Moving Toward Discomfort: A Call to Action for White People, written by Christy Turek Rials
Blog Series: Confronting Inequities in Our Field - September 29, 2021
As I strive to be an anti-racist, I keep reminding myself of something Brené Brown said: “I’m here to get it right, not be right.” I know I’ve absolutely got it wrong in a million different ways and will continue to do so. But I’m reminded by other folks also doing this work that making mistakes is part of the process. Indeed, making mistakes is how we know we’re doing the work.
I used to say to my DV support group participants, “How do you know you are growing? You’re uncomfortable.” So, instead of running from discomfort, I will keep leaning into the pain that comes with being more aware about racism, how it’s infected every aspect of our society, and the mistakes I may make around the topic. This is personal, introspective, challenging, and deeply rewarding work. It has opened my eyes to the true history of this country, allowed me to have closer, more authentic relationships, and made me a better person and advocate. As Austin Channing Brown said, “the work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans.”
For me the first step was truly acknowledging my white privilege.
As a sexual assault survivor, adoptee, and identical twin, I’ve
always been very passionate about, and thought I had a keen eye,
for justice. My white privilege allowed me to believe I
understood justice and injustice. It was not until I started to
learn more about the deeply rooted injustice and trauma
People of the Global Majority* (PGM), particularly Black
folks, have had to navigate through that I realized the rich
history with injustice I have experienced would never be
as deep, profound, or far reaching as what marginalized communities have experienced for centuries. From reading about enslaved women being forced to breastfeed the children of their white enslavers, to learning about how some Black folks have to deal with knowing the whiteness of their family comes from the rape of their maternal ancestors, I’m outraged, heartbroken, and motivated to make change.
I’ve been in a wonderful racial healing group called Coming To the Table for nearly 5 years, hearing PGM talk about daily and life-long experiences with racism. Through listening deeply to their stories, I’ve been learning a lot, as well as working on my defensiveness and accepting and acknowledging (to myself and to others) that while I have experienced forms of oppression, my white privilege far outweighs them all.
As I do this work here are some examples of changes I’ve made:
- Whenever I facilitate a training or workshop that includes
PGM, I start by sharing: “I want to begin by acknowledging that
my whiteness and positionality, may itself be a trigger, as
racial trauma is experienced every day. As a white person I have
a different perspective than People of the Global Majority, and
if I do or say something that negatively impacts you, I hope
you’ll let me know. I want to learn. I also recognize that it is
not your job to teach me, just know if you want to share it with
me I welcome it with open arms.”
This requires that I mindfully move away from fear and feeling I have the right to be comfortable, and moving towards being accountable, welcoming feedback, acknowledging and apologizing for mistakes, committing to do better, and then actually doing it.
- Never asking PGM to do work for free. I was groomed to figure
out ways to try to guilt subject matter experts to do things for
free or at a reduced price. “You have so much knowledge on this
subject, and are so passionate about this cause. We have a
limited budget and we wouldn’t be able to do it without you. Can
you do this for free?”
I’m ashamed to say I’ve used all those lines in the past and will never do so again. And, to hold myself accountable, I have also acknowledged and apologized to someone whom I did that to.
- Protecting the intellectual property of PGM, giving credit
where credit is due. I’ve learned to be transparent about how
people’s work will be used/shared and how I will ensure they
receive credit and have a say and buy in. When facilitating
trainings/workshops: always doing a land acknowledgement at the
beginning as we are all on land that was stolen from Native
This website, where you can see which Native American tribes inhabited the land where your organization/home/etc. is located, is Native-led and run: https://native-land.ca/
I immediately follow the acknowledgment with a call to action as our words fall hollow without also being accompanied by action. One action I have taken is setting up a recurring donation to an organization that is led by and serves Native Americans. Thus every time I do a land acknowledgment and encourage folks to take action I am also living that value.
