The White Police Officer in my Upper Right Trapezius

written by AMANDA GROSS

A quick glance around my family shows a pattern of carrying stress in the upper shoulders and neck. My mother’s pain is particularly acute and I have a knot in my upper right shoulder that has been a part of me since I can remember.  There is an inherited generational aspect of how our bodies hold tension and trauma, where we store our sorrows to grieve later and where we preserve our anxieties, a constant reminder of the social norms and boundaries that we dare not cross, an in-body experience of violence as we police ourselves. We police our whiteness in our own bodies just like the police enforce whiteness on others’ bodies. Resulting in more dead bodies. We externalize the death of bodies as we internalize the enforcement of our souls.

Whiteness (Detail) by Amanda K Gross

Whiteness (Detail) by Amanda K Gross

I once gave a sermon at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church on how fear is just as much the opposite of love as hate. Fear keeps us from loving full-heartedly, keeps us from moving courageously towards others, towards knowing and loving ourselves, towards change. Anxiety, a grating manifestation of fear, is a constant and strategic product of our dominant culture and system. Because white supremacist capitalist patriarchy teaches us that our value and worth is based on the compared and competitive value and worth of others, there is the constant anxiety (often unconscious) of self-checking and self-regulating that goes on. All. The. Time.

Am I attractive/smart/competent/athletic/appropriate/friendly/nice/good/wealthy/humble ENOUGH?

We are taught that we are ENOUGH when others are not, precisely because others are not.

This constant anxiety of enlarged ego and ever-present fear grates at our souls. Like rushing water, it needs somewhere to go, so we externalize and project our fears onto others, the Other. We are afraid of ourselves and we don’t want to be so instead we are afraid of them, the person praying to Allah on our flight, the person asking for bus fare at our car window, the person selling DVDs or cigarettes. And our fear must be controlled, dominated, brought to its knees, so we destroy it by destroying.

The Pledge by Amanda K Gross

The Pledge by Amanda K Gross

The consumerism and materialism that stems from capitalism and its myths of limitlessness teach us that our value and worth and self-esteem come from owning and dominating material things, the earth, and other people. Status, happiness, and fulfillment all come from material gratification, which only some of us can attain at the cost and abuse of the earth and other people. While historical austerity in the Mennonite tradition meant that materialism was differently culturally enforced, I still internalized that my worth and value is deeply connected to image, appearance, comparison and competition, and especially what others think of me (or more accurately, how I perceive them to be perceiving me). Beauty standards for white women originate in part from the historical sex slave trade in Europe and have been shaped through the lens of patriarchy, bent on the objectification, sexualization, and control of women’s bodies. This coupled with Christianity’s limiting role for women as chaste (yet still perfectly attractive) mothers, wives, and daughters left me with the scars of a negative self-body image and unrealistic cookie cutter anatomical goals that pitted me against friends as I constantly compared my body to other bodies. Anxiety led me to starve, stuff, and purge my body (and soul), to self-police my white womaness. So much mental and emotional energy went into my addictive self-destruction. My body resisted. I am still learning resistance. Turns out these hips are here to stay.

The hard part about social media is that tragedies greet us in the morning and at night. The blessing is that what some have experienced all along is now in the rest of our faces. The lie is that we can be separate from these horror stories. Who are you when state sanctioned law enforcement takes the life of another Black and Brown person? Who am I? I am the wife that cop goes home to at night who watches the local news and teaches my kids to be afraid of strangers. I am the woman who locks the door the second I’m in the car, clutches my purse, crosses the street, and avoids eye contact. I am the family member who lets a subtly (or not so subtly) racist comment slide for fear of creating conflict because I want to keep the peace (just as police keep the peace). I am not a helpless bystander, but make choices everyday that uphold the whiteness that these police officers are enforcing.

This Hat Made in the USA: The Scope of Whiteness

This Hat Made in the USA: The Scope of Whiteness

White supremacy has allowed white people to “do” racial justice work from an intellectual standpoint, to study racism as a phenomenon outside of us, to pathologize the racial others, but not ourselves. Feminism taught me that the personal is political and that means bringing my full self and my family and my history and putting it all on the table along with public school policy, gentrification, and our growing economic reliance on the enslavement of people (again) we have labeled criminals.

