Why white supremacy doesn’t want us to grieve

Most white-bodied changemakers don't want anything to do with white supremacy. Even spelling out the words makes us wince. We have been socialised into seeing racism as binary and that 'racists are bad people'. And that means that because most of us want to be ‘good people’, we can’t for a moment think that we could have anything to do with a conversation, an invitation to look at how white supremacy lives in and through us. So there is silence. Rejection of this work. And this is precisely how the system of white supremacy is kept alive. Here's why saying 'it ends with me' begins with softening and grieving.

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Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

All dysfunctional family systems survive because of two key reasons: denial and self-betrayal.

When we deny the reality of our dysfunction, we tend to do so because facing the truth of our system is too painful, too shameful.

But the only way to change the dysfunctional system or to dismantle it, is by facing the truth of it.

Facing the truth of our system requires us to face pain.

It requires us to grieve.

White supremacy is the expression of the narcissistic family system that is our human family.

And built into it is shame.

Shame is what locks us all into this degenerative system. Because sitting with shame – the emotion that tells us that we are unworthy of love and belonging – is one of the most excruciating emotions we can feel.

Facing shame means facing grief.

But white supremacy doesn’t want us to grieve. Because grieving has the capacity to move us through what hurts, crack our hearts open, allow our guard down. Grief will soften our posture. Remove the mask of pretending.

Invite us home – to return to lour bodies. To presence. Love.

In short: Grief re-humanises us. All of us.

It whispers: feel. Feel so you can heal. Feel so we can all heal.

White Supremacy knows that us healing would be the end of its reign. So therefore we have been taught that grieving is dangerous.

Instead of leaning towards each other in our despair and holding each other tight like our ancestors knew, we have been socialised into thinking that pain is a private affair that we best hide.

We silo ourselves and our emotions. And as a result, white supremacy thrives a little more.

Keep us toughened up and in fight or flight or freeze or fawn mode. Ready to defend, ready to prove that there is nothing ‘wrong’. That we are ‘good’.

“Denial is at the heart of racism” says Ibrahim X Kendi.

And that means that confession and grief and compassion must be its antidote.

If you are a changemaker in who carry white privilege, and you understand the responsibility you hold to be able to say to your future ancestors “it ended with me”, you are invited to join the next round of Wish Tree’s Wholeness Immersion to Become a Better Ancestor based on Layla Saad’s transformational process Me & White Supremacy. Here you will come to understand how white supremacy lives in and through us in intricate and invisible ways, so that you and we can dismantle it, one step of unlearning and action at a time.

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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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