"Whiteness" and the Dinosaur Suit

Updated: Apr 20


Menace1 by Allie, aka "Hyperbole and a Half"


Thanks to an email from my mom this morning, I just rediscovered this hilarious and touching little story about a four year-old going on a power trip as a result of wearing a dinosaur costume. Reading it prompted me to write a LinkedIn post, which is duplicated below. I share it here as a provocation for a Now What?! conversation, which can take place in a number of ways:

  • As comments on my LinkedIn post

  • During our Now What?! Cafe calls

  • In person with friends, family, or colleagues

Whether you have a conversation or not, I also invite you to share your reflections via a short video recording using a neat little platform called Flipgrid which I learned about, appropriately enough, from my grandson. You can access it here or via the embed at the bottom of this post.

 

I write this post in reaction to some of the conversations about "whiteness" that I have been a part of lately. As a "privileged white man" who has played at being a rebel without risking any of the serious consequences that many others would face if they behaved as I have, I can easily identify with the thrill this (white) child feels in becoming a powerful monster. Especially with the desire to exert power over the authority figures who attempt to enforce good behavior.


It strikes me that "whiteness" is like the dinosaur suit that triggers the child's transformation. For those of us trained to inhabit it (not all of whom are "white"), it provides a false sense of agency and a blindness to the consequences of our actions. It is seductive and addictive. And it is a social construct designed as a justification for the rampage of "civilization" and "modernity" that, for all its power, is also extraordinarily childish. Unlike in the story, the white man's "guns, germs, and steel" have enabled him to overwhelm many of his elders--the intact indigenous cultures that had developed ways to co-exist in relative harmony with one another and the more-than-human world for thousands of years.


Nature, the ultimate elder, still gets the last word though. And so "we" are in the process of having our dinosaur suit taken away from us and slowly learning to become human again. And in noticing that those who were deemed "savages" and treated as "sub-human" were/are far wiser than us when it comes to an understanding of what it means to be fully human.


But there can be no simple return to those ancient ways. We must all live to one degree or another in the world that "whiteness" has made, aka the Anthropocene. Blaming "the white man" will not change this. Calling "him" out is a start. But acting in reaction to something also strengthens it. And it is here that I feel pain, and sense pain around me, including in these spaces for global exchange.


Yes, those of us who seek to shed our "whiteness" must learn to listen, and to talk less. Yes, our attempts to support a culture of restoration often embody the patterns of control and power-over and separation that we say we wish others to transcend. Yes, we need to learn that we are not entitled to soothing, let alone revenge, when our feelings get hurt, even by acts that are objectively "unjust." Yes, we need to respond to the rage that centuries of oppression have wrought with compassion rather than defensiveness (never mind righteous indignation).


And... we yearn for something more. Something that is neither passive nor a new version of the dinosaur suit, e.g. railing like prophets against "the system," or swooping in like saviors to fix the things we have broken.

 

Questions for Conversation

  • What struck you about this post?

  • Do you have a story about a successful shedding of "whiteness?"

  • Do you have a story about someone displaying patterns of "whiteness" being called in so that strengthened relationships, rather than being called out in a way that created disconnection?

As noted above, you are invited to share a "harvest" from your conversation, or just your own personal reflections, via a short recording by clicking the Add Recording button in the embed below, or accessing Flipgrid here. You can also add comments to this LinkedIn post, or bring this post up as a conversation topic during a Now What?! Cafe call.




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