#BlackLivesMatter I’m writing this post at a point in time that, as a white woman, in America, I am learning about and seeing racism in a way I hadn’t before. In this post, I share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few weeks, and hope to offer some insights if you too have found yourself in this space.
To the beautiful BIPOC members of our global community, I stand with you. I’m here listening and learning.
The past few months—and especially these past few weeks—have been incredibly heavy, for all of us.
In May, I thought I’d reached my breaking point. After two months in quarantine, I found myself with my forehead pressed to the floor as big, fat teardrops dotted my yoga mat. I felt utterly lost. But the weeks that followed collectively reopened the ever-present wounds of systemic racism in our country and across the world with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, reminding us of so many other Black women and men who needlessly lost their lives too.
Suddenly, I was smacked in the face with what I was humbled and truthfully embarrassed to acknowledge—all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know—and I felt the weight of not having done and understood more in the past. I found myself frantic, feeling the urgency to act, and yet I felt “late to class.” Before I go any further, it is important to name the fact that many do not have the luxury of being “late to class” and experience, first hand, the full realities of racism that are just now coming into some of our awarenesses. This is an uncomfortable and painful truth the rest of us must never forget.
Determined to learn from my mistakes, I found myself in a different kind of low. Once my frantic-ness subsided, I felt paralyzed. I was terrified of doing the “wrong” thing, of causing more harm. I kept telling myself, “I don’t know what to do.”
When I took a step back, I realized this is not even the slightest bit true and that I know more about what to do than I had been telling myself. If you’ve had similar thoughts running through your mind, I want to remind you that you do too.
In my past life I was a Victim’s Advocate at a domestic violence shelter. There was once a time I knew nothing about the complexities of those issues, but overtime I learned. I read, I listened, I talked to people who were smarter than me. I worked with people directly impacted by domestic violence, and I advocated on their behalf. I talked to everyone who would listen to me about this subject, in the lines at grocery stores and sitting at bars. I fumbled my way through these conversations and I got schooled a time or two (or twenty) by my more experienced peers. Today, I’m comfortable talking about this very uncomfortable topic, but after nearly 5 years of practically living and breathing everything that has to do with DV, I still don’t know everything.
The point in my telling you is that you or I cannot expect to fully know and understand important issues overnight, especially not an issue as dynamic as racism that is woven into the very fabric and building blocks of our country. If we set an unrealistic bar for ourselves right out of the gate, we’ll never start. But, if we are willing to do the hard work, if we engage, if we are open to listening, challenging our assumptions and are willing to be imperfect and uncomfortable, We. Will. Learn. The conversations will not get easier but, perhaps, slightly more comfortable. The steps to taking action will become familiar and the path forward, clearer.
I want to offer you some reassurance and help you flip the script if you too have found yourself oscillating between frantic and frozen energy, feeling overwhelmed, lost, exhausted and questioning if you can actually make a difference.
I’m sharing this from a place of needing to hear this myself…
First, I will address the latter…Yes, you can make a difference. Never underestimate how your contributions, no matter how small they seem to you, will add up.
If you’ve been following along with the news, seeking out information regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, signing petitions, or attending protests and have found yourself mentally exhausted the past few weeks, that likely means you are learning, absorbing, and processing the gravity of what we are facing. Think of a time, when you were learning something brand new? Do you remember how tired your mind felt at first? This is a good sign. I want to lovingly remind you to be honest about how much you can effectively absorb at one time, then take a break. Get your eyes off the screen so you can process the information, let it sink in, change you and return again. I know from experience that if you burn out, you tune out.
If you are feeling guilty and “late to class,” it’s okay to acknowledge this. Let your guilt transform into reflection and fuel you. Resist the urge to hide from it. The important thing is that you show up now, that you are learning from past mistakes, open to changing your heart and mind, and see behind the veil. None of us can be effective if we wallow, it’s time to look and move forward. Start where you are.
If you find yourself defensive, ask yourself, why? What is that telling you? Our perceptions of the world and ourselves are being challenged. Allow your defensiveness to shape-shift and become a powerful invitation for growth.
If you feel frantic and un-grounded, intentionally slow your energy down. If you are frozen, give yourself permission to regroup without the pressure to act immediately. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, take a step back and re-evaluate—not out of avoidance but with the intention to find your path forward. There are many ways to be an activist and engage in anti-racism work both within and out in the world. You might feel like you should be emulating a style that isn’t true to you. When we go about something in ways that are inauthentic to us, we lose our footing and spin our wheels. Are you someone whose style is swift and highly visible, or are you most effective when you take time to process and act in quieter ways? Maybe you land somewhere in between. Your voice, your expression, and your contribution are needed.
If you’ve also thought to yourself “I don’t know what to do,” think back to a moment when you faced a daunting problem. What did you do? How did you move from the moment where you were staring a challenge in the face, to actively tackling it? What kinds of creative problem-solving did you employ? Use and trust in the skill-sets you already possess, let yourself think outside the box and make a plan. You also do not have to figure it out alone. Many Black authors, activists, scholars and racial justice organizations have generously been sharing information all along.
If you’re afraid of messing up…being embarrassed, called out…no matter how awful it feels, being uncomfortable will not hurt you. You are resilient and brave enough to be wrong. The words of the late, great Maya Angelou have been on my mind and in my heart the past few weeks…
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
You are not alone in this, we are learning to be better together.
Black Lives Matter.