I am a woman who has White Privilege, I am racist, and it is MY responsibility to change that

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

Frantz Fanon

Many of the spiritual community tell me ‘All Lives Matter’ and that ‘We are all one human race’. But that simply negates the truth of the black experience.

Even worse, I see white people in the spiritual community engage in spiritual bypassing, wanting to shut uncomfortable discussion down, saying that they will just ‘send Love and Light’ to all involved, or that ‘we all choose our incarnation’, or that ‘everything happens for a reason’, or that we ‘simply need to remain positive because our thoughts create our reality’. They tell me ‘not to be political’ and to ‘just live from love’.

Does it make you uncomfortable to think that this might not be true? Does it make you uncomfortable to think that these actions might be racist?

I remember the moment I discovered I was racist. If you had asked me, at that time, I would have vehemently denied that this could even be possible. That is because I did not truly understand the nuances of racism, and how deep it goes. Perhaps you believe that you are not racist. Are you ready to dig deeper?

The year was 1985. It was at a time where I was working as an activist, marching in rallies, volunteering at organisations that supported indigenous Australians and people of colour, taking classes in First Nations studies at Queensland University. Many of my university and activist friends came from Indigenous and Islander backgrounds. I was fascinated by their culture, and by how much of their story, and the stories of women, had never been told as part of the history of Australia I had been taught at school or read about in books.

I was young, white and privileged in ways I could not see or understood. My privilege actually hid my racism from me. I am still ashamed that I was so ignorant, and that my indigenous friends remained gracious and gentle with me.

We were a tight group of about twenty Aboriginal Studies students of various ages, and we wanted to have an end-of-semester breakup party. I was one of two non-indigenous students in my university class. I was eighteen, in my freshman year. The other white woman was in her seventies and could not come to our social gathering. We got together to plan and I immediately suggested the Rec Club on campus – a place where my white school friends and I often hung out. It was cheap, had food and alcohol and it seemed like the perfect place. The rest of the group suggested we all bring food and drink and have a picnic in the classroom. I suggested a local hotel beer garden. Once again the group came up with reasons for meeting outside a licensed venue or cafe. I suggested a picnic outside but near our classroom. Eventually the group agreed, and we made our arrangements.

The day of the get-together I met one of the other students in the city before we went out to campus. I went to follow two policemen into a supermarket to buy some potato chips for our gathering, but my friend wouldn’t come inside, no matter how much I asked her. She waited outside, looking nervous.

We rode on the bus together. As we sat down an older man in the seat behind us said, “I can smell black c*nt!” in a loud voice and then made a big scene of getting up and moving to the front of the bus. I was so shocked I didn’t do anything. I just sat there. After he got off the bus at the next stop my friend took my arm and comforted me, apologising because of what had happened. (She had nothing to apologise for – and I still feel bad about that, and about my silence on the bus.)

Finally we arrived at university, found our classmates and headed for a space outside in the winter sun, where we sat down on the grass in a circle, put our food and drinks in the middle and began enjoying lunch together. We’d only been there five minutes when we were heckled by a group of male white students. The indigenous students looked down, looked away, and didn’t engage. I felt frightened. When the males left it took only a few more minutes before we were heckled again. Finally, at the behest of one of the older women we moved back inside to our classroom.

I realised then why they had said that meeting in the classroom was the best option for us. They’d only sat outside because of me. I hadn’t asked what was best for them. I’d just assumed that sitting on the grass in the sunshine was what anyone could do. Why? I’m white. I had never thought about how my whiteness gave me an entirely different life experience. In the classroom we talked about the man on the bus, and many of the students told me their experiences of being harassed on public transport. They laughed at my friend not going into the supermarket in the city with the policemen in there. ‘Nic,’ they said to me, ‘ the fastest way to get done for shoplifting or to invite trouble is to walk into a place like that. You gotta be smart about it. You gotta weigh the risks.’