And even though I acknowledge the interconnectedness of it all and just wrote the above paragraphs, I still try to root out the white police officer inside of me – as if I can live in this world and not be impacted every moment. I have been trying to know it in order to surgically remove its badness and make myself apart from it. I have been trying to make myself better than I was, better than it. Better is still a hierarchy of value, if even only pertaining to me. And because I am still thinking I can be separate, I am so easily devastated when someone points out that I am not.

Bland by Amanda K Gross

Bland by Amanda K Gross

I am learning to hold the complexities, or at least hold an awareness that the complexities exist and build resilience. The white police officer in my shoulder exists alongside of my creativity, my intuition, my power. The problem is that the strength of the knot has been built over many years (centuries really) and is reinforced daily by almost everything. Its overdevelopment has meant the atrophy of my creativity, intuition, and power. When I do the smallest things to subvert whiteness and patriarchy the system holds me fast. And that makes me pissed and also motivated. It’s a discipline. I must learn to understand and identify these parts of me as a way to know and love myself, as a way to make different choices driven by consciousness, intent, and accountability. I must not ignore and dismiss it. I must deal with it. We must deal with it together.

If this journey is indeed a resurrection story then this is a fight for me and my humanity. If this struggle is about doing less harm to others, then it is also about doing less harm to myself. If this struggle is about loving others, then it is also about loving me. We need white folks who can lend their creative selves to this movement, not out of the insecurity and low self-esteem, and not out of guilt (as a wise white teen said to me matter-of-factly, “Guilt is just another form of self-hate.”) and martyrdom that seeks to lay oneself low so that others may rise above, but out of the honest tensions that holding these complexities bring, out of openly loving life and the growing and learning that is living into our imperfect, interconnected humanity.

And when we white folks wake up and begin to see the slightest bit of how we are also policed and are self-policing, when we begin to feel the slightest frustration of confinement, when we feel the tip of anger, we have important choices to make.

Same Coin by Amanda K Gross

Same Coin by Amanda K Gross

Will we cower in fear of ourselves and pull the  quilt of #notallwhitepeople up over our heads and continue to go about our lives as usual? Will we blame our white siblings and separate ourselves from the bad apple cops and the KKK, washing our hands of any responsibility? Will we push and shove and shout angrily at the protest march, an adrenaline of activism with the potential to further jeopardize the safety of the Black and Brown bodies who we march beside? Will we subvert whiteness on the daily? Will we look at ourselves with courage and take the work of transformation seriously, as if our own lives depend on it? Will we change our habits and decisions at work, at home, at school, at the store even if it means risking our jobs, our houses, our degrees, our possessions? Will we change in order to risk our jobs, our houses, our degrees, and our possessions?

The illusion is that these were ever ours to begin with. The illusion is that there is even an ours to begin with.



The Caterpillar Meditation (for Maya)

written by Amanda Gross

The other sunny Saturday I went for a hike, by myself, in the woods.

I grew up around concrete and asphalt and pigeons and people on all sides. And once I get through my recurring fear of being chased by bears and mountain lions (they sometime haunt me in my dreams*) (the park map assured me that this particular state park is not home to bears and mountain lions), navigating a muddy path, parting spider webs, and breathing in the rich exhale of a wise forest deeply nurtures my soul.

The Goddess of Feeling Deeply by Amanda K Gross

The Goddess of Feeling Deeply by Amanda K Gross

Sometimes “doing my work” means swimming in wells of sadness, disappointment, and pain. It’s easier for me to get stuck there than just go on a hike, by myself, in the woods. I’m still trying to figure out how negative self talk, self-punishment, and self-deprivation became so ingrained… As if when I make a mistake I can regain control by being the best, most critical punisher of me. My preemption guards against your criticism somehow ensuring that I am less wrong, if just a little.

The more I learn, the clearer the learning curve becomes as does my realization around its steepness. Maybe I make progress or maybe I just get better at just being. Present. Like when I was walking through the woods, careful not to twist an ankle and I saw a bright green caterpillar the size of half my thumb. I paused, slowing down my self to witness its crossing. And it was magnificently happy just being and moving, slowly, and changing its mind about its direction (several times).

I didn’t stay to witness its crossing of the path. Maybe it didn’t need that type of completion and in that moment, neither did I.

Tree Belly (detail) by Amanda K Gross

Tree Belly (detail) by Amanda K Gross

*Interestingly, this dream interpretation website connects lions to feelings of control/being out of control and bears to wanting to do things alone.


Church of One

written by Amanda Gross

It is no secret that Mennonite culture subsists on conflict avoidance.

