Dear Well-Intentioned White People

White office workers focued on their computers
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

This is my first post. I’ve tried to start this blog a million times.

But the things I want to write about are the same things that stop me from hitting “publish.”

Every time I tell someone my plans for this blog they enthusiastically throw their support behind it and tell me how necessary it feels right now, yet, here I sit. With my 3rd? 4th? 5th? draft. Unable to publish any of them. I have so much to say, yet I don’t know where or how to start.

So, I’ve come up with a few different ways to break the ice.

It seems easier for me to tell people in short-form what I’m trying to do with this blog, so here’s a screenshot of a text conversation with a friend describing it

Is this for an essay? It's for my blog I'm hoping to finally get my first post up this week That's awesome! About how traumatizing and abusive most workplaces are and how it's all tied to white supremacv and slaverv can't wait to read it! How our economic system is designed on oppression by a white male power structure and how that keeps us all silent Thanks! I can't wait to finally finish my first post So much fear So much fear in the system or you feel fear about the blog? Both! Because the fear in the svstem is the fear that's making it hard for me to write it


Or I thought maybe if I introduced it in a more mechanical, “who, where, what” way, that might make it easier for me to give the basic gist. So, please enjoy this festive invitation:

A Blog About Workplace Trauma YOU'RE INVITED! What? A blog exploring the connection between workplace trauma and an economic system designed on oppression, exploitation, and fear. Why? In the course of taking time off to heal from my own workplace trauma, talking to friends and colleagues about their own experiences in the workplace, and joining an anti-racism cohort I began to see the connection between white supremacy culture and how workplaces are structured as well as how white behaviors keep us all from speaking up against abusive behaviors in these environments.

Hopefully that gives you some idea. The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture come from the work of Tema Okun. I’ll be exploring how these characteristics show up in the design of our workplaces and white-collar culture, and how they keep us from understanding and using our real power to stand up to a system of oppression that will never change unless we are able to find our courage.

I am still learning, and I am guilty of participating in this culture—all white people are. I want to be open about my mistakes and what I’m learning from them. I’m going to continue making mistakes. I am white, therefore I was raised “white,” and even though I went to a mixed-race school I was never taught to investigate my own whiteness and the culture of whiteness that dominates our society—most white people were not. That’s how the system keeps us silent, complicit. 


A Word to The Whites

“White people…have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” ―James Baldwin

This work is deep and complicated, so it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. White culture tells us it’s not okay, but we need to learn how to fuck up, apologize, make amends (if needed), and move on—not stop the work. We also have to stop alienating each other when a mistake is made. Every time a white person in the process of trying to understand their whiteness gets shamed and shunned by a white anti-racism group or another white ally for saying or doing something that shows where they are in their racial awareness process, that person will most likely not only stop doing the work, but will also be out in the world causing more harm to Black and Brown people with their words and actions.

It’s on white people to learn to dig deeper and have patience with each other so that we may all learn and grow together. It’s understandable to walk away from someone who absolutely refuses to investigate or challenge their own belief systems, but we must first approach each other with comradery, compassion, and an assumption of good intention, particularly if someone is making steps toward anti-racism work.

I must also acknowledge that my primary audience for this blog is professionals, more specifically white professionals who consider themselves anti-racist yet struggle to connect with how they can personally take meaningful action in their daily lives toward dismantling white supremacy. I’m assuming that most professionals of all races and genders will be able to relate with some if not most of what I share, but my objective is to mobilize my white friends and colleagues to start investigating their own relationship to white supremacy culture and how that shows up in their jobs, and cultivate the courage to begin to dismantle it.


It’s called “systemic” because it’s built into the entire system

Chess board with alternating black and white pieces on each side
Photo by Jeet Dhanoa on Unsplash

I think a lot of us Well-Intentioned White People (WIWP) struggle to truly comprehend what it means when we hear certain terms like, “systemic racism” or “white supremacy culture.” If you’re like me and consider yourself a “nice” white, someone who wants to help end white supremacy but struggles to figure out how, then maybe you’ve had the similar thoughts: White supremacy is this mysterious thing that pops its head up in our society, like whack-a-mole, and only affects our Black and Brown friends, but you don’t entirely know how it connects to you other than being white and maybe having unearned privilege that you are vaguely aware of.

When you hear “systemic racism” you think of the government, the police, our entire criminal justice system. You understand that it exists in those places, but you’re not entirely sure what you can do other than vote for progressive candidates, post about it on social media, make donations, and maybe go to a protest or sign a petition. You’re also aware that there are white supremacist groups and individuals out there, that some states seem to have more racist politicians or people in power, and that some companies have a problem with rampant racism. You understand that it lives in these places, but you don’t. How can you impact groups and institutions that you have no direct connection with?

Meanwhile you see many people around you in your neighborhoods posting BLM posters in their windows, you see your CEO speaking at an all-hands meeting about the need for diversity, hiring a DEI director and creating a task force. In your immediate world, you feel that you’re just preaching to the choir. It seems like everyone is doing all they can to end white supremacy. But have you ever stopped to wonder why your workplace is predominantly white, and possibly your neighborhood, and how maybe that’s part of the design of a system that you are helping to uphold without even realizing it?

