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New book on grieving looks at how white people’s grief impacts racism

‘It’s important for people to have a more holistic view of grief.’ (Pictures: Breeshia Wade)

Grief is an innate element of being human; an experience and an emotion that we will all feel at different points in our lives.

But many of us lack the language and emotional range to really talk about or understand it.

Author and end-of-life caregiver Breeshia Wade wants to expand our understanding of what grief really is, how we experience it, and how it can be beneficial to welcome it into our lives.

‘A lot of people misunderstand grief and what it is, and so they can’t recognise it or understand it, or counteract the ways it may be unhealthily showing up in their lives,’ Breeshia tells Metro.co.uk.

‘For most people, when they think about grief, they think about past, concrete loss. Something that has happened in the past; I lost my grandfather, or, I lost my dog.’

Breeshia defines grief as being about much more than the things that have already happened to us.

‘We grieve for things in the present moment,’ she says. ‘And we experience grief in the form of fear of loss, which is a type of grief that we project into the future.

‘It’s important for people to have a more holistic view of grief. It is more like a circle, rather than a linear line that only travels to the past and doesn’t have a place in the present or the future.’

Breeshia’s book, Grieving While Black, tackles grief through the lens of race and racism. At its core is the understanding that grief is intrinsically tied to racial identity and systems of discrimination.

‘When I mention grief in relation to racism, most people think it is about the grief experienced by Black people because of systemic racism,’ Breeshia tells us. ‘And that is important, but the main focus of my book is how white people’s unexplored relationship to their own grief and their own fear of loss perpetuates systemic racism.

‘Because many white people do not have an authentic and honest relationship with their own fear of loss, that leads to the downstream effect of Black people suffering under the effects of white supremacy.’

This sounds like a complicated concept to wrap your head around. But it’s actually quite simple.

Breeshia believes that white people are frequently unaware of a specific form of grief – i.e a fear of loss – and how that interacts with their place in the world. She says that within white supremacy, white people have a lot of privilege, therefore they have a lot to lose.

Lonely woman sitting in room

‘Discussing grief in relation to race and white supremacy – through the lens of white grief – is very important’ (Picture: Getty)

The fear of losing this position can – sometimes unconsciously, Breeshia says – cause white people to behave in a way that maintains the status quo and reinforces these unequal hierarchies of power.

‘If we were to dismantle white supremacy, across the globe tomorrow, absolutely nothing would prevent another system from popping up. Absolutely nothing,’ she says.

‘Humans have found ways to perpetuate trauma and harm against other people since the beginning of time. A system that is more long standing than white supremacy would be gender oppression or patriarchy. That’s just another way that humans disempower, enslave, and de-humanise others.’

For Breeshia, engaging in grief is the best way to permanently dismantle these various systems of oppression. She says that as humans, we treat each other in these inhumane ways because of our fear of ‘impermanence’, our fear of what we can and will eventually lose.

‘Our relationship to impermanence is what causes people to try to strip dignity and take time as a resource from another group of people, because each of us ultimately fears facing the loss that we are causing for another.’

Although the title of her book might suggest otherwise, Breeshia actually wants to shift the gaze so that we are not always simply observing Black grief, trauma and pain.

‘There’s an entire literary canon devoted to watching Black people suffer within white supremacy,’ she adds.

‘It’s imperative to understand why and how that’s happening. Discussing grief in relation to race, racism and white supremacy – specifically through the lens of white grief – is very important.’

We all have an inherent relationship to grief. It is an inescapable reality of being alive, and we will all experience varying degrees of grief throughout our lives at many different points. And yet, we are so often awful at talking about it and confronting it.

Breeshia says the impact of of this widespread disconnect with our grief can be hugely damaging.

‘When people, aren’t completely honest about this reality, or won’t engage with their relationship to grief, it can mean we become defensive and unwilling to be open to feedback,’ she says.

‘An example in terms of race is where white people view themselves as a “good person”, quote, unquote.

‘Maybe they view themselves as liberal, and as being on the right side of history. So, if someone brings to their attention a microaggression or something that causes harm to the people of color in their lives, there can be that defensiveness because they are protecting their own image.

‘They don’t want to lose that image of being a “good person”. That’s how they’ve come to identify themselves. And only “bad people” do racist things.’

Alongside the defensiveness is this critical fear of loss. For Breeshia, white people have to acknowledge their privileges and acknowledge their fear of losing those privileges – for example in cases where hiring schemes prioritise applicants from minority backgrounds – in order to bring about systemic change.

‘Dismantling white supremacy, or any system of oppression, isn’t just a topic of theory. It has real life downstream consequences that directly touch on our relationship to fear of loss and grief,’ says Breeshia.

‘It is incredibly important that people are willing to engage that in order for us to actually move towards equity.

‘Attending to our relationship to grieve can only open up the opportunity for a more expansive and fuller life.’

Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you.

Get in touch: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk.


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