Posts

I am really struggling today.
And, it’s not about me.
But also, it is. There is a way in which I have to fit in to the community, be in relationship with others, and help push solutions forward.
Even saying the word “solutions” feels weird. As if there is a set of (elusive) criteria or steps out there to take that will make all of this turmoil and pain better once and for all. 
Bullshit.
I watch conversations ebb and flow online with interest. There are white women I know who are really digging in and learning; reading and talking with one another and exploring ideas they’ve never explored before. I heard a story the other night about a white woman at a protest who asked a Black woman what she should say to “get it Right.” 
I understand the desire, the question, and I also know somewhere deep down in my bones that this isn’t about “getting it Right.” There is no “it” and there is no “Right.” This isn’t some box we can check – yup, read these seven books, had these important discussions, watched this documentary, I get it now. 
Not that it’s not important to read and talk and watch the documentaries – it is. It is part of our unlearning, our acknowledgment that the education we received was whitewashed and carefully curated to present a particular viewpoint and make us all feel good about the trajectory of “history.”
But I think what it comes down to – what it always comes down to – is relationship. Doing your own work is vital, but not in the context of becoming woke or enlightened or saying you “get it.” It’s important so that you can show up and be better in community, be in relationships that are honest and evolutionary. Going to anger management courses as someone who is abusive to others isn’t useful as a philosophical exercise. You have to embed the learning in to your bones, commit to using it as a way to build connections and practice new ways of being in relationship. It isn’t enough to say you showed up and learned the things. You have to be willing to imagine a new way of being, and that requires shedding the old way, practicing over and over again until the new ways become more natural than the old ones, and doing it in the context of relationship. 
The consent decrees and DEI training and de-escalation trainings police officers adhere to aren’t meaningful unless on some human level they are changed and they show up in a different way. And that’s hard to do because relationships suffer under power differentials. Community isn’t built, doesn’t thrive when all parties aren’t accountable to the same set of principles. When the goal is power, the end result can never be a healthy relationship. And we have raised generations and generations of men to believe that what makes them men is the fact that they reside in power. All of the things we teach boys about being men are really about maintaining power – not showing emotions that seem vulnerable, not admitting to mistakes or being unsure of answers, the importance of being a “provider” … We even teach women and girls that the way to be treated better is to be more like men, to “Lean In”. Power destroys relationship. But when you’ve been taught that power is the thing you’re supposed to be seeking, that you deserve to possess, the notion that you might have to relinquish it in order to be part of a healthy community is a tough pill to swallow. This is why some (mostly men) in authority try to twist it to say that that healthy communities include power dynamics – someone has to be “in charge.” But that is a lie. When we set up systems where only certain people or groups get to have agency and they aren’t held accountable in relationship to those they wield power over, that isn’t being in charge. That is holding up supremacy. 
Watching what is happening in Portland is a powerful reminder that the desire for power is so much a part of who we are that it is destroying us. Not only are there armed militia men without identification grabbing citizens off the streets and detaining them without Miranda rights, or pressing charges, or due process of any kind, but the discussion online about who should be front and center in the protests, whose voices should be heard, who deserves to be featured in the stories is about power, too. 
Folks maintain power through fear and I’m sad to say I’m scared right now. I am scared that there are so many willing soldiers in Trump’s army that will show up, rescind their humanity, and brutalize and scare peaceful protestors with impunity. I am sad that our government is willing to spend vast sums of money on “crowd control” tactics that are classified as war crimes by the UN but not spend our resources to supply our hospitals with the things they need to keep people alive in a pandemic, give money to families to buy food and pay rent. 
I tend to be an optimist, and today I’m finding it hard to be optimistic. Being in relationship with one another is the one thing that keeps us alive and thriving, and we are destroying relationships every day. 
It’s not about being a “good person” and doing your own work. (I almost wrote “it’s not enough to be a ‘good person’ and do your own work” but I checked myself because that makes it sound like there is some “enough”. DAMN! Even our language is tailored toward the idea that there is some binary Right/Wrong, Enough/Not Enough.) We have to act and exist within relationships that are dynamic and evolutionary and messy. We have to learn better and then DO better, not by checking some box or posting something online, but by engaging, by talking to people and listening to them and really doing the messy interactive stuff of relationship. I wrote last time about boundaries and how I think we can use them as tools to further relationship, deepen accountability, and become more connected to other people. I’m really beginning to think that is the goal and the thing that will make all our lives better – a willingness to overcome our fear of fucking up, an acknowledgment that community is worth the uncertainty and messiness of really connecting with others, and a complete dismantling of the idea that there is some end goal that we all need to aspire to. It is so damn tempting to think that The Answer is out there and we just need to find it, check all the boxes and find all the little fruits along the way until we get “there.” But there is no there there. There is only right now, and the choice of whether or not to do the next thing that will strengthen our connections with those around us. Showing up to learn and have conversations and center the well-being of those connections is what will move us in to a place where we begin to feel as though we are all important. 
I listened to an interview with Resmaa Menakem yesterday and he implored us to talk to each other, build a culture of care, of learning, of acknowledging the trauma we carry and that we are inflicting on each other, and passing on to our children. I cringed when he said he thinks it will take a concerted effort to do this for “seven to ten years” before things will change significantly. But if we don’t start now, we are only continuing to do harm. If there is such a thing as “getting it right” that is where it starts: putting in the effort to learn and listen, showing up willing to make mistakes and relinquish power or authority, being in the chaos and mess of interacting with others for real, and doing it all from a place of love, grounded in the sincere belief that community is created when everyone is honored, respected, and cared for. 
I’m in. Are you? 

