Participating in Racism

**photo / graphic by Quentin Monge 

I am a white, cisgender, straight, cognitively competent, able-bodied, woman. My parents are still together and I grew up in a home with two parents, both of which have always had jobs (good jobs at that). I have two Master’s degrees and I grew up in a predominately white town. Those few sentences are downright soaked in white privilege.

I began to unpack my privilege when I graduated from college in 2014 (age 22!) and started volunteering with Cooking Matters (a company committed to bringing nutrient dense foods and nutrition education to families at risk for hunger). These thoughts expanded while in PA school, especially after rotations, and are the main reason I have decided to pursue a career in community health (I start working in July – more on that here). My privilege and education have granted me have access to a lot of resources, and it is my passion to bring nutrition into medicine in a broad way to community settings. As I wrote in this post, I firmly believe you can’t attribute a behavior or diagnosis exclusively to an individual. They are set up for success or failure based off of community and environment. So I want to take that birds eye approach and see what can be done from there. As I type this, it feels kind of gross and “white savior-y” – something I’m still continually unpacking.

But these career goals and the work I’ve personally done in the past few years do not erase a shameful past – a past that includes acts of both overt and complicit racism. I’ve worn an overtly racist halloween costume (at the age of 18, no less), and celebrated holidays in ways that appropriate certain cultures. When I was in elementary school, we had to dress up as a person from history we admired. I chose Harriet Tubman and asked my parents if I could paint my face brown for the costume (thank GOD they forbade it and had a conversation with me about why this was inappropriate). I’ve heard racist jokes and said nothing. I’ve personally used racial slurs, particularly hateful ones about Asian communities. When I was in high school, someone told me I “looked Asian” because of my “flat face.” I said nothing, and in turn began to use that as a “joke” and insult upon myself and others. I even spoke to friends in high school about how I “could never get into an Ivy League college because I was white.” (yuck). (There is a comment from a reader below that speaks to the shameful and disgusting things I’ve done and said in the past. I do not deny it and invite you to read that to see just how horrifically and profoundly I have been racist).

And I can only imagine how many micro-agressions I have committed. Causing others harm through my words and actions without any awareness. Using language like “girl” and “tribe”, and “I slaved over this meal”. Culturally appropriating with music and fashion choice. Representing brands with zero BIPOC faces and voices in their campaigns, supporting local fitness studios whose communities and rosters are primarily all white communities and not at all inclusive to BIPOC.

When I think about these things, I feel disgusted. They are not a proud part of my past, which I of course wish I could erase from my history. But focusing on my guilt/shame/embarrassment gets me no where, isn’t the point, and centers me as the protagonist. It also doesn’t allow me to grow and evolve. It is only until I can admit these things, truly sit with them in silence, understand where they came from and use them as motivation for change that the real work begins.

Given I grew up in a primarily white town, went to a predominantly white high school and college, and overall have been in spaces that are predominantly white, I haven’t often been forced to think about racism. Because the majority of my life was spent in a society where the systems and structures around me (FOOD (!!!), education, real estate, politics, healthcare, and so many more) uniquely benefit and elevate me. (To learn more about that, watch this video.) I’ve always voted, but have most certainly uttered the phrase “I’m not a political person” before.

Not having to think about racism is privilege, and frankly, is racism. Not having to think about politics because the policies ALREADY inherently benefit me is racism.

Growing up, we didn’t talk about privilege, specifically white privilege, much. Both of my parents grew up in big families, my mom one of 6 and my dad one of 7. Neither of them grew up with wealth or comfortably in the middle class. In fact, they grew up with some amount of poverty. My dad put himself through college and medical school, and began working at a very young age. My mom is a physical therapist (and now functional medicine practitioner) and she too put herself through school, and then was the primary source of income as my dad was putting himself through medical school.

I grew up with this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, in which everyone can achieve anything they set their minds to if they just work hard enough. The American Dream!! This is a concept I can now put a name to: meritocracy (outlined in Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility).

But what this word discounts is that both my mom and dad also started out ahead. Maybe not as ahead as me and my siblings, but still ahead. Because the color of their skin and my skin is the same as those who originally created the systems and structures that we currently live in. So this American dream in fact mostly applied to white persons and failed to acknowledge the systems that have and continue to oppress people who don’t look like me. For a great visual of that, watch this video.