In the white North American Mennonite culture that I’ve known, it is considered closer to God to keep the peace rather than transform the tension. When voices get loud or heated, there is a large quiet majority championing the status quo of silence. They are caring, worried, good Mennonite women who worship relationship. They are the offended, concerned church leaders who offer their unsolicited advice. They are the whisperers and grumblers whose conversations may never leave their living rooms. The Mennonite identity as pacifist, the church’s position on peace, along with a lasting martyr-complex of turning the other cheek has clouded generational understanding of how to healthily engage in conflict. The pendulum swings quickly from suppression to division with a sharpened blade reducing the speaking of multiple truths and isolating an analysis of power.

Nannie & Pop Mixed media by Amanda K Gross

Nannie & Pop Mixed media by Amanda K Gross

I have this vivid memory from when I was 6 or 7 of my mother and her sister coming out of the church Sunday school building in tears. It must have been late spring or early fall, the last of a series of after-church meetings in which the adults locked themselves in the brick and cinderblock air-conditioned building and the children played happily in the honeysuckle and poison ivy outside. When I asked what was going on, I was told they were very sad because many people, including my aunt, were leaving our church. And so our church of a committed 75 (out of the Atlanta metro area’s 5 million) was whittled down to 40ish and a second Atlanta Mennonite church was formed.

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Ontario and aren’t one, then Mennonite probably doesn’t mean much to you. Which makes sense, there are less than 400,000 of us in the U.S. You could move all the Mennonites in the U.S. into the city limits of Cleveland, Ohio and still have room for 10,000 OTMs (Other Than Mennonites*). Also you would have total and silent war. While Mennonites can usually live symbiotically alongside of OTMs, the insider/outsider norms** are much harder to maintain when everyone is claiming insider status. Mennonites have been self-dividing since the start of Anabaptism and the Protestant Reformation back in Europe back in the day and this pattern of behavior shows no sign of stopping. It’s a voluntary, passive form of divide and conquer under the guise of peace that helps preserve structural violence both within and outside of the Mennonite Church(es).

*Other Than Mennonite was a demographic option at my Mennonite college.

Yet this self-division is not unique to the Mennonites. Christianity, Catholicism, Anabaptism, Protestantism – sect after sect in a Euro-centric history of groups dividing and othering in search of the One Right Way, claiming it as something they own and possess, creating others and OTMs and cutting them off from the One Right Way  – dividing and dividing and dividing every time there is a conflict until our churches are churches of one. We are churches of one.

Two incredible resources have helped shape my understanding of white culture and its U.S. Mennonite subsidiary – the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s framework on Internalized Racial Oppression (Internalized Racial Superiority for white folks) and a document via WHAT’S UP?! on White Supremacy Culture (from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun). The pendulum of conflict avoidance gives insight into how we’ve internalized superiority and how white culture is maintained: Distancing. Denial. Individualism. Competition and Comparison. Either/Or Thinking. Fear of Open Conflict. Power Hoarding. Compartmentalization. These aspects are not exceptions. They are the norms that flow down the aisles and through the doors of our churches, in and out of our do-good non-profits, and up and down the stairs of our homes. Like the wild strawberries growing beside the much more nutritious and yummier ones I planted, these aspects are complexly intertwined and difficult to extricate.

Limbs of a Family Tree Mixed Media by Amanda K Gross

Limbs of a Family Tree Mixed Media by Amanda K Gross

And so good white ladies keep the peace, keep the norms, are the keepers of status quo structural violence. The pendulum of conflict avoidance is full of imagined and real life consequences. When white ladies prioritize relationships and keeping the peace, it calls on a history of excommunication and shunning with its social, emotional, and material penalties for severing relationship. There are and historically have been real material consequences to not maintaining the status quo in ways that can and have jeopardized the survival of oneself and one’s children. This emotional and psychological threat looms over our heads. Our social and familial belonging is so fragile, so conditional, that one wrong move could leave one socially and communally banished, shamed, disconnected, and very possibly condemned to hell.

White women have internalized these messages and ways so deeply – that we are only as valuable as our relationships, that our self-worth comes from and is defined by our relationship to others, especially in relationship to our parents, spouses, and children, especially in upholding the white family structure. I have learned that my social power and subsequent validity comes from what others think of me. Others not liking me threatens my sense of self. I have internalized that I must not come across as mean, rude, harsh, aggressive, assertive, loud, angry, or intense. Above all, I must not offend. Polite silence is demanded (but in a nice, quiet, non confrontational sort of way – until it isn’t).

