[Preface: I love the deconstruction space. This community has met me where I’m at, given me an outlet to share my story and thoughts, and has helped me remember that my voice is welcomed and valued. There is so much good here. I’m not ready to give up on this space because of mismanaged platforms. That is why I’m choosing to bring this up one last time – I have so much hope in all of our stories, experiences, and perspectives. We have the power to change the narrative for so many arenas – the evangelical industry, social advocacy, and how social media navigates difficult conversations and holistic accountability to ensure a space of flourishing community and care. To me, that’s worth fighting for.]
Last November, a photo was posted by a well-platformed deconstruction account, featuring many other well-platformed deconstruction accounts. We don’t need to rehash the whole ordeal; rude responses, gaslighting, tokenism, white fragility, silence. The blog post. My goal is to remove these individuals from the center of the conversation because at the end of the day, they are not the end-all-be-all of the deconstruction space. While their actions have spoken loud and clear, they do not have the final word.
Rather, this turn of events set off a ripple effect that, for better or worse, has established a precedent for how racist and anti-Black rhetoric is addressed and sustained in the deconstruction space. (Fatphobia was also very present in this conversation, and the blog post specifically. For purposes right now, however, I will primarily be focusing on the issues of race.)
And we need to talk about it.
Deconstructagram™ is (or at least, was) a pretty great place to hang out. It gets a bit intense sometimes, but the desire to ensure that everyone has a place to share their stories and the collective hope for healing always seems to win in the end.
The deconstruction space prides itself in and is built off the language of diversity and inclusion; it seems there is a space for everyone. Marginalized voices appear to be welcomed and even sought out.
These factors combined made this whole ordeal even more harmful.
The events in November sparked a conversation about the presence of racism and anti-Blackness within the deconstruction space. Disappointingly, however, it was women of color who were carrying the weight of the conversation.
Over the past, I’ll give it decade, there has been an emphasis on ensuring that people of color are centered in conversations surrounding systemic racism and discrimination. I’m grateful for that.
What I’m not grateful for is the easy-out it gives white people from fully engaging and condemning racism, white supremacy, and colonial mindsets themselves. “We need to listen to our brothers and sisters of color right now. We need to amplify their voices.” It’s a hefty assumption, the idea that people of color are to be experts of their own oppression without white people being experts at recognizing and dismantling their own white supremacy.
The sheer lack of conversation from white folks while this was playing out was heartbreaking. Disturbing. Unwelcoming. In my own orbit, there were five… FIVE white people who posted in their feed or stories and clearly condemned the rhetoric espoused in the article. Overall, women of color were left to fend for themselves while the rest of the space watched as the white comfort of silence, both from the instigators and observers, controlled the ability to move beyond words and actually facilitate accountability and progress. Even in a space that claims to prioritize inclusion and diversity, white supremacy – overt and internalized – still controlled the outcome.
Just because the majority of white people weren’t directly addressing the situation doesn’t mean they weren’t commenting underneath the posts of those who were.
In general, the comments I observed and the perspectives they espoused fell into one of these three camps.
1. “Everyone is just having a big trauma response and we need to stay calm and wait it out.”
I am not a therapist and I have no intention to speak to things in which I’m unknowledgeable. In a space that champions prioritizing mental health, pursuing therapy, and where mental health professionals have key influence, there is a lot of language thrown around that sounds nice and validating, but can be utilized as a way to deflect from important conversations.
It is a characteristic of white supremacy to avoid open conflict. Why? Because whiteness sets itself as the default and “good”; a great way to thwart any attempt to hold white supremacy accountable is to create a culture that demonizes conflict and to label any attempts towards change and progress as such. “When someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem.” ¹ It is why the white women who mishandled their responses from the start viewed themselves as “regulated” and farther along in their healing than those trying to draw attention to the larger issues at play.
Furthermore, the ability to claim mental health as a reason for poor handling of a social blunder and subsequently be absolved from all accountability is a uniquely white trait. People of color have never been able to use their mental and emotional state as a legitimate reason for poor behavior (even though, ironically, it is the poor behavior of white folks that is a huge contributing factor to mental health concerns for people of color). The minute the mental health card is played, a white person effectively excuses themself from responsibility and the potential for a productive conversation is weakened. They are offered the benefit of the doubt at the expense of those hurt. (Clearly, I’m not trivializing the realities of disordered mental health. Simply pointing out yet another way white privilege accomplishes what it is meant to do – preserve power.)
It is not a trauma response to have a normal human reaction to injustice and harm. When a collective cry of awareness is labeled as a “trauma response,” it is condescending, invalidating, and centers what makes the entire conversation uncomfortable vs. what is actually needing to be brought to the light. You show that you would rather gaslight the reality of someone’s lived experience and their own healing by labeling their advocacy as a “trauma response” rather than take a minute to examine the fruit of your words and actions.
2. “There is more nuance here and we don’t have to be extreme.”
That is a near-verbatim comment I saw underneath one of the posts condemning the racist rhetoric and it still infuriates me to this day. It intentionally chose to miss the point, both of the conversation at hand and of nuance itself.
There’s a lot of extremes in the deconstruction space which, not saying it’s the most healthy pattern, but it makes sense. We all came from one extreme and swung to the other and maybe some of us are finding our way back towards the center. But there’s a small undercurrent I’ve noticed starting to take shape that is staunchly committed to the middle. Do I feel like it’s yet another overcorrection in response to either-or extremes? In a few contexts (such as this one), yes. But overall, I’m glad those voices are starting to gain traction and I enjoy learning from them.
However, the ability to claim there is “nuance” to white supremacy and racism tells on yourself. Nuance is not the absence of absolutes. When your desire for nuance paralyzes you from calling things what they are, it is no longer nuance, but intentional obliviousness. You are not buying into “the mob” or “group think” by using words like “racist,” “white supremacy,” or “white privilege.” Don’t let your need to be an intellectual hipster turn you into a dick.
