One of the main attributes of White Supremacy Culture, that is also the greatest saboteur to effective anti-racism and anti-oppression work, is the attribute of ‘perfectionism’. Time and time again I see it used as both a roadblock to keep individuals from getting started on their work, and as a sword to cut down those who are trying, however haphazardly, to get started.
Audre Lourde is quoted as saying, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” And yet time and time again when it comes to learning how to do effective anti-racism work, I see individuals using the same attributes of white supremacy culture to guide their approach.
For any child born, and marinated in, the dominant cultural norms of white supremacy culture, doing this work requires every day acts of ordinary courage. First, the courage to name and embrace the work. And second, the courage to embrace imperfection, which is a revolutionary act in this culture that spoon feeds us the binary notion of both the demand for perfection and the awareness that perfection will always be just out of reach.
To do effective anti-racism and anti-oppression work is to grapple with the very nature of human existence. It is as Dr. Cornel West reminds us to question and grapple with the sense of self that is inextricably tied to the awareness of bodily death, ego, country, dogma, class, family, and so on and so on. It is work that is both unequivocally urgent and requires the same best practices in teaching and learning to be applied, if not desperately so (as there is a very real risk of worse harm being done when the student is not set up for successful education). And even this ‘both, and’ approach is in direct contrast to another staple of white supremacy culture attributes, ‘either, or’ thinking.
In a society that teaches us to value quantity over quality, and progress at all costs,it will be the acts of ordinary courage, the ones that start as drops, and grow into ripples, and eventually become the Ocean that will ultimately tip the paradigm.
Ordinary courage is a highly undervalued trait. It has no comic book, no shield or cape. There is no pomp and circumstance for ordinary courage, no keys to the city.
Ordinary courage is, by my definition, what you do when nobody is watching, when there’s no tick of approval or pat on the back in your future.
Ordinary courage is just you, your values, and your ability to look in the mirror at the end of the day and say, ‘do as I try every damn day to do, not only as I say’.