In addition to several emails and phone calls from family members, I received two public comments about a recent blog post, The Mask I Wore to My Grandpa’s Funeral. The  first was supportive. The second, from the pastor who officiated my grandpa’s funeral. He said:

It would seem more loving to check out your perceptions with others before declaring such judgments for all to hear.

More Loving.  Along with inspiring an internal firestorm, this comment brought up some thoughts and is an opportunity to share my processing with all of you. It brought up questions like, when did agape love become quantifiable? When did love become separated from truth-telling and honesty and naming injustice in order to have accountability and the hope of transformation? Is that not a part of love? If I compromised my truth to better suit your ears, would it make a difference? How would polite lies increase the love in between these words? Would it actually incite change? Or fall without response like countless voices for generations much more marginalized than mine? To have a representative of institutional, cultural, religious, and spiritual authority question the degrees of love behind my words triggers centuries of dismissal and control by those in power. More Loving calls on the stereotype of the good white selfless non-confrontational Christian woman I am supposed to be with an added element of shaming from a white patriarchal authority. A stand in for my father. A stand in for God. Whoever gets to define love gets to measure it.

Checking out My Perceptions.  My perceptions are my perceptions and no one else’s. There is a myth rooted deep in our dominant culture around objective truth. This myth tells us that there is one right perception and one objective truth. That an objective truth is even possible. While my perceptions have been built and formed from my life experience with input from many others (see Acknowledgements), Pastor Randy’s concerns seem to indicate that my perceptions are not consistent with the menu of perceptions served weekly at his church. This is not to single out his pulpit, which I would guess is consistent with many other pulpits throughout Mennoland and white western Christendom with vast theological silence on the structural violence that we as American Mennonites/Christians perpetuate. It is also incorrect to assume that I have not checked out my perceptions with others. I have been in conversation with the Mennonite pulpit, in one way or another, my whole life.

qui est la Juge? (who is the Judge?)

qui est la Juge? (who is the Judge?) Mixed media by Amanda K Gross

Declaring Judgements.  Similar to More Loving, Declaring Such Judgements is an attempted dismissal. Among the things that good Christian women are not supposed to be is judgmental, but also harsh, critical, mean, and intense. As white women, we are supposed to put others’ feelings first, but especially the feelings of white men. We are supposed to prioritize the judgements of those in institutional authority over our own. Thank you, Felicia Lane Savage, for reminding me that having good judgement is a positive thing – actually one that my Mennonite upbringing taught me – and for reminding me that we need to cultivate discernment along with continued self-reflection in our lives.

For All to Hear.  **Gloria Rhodes, one of my professors at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, used to say, “Mennonites have a guest/host culture”. That means if you are a guest or an outsider you will be given full, unconditional hospitality, grace, acceptance, and love, but you will not be given decision-making power or the right to claim collective identity and belonging. There is a clear line drawn between who belongs and who doesn’t, who gets to make decisions and who doesn’t, and who gets to claim identity as an insider. The host and guest forever remain distinct and apart. And it is implied (although Mennonite Humble would never let you admit it) that the host is really the one in the know. Another way to think of this is internalized superiority, but we really shouldn’t be talking about this because in doing so I am exposing the dirty laundry of my community. And now you know that Mennonites aren’t just compassionate, peaceful agrarians with perfectly pitched vocals. While drawing attention to our community’s faults may have meant torture and death in the 16th Century, doing so now is not a threat to our physical safety. However, it does call in to question two things our nondisclosure and self-division keeps in place – the myth of One Right Way and our internalized specialness.

The problem with Pastor Randy’s comment, similar to the pendulum of conflict avoidance, is that it distracts us from focusing on the issues and the root causes at the heart of the matter including our complicity in it all. This dismissal and distraction is a watered down version of the angry black woman stereotype. It is a far much less life threatening version of white people dismissing and admonishing Black folks for damaging the brick and mortar of white capitalist business in response to the continued destruction of Black bodies, the irreparable ending of human life.

What I am hoping you’ll consider are the very real and deep connections between our white cultures of conflict avoidance and the perpetuation of structural violence. The pendulum of conflict avoidance, Mennonite Humble, white silence, do not make us more peaceful; they actively do harm. They violate.

