The Truth About White Protest Distress


White liberals, this message is for you too.

“You want me to tell the truth? Sure, I want you to get what you need to be free from injustice. I just don’t want it to cost me anything. I don’t want to be afraid or insecure for my future. I don’t want your protest to make the stock market go down. I don’t want to lose symbols I am attached to. I don’t want to lose my favorite boutique. I don’t want to look to the future with uncertainty. I don’t want to look at what you are doing and be confused. I hate confusion, insecurity, fear and loss more than I hate the injustice you endure, if I’m really honest.

So, I will keep my certainty. If what you protestors are doing doesn’t make sense to me, then I will insist that it doesn’t make sense. If your way of protesting doesn’t seem right to me, I will insist that it isn’t right. Why can’t you be like Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Their protests didn’t threaten or disturb anyone, did they? Their protest followed the established rules of engagement for change, didn’t they?”


Well no. Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King succeeded in large part because they engaged by different rules. People in positions of power think they have the right to decide the rules of engagement for anyone taking issue with them. Of course, they only do so in a way that gives them the advantage. They aren’t stupid.”

European soldiers and European American soldiers fought in straight lines, faced off, in open terrain. Those native to this land did not fight that way. Had they tried to, they would have had no chance. They hid behind boulders, ridges, and trees. They used the element of surprise. So the Europeans, our ancestors, condemned this way of fighting as being uncivilized, morally wrong.

Those in power fault protestors for not working through the system rather than trying to settle things in the court of public opinion. They have more control over the system than the wild card of public opinion, which can force their hand. People in power know they will win if the issue is handled in the system they control. Anything else, they want to be wrong

Do white liberals really want what protestors of police racism and Black Lives Matter Advocates want, as they claim? What makes it suspicious are things like lumping all protestors together, to make them a “them,” a coherent group in our minds. It isn’t true and they don’t want that. If we don’t want nuance and complexity, then we don’t really want what they want.

When we insist they have clear goals and strategies, maybe we don’t really want what they want. If we can’t tolerate their process, we can’t really know if we want what they want. Our distress blocks our ability to understand the complexity of what they long for. Our impatience may be hiding our real desire for the protests to fail. When we insist that they aren’t protesting right, it is suspicious that we really want them to fail.

We are confused; we are threatened. We don’t trust the protestors to have power. What would become of us if they got what they wanted? We can’t possibly know. Maybe we are unwilling to do find out, to live with an uncertain future when the present is working so well for us. We want guarantees.

If we care enough to manage our distress internally, then we might be able to make the charitable assumption that the fact that I don’t understand means I have something to learn, not that they are wrong. The charitable assumption that if I feel threatened, I am invested in what is oppressing them, not that they need to be stopped.

With so many others wanting an end to the injustice that they endure, some of the hardest work for those who feel no need to be liberated, is to learn to get out of their way. And that means learning to manage our distress internally and being willing to lose something for the sake of what others can gain. For them to be safer, maybe we need to be less safe. For them to have more power, maybe we need to have less.

Hey! Not That Monument!

It is one thing for people to remove monuments that we also think are offensive. Quite another when they attack monuments that we are fondly attached to. As monuments have been toppled in protest, white liberals were apparently unprepared for monuments of their own to come down. As this happens, as it has in the past week, we will see if white liberals are any better than confederates at seeing things through others’ eyes, any better at being willing to broaden their perspectives.

White liberals are having trouble with statues coming down that they identify with.

A statue in Madison, Wisconsin came down that is named “Forward.” Local liberals are shocked and dismayed. They couldn’t imagine anyone taking offense at it. They are hurt and outraged, exhibiting the fragility many white liberals have been trying to overcome.

The statue was constructed in the 1890’s to tout the progressive values of Wisconsin.  This was also the time when sacred mounds were being ploughed through by European immigrants who now had ownership of land that had been taken from the First Nations.  This was the time when a lake sacred to the local tribe was being called “Devil’s Lake,” not translated “Spirit Lake,” which would have been more accurate in conveying its sacredness. If it wasn’t Christian spirituality, it must be demonic.

The statue depicts a white woman with her right arm outstretched in front of her. In her left hand she grasps the American flag. The statue became a source of pride for Madison liberals and of women’s rights. The sculptor was a woman.

So why would anyone want to topple this statue, with its virtuous values? Protestors say it was deliberate. Madison, the home of the statue, is guilty of great disparity in wealth and educational attainment between its white citizens and those of color. So people of color can easily see Madison’s  image of itself as progressive as distortion that just might be standing in the way of progress for people of color.

In California, Catholic Bishops have made written objection to one of their monuments being misunderstood and taken down. They claim the protestors failed the test of history.  St. Junipero Serra, they claimed, was instrumental in getting better treatment for indigenous peoples in the area. The statue is of a man in an official position in the church that had brutally oppressed local people. He is holding out a large cross. Consciously or unconsciously, it is an image of domination, not a posture of service.

Also lost on these bishops is the role kindness plays in successful domination. In The Prince, Machiavelli surveys history for the best ways to dominate large populations of people. Genghis Khan did it masterfully. Start out by being brutal enough to break people’s will. Then be kind to them so they won’t feel the need to rebel. So why would they honor someone who led the kindness phase in the campaign of domination? Why? Because it served their interests to do so.

While monuments seem to honor others, they have social agendas to immortalize the values of the people with the means and the power to erect them. But those values are from positions that inevitably include blinders. Some native American tribes were staunchly against erecting monuments of any kind. Perhaps there is wisdom in that.