Today's post is coming late, and I am declaring that late is Just the Right Time.
It's also a pretty random scattering of barely edited thoughts - a woman, thinking in real-time, as it were.
In the wake of still more racially motivated shootings, a new pattern has arisen.
It’s a pattern of people calling for action. Not just legislative action, not just gun control or police oversight, but stringent demands that we White people step up and ….. What?
One person I follow on Facebook reacts with disgust to the usual Facebook fare of vacation photos and life events. “Quit it,” she says. “People are dying out here.”
Another calls for an end to White silence. Memes observing that the ability to struggle with grief, to put action on pause until the deep feelings have passed is part of White privilege. I expect they are probably right.
And yet. And yet.
All the blame and shame in the world cannot motivate people to take a stand for the value of Black American lives. How do we find a way to come together to defend our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors without calling each other’s enoughness into question?
Truth is, yes, our country was built on racism. Yes, we have some very racist institutions. Yes, White privilege exists - and it includes the ability to look away for our own comfort. Yes, it is true that Black Lives SHOULD Matter - and that our embedded cultural racist attitudes are killing Black men, women, and children.
It is also true that the steps each of us must take to acknowledge and use our White privilege are individual. Truth is also that the discomfort of acknowledging truths is not always public. It is done in community, sharing stories with people we trust, before it is done wider and more publicly.
Brené Brown once said that empathy is like jumping down into someone else’s darkness, and we don’t do it unless we can get ourselves back out again, because otherwise, we’re both stuck in the pit and can’t get out. I believe that as much as we must respond and affirm the value of Black lives, we must also do so responsibly, with awareness of how much we can each give before we are mired in darkness from which we cannot break free.
At a previous phase in my life, I worked in West Philadelphia, an area with a large Black population. I accepted, as a client in the nonprofit in which I worked, a man in the middle of his life. This man was short, dark-skinned, bearded, whose sole income was SSI payments for a disability which he did not disclose. He spoke frequently of his fear that his neighbors were spying on him, of his concern that someone was waiting to break into his apartment while he was gone to steal what little money he had, of larger conspiracy theories involving the government and people loitering outside. He made me nervous, and yet I persisted in trying to help him, hiding the discomfort. I thought, at the time, that he made me uncomfortable because he was Black and dark-skinned, and I was White and young. I thought, at the time, that my discomfort was good, was burning my ignorance of White privilege out of me. It wasn’t until my colleagues spoke up about their discomfort and the large knife he brought into the office that I realized - my discomfort wasn’t about the color of his skin, it was simply that he made people uncomfortable.
I don’t know what this story says about me. I don’t know why I feel it’s worth sharing, unless it’s to say that I’ve been pushing my boundaries around race for a lot longer than police shootings have been in the news. I know I’m not perfect - I can tell by the ways I still feel uncomfortable, and while spending my day off painting pretty pictures instead of marching by myself in the streets might not convince some, I know that I’ve also been wrestling with hard ideas and hard words and discomfort. I don’t need a good citizen cookie, nor is it anyone’s job to give me one. It is, simply, my job to try and be the best I can be, on my own schedule and in my own way, and to remember that the people pointing fingers might be in their arena, but they’re not in mine.
How to play along
Because safety is a core value for me, I am asking that comments in this space avoid all the ugly things: shame, blame, judgement. I am asking that disagreement and discussion be polite, respectful, generous, and open to vulnerability.
Because community is healthy behavior, I welcome you to comment, to share your thoughts and responses and discuss this with empathy with me and with each other.