My loom

My loom

I am a mixed media artist and a weaver. And through the discipline of envisioning and creating beauty, I have learned many lessons. In fiber art – knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, spinning, quilting, and especially in weaving – tension is critical to creation. Tension is what transforms wool into thread and thread into fabric. Without tension, the structure will not hold with integrity. When warping a loom, the tension needs to be consistent on all threads. If one thread or a section of thread is disproportionately holding the tension, the fabric will be misshapen and there is greater risk of a tear or hole. Just as in weaving, tension, conflict, and discomfort are necessary for learning, growth, and transformation. Critical feedback is important for change. Yet fear of tension, conflict, discomfort, and critical feedback paralyzes us.

Last week, I reconnected with a friend and colleague who escaped from his home country two days before a political coup. Had he not left, he might have faced life-threatening consequences, and many people he knew have. Having been surrounded by such a violent reality, his North American friends asked him if he was afraid. “Why would I be afraid?” he asked with sincerity, “I am safe. We are no longer in physical danger.”

We have learned to cultivate lives of misplaced fear and constant anxiety. Yet we are perhaps the safest of them all.

Go in peace.

The Privilege of Being Stuck


Sometimes I wallow.

In the moment of discomfort my reflex is to repel, to flee, or to flee inside of me. But after the discomfort, I wallow in it.

Anxiety and angst are the powerful silent enforcers of stagnation. What went down? What did I do wrong?? How did I feel??? Why was I stuck???? What could I have done/said differently?????

In between my instant playbacks, I replay the situation for others. I let them tell me how to think and how to feel. I replay the situation in my head. Like a broken record. I begin to want the broken record. I reach for it again and again. I swim around in its moody waters and call it self-care.

Repeat. I could play this tune all day. The more I repeat, the more comfortable the discomfort becomes. Stuck becomes my privilege. Wanting to do, be, act better becomes my cocoon.

Oh. Lord.

I have traded my light for White Liberal Lite when Menno Fabulous is my birthright.

Menno Fabulous 1 by Amanda K Gross*

Menno Fabulous 1 by Amanda K Gross*

*This post and Menno Fabulous 1 were both inspired by the powerful work of literary artist, Dr. Tameka Cage Conley and her poem, “because they was purple”, a piece of art that I was honored to hear and discuss thanks to a recent reading and conversation at Yoga Roots on Location facilitated by Felicia Lane Savage.

The Mask I Wore to My Grandpa’s Funeral


Last month I went to my grandpa’s funeral and got erased.

This erasure was not a surprise, was not new, and has been a part of my life that I have repeatedly tried to erase. But since erasing erasure does not equal visibility, I’m trying something new.

I grew up in a southern city, far away from the bucolic small Eastern Pennsylvania town of my father’s nostalgia. Instead of a family farm and tight-knit Pennsylvania Mennonite community, I was raised in the urban legacy of colonization as my parents and maternal grandparents fled their home towns to make the world a better place. (Growing up I heard about what they were fleeing towards but rarely what they were fleeing from.) I have always more closely identified with my mother’s well-educated family and was nurtured by the Christian liberal middle-class values of good intention, service, inclusion, and acceptance of diversity. In the arms of my mom’s family there was more space to grow into an independent, well-educated, white woman. At home, my dad professed that men were biblically instilled heads of the household and lauded the Christian mother/wife role for women. The toxicity of that ideal made much of my adolescence and adulthood an effort to escape and distance myself from my rural paternal Christian working class roots.

Cycles of Trauma (in progress) by Amanda K Gross

Cycles of Trauma (in progress) by Amanda K Gross

The mask of White Christian Patriarchy has always confused me. The human man-gods speak from the pulpit, hand out the frames, and read from the scriptures while the women clean, care for, bear the children, and do the earthly work. At home I could never understand how the ideal matched with the reality. At my grandpa’s funeral, I watched my aunts who had done the diligent, committed dirty work of caring for aging parents daily be sidelined by their brothers’ decisions and speeches. The sons and grandsons were listed first in order of birth with the daughters and granddaughters and their babies following after. And after my first name was my partner’s last. Which is not nor has ever been my name. Most of my life I have sought blame in white men for this dynamic. And although the system and culture places them in that role, I am beginning to identify how white women have been just as complicit in upholding this arrangement and how this arrangement is keeping the larger one of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in place on the daily.

I experimented with White Christian Patriarchy in my youth and it almost killed me.

