It’s Time to Face Ourselves
If we are to be transparent and inclusive regarding the narrative around cannabis and the legalization of marijuana in the Carolinas then we must also commit to taking a hard look at how we, white people, view ourselves and operate in the community.
Our reality is this: We disproportionately wield power, receive the benefits of the system in which we live and can take advantage of opportunities with less pressure and fewer barriers than people of color.
So when we view an issue like cannabis through our ‘white lens,’ legalization of marijuana becomes a confirmation of our right to smoke and grow weed as medicine or for fun. For some, it’s also an entrepreneurial business opportunity.
Even more conveniently, if we, white people, are against the movement, we label it as immoral, a gateway to crime or as exasperating a drug problem embraced by people of color. (See “Reefer Madness” and the blockade on cannabis legislation in the N.C. General Assembly and in Congress.)
Either way the white lens creates a version of reality that provides many with a sense of cognitive comfort wrapped in a blanket of self-confirming moral high ground.
[Image: Misha Beliy]
Diversity is a strength of thoughts, perspectives, beliefs and cultures.
‘White Tunnel Vision’
Let’s be real, walking around Charlotte as a white man is often easy, rewarding, convenient and absolutely advantageous.
One tremendous advantage of white privilege is the freedom to use a culturally shaped narrative without that viewpoint getting called into question. And a dominant narrative that needs reviewing is how we choose to define and discuss race and racism.
This lens through which we see the world, at once clearly advantageous, also distorts and narrows our view, shapes behavior and informs decisions that neatly fold into this predominately white but warped reality.
I define seeing the world in this way as ‘white tunnel vision.’ Which means no matter how well intended the words spoken they will always be diminished by lack of depth due to the narrow vision that shaped their delivery.
And let’s not forget the unwillingness to accept racism as something more than a term to describe “bad people.”
White Noise Masks Bias
An outcome of seeing the world with white tunnel vision is the production of unrelenting white noise, which, by definition, is a steady, unvarying sound, used to mask or obliterate other unwanted sounds.
‘Unwanted’ in this case means different than your own. Yet any organizational leader knows that without diversity and introduction of positive tension into your business it will cease to innovate and will eventually become trapped under the weight of its own sameness.
So again, let’s be real, without a willingness to be authentic and see ourselves for who we are, individually, and collectively, there will be no change in how we see others, and we too will become trapped under the weight of our own sameness.
At its core this means coming to terms with the stories we tell ourselves.
If we fail to acknowledge how racism, and the stories we tell about race, disproportionately impact people of color in everything from legislation, policing and banking, to the everyday conversations we share with each other at work and at home, then we will remain bogged down in our own personal bias convincing ourselves that the mud we sling (intentionally or otherwise) is in reality a reasoned perspective that allows all of us to see clearer.
… it is imperative that we hold each other accountable.
Acknowledgement Doesn’t Make You ‘Bad’
Racism is not about being a bad person, although there certainly are some white people who fit the description, it is, in fact, as stated by author Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a default system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color.
Solidifying this belief into our community is the unwillingness of many white people to acknowledge the existence of the system, or to receive any personal feedback about being racist.
This is why positive disruption must take place.
Without intentional interruption, systematic inequality and racism will continue, segmentation along color lines will deepen and, slowly but surely, opportunities for growth and understanding in our community will suffocate under the weight of our whiteness.
Step One: Be Honest with Yourself
Therefore, step one must be self-awareness. When we are self-aware we can also become culturally and socially aware which means we can embrace the clear, informed and authentic definition of racism, and the responsibility that goes along with it.
If we continue to ignore reality and live in the comfort of our whiteness then we are categorically rejecting the rights and voices of people of color to be heard, along with their right to participate, be present, and have a presence in the community.
Diversity is a strength of thoughts, perspectives, beliefs and cultures.
By adding more voices we do not diminish our own voices but instead add value, content and a clarity of vision not possible when we maintain a narrow worldview.
White men like myself must fight the urge to get angry, defensive or dismissive when called out for our racism. In fact it is imperative that we hold each other accountable for our own racism so that we can in turn contribute to the positive disruption and dismantling of the false narratives we have intentionally or unintentionally created.
As DiAngelo beautifully summarizes in her workshops on white fragility, the goal is to take feedback from people of color about our unknowing and yet inevitable racism, openly receive it, reflect on it and purposefully work to change the behavior.
If we commit to that then we would see revolutionary changes.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo is the author of “What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” and has been an anti-racist educator, and has heard justifications of racism by white men and women in her workshops for over two decades. This justification, which she calls “white fragility,” is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.
When Dr. Chanda Macias, of Women Grow, toured North Carolina this summer, she informed her audiences that only 26 percent of those working in the cannabis industry nationwide are female, and only one percent is African American.
I already knew then that social justice coverage had to be one of the pillars upon which we build Carolina Cannabis News, but, to be candid, I hadn’t yet considered access to the industry as part of that coverage.
To that end, I’ve asked the ever-thoughtful and heart-focused Mike Watson to write a monthly essay that takes a hard look at white privilege as it may relate to the cannabis industry.
And, yes, we have asked ourselves if a white man should be writing this column and have decided this: Who better to ask a white man to study his reality than a white man?
With that, know that I am seeking additional essays focused on the nexus of cannabis and social justice, and that includes from authors who are imprisoned. Contact us for details.
Please do not send unsolicited essays, but do look out for an upcoming essay contest.
[Image: Courtesy Dr. Chanda Macias, Women Grow]
Social Justice Contributor
Mike Watson has been educating, inspiring, creating and directing for the past 25 years. At the core of his heart-centric philosophy is this purposeful process: the heart speaks, the mind listens and the spirit acts. Mike works with those inclined toward worthy goals, guided by core human values, and in relationship with all stakeholders. He believes in the power of diversity, working collaboratively and the development of insight as a tool for creativity and prosperity.
[Header image: Marlo74]