In 1980’s Australia there were risks in buying potato chips, in riding a bus or train, in sitting in a group in public at an overwhelmingly white university, in so many things that I had never even considered. That’s when my racism hit me. I had never even considered the safety or well-being of my friends. I hadn’t asked them. I just assumed that my world was also their world. I had tried to impose that world on them, and they had tried to shelter me from the harsh reality of theirs. That was the first time I understood that my world has been built upon the exploitation and marginalisation of people of colour. It is built into my education system, political system, economic system, judicial system, social system. It isn’t broken – it doesn’t need to be fixed. It was made this way to create and perpetuate white supremacy. It must be dismantled.

When I ran my first spiritual workshop in 1996 an Aboriginal friend and her mum came down from the country to help me. They stayed at my home in Brisbane and they came shopping with me when I looked for a new dress at the shops along Racecourse Road in Ascot. While I was in a cubicle changing my friends were asked to leave the shop. They were told there was nothing they could afford, that they were dirtying the clothes and that they weren’t welcome. When I came out to ask their opinion on my dress they had gone. I thought they’d simply gone to the next shop, so I bought the dress and went looking for them. They were waiting at a bus stop down the road. When they told me what happened I was furious. They didn’t want me to make a scene but I marched back to the store, demanded a refund and told the shop assistant how disgusted I was at her racism. She told me I wasn’t welcome there either. I felt so helpless and outraged as my friends assured me that this was normal for them and not to be upset. How had I not known? I had not known because I had never asked them about their experiences of racism. My own white privilege made me complicit, silent, ignorant.

Ten years later, in 2006, Aunty Delmae Barton, an indigenous opera singer suffered a stroke and mild heart attack at a bus shelter at Griffith University, in my hometown of Brisbane. She lay face-down in a pool of vomit for five hours, ignored by students and staff, until finally two Japanese men stepped in and helped her. If she had been white this would never have happened.

As George Floyd’s death sparks activism across America I want to remind Australians that we have the same situation here in our own country. We still have police brutality toward First Nations Australians (over 400 deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and not a single conviction yet over these deaths), harassment, a disproportionate amount of First Nations Australians incarcerated, lower life expectancy, poorer literacy and numeracy, poorer health outcomes, fewer employment opportunities, racial stereotyping and racial profiling.

I am still working to become anti-racist. In doing this work to become anti-racist I have lost business, friends, clients, colleagues, and been subjected to ridicule, abuse and violence. Speaking about racism and White Privilege makes people uncomfortable, including friends and family members – even my own student community. I will keep speaking anyway. I am no expert on race. This is not my field. There are so many BIPOC (Black/Indigenous, People of Colour) people who can guide you well here. But it is important to me that I address this issue and where I stand. I want all BIPOC and LGBTQI+ people to know that my community and workplace is a safe and welcoming space for them. I am here and I will always listen and support you to the best of my ability, and so will my team – some of whom are also drawn from these same communities.

I stand beside my First Nations brothers and sisters, Aunties and Uncles and Elders, and BIPOC everywhere. Nothing I have ever been subjected to has come close to what they have suffered, and I am still protected by White Privilege. Nothing that I do is remarkable, and if I don’t stand beside them and work as an ally my silence and inaction is active complicity in the very system that gave me White Privilege and which takes away the rights of people who are not white.

These are some of the things that I am working on as I deconstruct my racism:

  1. I work to create an inclusive workplace and community and I engage with First Nations elders and leaders to find out how I can best help and support them and pay appropriate respects in my spiritual work.
  2. My support of First Nations Australians and people of colour extends to the LGBTQI+ community.
  3. I use my voice, my vote, and my dollars to support First Nations organisations, leaders, teachers and representatives and to call out racism and inequality.
  4. I am an active member of a human rights organisation, and have been since High School.
  5. I educate myself on matters of race by reading the work of people of colour, doing their courses and listening to their lectures and podcasts. I buy their products and donate to their pages.
  6. I acknowledge that this will be a life-long process as I work to become a better ally to the non-white community.

