White, American, and Living Abroad- How does one engage with racism in the USA?

Before reading this, note: I am a white, cisgender woman born in the United States. This perspective comes with privilege and power. I will never live under the weight of violence and oppression that many minorities, including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and folks in the LGBTQ+ community have experienced in this country. My voice is not the only voice you should be reading on this subject. If that does happen to be the case, stop yourself and ask: why? Let yourself feel uncomfortable, and then fix it. There are a few resources at the end of this post by essential voices. The list is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive, but they are works I have found impactful in my own growth in challenging this reality we live in and why it must be torn down.


“Racism doesn’t exist in Peru,” my friend declares in Spanish over the phone. He has many questions about the protests in the U.S., he wonders who George Floyd is, and wonders how this nation could act out such atrocities against Black people and against current protestors. 

My first instinct is indignation, I am defensive.

“How many Afro-Peruvians do you know? How much of Afro-Peruvian history are you truly familiar with?”

What a hypocrite.

Not my friend. 

Me. 

When I lived abroad, I lived in an in-between world when it came to discussing race. With a lack of internet access and a life somewhere else, the issues of the United States would trickle in, distorted and dampened by time and distance. I could look at the issues in my country as something of the past, events that I had no ability to engage with. As a white American, I could detach. 

I was in Peru to not only to live and collaborate with the inhabitants of my neighborhood, but to engage with issues of injustice in the community. My fellow community members and I would often discuss the impact of being privileged and powerful foreigners: Americans. This provided not only a cloak of protection, it allowed us to move about society in different ways than what might normally be deemed appropriate according to gender, class and race norms. The mistakes or different behavior of a white gringa were seen as funny quirks rather than a threat to the status quo. 

At the same time, the issues of the US were far enough away, that I could think I was not a part of the problem. I wasn’t living there, so how could I be complicit in the injustices within the country?

Imagine everyone in the world is stuck in one room. The room is suffocating; it is hot and there is no freedom of movement. There is fear that fills the air and danger is always looming overhead. There is one exit, but it is always locked. The few who have keys are those with white privilege and power. Through that door is the ability to escape the oppressive, violent and insidious dynamics of racism in our country. Through that door is denial, avoiding the conversations that should be happening each day in public places and private spaces. For a while, I had unconsciously opened that door and walked out, thinking that while abroad the conversation did not apply to me. 

So there I was, halfway engaged in two worlds, trying to stay up-to-date about events in the U.S. but remaining relatively unengaged, involved in my neighborhood but at the core of it not doing the work that needed to be done: a deeper scouring of my own privilege and power as I moved about in the world. I wrongly used my transient nature, as a traveler and expat, to excuse my detachment and protect myself from consistently engaging in social justice issues in the states. 

As I began to resettle into my life in the United States amidst a pandemic, my only window to the outside world was social media. When the protests for George Floyd began, race was not something that I could subconsciously walk away from as I had while in Peru. It is easy to say that I felt shame, remorse, and anger at myself for having been complicit. By leaving the room, by allowing something to remain outside of my conscious efforts and reflections, I upheld the power and violence of white supremacy. It did not matter if the damage had been intentional or not, the impact was there.  

I can imagine that many who read this will feel anger and rage towards me because of my inaction and apathy, as they should. I was complicit over an issue that puts people’s lives at risk every single day, that stops them from achieving their dreams, from living their fullest joyful selves, that forces them to live within a deeply violent and hateful world. 

I can also imagine that some folks reading this might think: how brave to speak up about her complicity, her faults in upholding white privilege and white supremacy. It is not brave. This is not speaking up. To see our faults, sit with our discomforts and our failures, is the first step we must take to move forward, down a path of justice. It is the tiniest of steps, and it is not enough.

I have entered the room again. I still have the key. My true responsibility lies in not only recognizing that I still hold the key to privilege, power, and escape, but that I do not use it to exit the room whenever I am uncomfortable or travelling once more

There are actions I have taken, systems I have benefited from, and things I have said that have caused harm. Ignorance is not an excuse. What will be even more inexcusable is if my future self does not challenge the system of privilege that protects me. These written words are the first step into my own accountability towards deconstructing this broken system we live in. Now what needs to come is tangible action. Moving forward, I am learning how to engage with officials through phone calls on important issues. I am beginning to engage with different groups such as SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) to understand what actions I can take that contribute to (instead of taking away from) the movement towards racial justice. I am expanding the voices I hear and read in podcasts, articles, books and more. Most importantly, I know that I cannot stop. The process is continual and the push to change must be constant, within my own soul and within society.

I do not know if conversations about race will be at the forefront of this blog. In many ways I do not have the right to write about these issues, living in the privileged skin that I do. But isn’t the point of this blog to share what I witness around me? Isn’t my hope to honor the stories and lives of the people I meet and live with? 

I also know that my audience of family and friends is an international one. I know many outside perspectives have been curious about the issues they see in the United States and how they tie into the injustices in their own country. Perhaps this is the first time someone is reading this perspective and I hope this post offers a gateway into the conversation. This is an invitation for conversation, an invitation to challenge me and hold me accountable to my words and tangible action. However, it is by no means the responsibility of others to keep me accountable- that lies at my own feet.  

I know this life will take me abroad once more. This next time, I must carry the weight of my country’s history with me. I must acknowledge and challenge the impact of the United States’ influence on the rest of the world. No matter what country I am in, I must remain conscious of my skin color and the power it wields.


New to conversations about the injustices that Black lives face each day in America? Here are some resources to get you started (note that this is a VERY basic starter, there are thousands of writers, poets, and people out there who have much to say on the subject!):

Podcasts:

1619 hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Code Switch hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji

Intersectionality Matters! hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Pretty for an Aboriginal hosted by Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell (great for an international conversation about racism): Episode 2 was especially powerful for me

Things to Read:

The Most Dangerous Person in America is the White Woman by Danielle Slaughter

All the Supremacists Are White, All of the Patriarchy are Men, but You’re Probably the Gatekeeper by Danielle Slaughter

What is Owed by Nikole Hannah-Jones

What does seeing black men die do for you? by Jamil Smith

The Business of Show Biz: Is Everything Racist Now? by Rotimi Agabiaka

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

Rednecks for Black Lives by Beth Howard and the Southern Crossroads Team

Other resources:

Rachel Cargle #Dothework – if you are considering her course, think about making a one-time contribution or monthly contribution to her patreon 

Nicole Cardoza Anti-Racism Daily – Free to subscribe, but also consider supporting her with a monthly contribution through Patreon

We See You White American Theater

TEDTalk: The Danger of a Single Story with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recursos en español:

Radio ambulante con Daniel Alarcón

El hilo con Eliezer Budasoff y Silvia Viñas

Google Doc: Recursos antirracistas en español

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s