#1 In the Beginning - The “Guardians of the Threshold”

Barriers that Stop Us Right at the Beginning

This is a big section because it’s a critical issue.  For most of us who are White, we will need to leave our known worlds and comfort zones – to a significant degree – in order to make a difference in countering racism.  That’s because the challenges that we must take on lie outside of our White comfort zones.  They simply aren’t in our known world – at least not completely.

“The Guardians are the first challenges on the journey.”


The 1st Challenge – Getting Past the “Guardians of the Threshold”


The first challenge is simply saying “yes” to the journey and leaving our known world and going forth into a great deal of unknown.  To do that we must get past what are called the “guardians of the threshold” in the heroic myths.  Their purpose in the myths is to turn back the hero figure if he or she isn’t ready for the journey.  


For us, the purpose of these guardians is similar.  Are we really committed?  Are we ready (enough) to counter racism?  If the answer is “no” then we probably won’t get very far on the path, we won’t grow and develop, and we won’t make a difference.  We’ll just be White people that dabbled, but didn’t really bring their gifts, didn’t “hold the course”, and retreated back into their White comfort zones. 


Getting past these three guardians is the first major test.  They will be there.  


The Three Guardians


There are three major “guardians of the threshold” that confront us whenever we attempt to take the first steps to confront racism in a committed way.  They are capable of intimidating us and stealing our power.  They are intimidating by their very nature, but they do not need to steal our power.


  • Guardian #1  Feeling indicted as a White person personally and/or as a group 
  • Guardian #2  Confronting potential losses and the unknown
  • Guardian #3  The specter of incompetence


These guardians come as a trio, and it is often difficult to tell which one is causing the most trouble.  Taken together, they are a daunting challenge and all too frequently one that stops White people right at the threshold of the journey.  


The Good News – Ways to Get Past the Guardians


The good news is that there are ways for us to get past each of the three guardians and there are good reasons to do so – the benefits that we can achieve.  This section lays out effective strategies for getting past each guardian – getting in the game.  It also lays out why it’s worth the effort and the risk to get past the guardians – personally, interpersonally, in our organizations and in our communities.  These potential benefits are also addressed in the section on Vision/Benefits in the Committing column simply because they are critically important. 


There are Basically Four Steps in Dealing with These Guardians


  1. Understand the guardians – what are we up against? 
  2. Be clear about the benefits of the journey
  3. Implement the strategies for dealing with each guardian (follow the guiding questions for each guardian)
  4. Act – Now.  Start small or big, but start