERT AND COVERT Racist Upbringing
I want to begin by diving into where my covert tendencies come from.
Because I was not born racist. I don't believe anyone is.
Those tendencies were passed down to me from my parents and family members, society and white culture.
I grew up with an overtly racist father and a covertly racist mother.
How do I know he was an overt racist and her a covert racist?
Put simply, overt racists don't hide and covert racists allow them the space to exist.
EXPLORING MY FATHER'S Overt Racism
When I was a young child growing up in Florida, my father had a confederate flag installed onto the ceiling of his Ford Bronco.
It would be years before I'd learn that the confederate flag wasn't just a different version of the American flag.
Him and his brother's and my grandfather used to say that the confederate flag stood for ultimate American freedoms.
Even though I grew up hating racism, well into my 20's when people would mention how the confederate flag stands for racism, I'd respond with something like, "not all who wave that flag believe in racism, for some, it really stands for anti-government control over civil liberties."
Let that fucking hit.
Part of my healing is allowing that sentiment the space to knock the wind out of me and anyone else who hears it without trying to "white liberal" my way out of it.
Mind you, I've never been an overt racist (my father and I had many physical and verbal altercations over his heinous beliefs), but I'm disgusted to admit that I had been so deeply trained to believe there were other reasons behind defending the confederacy that at times, that's exactly what I did.
I'd round off my sentence with something like, "I'm not saying it's right or that I believe in that, I'm just saying that's what some people believe."
But, let's be real, no one waving the confederate flag gives a fuck about ending racism. And there's a reason why that is: they know that racism keeps them in power and, even if they aren't admitting to their racist tendencies, they sure as fuck don't think they benefit by striving for equality.
My father expressed his racism in a variety of ways:
I could go on and on about my father's blatant racism. He by no means tried to hide it, he only ever justified it by claiming he wasn't racist, he was observant.
Growing up with his overt racism taught me one thing: my father, through his beliefs, was a despicable human being and I never wanted to be like him.
My determination to fight his white supremacist beliefs made it so I never bought into his overt racism.
But, through my mother, I learned to tolerate it with covert racist tendencies.
EXPLORING MY MOTHER'S Covert Racism
My mother is a white woman who grew up as a citizen of the world because her parents worked for the government.
Because of their work, my mother was born in Greece, her younger sister was born in the Philippines, and her older brother was born in England (I think, though I might have that wrong...pretty positive he wasn't born stateside).
Despite her global upbringing, vast cultural awareness, and deep liberal roots, my mother was a quiet woman who never quite figured out how to tell my dad to fuck off.
It was from her that I learned how to keep my head down and mouth shut whenever racism reared its ugly head. I learned that, as white women, this is how we survived, and, more often than not, thrived.
I never heard her berate my father for his confederate flag. I also never saw her step foot in that Bronco.
I never heard her counter my father's racist remarks. Though I never heard her make any herself.
And when we were by ourselves in a store and I wanted to purchase a CD, she was happy to oblige. But not if the artist looked too black.
She knew my father was a petulant racist, and she - for whatever reason, though I suspect it had something to do with fear - chose to keep her mouth shut rather than take a stab at reeducating him.
My mother expressed covert racism in a variety of ways:
My mother was and is a nice woman, but her cowardice in fighting back against my father's racism caused two problems: 1) it helped her raise a covert racist, and 2) it helped my father get away with raising an overt racist.
EXPLORING MY BROTHER'S Overt Racism
When we were young kids growing up in Florida, despite everything we were exposed to, my brother was a sweet boy.
I have countless memories of him being the moral compass within our family unit.
When the D.A.R.E. program came to our elementary school and lit up our brains with safety awareness, my brother threw a tantrum every time we got in a vehicle until my parent's put on their seat belts.
He was also responsible for my parent's quitting smoking cigarettes.
But by the time our family moved across the country to Colorado (I was in sixth grade, my brother in fifth), our family dynamic took a sharp shift.