Have you considered that the term “systemic racism” isn’t just referring to specific groups or institutions? That the term is literally referring to our entire socioeconomic system—including your workplace and neighborhood. Including you. That we are all part of a system that upholds white supremacy. Maybe you have considered this, but you’re not entirely sure how it’s functioning. To that, I will provide some thought experiments:

Imagine, if you will, petitioning your local government to share some of your school’s tax revenue with a neighboring community with less resources. Advocating that your community should make some small sacrifices to the quality of programming, extracurricular activities, and materials so that there is more equality within your region. Does that make you uncomfortable to consider? What resources from your community would you be willing to share in order to help children in another community?


It’s called “culture” because it’s how we all behave

White coworkers meeting at a table
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

The term “white supremacy culture” refers to the behaviors and preferred ways of communicating and interacting of white society. It’s the air we breathe. We are so steeped in this way of existing that we fail to recognize it as a culture. We don’t realize that our ways of thinking, speaking, organizing and behaving were passed on to us to help maintain this system, and anyone who was never taught this method of communicating is punished when they fail to pick it up. It makes us uncomfortable in ways that we don’t even notice or understand when others don’t talk or interact in a way we are familiar with. As white people, we are so steeped in white culture that we don’t understand that the source of this discomfort is a direct result of the dominance of white culture.

I’m being careful not to mix race issues with too many other forms of oppression in a way that might seem I’m letting some white people off the hook, but I will say that there are also male ways of communicating and interacting that often punish women of all races for how we were socialized, and classist communication styles that punish people from different class backgrounds when we try to move up the social ladder. White women hold a unique position in upholding the system of white supremacy in the workplace that I’ll be exploring in another post.

Here’s another thought experiment: Imagine going to that all hands meeting. Imagine standing up at an open Q&A with the CEO, and in front of the entire company asking if he was personally doing any anti-racism work, and what the company is going to do to help white employees investigate how they carry white supremacy culture into the workplace. Imagine asking him if he thinks it’s problematic that the entire executive leadership team is mostly white and mostly male. Imagine asking if he is going to do away with performance reviews because they have been shown to be rife with sexism. Imagine asking what they are doing to change the culture of the company so that employees from marginalized groups can thrive. Imagine repeating this ad nausem every chance you get.

Now imagine something else. Imagine asking him what he is going to do about some of the abusive practices you’ve personally witnessed in your team or department. The problems everyone talks about on chat or after work but no one addresses openly. Imagine asking if they are going to start investigating how that came to be, and what forces within the company drove the culture to become so toxic in the first place.

The truth is that things we can do that would make a real impact in our own worlds would require us to possibly sacrifice something ourselves—would mean fully aligning ourselves with those with less resources, thereby exposing ourselves. It would mean calling out the things that we see and experience that we feel are terrible. It’s a mental bridge that we fail to cross because we don’t want to give up anything. We want equality, but we don’t want to make a sacrifice ourselves in order for that to happen. Our complicity is in our silence, in our unwillingness to make any sacrifice to dismantle the system.

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” —Rosa Parks

And the bigger picture that WIWP fail to see, is that we are all not only a part of maintaining this system, but we are negatively impacted by it as well. This system, built on brutality, gives us these privileges so long as we remain in the dominant groups, but it can easily take them away—and this is how it thrives: by making us afraid of losing things. What if we develop a disability that makes it hard for us to keep up? What if a family member gets sick and we have to choose between our demanding job and caring for a loved one? What if workplace pressures become so great that we completely burnout?

Or, what if we speak out about a terrible new process at work that is negatively impacting everyone? What if we call out an abusive leader or team that everyone complains about quietly but no one will dare speak out about them publicly? What if we address the elephant in the room: that most of us hate going back to the office?

We need to start recognizing how unbearable this system is for us, too. This system sucks not just for our Black and Brown colleagues, but for all of us, and is literally killing the planet. We need to be willing to consider the notion that there are better ways to organize our society, our economy, our government and our workplaces—and they probably won’t come from white culture. They will probably be based on structures of shared power. What we as white people desperately need to see is our real role in dismantling this system of oppression—that we have the power to unite and stand up against this system, but we have to start finding the courage to use it, and we need to start doing it fast.

My hope is to become another voice in a chorus of people starting to speak out publicly about what they’ve seen and experienced in these workplaces, so that perhaps others who have been questioning their experiences might begin to feel validated. I want to highlight the things I’ve seen but I also want to explore solutions to how we can find our power through uniting. I want to tell the stories of white allies of the past, whose voices have been deliberately erased from our history and national consciousness. I want to help with this movement that has already started. I want to explore how others have left and what they are doing to challenge the system and imagine a new future that benefits all of us. I hope you will come along with me. I hope you might feel inspired to share your story too. If you’re reading this and it resonates, I would ask—what are you going to do today to address white supremacy culture in your workplace? Not tomorrow or next week—today.

2 thoughts on “Dear Well-Intentioned White People”

  1. Hey Jess, this is brilliant. It is so insightful. You have articulated so well many of my experiences in Corp America. I remember the fear that made me feel powerless and caused so much stress and anxiety which resulted in a serious illness. I left Corp. America after 30 years and the difference I feel is astounding. I’m no longer ruled by fear..For the first time in my life, I know that there is nothing wrong with me. There never was. It is this “system” created to profit a few that is the problem. A system that was constructed to benefit the White elite through the enslavement and continued exploitation of Black people. It’s gratifying to see this through the eyes of a White female executive. I am thrilled that you found your voice. I applaud your courage and your commitment to speaking out.

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