Pulling Back the Curtain

by Lisa Lord

I am an expert on change.  And I am an expert on human development.  But I am also like thousands of other white women who have done harm without ever recognizing it. 

Now I know them as microaggressions in the form of invalidations and insults. Maybe you know some of these harmful behaviors too; like asserting that meritocracy is colorblind and so am I. Or expecting your one Black friend to explain the behaviors of other Black people. Or maybe like me you have asked “why does everything have to be about race if you’re Black?”

I had no understanding that my ignorance was a form of privilege shared by most white people. I sincerely did not know anything about the history and socio-economics of black people.  I never questioned the fact that throughout my education, the history of black people jumped from slavery and the Civil War to the years of Jim Crow laws.  I never even considered that white women like me who are well educated, progressive, liberal and kind, could also be ignorant and hurtful. 

I had no clue, until one brave Blatina (Black/Latina woman) asked me to read a book called White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. Learning about the structure of racism in America had suddenly become personal. A mirror was being held up for me and the reflection I saw was someone I didn’t know.  I mean, I knew I was white, but privilege to me meant that you were born wealthy, thin, athletic, talented and without hardships. And white supremacy meant you were a neo-nazi or cloak wearing KKK member spewing hate speech about any person of color.

Before I read DiAngelo’s book, I would have defended myself rigorously if accused of being a racist. I was certain that I had never and would never judge anyone on the basis of their skin color. And, I would never accept the idea that my actions were reinforcing the white supremacy. 

But, as an expert on change and development, I have come to recognize my own defensiveness as an indication of resistance, my own natural resistance because the world as I knew it was being challenged. When something stings, we have a choice. We can resist and waste our power to change, or we can open up to new information and new possibilities. I had a choice to make.  

It would have been so easy to condemn the author and defend against her uncomfortable accusations.  But, as uncomfortable as it was, I chose to open up and let this new information in. 

I was asked to lead a workshop for other white women like me. It was a crazy, vulnerable thing to consider, especially because I was not, at all, an expert on race or diversity and inclusion.  But, I was a white women who, through her own ignorance, had caused harm.  And I was a human being open to learning how I could be better and do better. I was also crazy enough to recognize that this whisper was an important opportunity for me to continue to grow and learn and give back. So I said yes.

As soon as I said yes, it was as if the universe pulled back a curtain and showed me the facts and history I had never known before. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she wakes up and sees everything in technicolor for the first time. I finally started to listen and slowly began to let go of the world as I knew it. 

Like Dorothy, I had the power to see the reality all along, but I also had the privilege of ignoring it. Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” This is my work, and it is the work of anyone who sees themselves in my story.