My father's erratic surges of anger towards me led him to be extra appeasing to my brother (a classic narcissistic technique for validating "good parenting" by having at least one child who loved him).
By the time we were going into high school, my brother was expressing latent overt racism.
And when my parents divorced during his senior year of high school while I was away at college, my brother, having angrily chosen to stick with my father, had become a different person entirely.
An angry, bitter, resentful, bigoted shell of the sweet young man he once had been.
By the time I left college, my brother and I had ultimately stopped speaking, his claim that someone needed to assassinate the recently elected President, Barack Obama, having been my last straw.
My brother's overt racism always shocked me the most:
"Racism within the white family dynamic leads compassionate, anti-racists learning how to tolerate racism for the sake of "loving and honoring thy family..."Tiffany Amaro,
Your Favorite Lifestyle Illuminator
MY CONTRIBUTION TO Covert Racism
Because I know that my heart, mind, and soul are against racism, and because I'm a privileged white woman who doesn't have to deal with discrimination directly, I failed for years to recognize my own complicity to racist availability.
It's only recently that I've begun to recognize my complicity to racism and become brave enough to discuss it.
Let me be clear: it should not have taken me this long to address this looming, overwhelming shadow.
I am married to a man who is second-generation Cuban.
My best friend of more than a decade is of Chinese descent.
I enjoy black, Latino, and Asian culture in all shapes and forms.
I've had several (though not a ton of) meaningful relationships with black, Latino, and Asian friends.
I know all too well the history of my white heritage, having conducted the genealogical backtracking to know that my father's ancestors were confederate soldiers, Cherokee land grabbers, and white supremacists.
And, more than all of that, I know firsthand how dangerous covert racism can become when left unchecked.
That being said, healing from trauma - and exposure to racism in any form IS a type of trauma - cannot begin until one acknowledges that there exists trauma that needs healing.
In order for me to become a proactive and effective ally for the fight against racism, I need to take honest accountability for the ways in which I've perpetuated it.
Below is an infographic that I have altered to highlight the areas in which I've been complicit to racism.
It makes me so uncomfortable to have to expose these truths about my life, but not as uncomfortable as it made George Floyd to be suffocated from his own.
Or Eric Garner.
Or Freddie Grey.
Or Breonna Taylor.
COMPLICITY #1: Tolerance
The first way that I've been complicit has been through racist tolerance.
For too long, I've allowed racism to exist within my sphere of influence and have done little (and sometimes nothing) to stop it.
Recently, our neighbor had a grandson visit from out of town. We all went out to lunch. That grandson told a story about one of his friends and in quoting that friend, he used the "N" word way too easily and way too strong.
Instead of stopping him, I raised my eyebrows, took a mental note of how much he sucked as a human, and refused to speak to him the rest of his trip.
In my head, I chastised myself, calling out my cowardice and saying, "next time, I'll be prepared, next time, I'll do better."
But, were I not doing the work today to honestly, transparently, call myself out on my mistakes, that sentiment may have remained just that, a sentiment.
Instead, I know that by addressing my exposure to racist trauma I'll be taking the first step to healing that trauma by claiming accountability for the ways in which I continue to allow it space in my life.
Just like any other shadow work, healing our trauma from racism means owning up to how much we allow those beliefs and tolerances to exist to this day.
I wouldn't continue to speak poorly about myself just because my parents taught me bad rhetoric, so why was I allowing racism to exist around me when I know it's wrong?
Simple answer: I wasn't addressing the trauma in my life that causes my fight or flight mechanisms to kick in when I hear racism.
When I hear racism, I'm shot back to traumatic memories of my abusive father, my submissive mother, and my "golden child" brother.
And just like how I'm working to heal my trauma around my own self-worth (a trauma created by my exposure to persistent abuse), I must now work to heal my trauma around tolerating racism.
COMPLICITY #2: Bypassing
As I've worked through my trauma around self-worth, identity, family estrangement, and masculine aggression, I've learned some toxic habits from the spiritual community, the biggest of which has been spiritual bypassing.