In the zealous phase of my preteen years I hid in Christian book stores and the rigid walls of the Church in order to protect myself from the pain and loneliness of my family and the journey from a celebrated girl childhood to the confines of adolescence. Trying to be the perfect Christian teen stifled my voice. I traded my intuition for fear, anxiety, and inhumane over-achievement to the detriment of my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I starved myself of pain and pleasure. I starved my body. I suppressed my gut feelings and stuffed myself into an ideal body and an ideal persona. White Christian Patriarchy taught me how to lie to myself and it taught me how to front.

Dining Room Table by Amanda K Gross

Dining Room Table by Amanda K Gross

Going back into that funeral was like going back in time to that place of early erasure. Even with the armor of adulthood and all the words and analysis, self-care practice and self-awareness I have developed, it still felt like walking into the lion’s den. The air told me I had failed. The questions about my work and the vast chasm between my life and my cousins’ lives with their prolific families and church involvement spewed shame. No one talked about their struggles, their depression, their materialism, their isolation, the difficulty of raising kids and spending every waking hour with them, their addictions, the things that they do to ease the pain. No one talked about their whiteness. In the minutes leading up to the funeral in which the cousins were gathered around, we small talked and smiled at old photos, but we did not share our pain. Even the few challenges that were shared – to homeschool or not, living in town or out – were acceptable white Christian ones. Whew! Everyone’s marriages were great! Everyone’s children were thriving! Everyone loved what they did (enough)! Everyone was committed to God! The mask stayed firmly in place. We put on a great show for the church family.

See No, Hear No, Speak No Evil by Amanda K Gross

See No, Hear No, Speak No Evil by Amanda K Gross

Yet, my life work life does not allow for the mask to stay firmly in place and so I am trying the peel and scratch it off. (It does not come off so easily). I feel now even more so and yet have also always felt disconnected. I am shunned. I am excluded from my community. I am in the wrong. I am the jezebel, the crone, the barren auntie. I wear the scarlet letter. As I sat in the pew and heard what a great Christian example my grandparent’s marriage was and very little about the emotional distance, sexism, and violence of my grandfather, I could feel the mask straps tighten. The false gift of age and death is nostalgic idealism. I could feel the potential for anger and collective and institutional rage at my truth rise. I don’t have to do a strip tease in the middle of the sanctuary, or try to marry women, or refer to the Goddess to feel this collective threat of merciless rage. I don’t have to name whiteness or share my politics or talk about the partnership principles my marriage was built on to know that caustic bubbling lies just underneath the surface, to know of the consequences for stepping too far out of line. Of course I know how I am expected to be, I have been conditioned all my life for this role and this box.

And so I understand why liberal good intention is a place of refuge for so many white women and how easy it is to make conservative America the one true villain. To blame our sisters and mothers who stay and stay in denial of its harm. We are running from incredible pain. We flee from the prison of White Christian Patriarchy into the arms of a (seemingly) less volatile lover. But the box of White Liberalism whispers manipulative lies to us too keeping our self-doubt firmly in place and clouding our clarity. We run from one box of white womanhood into another. Ultimately, the expectations of our role are still very much the same. While we were in relationship with White Christian Patriarchy we were given clear marching orders upfront. The lines were boldly drawn and overstepping meant excommunication. Now that we are in bed with White Liberalism, the lines are more obscure, but the consequences just as severe. We have lied to ourselves about choice because all the moves (beauty,  schooling, career, housing, relationships, marriage, motherhood, perfection, helping, goodness) are still the same. We think we have chosen. When opting between one mask for another, the option of choice is also a lie.

White Void by Amanda K Gross

White Void by Amanda K Gross

In bed with White Liberalism, we don’t want to know where we come from. Let us eat cake! The crumbs of whiteness have distanced me from my Self and my family and the community that has more to lose in this current arrangement of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. And so instead of really dealing with the roots of White Christian Patriarchy, another form of divide and conquer sets in.

What propels me from one box into another? Why am I so tempted to distance myself from my working class roots? What makes me think I can individually throw off the corset of patriarchy without ridding myself of its accessories, white supremacy and capitalism? The aversion I feel towards White Christian Patriarchy and my working class roots, along with the distance my privilege encourages me to place between them and me is really just another layer of denial that maintains a sub-human existence and ultimately restricts and damages me.

There is a specific role for white women to play in upholding white supremacy. My erasure within the confines of White Christian Patriarchy keeps the illusion in place. But my false sense of agency in independent, well-educated, white womanhood does more of the same.

