It can be painful observing white people attempt to recognize or work against their privilege—especially if they're confronted with the topic. In fact, recent surveys have suggested that the majority of white American believe they face as much discrimination as people of color, while others subscribe to the misguided concept of reverse racism.
But how can white people fight against systemic racism in a way that exorcises, rather than exacerbates, their inherent privilege? Sandra Kim, founder and executive director of the online magazine and educational platform Everyday Feminism, has one solution, and it's called Healing from Toxic Whiteness.
This month, Kim and her team launched the 10-week online education series built on the premise that "white people need to restore themselves to emotional wholeness in order to truly free themselves from racism and move into action to end white supremacy." The $297 program (scholarships, group discounts, and early bird specials are available) promises to decondition white people from the toxic burdens of white privilege and unconscious racism so they can effectively fight for racial justice.
Healing from Toxic Whiteness is just the latest step in Kim's global movement to break down everyday systemic and racial oppression. She founded the activist website Everyday Feminism in 2012, and it now receives two million unique visitors from 150 countries monthly. A staff of six full-time paid staff (four who are people of color,all identify as queer, four as trans or gender non-conforming) plus 40 contributors aim to advance the site's mission of social liberation. With articles like 10 Ways White Liberals Perpetuate Racism and 3 Ways Our Middle Class 'Good Intentions' Do More Harm Than Good, the site can sometimes feel like a parody of PC culture (detractors sometimes send hate mail with accusations of male or white genocide)—but it's become a haven and healing tool for anyone who's ever felt emotionally abused, victimized by the many kinds of white, Western, straight, or thin privilege that abound today, or wondered how to make a terrible world feel a little more welcoming.
VICE spoke to Sandra Kim over the phone to learn more about Toxic Whiteness and its goals. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Is Everyday Feminism a political movement?
Sandra Kim: Yeah. It's always about power—the redistribution of power and resources so that self-determination is a viable option. We don't live in a society of self-determination, interdependence, and invitation. We live in a society of domination, extraction, and coercion. So, it's really about, how do we shift that? How do we be the change we wish to see in the world? We do that by noticing how we aren't doing those things — how we've all been bombarded by the lies of systemic oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, classism. [It's] by bringing that to our consciousness, because when it's unknown to us, how can we change it? That's why we [at Everyday Feminism] focus so much on everyday stuff that people gloss their eyes over.
Can you give me some examples?
For instance, colorblindness. We were taught in this country that colorblindness is proactively anti-racist. But you can't go on from a deeply racist society—I think most people agree that, historically, this country was founded on racism, between colonization of native people's lands as well as enslavement of African folk—when we're in the legacy of that cultural history. We may not have the same intention to exploit and colonize, but that legacy shapes the current context we live in. You can't just skip over the fact that we were raised and bombarded with messages of racism simply because we want to be. It's actually racist to ignore how these racist messages impact people of color because it erases our lived experiences, as if our pain isn't real.
What is the workshop Healing from Toxic Whiteness about?
The implicit biases that everybody holds. Until you become conscious of it, you can't choose to do it or not do it. It's a really scary thing for folks to realize that they've been harming people unintentionally. We are oriented toward taking care of each other, toward compassion; what systemic oppression has done is disconnect us from each other so that now we think of some people as superior and inferior, some people worthy and deserving of protection, and other people as not.
This is why we can have police officers kill children and have white folks bending over backwards to say, Well, probably it was justified, there was probably something we don't know. But there's a historical context for this kind of depiction of black folks which we, as a country, intentionally don't get taught. For example, I remembering seeing this old ad [for a carnival game] at a county fair. I don't know what decade it was from, and the point of the game was that you could throw balls at a black child and the child would get dunked. If we don't understand [that history], then none of this makes sense.
How do you respond to the site and workshop's detractors?
People are misconstruing the message that it is inappropriate for white people to process their feelings [about systemic racism] and make their feelings primary in cross-racial spaces with people of color. Because, if I have set you on fire, that's not the time for me to be like, Oh, I didn't realize I set you on fire, I don't know why I did that. At that moment, I should be focused on helping put the fire out on you so that you're not burning alive. That's the appropriate response.
So what people are misconstruing is that white people should not have feelings, white people should just shut down and do the work. I'm a firm believer that feelings are valid and important; it's what we do with them that makes the difference. So that's why we're creating a separate space for white folks where they learn the tools to process their feelings so they're no longer stopped by it. They're building a new community of anti-racist white folks to be in relation with. That's why I created this program. Because it's a terrible burden to put on marginalized folks to educate people of privilege when they are still trying to put out their own fire. I'm doing this work so that individual people of color don't have to.
Who signs up for your workshops?
Primarily individuals, some sets of folks who are parts of organizations, and some organizations who are doing it as a group.
Do you sometimes feel that you guys are the cognitive therapists of the web?
[laughs] I come from a healing background. In self-help, we talk about how we can heal ourselves but there's not so much questioning of why we're so universally wounded that we need this. Then, in social justice, where I've worked my entire adult life, there's a focus on changing external circumstances but not talking about how that's impacting us emotionally, and how it impedes our ability to come together to do something about the structural forces at play. I see ourselves as a bridge between those two worlds. We are self-help meets intersectional feminism.
Are people more emotionally oppressed or wounded today than in the past?
Systemic oppression has existed for as long as humans have been organizing ourselves as a group, which is probably always. What is different is the means through which we can feel not alone. The civil rights generation had the TV. We have the internet. Do people who attend your courses cry a lot?
[Laughs] It's kind of a running joke. I'm known as "the cry-maker." When most people access their pain, it's from a place of resistance, blame, and shame. If you access it from that place, it's going to blow up in your face. But if you access it from a place of acknowledgement and gentle attention, you'll open up.
What are some goals you have for the future of these offerings?
I want to train others so that I'm not the only one giving these trainings, and that requires some resourcing. So the way we try to make ourselves financially sustainable while also being financially accessible is this method of charging a set fee and also offering scholarships.
So you're reinventing the activist business model?
Correct. We're not a non-profit for various reasons; there are some issues inherent in that model. I wanted my financial bottom line to be aligned with my mission bottom line, though mission will ultimately trump the financial. And, if I'm delivering something that doesn't get interest, that tells us something. We're not trying to just preach to the choir. If we're going to be part of a wave of different organizations and individuals speaking on this to create a cultural tipping point, we want to be reaching folks who generally believe in the same values but don't realize how that's not aligned with their thinking and behavior.
What makes "everyday feminism" different that other ideas of feminism?
It's a deepening and expanding of what was already built by those before us. I stand in a strong lineage that we acknowledge and honor for their contributions. But they were human, not perfect. Our job is to build upon that. Everyday Feminism is a new way of being in the world where our intentions are aligned with our impact.
[Everyday Feminism] is getting information out there that people aren't getting elsewhere in a way that is focused on meeting them where they're at, and helping them understand their own experiences. And the [Healing from Toxic Whiteness] programs are for folks who are getting conscious enough and are finding it difficult to know what to do. Systemic oppression gives us a shared narrative with shared values, understanding, and language. It's something we can ground ourselves in. That's often a big reason why some people really struggle to give up believing and acting on the lies of systemic oppression. So we need something else to ground ourselves in—something that's based on our values of compassion and shared humanity. At Everyday Feminism, we strive to provide different affirming alternatives to systemic oppression's lies and do so in an affirming, supportive online community.
Image via @Everydayfem's Twitter