Spiritual bypassing is the use of spirituality, specifically unity consciousness, to minimize the need to discuss topical issues that effect our current reality.
The belief here being that by continuing to discuss such topics, we're continuing to fuel the fire of those toxic systems.
I hadn't realized I had begun to spiritually bypass when, back in April 2020, I had an interaction on Instagram with a "life purpose coach" whose focus is on "ascending consciousness".
I am choosing to share this interaction publicly because it has come to my attention (via various people of color) that keeping this information private is a means of protecting those who have perpetuated racism, which then contributes to the overall problem.
Below is a rundown of our interaction:
[SPOILER ALERT: We both sucked it up and, in our haste to spread "one love," failed to acknowledge our tandem toxicity.]
The accounts in question are:
The post where this interaction began is still very much alive on the mjbecker_ account. It is a selfie of him wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball cap featuring the infamous Chief Wahoo logo.
Scroll down. You can't miss it.
I left a comment on this post asking him how a spiritual life coach, such as himself, could justify wearing a hat featuring a racist cartoon characterization of a Native American.
You'll notice that my comment is none existent. That's because mjbecker_ chose to remove it.
Instead of addressing my comment publicly so that we could have a transparent and healing conversation, he sent me a series of voice messages through my DM's. Below is a transcript of what spiritual bypassing and covert racist tolerance looks like.
@mjbecker_: "I had no idea about any of that that you just mentioned about the Cleveland hat. I actually just got it while I was there. This is why I don't like to wear things with labels or logos. Gotta be careful. Because it just promotes separation. There's going to be something that someone is attached to that has a label. Anyways, when I think about Cleveland, I think about a beautiful waterfront and a beautiful downtown and lake Michigan. I felt the strong energy behind your comment. If you legitimately have an issue with it, going forward, just shoot me a message or a DM. I totally hear you and where you're coming from. Like I said, this is all about breaking free of labels and paradigms."
@reconstructingwonderland: "I totally get it. I thought about DMing you privately. I actually don't have as much negative emotions attached to it as maybe that came off. I tried to be very unbiased about it and more historically relevant. Because I think as white people it is our, um, not necessarily our duty or obligation or job or anything, but as the ones existing within this reality right now, it is our choice to decide how we're handling that kind of racial divide moving forward. I thought this would be a chance for us to educate more people who didn't even notice it. I just thought it'd be an interesting opportunity for us to discuss it and educate everyone and ourselves about the issue.
I get you that it's not an ego game, it's about detachment from ego, and learning how to move through this space in a way that takes ownership and empowerment and seeks to dismantle systems that seek to disempower individuals and the collective. I do think that can come with a level of disconnect, where we're pushing nonchalance onto others and asking people to get over their shit and just deal with it. And that's something I'm learning to balance right now in my own personal life.
To what extent do we not express full expression without discerning other peoples feelings and attachments and triggers behind that, for the sake of collective growth and expansion and unity? And I think just from the history and from being white - and honestly if you were any other race, I don't think I would've said anything, because, it's not my place...but... white people - I was just hoping we could have a conversation about it and it might help other people recognize where this was a toxic choice. Whether it's intentional or otherwise, is not important. It's something that will trigger peoples emotions and for good reason. That's a lot of trauma to have to come to terms with."
I then proceeded to praise his work while claiming that maybe 1,000 years from now this topic wouldn't be an issue anymore...like the toxic fawn I can be sometimes.
He proceeded to reply: "All good and all love *heart emoji, star emoji*."
This kind of spiritual bypassing is not only a blatant disregard for history, human rights, and the need for systemic change, but it's also a privileged response to a reality that we, as white people, do not have to suffer with every single day.
My acceptance of his response was a fawn reaction that I gained from my childhood where I was heavily abused by men who justified their abusive actions.
(To this day, I am still striving to be more courageous with my convictions in order to counter toxic masculinity, even amongst women.)
Systemic change will only come about when white people who benefit from that system choose to embrace every facet of the path towards change, and that includes correcting ourselves when we intentionally or accidentally perpetuate pro-racist tendencies.