And this starting out ahead has already enabled me enormous success in life. I talk a lot about my educational journey on here. Unpacked a bit more: I went to a private high school, then a private university, and then went on to get two Master’s degrees. And I run a successful business on the side through my various social platforms. I did this with the help of my parents and the help of my power and privilege, all of which have afforded me the luxury of not having to think about my own skin color very often.

If I wasn’t accepted for a campaign on social media, I never think it’s because of my skin color. If I get pulled over by the police, I never think it’s because of my skin color. If I don’t get a job or don’t get a call back for a position or job, I never think it’s because of my skin color (or my name).

And I must take ownership of this. And ask myself “how am I racist” every day. How has MY racism caused harm (questions motivated after taking Rachel Ricketts (@rachelricketts) Spiritual Activism 101 – her PayPal/Patreon links here).

Because the word itself, racism, doesn’t just apply to bigotry and KKK references. And it isn’t about being a “good” or “bad” person. It is just fact, on an individual and systemic level. It is how I was socialized and raised. It’s the history I learned, the neighborhoods I lived in, the media I consume, food I eat, the movies I watch, the music I listen to, the healthcare I receive. And by accepting it as fact, perhaps we (as in white persons) will become less defensive when something we do or say is racist, rather than jump to defensiveness, denial, and anger.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself this past week in how I’ve been compliant in this system that has benefited me. And how the answers to these questions perpetuate and propagate the systems of racism / white supremacy that we live in. (these questions were motivated by Monique Melton of @moemotivate – find her anti-racism 101 course and PayPal here.)

  • how many books have I read that are authored by Black authors?
  • how many movies have I watched that are Black centric or focused on Black narratives?
  • how many clothing brands do I support that are operated by Black folx?
  • how many restaurants do I eat at that are Black owned and operated?
  • how many businesses do I frequent and financially support that are Black owned and operated?
  • how many instagram accounts do I follow that are Black creators?

So I also encourage you (white folx like me) to TAKE INVENTORY of the amount of whiteness in your world. And how it shapes your worldview.

I am ashamed that I have been conventional, compliant, complicit, and complacent for so long. 

It is time to outgrow who we’ve been. To evolve, shift, and change. I know we’ve heard this (white persons) time and time again but it’s time to get uncomfortable, admit, and accept when we get it wrong. To even get EXCITED, curious, and open to getting it wrong. To try again to get it right. Accepting that we will probably never get it right. Because maybe me being uncomfortable and learning from that mistake means saving a life. My discomfort is literally NOTHING if a life is saved. Or (hopefully) many lives.

Would I have been as committed to this right now had I not have an Instagram following and platform? I sure hope so given my sister has been committed to this for years, and she and I have had many conversations about it. And that I’m about to begin a career in not only healthcare but also making nutrition more accessible in medical settings. But I can’t say that for certain. While I have been having these conversations with friends and family (particularly my friends / family who are in healthcare and social work), I straddled the fence on my platform and didn’t highlight these issues specifically (anti-racism and Black Lives Matter, that is) for the 5 years I’ve been blogging.

It’s time for me to stop straddling the fence. And jump over that shit (@thaddeusmiles said this in @trill.fit’s series on a call to wellness, and it really stuck with me).

And that is my sincere request to you. Moving forward, starting today. If you see something that I say, write about, or a brand I represent that is racist, CALL ME OUT (if you have the energy – I fully recognize it is on me and only me to educate myself) so that I can be called back in. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings or tailoring your message in order to be kind. It is my job to build the stamina to accept this feedback with grace and openness to learn how to act in allyship better. Keep questioning me. Keep holding me accountable.

And my hope and call to action for white persons is that EVERYONE views themself as an influencer in the realm of anti-racism. You have influence. Over your friends, family, co-workers, and community. See something, say something.

This is a lifelong process, and takes years upon years to continually unpack and sit with. I am not an ally because I made this post or posted about it on social media. I don’t deserve a pat on the back or a cookie or notes of praise. The process of acting in allyship is every single day. So that is what I’ll be doing. And I hope you will walk alongside me to continue to elevate the voices of those who have historically been and still are oppressed and silenced. No more.