- Never having a conversation about trauma-informed
care without also having a large focus on intersectionality
and looking at racism, oppression, and marginalization. It speaks
to the deeply entrenched racism in this country that this aspect
of a trauma-informed approach is often minimized or left out of
- Sharing information about
white supremacy culture and whiteness at work, along
with gently pointing out when my co-workers and I are
perpetuating those tenants. For example: When there is the
expectation I rapidly complete a time consuming task, I may
share: “I’m wondering if this request is rooted in white
supremacy culture (of which the sense of urgency is a
characteristic) and if it’s possible for us to create more
space to complete this project.”
- Acknowledging the intent but tending to the impact. When a
PGM points out something racially problematic, I briefly
acknowledge the intent of the person (including myself) who put
forward the words/action, but I focus my time and attention on
tending to the impact. More time tends to be spent on the intent
when we need to focus on addressing and working to heal the
- Actively working to create spaces where folks feel safe
(and/or brave if feeling safe does not feel accessible) to bring
their authentic selves, including all of their intersecting
identities, to the process. Only then are people able to connect
and walk down the road to healing.
- Not minimizing or rationalizing when white folks, or anyone,
enacts racially problematic behavior. Much like we say trauma
survivors are the experts of their experiences and we need to
believe them, we must do the same for PGM.
Once, I was skeptical when a Black woman talked about not feeling welcome when volunteering for an event. I now see that I was guilty of doing what folks do to domestic and sexual violence survivors in that (in my mind) I minimized and denied that volunteer’s experience. I now realize it is incumbent on us as advocates in the field to listen to, uplift, and amplify the words of all survivors, including survivors of racial trauma.
- Advocating for my organization and those we partner with to
provide healing spaces for folks of different affinity groups to
meet and do their work together. I heard from PGM in the field
that after George Floyd was murdered their leadership team,
although well intended, provided staff with space to talk about
and process the feelings that were coming up for them. However,
it would have been much more effective if PGM were able to gather
separately from white folks.
- Advocating for Juneteenth to be a staff
holiday or at least be acknowledged in the Employee Handbook.
From my perspective, it makes no sense that the 4th of July is
considered independence day when so many living in America did
not have independence. Juneteenth became a staff holiday at the
organization I work for, even before it was recognized as a
- Learning about how
Critical Race Theory ties into the work we do and sharing
about it with others to increase awareness. I firmly believe
that in order to operate within the trauma-informed paradigm,
we must also be
- Moving toward, rather than away from discomfort. Right to
comfort helps to keep white supremacy culture in place. This
includes having uncomfortable conversations both personally and
professionally about racism I used to avoid.
- Seek out books, videos, etc. to educate myself on racism,
oppression, marginalization, anti-racism, etc. from folks who can
speak from their lived experience (rather than a theoretical
perspective), PGM. Rachel Ricketts and Austin Channing Brown
opened my eyes to the importance of this in a
powerful and illuminating video on Instagram.
- Always listing the salary range when posting about job opportunities. Vu Le does a fantastic job explaining how refraining from doing so perpetuates inequity.
Anti-racism requires action, and these are some of the actions I’m taking to work on changing my own thoughts and behavior, along with how my organization operates and interacts with partners and those we serve.
I heard Ibram X. Kendi share a description of racism that helped me understand how deeply rooted it is and how we can work to change it:
“To grow up in America is to grow up and for racist ideas to be constantly rained on your head, and you have no umbrella, and you don’t even know that you’re wet with those racist ideas because the racist ideas themselves cause you to imagine that you’re dry. Then someone comes along and says you know what, you’re wet, and these ideas are still raining on your head, here is an umbrella.”
My hope is the experiences and information I’ve shared supports you and others to strive both personally and professionally to lean into discomfort, stay out of the rain, and do the deep inner and outer work necessary to dismantle the structures and conditions that have caused this over 400 year old downpour.
*Black, and Indeginous and People of Color (BIPOC) comprise the majority of people on this planet so instead of perpetuating the false narrative that BIPOC folks make up the “minority” I strive to ensure my words reflect reality and use the term People of the Global Majority.