Unfrozen: Five Things I’ve Decided to Change About my Relationship to my White Identity

Jenifer Gager
4 min readJun 24, 2021

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In “The Little Mermaid,” when Ursula steals Ariel’s voice, there’s a scene where viewers get to see what happens to “those poor unfortunate souls” whose voices she has also stolen. The camera pans in on her underwater grotto, and there are dozens and dozens of grayish bobbing heads, rooted to the sea floor — voiceless mouths agape, no agency of movement, just pleading, blinking eyes.

Yes, I am aware that “Frozen,” is the one about the two sisters breaking an icy spell — I’ll get to that later. I begin with the grey “P.U.S.s” because I feel sick and tired of offering silence in trade for the false promise of social safety. Silence, hesitancy to act, analysis paralysis — these are the negatively charged version of cultural markers I often experience in white spaces. Someone might say that I could alternatively use the terms care, caution, reason; however, I did not. Those words have had diminishing returns for me.

This year-plus has been filled with countless digitized meeting rooms where diversity, inclusion and equity have been on the menu in some form or fashion. The number of attendees may be large or small, the facilitator may be seasoned or “voluntold” to play that role, the conversations may be episodic, recurring, or designed for depth within a single day. Either way, during these sessions, a group culture gets built whether that be by design, by organic patterns and precedents set by individual behavior, or some blend of the two.

I’m done playing small in these rooms. That’s one of the many tools of whiteness and how it wins. And I believe whiteness is killing all of us.

So — with no small amount of trepidation, because I expect to be held accountable by myself and others — here are behaviors that I no longer wish to entertain when I am a part of non-caucused diversity, inclusion and equity conversations.

  1. Speaking Up — I will not hold back from speaking up and “activating the space” by reason of my own reticence. If I have something topical to share, I will do so with as much humility, openness, and vulnerability as I can in that moment, without getting mired in narcissistic self-monitoring. I will try. I will be willing to fail or miss the mark. I will avoid actions that contribute to a result where Black perspectives are charged with extra work by virtue of feeling pressure to fill the space first or most often. I will respect others’ choices.
  2. Feelings — I will name my feelings while also being mindful about whether this choice could having the impact of centering me. A simple “I feel confused…” or “I feel frustrated…” from time to time when it is authentic to my experience, the topic at hand, and the overall goals of the group is what I’m going for. I welcome others’ wisdom here.
  3. Story — I will share stories that are: true, ethically mine to tell, and short whenever it may fit the topic or moment at hand. I will avoid relying on “houses of authorization” — I’ll call them — of any kind, as my default for advancing the conversation. I have read and viewed many, many helpful anti-racist books and articles and films. So have others. Our stories are incredibly unique and sharing our stories sparks connection in time and space in a way that published matter does not.
  4. Mess up — If I feel that I have messed up in the large group, I will take initiative to address it one-on-one or otherwise, depending on how I perceive the harm I may have caused. To do this, I will most often use a variation of the phrase, “I apologize I________. Going forward, I will_______,” (credit: Amber Cabral) and I will stay present for additional conversation if desired. I will endeavor to do this without expectation or attachment to the outcome or interaction with the person(s) involved. I will take responsibility for my choices.
  5. Connection — Human connection is incredibly sweet and precious. It is also earned — often slowly, over time. I will avoid attempting to force connection across difference inauthentically. At the same time, I will look for potential opportunities to connect that do feel authentic and celebrate them when they are mutual.

To put #2 immediately into play: I feel tender. I long for something much more whole than what seems to be prevalent in many spaces right now in terms of human dignity, respect and dialogue, but I am also inspired by the many leaders, artists, creators, movement-makers, activists, change-makers, thinkers, doers, and humans that are working toward that goal every day.

As for “frozen,” it’s not about the movie at all. It’s about the concept and how, for me, frozen represents all of the ways that whiteness continually creeps in and steals things, and in my experience crushes action before it even starts. Holding back can be an act of care, it can also be an act of aggression.

Whiteness is like freeze tag, making me try to hold so very still that no one will ever even notice me and unfreeze me so that I have to go back to running around again, frantically hiding from the player who is “it.”

I don’t want that.

In fact, I don’t want the rules of the game to be in charge of my choices at all. Regardless of the room, the participants, the facilitator, or my stated or perceived role in any given race equity and justice conversation, I want to take risks in favor of shared humanity. I do not want to play small like whiteness wants me to. I want to tag myself in and speak up (#1). I want to celebrate human connection freely given (#5) and apologize when my choices turn out to be harmful or land poorly (#4). I want to say things that are true to my experiences (#3) and not rely on every other proxy for authority besides myself (also #3) as a prerequisite for participating in dialogue.

I want to unfreeze.

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Jenifer Gager

Dog mom, spicy food fanatic, nature-lover. Board and committee service @MentalHealthAm and The Restoration Center, Inc. All thoughts and opinions are my own.