The search for any other option means first examining my own mask. Is it any surprise that I don’t want to be vulnerable? Yet vulnerability is where my truth lies and without vulnerability there are only lies. Not everyone gets the luxury of a mask. And if wearing the mask means suffocation, means affixation, then what makes us think of the mask as a luxurious privilege anyway? In my own best interest, the comfort of hiding is over.

White Silence by Amanda K Gross

White Silence by Amanda K Gross



A Resurrection Vision

written by Amanda Gross

This week I read an article entitled “White People Have No Place in Black Liberation.” by Kevin Rigby Jr. and Hari Ziyad. The period at the end of the title adds weight to the finality of white people’s place in Black Liberation and so as one of those White People, I approached reading the article with the appropriate trepidation. And it was a hard one to read.

The authors write:

We want whiteness banished to history—to an other-space of that which is unknown and impossible. There is no way in which whiteness can move that is freeing or liberating for Black people, so there is no way for white people to free or liberate. Whiteness is indivisible from white people. To identify as white is to claim the social structure of whiteness, is to always wade in the waters of anti-Blackness…. White people cannot exist as white and do anything to address racism, because whiteness in action is racism.” 

This I can follow intellectually, but to let myself feel what it means is painful truth. Race has never been neutral. It was constructed as a hierarchy in order to oppress. White people can’t be separated from whiteness. As a white person, I can’t be separated from whiteness. My existence as white is racism is the barrier to Black Liberation not part of the process.

Four Part Harmony - Mixed media painting by Amanda K Gross

Four Part Harmony – Mixed media painting by Amanda K Gross

Last night I was in conversation about cultural appropriation with a group of white ladies who are collectively working to undo racism. We sat around my dining room table and reflected on the ways we’ve been part of culture stealing and identity claiming in part to fill our own void of culture and identity. The typical white lady questions ensued as we unpacked this realization – What exactly did we do wrong? How could we do things differently and better? Is it possible to live in this world as us and not culturally appropriate? (No.) If not, then what can be done?

Rigby and Ziyad speak to this too.

“There is no answer to the question of what white people can do for Black liberation, but racism veils reality so easily and efficiently. It is anti-reality. It makes the impossible seem not only possible, but a worthwhile endeavor. It truly does keep you, as Toni Morrison said, “from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again.

The dilemma of what white people should do to address racism has the same exhausting function of racism, because this dilemma is racism. Because for white people “to do” anything means that whiteness must be centered in a way that would perpetuate its oppressive essentiality. There is nothing redeeming or redeemable about whiteness—by definition. Only the radical negation of it is helpful or freeing.”

This the deadly oxymoron of being one of the White People. That whiteness stands in direct contradiction to personhood, to being human. That doing anything centers whiteness and perpetuates oppression, while not doing anything means the same, because the agency of Whiteness is more of the same oppression, and so is the denial of that agency. What this really means is that all my good little white girl strategies are blowing up in my face. That all my white liberal good intentions are toxic. That my attempts to be better at anti-racism as a White Lady are a failure before they even begin.

And if this realization about the violence of my agency isn’t scary enough, the authors offer only one specific example of a white person being an effective vessel for Black Liberation:

“Even John Brown, the white abolitionist who was executed in 1859 after leading an insurrection against pro-slavery forces, furthered the legacy of the likes of Nat Turner and other Black folks who fought and died for their own freedom before him. We must be sure in recognizing that dying for freedom did not begin with Brown, was not his legacy to create. Though perhaps in death, in a significant sacrifice of self, he and those like him have shed light on what it could mean to give up whiteness for good. When whiteness is so seeped into your being, might giving it up necessitate a threat to one’s safety and existence?”

Thanks to this article and the work of countless writers, artists, organizers, educators,  and mentors of color who have contributed to my evolving understanding, I am just beginning to peek at what this might mean. And more importantly, I am beginning to feel it. To sit with the painful reality of whiteness being seeped in my being, and to resist the urge to throw myself a big, giant, life-long pity party, with cake and all my best white lady friends and tissues and balloons. But instead of pity parties, I am stepping into a journey that might lead me to John Brown’s shoes. In working to give up my whiteness, I am choosing a threat to my own safety and existence in a physical and existential way.

