Confronting Racism

 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.

Social Activist for Racial Equity

Facilitating Discussions about Racism





White Apathy


"At this point, the only thing needed for racism

to continue is for good people to do nothing"

Debby Irving 


White Apathy is basically white people not caring enough to put in the effort to confront racism or get involved with antiracism work. There are many rationalizations for it but the end result is that we don't do anything or do very little to address racism because we have more important things to do or we don't feel like it's our problem because we're not racist so we don't have any power to change it. The end result is that because of white apathy we do nothing and stay silent. As a result we support the white supremist status quo in our society.   


Layla Saad clarifies this point by saying "White Supremacy is telling you not to fight for what is right, not to involve yourself in the dismantling of a system that benfits you, because if you do, you will lose everything that makes you who you think you are - a person who is conditioned to believe you are superior to people of other races. The conditioned mind wants to cling to what it knows and what has kept it safe, even at the risk of harming other people in the process." (p. 132)


Layla's statement above is a hard pill to swallow but I believe she is right on. We are so unconsciously programmed into white supremist thinking that most of us don't even notice it. To truly do the work of antiracism we have to have the courage to look our white supremist bias in the face and see it for what it is and acknowlege the ways we benefit and gain from  privilege because of it.


How Does White Apathy Show Up?


Saad lists examples of how white apathy shows up that I find particularly poignant. (p.130-131) They are as follows:

  • Using the excuses of laziness, tiredness, fear, boredom, numbness, or perfectionism, turning away from the news, and other apathetic feelings and actions when it comes to engaging in antiracism practice.
  • Doing very little antiracism work and therefore not understanding just how urgent this work is.
  • Practicing white silence, white exceptionalism, and inaction because or your attachment to the idea that you are a 'good white person.'
  • Using your high sensitivity, high introversion, or mental health and personal issues to opt out of doing the work, ignoring the fact that there are BIPOC who are also highly sensitive, highly introverted, and have mental health and personal issues who cannot opt out of being at the receiving end of (your) racism.
  • Not taking personal responsibility for your own antiracism education.
  • Overcomplicating what it takes to practice antiracism, using various excuses that allow you to procrastinate or become overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done.
  • Minimizing the effects of racism by telling yourself 'it's not that bad' or that BIPOC are 'playing the race card."
  • Being outspoken on issues not related to racism but silent on issues that effect BIPOC.
  • Using perfectionism to avoid doing the work and fearing using your voice or showing up for antiracism work until you know everything perfectly and can avoid for being called out for making mistakes.
  • Feeling frustrated and uncomfortable from realizing that there are no easy or safe solutions in this work. This frustration can lead to a sense of apathy by thinking, 'what's the point?'
  • Using the excuse that because you did not create white supremacy, it is not your job to work on dismantling it.
  • Using the excuse that because the process of dismantling white supremacy is so overwhelming, with many parts out of your individual control, there is no point in even trying because it will not make an impact big enough to matter any way.  


My Experience of White Apathy


As I write in my racial identity and history page I was stuck in a place of white apathy for most of my life. Even after I learned more about racism I still felt parlyzed and disempowered to address it. I still bought in to the idea that racism was an individual stance and I did not understand that racism was a system of opression that we all participate in. I knew I had racist programming and I did my best to notice it and reprogram myself to not have it but I did nothing to learn more about racism. I didn't think there was anything else that I could do, so I did nothing with the exception of pointing it out in others and complaining about it but that, in essence, did nothing to change anything.


At the same time I would tell my clients that in their relationships that they had no power to change their partner, which they didn't. I would then tell them that the only thing they could do was look at how they were contributing to the problems in their relationship and change their own behaviors. That is the only place where any of us have any power in the world. The paradox of it all is that if we change how we are being with our partner then they have to change because the old pattern between us no longer exists and they have to adjust to our new way of being. I can't tell you how many times I've explained that to my clients all the while I wasn't seeing that, yes, I can't change the racist behaviors of others but if I look at my own racist thinking and understand racism as a cultural system then I can change racism by learning more about how I truly contribute to it.   

Copyright © 2020   Glenn Bigonet, M.A.