Here are some of the resources, teachers and leaders that you can use as an Australian or as someone who identifies as spiritual or ‘new age’ to educate yourself and take action too:

  1. NITV – the indigenous television station and news here in Australia
  2. Healing Foundation – an organisation that helps heal the inter-generational trauma of the Stolen Generations
  3. Sisters Inside – an organisation that supports women in custody, and who does important work with the First Nations women and girls who are disproportionately represented in the custodial system
  4. Amnesty International is a human rights organisation that provides research and campaigning to protect fundamental human rights through out the world, including in Australia. Australia has come under criticism from the United Nations for our record on poor human rights for First Nations Australians, and yet our government has only implemented only a handful of the recommendations that were accepted whole or in part by the Australian Government.
  5. Creative Spirits is a website that teaches Aboriginal Culture – it’s a great place to start!
  6. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe is a non-fiction book that re-examines Australian History and indigenous culture, citing evidence of agriculture, engineering and building construction prior to white colonisation.
  7. Shannan Dodson, a Yawuru woman has created a list of resources, books and organisations to support First Nations here
  8. The Aboriginal Literacy Foundation promotes literacy, numeracy, education and access to books for indigenous children
  9. Camille Williams has written an excellent article on spiritual bypassing and racism here, and given links to many resources for further learning.

Hi! I'm Nicole Cody. I am a writer, psychic, metaphysical teacher and organic farmer. I love to read, cook, walk on the beach, dance in the rain and grow things. Sometimes, to entertain my cows, I dance in my gumboots. Gumboot dancing is very under-rated.
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16 thoughts on “I am a woman who has White Privilege, I am racist, and it is MY responsibility to change that

  1. I agree with you, Nicole, that it is difficult not to be racist if you are white. The privileges that we have that we take for granted, the way our societies have perpetuated this privilege and how easy it is to not realize how very different it is for people of color. Although I have a very strong spiritual practice and offer prayers up many times daily, I know I am racist. And I take responsibility for that and know that more needs to be done than just sending ‘light and love’. I’m working on that every day.
    I always cringe when someone starts their sentence with ‘I’m not racist, but….’ Really?
    Thank you for being so open and honest about this issue. Societal rules need to change and that will take everyone of every color getting on board and voting and working for change. I’m not sure how much I will see in my lifetime, but I’m hopeful that if we can keep the conversations going, we will move forward together.
    Many blessings to you.

  2. Dearest Nicole,

    Thank you for vocalizing the need for standing up against racism. I’m from India and in many nations that we migrate to, we have to face racism. It isn’t right that we have to hear swear words as we go about our daily routine. But I also hail from a place where racism is rampant.
    Up until recently it was a sin to befriend, socialize or even marry a person from another community or caste. As you said we were also complicit to the ways of our grandparents were or still are. The only thing we could do is make changes in our own home. My parents allow people from supposedly backward communities to sit, eat and even Express their views alongside them. Yes its gloriously that bad. I m ashamed, sincerely. We make the changes bravely , we teach our kids to be empathetic , to be a humanitarian. Most importantly we try to not put a value for their lives or honour. Some things just cant be bought.