There is no nuance to racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy. None. It destroyed lives “back then” and it is actively destroying lives now. It is evil. The fact that too many white people still believe that the term “white supremacy” is an extreme tells you everything you need to know about their personal commitment to dismantling systems of oppression.
3. “I can’t believe people in this space still think like this.”
This one further markets the idea that the deconstruction space is “beyond” harmful thinking and behavior just because the vocal majority tends to lean left and we all have pronouns in our bios.
Supremacy is a system, one that touches all of us in some capacity. Who it benefits and oppresses and to what degree varies, but as a whole, no one is left untouched by its reach. It informs our interpretations of the world, the policies we support, our theology, knee-jerk biases, our behavior. It is not remedied just because you changed your mind about universal healthcare or you read an Ibram X. Kendi book last year.
A change of jargon doesn’t mean a change of heart.
Until we all listen to understand and reflect on how we have upheld supremacy in our thinking, words, and deeds, it is bound to narrate our life experience and how we relate to each other. Dismantling white supremacy doesn’t begin with changing your politics – it begins with changing your understanding of life.
Furthermore, the American ideal of individualism serves no purpose in tearing down systemic oppression. If American individualism is clearly not enough to help those on the lowest rung of the totem pole excel and succeed, the converse is true – supremacy is not going to be taken down by all of us individually decolonizing our ways of life, without collectively applying it to systems and society at large.
If the goal of your anti-racism is simply to invite others to your table, it’s shortsighted. Racial and social equity doesn’t mean assimilation into and equal access within the dominant culture. The goal of anti-racism and decolonization isn’t to expand the table and include more people in a space still dependent on hierarchy. It’s to get rid of the damn table in the first place.
So where do we go from here?
To the white folks here: I don’t know what more there is to say. There is a wealth of resources and education at your disposal. You have all the tools necessary to create change. You have nothing to lose by advocating for whatever you want (these women didn’t lose anything, a more extreme example would be that Joe Rogan hasn’t lost anything, follow the pattern).
We all like to razz on the evangelical industry for how 2020 provided so many opportunities to address social issues from a place of conviction and empathy, but they habitually and intentionally dropped the ball.
This was your 2020. This should have been an easy reckoning for you. Instead, you chose to turn a blind eye. Instead of lending your voice to healing and accountability, you chose to lullaby the realities of harm away with your “inner work” and “regulation” and silence.
In the off-chance that any of the women from the picture are reading this: Thank you for reminding us “fat, unkempt” and “conventionally unattractive” Black and Brown women that our liberation can and will never come from you. Yes, I know only one of you uttered those words – but the rest of you, by refusing to stand up to them, all stood in solidarity with the disgust and vitriol espoused in that blog post. Silence isn’t neutral. And for what? You sacrificed your integrity in the name of protecting a fragile and disempowering form of white female friendship. And that’s just a little sad.
“When you see casual racism from so-called feminist white women, you have to understand that whatever work they are willing to do to insulate themselves, they are still willing to sacrifice others for their right to be equal oppressors. They might not characterize it that way, might feel genuinely offended that anyone can perceive them as a weak link in the chain that is feminism. But realistically, the work that needs to be done internally is less about overcoming the white male patriarchy and more about giving up their embrace of it. White supremacy isn’t just about normalizing racism, but when white women help to maintain the status quo in a society that is dripping with white supremacy, they give themselves more power. . . . Meanwhile for everyone else who is at risk, for those who will definitely be negatively impacted by white supremacy, they can’t afford to coddle the feelings of white women who are invested in not being held accountable. There’s work to do, and the patriarchy won’t break itself. So white feminism is going to have to get comfortable with the idea that until they challenge their racist aunts, parents, cousins, and so on, it is definitely all white women who are responsible.”²
And to my fellow women of color: My love for you all has only grown by leaps and bounds. You have caringly helped shine a light on my own internalized white supremacy while empowering me to continue saying the quiet parts out loud. Even when you weren’t speaking to me directly, listening to your wisdom has created a safe haven when my heart feels heavy and my voice gets caught in my throat. This entire experience has confirmed what we already knew: the deconstruction space, try as it might, is not here for us. We do not owe people with platforms the benefit of the doubt after repeated harm. We do not have to look for leadership outside of our inner voice. We are good and glory and we do not have to bend our stories to match a supremacist narrative in order to be seen. We see each other.
As for me, the circle I choose to listen to the most in deconstruction land has tightened up significantly. I’ve narrowed down my following list to people I know I can support with my full chest (doesn’t mean I agree 100% on everything someone says, but I trust they aren’t going to pull an Uno Reverse on their audience when the rubber of their message meets the road of their actions). Follower count doesn’t intimidate me anymore – it isn’t indicative of integrity or credibility.
I’ll still hang out in the deconstruction space. I’m so grateful for all its given me – a place to simply share what’s on my mind, a place to connect with the most lovely people. And I also know I owe this space nothing. It isn’t going to be saved by marginalized identities. Nor do marginalized identities need to be saved by it.
It’s always “you know better, you do better,” until it actually implicates you. If we are trying to build a space of safety and care for all by using the same tools of supremacy and hierarchy, it’s going to be no better off than the places from whence we came.
1. Hannah Jackson Matthews is a transracial adoptee educator on Instagram. This quote was pulled from this post. Go follow, share, and support her work.
Edit: My sincerest apologies; it appears that specific post has been removed from her account and is no longer accessible.
2. Kendall, Mikki. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020.
One response to “An Open Letter to the White Deconstruction Space:”
Thank you so much for this, Rebeka. I feel challenged by so much of what you wrote here and will be sharing this with others too.