I could go line by line digesting how exactly both of us failed to support people of color, but, instead, I'll leave it at this:
Through our own need to appease our egotistical "white liberal goodness" and our spiritual "wokeness," we both failed to defend peoples of color in the fight against racism.
"You cannot be anti-racist as long as unresolved trauma around race still exists within your psyche. Taking accountability for and healing from your participation in covert and overt racism is the only way forward."Tiffany Amaro,
Your Favorite Lifestyle Illuminator
COMPLICITY #3: Assumptions
Being exposed to racist family members, having a profound knowledge of American history, as well as being raised with racist American media - especially media that proclaims to be artistic (like some music or movies) - have left unwarranted, specifically racist, fears deep within my psyche.
An example for how media can leave unwarranted trauma is my experience with the movie Taken. A few years ago, when my husband and I exited the Charles de Gaulle airport in France to make our way towards Paris, I found myself tense and on hyper alert for any suspicious individuals who might snag us and turn us over to traffickers.
Before seeing that movie, I hadn't been aware that women could be targeted for sex traffic kidnappings as they exited an airport.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it sure isn't safe.
But it's that kind of fear-state, "safety" concerned mindset that led me to tolerating unwarranted, internalized racial discriminations.
When I froze in my car in Newark as that young black man crossed the street, it was because of a combination of being in an impoverished neighborhood, at night, and being acknowledged by a person of color, while having deep-rooted racist rhetoric indoctrinated into me from fear-state media and my racist family members.
I froze because of unwarranted fearful assumptions around "what might happen next."
I imagine my reaction is similar to, though not quite as extreme as, the effect of fearing marijuana because you grew up hearing all about "reefer madness" and believing the D.A.R.E. programs claims of it being "a gateway drug."
Because when I remove those instances - racist rhetoric and racist media - from my trauma data pool, I have absolutely no reason to fear people of color.
I've never had a scary interaction with a black person.
I've never been assaulted by a black man or woman.
On the contrary, people of color have only ever been extremely kind, open-minded, and protective to my presence and wellbeing.
So when I'm experiencing internal concerns about interacting with a person of color, I have to take accountability for why that is and where it comes from so that I can heal those internalizations.
Just like I have to take accountability for why I feel social anxiety, or depression, or self-loathing when I'm launching a new business.
These snap-judgment internal reactions must have a source, and as I've begun to unpack those roots, I'm finding many of them come from misguided assumptions passed down from my racist family and racist American culture.
To my knowledge, I can only recall the one instance in Newark where my mind scrambled through fear-based, unwarranted racist assumptions.
That being said, if that man is reading this: I'm so sorry for freezing up in unreasonable fear. You didn't - YOU DON'T - deserve that treatment and I'm sorry that I was just one more person to treat you that way.
I have been part of the problem, and I will do my part to heal these biased, clearly unresolved, assumptive responses.
Repeat After Me: TAKING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HOW I HAVE PERPETUATED RACISM & HEALING FROM THE TRAUMA THAT CAUSES IT IS HOW I WILL CORRECT MY COMPLICITY IN CULTURAL, SYSTEMIC RACISM.
My complicity in racist America is not an easy, nor comfortable conversation to have.
It brings me no joy to call myself or others out on contributing to the spread of racism.
But you know what's even more uncomfortable?
Dying at the hands of systemically racist cops.
Or being racially profiled everyday of your life.
And, certainly, it's more uncomfortable for me to know that my covert racist complicity has made it that much easier for racial discrimination to continue to thrive within American culture.
As a white person who wants to see positive racial change in America, I am responsible for being very transparent as to how I've allowed it to exist, where I see it around me, and what little I've done to prevent it.
This is the first of what will be many, many blog posts by me regarding racism and white complicity in America.
It will be uncomfortable.
It will be a shock.
But this kind of honesty, as a white woman, is the least I can contribute after all that I've failed to do throughout my lifetime in the name of anti-racism.