Here is a list of things I’ve personally written down as commitments moving forward: 

  1. Calling myself out (this post)
  2. Continuing to educate daily. Reserving an hour at night for anti-racism work. Per a notification yesterday, I spent 8 hours a day on my phone this week. Certainly I can reserve one of those hours on anti-racism education, be that reading, journaling, or talking about it. And checking in with AT LEAST one (white) loved one per week to discuss the work we’re both doing. Specifically about whiteness, what it means, and how we benefit from it. Saying the WORDS racism, whiteness, white supremacy, and white privilege even if they make us uncomfortable. (Thank you @sophia_roe (website here) for this reminder – she mentioned this in one of her incredibly informative IG lives).
  3. Finding opportunities to do the work in action each day. Keeping my eyes open and speaking up.
  4. Discussing my plans with brand partnerships with my management team (Smith + Saint). In that with each partnership, we will be asking brands how many BIPOC voices/faces are in the campaign. And asking brands which causes/voices they invest in (especially politically!).
  5. Fixing pre-existing blog posts to be more inclusive. The “how to find a therapist post” now includes resources for BIPOC. Thank you @healerkali (founder of Manifesting M.E. Wellness) for these resources!
  6. Featuring more local Boston BIPOC businesses, and spending my dollars there. There’s another new post on the blog today, featuring BIPOC owned eats, sweats, and shops in Boston. Find it here.
  7. Featuring more BIPOC brands in general, and showcasing them in my feed. I will be doing at least one in-feed photo and story set per month showcasing a Black-owned business or brand that I personally paid for.
  8. Setting up recurring donations to two Black non-profits – one local, one national.
  9. Participating in a local book club hosted by @drjessmoy_wellness (website here). Each month we’re reading a book highlighting POC authors to expand our perspectives on social justice and equality. TY for showing this in your stories @fitwithchristie (website here) – so excited! If this is of interest to you, sign up here.
  10. Being silent when necessary, intentional, and NOT the loudest in the room. Thank you @ashmitchfit (website here) for this reminder not just this past week, but for all the weeks I’ve known you and all the weeks I’ll continue to know you. I love you truly madly deeply.

List of anti-racism resources here.

In addition to all of my e-book sales, I also donate the funds I receive from affiliate codes. My current monthly recurring donations (from my own funds in addition to the above mentioned affiliate codes) go to: The Loveland Foundation, Cooking Matters, Stop AAPI Hate, The Courage Campaign, and You Good Sis.

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for publishing your list of commitments, Katie. You have inspired me to create my own:
    1. Read at least 1 book per month by a black author (I generally read around 3 books a month)
    2. Take diversity training, and bring the skills/information learned to my place of employment (I’ve enrolled in a Diversity in Tech seminar, and am going to purchase this course from Toi Marie: https://beyondprofit.carrd.co/)
    3. Donate to https://www.knowyourrightscamp.com/ and https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019 on a recurring basis
    4. Check in with my BIPOC coworkers/friends frequently

  2. Holding yourself truly accountable re: participating in racism would be talking about not only how you ** almost ** wore black face in elementary school, but why you thought it was ok to dress up as an Asian at the age of 18. Rice hat & squinted eyes included. True accountability would be talking about not only using the words “girl” and “tribe” but why you thought it was ok to use the word chink why you complained about looking Asian even though you’re not on more, telling other people they look Asian as an insult on more than one occasion.. why did you stop? What finally made you change? This sort of specific, pointed behavior towards one racial group spanned years, and it was pervasive enough for people who grew up around you to notice and remember it. It sort of feels like you’re using “safe” anecdotes to “hold yourself accountable” while skipping over the greatest racist harm you ever actually perpetuated. Anti-Asian hate crime has been on the rise. I know it’s not as trendy to talk about, but it’d great if you talked about your own journey, where you came from, and why you’re supposedly different today.

    1. You’re absolutely right. The ignorance is incredibly shameful and disgusting. I have individually caused so much harm. My world was very small and my lens narrow, though of course that is not an excuse. Thank you for having the courage to call me out on this so I can reflect on why I ever thought this behavior was acceptable. I am sorry.

      I do wish I could go back in time and change those decisions, words, actions, behaviors. regrettably I cannot. I’m reflecting how i’ve caused harm to all vulnerable communities of BIPOC (including the Asian community), especially with the rise of hate crimes with COVID-19 and my prior actions / words being overtly racist, hateful and caustic. No apology will ever be enough to undo the harm I have caused, but I will continue reflecting, acting, donating, un-learning, re-learning.

      1. You can tell a lot about a person’s character by how they react when “called out”. Thank you for this response. I believe that you are remorseful, that you are continuously putting in the work to do better, and that who you were and what you did 10 years ago does not reflect who you have grown to become today. This gives me hope that other people who make the same mistakes can learn and do better too. Thank you.

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