    Lots of love, hugs and prayer

  3. Well said, Nicole. Koori Mail (the Indigenous voice of Australia 100% Indigenous owned) is another resource. We weren’t taught any indigenous history when I went to school. When I went to teachers college – we had a professor talk about the “boongs”. A woman walked out of that class. I spoke to her later – she was really cool (36 with kids and had gone back to school and I was a culturally sheltered 18 yr old) and we used to chat. I didn’t realise she was aboriginal. I didn’t realise that professor was being racist – I’d never heard the word he’d used. He should have been fired – but this was 1981.
    I lived in the States and would sometimes be the only white woman in a room with my African American friends. They would talk freely – until, remembering I was there, turn and apologise for what they were saying about their experiences. I’d tell them it was an education for me. I appreciated their candidness and was privy to a glimpse into their lives. Their lives were so much more different than mine. Just every day things. Things I never had to think about or worry about – because I was white. How stressful their lives were – the fact that an ordinary situation could be one of life and death!!!
    I came back to Australia in 2003 – and I watched The First Australians series.It took me a while to get through it – as I’d be in tears and was saddened by the trauma our First Peoples endured.It was the first time I’d ever heard ANY of these stories of our history. I’d seen the documentaries of the African Americans, the photos, the song Strange Fruit… but had no idea of our dreadful history. Terra Nullius INDEED. The white man lied, murdered and bullshitted and got his way – and continues to perpetuate these myths to this day where one of our Prime Ministers racism couldn’t be contained when he continued to mention that Australia wasn’t populated when then British came. WTF!!!! (Yeah, it was the misogynistic one too – go figure)
    I watched “The Australian Dream” documentary and was in tears. An indigenous colleague comforted ME! I asked her what could I do? How could I be respectful and be a part of the solution. She said: Listen to their stories. Don’t speak for them. Speak up when someone is being racist. She pointed out that whenever indigenous people get together – they are always laughing and loud – because they have to be. “Otherwise you’d just cry.” They are deadly.
    If you have pale skin – you have white privilege – no matter what your background.
    The media has a lot to answer for – how they report stories about people of colour. How they make sure we have bias toward others. If I hear one more time that “we’re not sure if it was a terrorist” – when they actually mean Muslim – and if the perpetrator is white – it’s not longer called a terrorist act… I think I’ll go spare. There’s white privilege in action right there.
    I’ve never understood how people can say “Australian values” or “I’m an American” and all they’re talking about is from a white perspective as if that is the only culture that is “true” and “right”. The USA, Canada and Australia are all made up of 205 different countries. They ALL decimated the indigenous people, marginalised them, threw their histories away and treated them like chattel and worse. What the hell is anyone talking about when they say “I’m an Australian”? I’m adopted – I have no idea what my heritage is – but I know it’s white.
    White privilege is all around us and we just have to open our eyes and look. We need to listen to people who live this every day. As a woman, we’ve all experienced misogyny. We know the frustration when we try to explain it to a man. It’s not on their radar – they’ve not experienced it – so they don’t see it. Naivety is no longer an excuse for any of us. There are resources. We can watch documentaries. We can read the articles. We can speak to people.
    There are statistics out there that you can check – while you check your white privilege –
    How are prisons are disproportionately filled with indigenous people and how many die in custody.
    How when I walk into a store, I don’t have to worry that I’ll be followed or asked to leave.
    How when I walk past a police person, I can smile and say hi and not worry that I’ll be held in suspicion.
    How no one will feel the right to yell out some racial slur at me.

    Here’s another resource:10 Documentaries To Watch About Race Instead Of Asking A Person Of Colour To Explain Things For You: -https://www.docplay.com/articles/10-documentaries-to-watch-about-race-instead-of-asking-a-person-of-colour-to-explain-things-for-you/

    Nicole – thanks for what you’ve written. it’s important. I hope the people who are offended by it fuck right off. I’m tired of ignorance. I’m tired of lack of empathy and I’m tired of privilege (and that goes for our LGQIT+ and differently abled)

    BLACK LIVES MATTER.

    I’m an atheist – but I do realise there are a lot of christians out there – and some of them might say – “but ALL lives matter”.
    Yeah – look at Luke 15. Let me surmise:
    There are 100 sheep. One goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 and goes after the one.
    The 99: ‘but what about us. Don’t we matter”?
    Of course the 99 still matter, but they’re not the ones in danger. The one is.
    #BlackLivesMatter

    This fucking skin colour thing is a construct made up to make others feel superior. Get the fuck over yourselves. Stop telling yourself fearful stories about people who don’t look like you – and realise no one is better or worse. None of your fucking stories you tell yourselves are logical. STOP IT!!!!

