When you just discovered your blind spots, what to do?

(This article is written as a result of the serious debate on Twitter (in The Netherlands) about the new book of anthropologist, writer and journalist Joris Luyendijk. Read more about that here).
Credits: Usman Yousaf for Unsplash.

Dear Joris and everyone who just discovered their blind spots,

As a white woman who has been through a similar experience as you, I want to raise up your spirits. The announcement of your new book “The 7 checkmarks and how men like me control the world” has received a lot of appreciation but also quite some heavy criticism. And based on the fact that your Twitter account no longer exists since last night, I guessed you could need some support. 

I’m going to share knowledge with you that isn’t my knowledge. It comes from people who’ve been on the path of inclusion for a long time already. And I’ll share from my own experience which is attributable to the many people of colour I’ve engaged with throughout the years. I realize that my view on your work is far from complete, so do whatever you wish with what I’m sharing here. 

  • First of all, congratulations on your self-reflection and the fact that you’ve discovered your blind spots. I think it’s great that you as the typical “white man” do the necessary work and share your insights with others who can benefit from them. With the position you hold in society you’re able to contribute in a way that’s not been done so much yet. Your voice matters. 
  • When a privileged person discovers his/her blind spots it can become a very disturbing process. Suddenly the world looks different and the context you grew up in will now be called into question. Feelings of insecurity might arise or anger about the inequality in our world. It’s important to allow yourself all those feelings and don’t immediately go over to solutions mode. 

It’s important to acknowledge and mention the people whose shoulders you stand on.

  • The fact that you became conscious of your position in this world and the awareness that your position isn’t neutral, is already a big win. And by understanding all that, you’ll realize that other voices have been suppressed while yours was given the benefit of the doubt all that time. So, your insights aren’t new information to suppressed people who deal with inequality all their lives already. You didn’t discover something new, just like Columbus did not discover North America. From that perspective, it’s important to acknowledge and mention the people whose shoulders you stand on and focus on the communal effort to create change. 
  • You found a safe space for yourself to do more research on the topic, in the theatre shows you’ve organised the last few years. I’ve been to one of these evenings and I saw how you confronted people like you with their blind spots. I’m sure you’ve impacted a lot of people already with that approach. Now your research is out in public more people will have an opinion about it, as you’ve noticed. Try to stay with people who not just criticize you but who are also willing to help you with the next steps. 

Ignoring the criticism doesn’t bring you further. Try to learn from it as a student. 

  • The people who give you negative feedback most probably bring in good points. And at the same time, they will trigger all your old beliefs and insecurities. Observe their responses without reacting to them. Protect your own mental wellbeing and withdraw from the debate if necessary. I think you’ve made that decision already by deleting your Twitter account, although ignoring the criticism doesn’t bring you further. Try to learn from it as a student. And if all the harsh feedback came as a surprise to you, it’s time to refresh your timeline and follow some new people to learn from. 
  • The inequality you just discovered is hard to overcome otherwise it would have happened already. It’s a long term and slow process. The system we’re living in is set up (by us humans) to keep the blind spots in place. It’s set up to help the privileged people, to benefit people like you and me. So the goal is to create cracks in this system and try to make it more equal for everyone. Your theatre evenings are examples of cracks. 

By practising good listening you will have your tool to go beyond your own bubble. 

  • Learning about decoloniality will help you continue on this path. You’ve already connected with Gloria Wekker who is part of the Decoloniality Summerschool initiative. The scholars of the Summerschool are one-by-one fascinating people to learn from. Rolando Vazquez was interviewed by the University of Delft (see below) about decoloniality last year. He shares how we can decolonize ourselves and brings in very helpful questions. 

  • The more you evolve on this path, the more it will become clear that there is no such thing as ‘universal knowledge’. Different truths coexist which doesn’t mean that any knowledge goes, it means that every knowledge is located. Western objectivity has become the global design but in reality, it is just one of the local histories out there. It also means that your insights based on European history will affect a certain group of people but not everyone and that’s fine. We can use more than one solution to the problem. All roads lead to Rome right? 
  • By practising good listening you will have your tool to go beyond your own bubble. Listening automatically leads to creating space for alternative voices to be heard and a more humble position for yourself. 
  • It’s through learning more about decoloniality that you’ll also discover the relationship between systemic racism, environmental inequality, climate change and all the other violence happening on our planet. You’ll start to see the bigger picture and even though it might sound like a terrible path ahead of you, it will actually make your life more meaningful. The separation from nature has created already an impoverished life for us. We have grown really poor in that sense. By focusing on delinking from our idea of what modernity looks like and highlighting the voices, philosophies and knowledge that have been suppressed for so long, our life will become richer. 

You’re at the beginning of a lifelong journey. Don’t give up, keep listening and learning and also sharing your insights. Your voice matters too.