We are living in a time of endless self definition. Adding to this complexity are the physical phenotypes and social markers which may have us outwardly appear to the world one way, while mismatching our inner reality and self identity. But we exist with others- in a world of labels- responding to intersections of identity politics.
Art, however, can illuminate social conditioning and open us into more independent awareness, so creating possibilities for engaging with the actual individual felt experience of one another, and not just stereotypes.
After attending The White Stuff: Anti-Racist Boot Camp at CounterPulse, I walked away considering there may not be a “right” way to exist with white privilege. The idea of knowing the appropriate way to talk, act, be- assumes one is responding to a singular understanding of race, when individuals with varied backgrounds may experience race uniquely.
As a woman I ask that my experiences of patriarchy are respected. As with race, all individual experience deserves respect. I am a white person living in America. This doesn’t have anything to do with whether I am a good or bad person- whiteness is associated with the dominant power structures that be and so benefits me. That is where many are blind to their white privilege.
Am I so indoctrinated with the colonial ideology of assuming to know best practices that I can state how a white person should interact with race? What The White Stuff revealed to me is that we have to be ok with feeling wrong, confused, not knowing- and to have the capacity to explore that with others, especially those affected by our unconsciousness.
The kinds of experiences that inspire empathy and awareness vary as much as the diversity of every individual. The White Stuff incorporated multiple learning simulations such as satire, direct participation, somatic connection, factual information, and word play. I don’t know if these techniques all “work” per say. And I don’t think it’s for me to decide. I can only describe that my experience left me withdrawn. So perhaps in this tired discomfort some work had been done.
To bring awareness to white privilege is to cultivate empathy for people of color who come from long histories of exploitation and oppression, and to prioritize taking actions that equalize our systems. What those actions mean for us each individually is the difficult question.
Can we be vulnerable enough to have honest conversations with the people around us? Can we speak through layers of our own mask and listen into the mask of another? And from this place will we take action?
Alexa Eisner is a Mixed Media & Performance Artist based in San Francisco.