    Nicole – I hope you’re not offended by my language – but I am extremely frustrated, angry, saddened and feel so helpless and worry that this message will not be understood. (I understand if you don’t want this on your post – but I also want you to understand that I get it)

    Sending you love. xoxoxoxo

  4. This is so true Nicole. It is so sad that we as a nation still treat indiginous people as different. Not acceptable! We are all connected. Thankyou for sharing this post, it does remind us of what we take forgranted being white.
    My mother was a person who included all races into our lives. She taught us to accept all types of people. She had aboriginal friends at school who told her their stories. Mum was fearless when it came to speaking out. If anyone wronged her friends, lookout!
    We all need love and acceptance. Much love to you xx

  5. Amen, amen, amen to every single word of this, Nicole. So damn proud to know you. The work to Unlearn what we as whites think we know is difficult, dirty, deeply uncomfortable and down right scary. It is necessary. But that is what you do, you do the necessary work. Thank you from your old pal, Helena

  6. Thank you Nicole. I Admire you. I always did but now even more. I’m ashamed to say that it’s this week only that I realized that I am a racist too for the same reasons you have mentioned. I am a racist too for thinking that loving them was enough, for not hurting them intentionally was enough. Now I am an Anti-Racism and I am ready to educate myself and admit my mistakes and change. Thank you so much

  7. Well said Nicole…we really do have to examin how we think and our prejudices..and we also have to acknowledge the ways in which we don’t think to think…a writer spoke of her life and the poverty and trauma that she didn’t even know was trauma that she experienced growing up…..She said that in this country there is equal access to education, but that its not equal if you are a child who arrives in school with a school bag stuffed with trauma before you even get to open a school book..or if you got up for school and there was no breakfast.it’s called equal access but there is nothing equal about it for some children, or people…..some are still more equal than others…and that is very sad….. great, great great post..thank you indeed.

  8. Perfect timing indeed for this post, THANK YOU. Spiritual Bypassing is a BIG one. I’m guilty of it. I also donate to worthy causes, buy products too when I can, however right now, I feel it’s people power. We need to get everyone of voting age to vote correctly. We need truthful, factual, informed EDUCATION. I listened to the audio of Dark Emu narrated by Bruce Pascoe and was shocked. My heart is aching too & feel ashamed of myself that I have not got enraged enough at the over 400 deaths in custody with not one conviction. Its disgraceful & abysmal. An uprising is happening for sure, and thank you again for reaching out to your community to join in and rise to the injustices in this World for Indigenous Peoples

  9. I’m shocked by your experiences. Racism is so deeply rooted.
    I gave a life to an Aboriginal hitchhiker in Queensland in the late sixties and dropped him off wher he wanted to be. As it was getting dark I asked him where he would spend the night. I said “in that motel?” nearby. He replied “No, they won’t let me stay there.” I was amazed, I promptly went to the reception, paid for the room for the night and handed the key to the hitchhiker. You should have seen the look on the manager’s face! If he could have killed me he would have.
    It’s beyond time to end all racial, religious and sex discrimination.

  10. I am what is known as a white aboriginal. I am descended from one of the last full-blood aboriginal women born near a Government waterhole in the Adelaide Hills. I look white, I was brought up white but I identify as a proud Indigenous South Australian Elder. If I choose to tell people of my ancestry a large proportion will step back in ‘case it might rub off’. Sometimes I am seen as ‘not black enough’.
    It is indeed a thin line I walk and although I would like to see Indigenous Recognition so we are rightfully included in The Constitution I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

  11. Hi Nichole – I have silently followed you for a while from Southern California – USA. Thank you. My experiences are very similar to yours. I was raised to be color blind when it comes to people. I am sick that there are those who feel there are people beneath them. My hope is that there will be a change in thought and action very soon. Be well. Anne

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