This Land is White Land - Adhesive Bandages on Fabric

This Land is White Land – Adhesive Bandages on Fabric by Amanda K Gross

Who am I? That is the question that I am grappling with on this journey. The more I learn about the ways I’ve internalized white supremacy, the more I identify how I’ve been shaped by it and the ways it has informed my personality, my actions, my decisions, my preferences, my sense of self, the more I struggle to separate myself from whiteness, because I quite literally embody it. The carefulness and perfectionism I have learned through growing up the good little white girl in the corner of a predominantly Black classroom is one external layer that both makes me who I am and keeps me from being me. The self-righteousness of Mennonite Humble that I learned weekly at church and daily at home is another layer of collective identity that gives me a culture beyond white, but is also where my deepest lessons about faith-based, do-gooder colonization and the superiority status of knowing The Truth come from. Some say Mennonites can’t dance, but every day I dance the white American Mennonite legacy of intentional self-effacing and humble self-righteousness lacking the confidence to shirk off both and act from my intuition. The ruthless winner and unique artist are inside me too and make up layers of my internal tissue built on individualism and competition that distort my own humanity as I act them out through distorting the humanity of others. Inside me, whiteness is already a threat to my spiritual safety and existence. It threatens my humanity, my spirit, and my soul inside of me everyday.

But it’s also not possible to just do this work on the inside. The temptation of me trying is where middle-class whiteness takes the lead. Whiteness was a trade with the devil for material benefits (often very little), or in the case of poor whites, for the illusion of the potential of material benefits, in exchange for our souls.

In Noel Ignatiev’s book How the Irish Became White, Ignatiev describes Philadelphia County in the 1830s in which “black people, Irish, and native poor could literally live on top of one another.” In painting a picture of this point in history, Ignatiev tells a story of two families living side by side, one Black and one Irish where “the women wash clothes together at the well they share in the courtyard, and exchange news, complaints, and household advice. In emergencies, they care for each other’s children. Both families are desperately poor…”

“A riot breaks out and a mob sweeps through the miserable street like some natural force. The word reaches the Irish woman; if she puts a burning candle in the window, her house will be spared. She does, and it is. The next morning she comes out to discover her next door neighbor weeping at the pile of rubble in front of her door that was once her bed, table, and dishes. What can the Irishwoman say to her neighbor? That she is sorry? When the black woman looks at her reproachfully because her home was spared, will she feel guilty? And if so, how long will it take for her guilt to be replaced by resentment and rationalization?”

The Irishwoman’s choice is clear. She chooses the physical safety of her home and family over collective struggle, simultaneously separating herself from and elevating herself above her neighbors. In lighting the candle, she activates her privilege and suppresses her human empathy. At the end of the back in the day and often in the course of one generation, people who could choose to become white to protect their physical safety, and existence did so actively. And while most of today’s white people didn’t make that explicit choice, we have inherited its legacy and it is ours to undo. Giving up whiteness means giving up material privilege that whiteness has afforded us.  And for many poor white folks, those material goods were the promise of whiteness yet to appear.

I know not all white people were brought up on Jesus, but many of us were, including me. After reading Rigby and Ziyad’s writing, it occurred to me that this is a resurrection story. My Mennonite faith tradition cannot be dissected from the evils of whiteness that 300 years of being of European descent on this colonized land brings. As my awareness of structural violence within my historic peace church has grown, I have distanced myself from my own faith tradition, but now I am slowly starting to reach for what inside of that mess might help restore my humanity.

Whiteness - Mixed Media by Amanda K Gross

Whiteness – Adhesive Bandages on Lace by Amanda K Gross

Part of the mystery and the beauty of the resurrection story that I was brought up on is that death didn’t happen with the assurance of resurrection. The resurrection story is flinging yourself off of the cliff without knowing if there’s water beneath because flinging yourself off of the cliff is the only thing to do.

In destroying our whiteness, we must destroy a part of our selves, but we are destroying a part of ourselves so that we can have life. This is for me a very important and necessary reclaiming of the resurrection story – a story that has been used to justify individualism, self-righteousness, and corporate greed. One that has been used to justify colonization and the non-profit industrial complex, and white teachers in urban public schools, and international adoption. This for me is a reclaiming of a tradition and faith that is my cultural legacy. It is part of my history. The resurrection story is not an excuse so that someone else can do our work for us, or there so that in self-sacrifice for others we center ourselves in the glory of martyrdom. Understanding the resurrection story as an American White Lady in 2016, this way gives the resurrection story real meaning for my own salvation.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. There is no whiteness without white people.