In fact, we’ve needed to talk for a long time now, and we’ve been avoiding it. I’m looking at white women when I say that and I hope you’re hearing me. I hope you don’t flinch, or if you do, I hope you stay on your feet and don’t turn away. It is well past time, and it’s our responsibility to stay with this until we start to get it.

I want to call out some behaviors and tactics I see us all engaging in that are harmful and keep us from doing what we need to do right now, and I hope you stay with me.

1. Performative Wringing of Our Hands – It is fine to feel upset. It’s good, actually, but it’s not enough. It isn’t enough to post on social media, to change our profile pictures by adding a “Black Lives Matter” frame around it (full disclosure: I did that when Ahmaud Arbery was killed). It isn’t enough to tell everyone how upset we are, to cry and post petitions on Facebook and reTweet memes. We have to stop making our feelings the center of the discussion. It is great to amplify the voices of folks of color who are tweeting and posting without adding our own commentary unless it serves to call our fellow white women in to a deeper conversation. Telling everyone you’re going to “Run for Ahmaud” is about you, it’s not about him and his family and the systemic violence and brutality black folks in this country face every day. Run, by all means, and use it as a way to talk to your other white friends who run – ask them whether they ever go out for a run and worry that they will be shot by a white man under false pretenses, ask them if they worry about their children being shot by a white man under false pretenses, talk about why that is. Have those conversations often without telling your black friends about them and expecting praise. Have those conversations daily without expecting some sort of pat on the back or prize for doing it from anyone.

2. Asking “What Can I Do, Though?” – This is a cop-out (excuse the pun). It is an excuse to flinch and turn away. And we’ve been doing it for far too long. We can’t “fix” this. We can’t sign petitions and lament on social media and register a bunch of voters to work our way out of this. It. Won’t. Happen. We need to get past our desire to “fix” something, because that centers us, once again, in all our White Saviorism. This notion that if we can’t take some specific action, we might as well not do anything is an excuse to give up before we’ve started. The black folks I’ve spoken to have encouraged me to help them hold their grief, to listen listen listen to them and validate their lived experience, to light candles and pray in whatever form that takes. They’ve also encouraged me to have lots and lots of conversations with my white friends, to help them unpack the bedrock beliefs and hidden biases we all have, to practice sitting with the discomfort of knowing we are complicit because we benefit from the systems that vilify and kill them every day in a million different ways. Until we acknowledge that we aren’t “lucky” or “blessed” but benefitting from privilege and colonialism and capitalism, we can’t begin to really move forward to dismantle those systems. We white folks want to sign a petition, march one time, post all over social media and call it done. Black folks I’ve spoken to know that this will take continued, diligent effort, and many many conversations. Elevating their voices, stepping back where we can and letting black folks lead, and talking among ourselves so that we can build communities of accountable white folks is vitally important and far less satisfying than “checking a box”. That said, there are absolutely specific things we can do – marching and petitioning are important, paying cash bail for black protestors who’ve been arrested is vitally important, calling our elected officials every single day to let them know that we won’t stand for police brutality, that we need to reform the justice system, and that officers need to be held accountable for their actions are important. But we will never make substantive changes unless and until we learn to really sit with the discomfort of talking to our white friends about how we are and continue to be complicit.


3.  Expecting Change to Come Quickly and With Minimal Effort – This is a big one. The fatigue is real. But anyone who has ever fought for social change in a substantive way knows that, while there is always a tipping point, that point in time only comes after years and years of hard, honest work. That “it’s not happening fast enough” notion comes from our unwillingness to sit with the discomfort. We want to “fix” it so we don’t have to keep witnessing it, and what my black friends are saying is that it’s incredibly important for us to keep witnessing, to help them hold the grief and rage of it because we’ve been denying it for so long. We can’t fix it by ourselves, and if we think we can, we are buying in to the White Saviorism that will end up doing harm. I honestly believe that we white folks need to unpack our shit, get really clear on where we’ve been wrong, where we’ve been complicit, and then step aside and let the folks who are dying lead us. I don’t think we can be silent, but we need to be loudest with our white friends and family. And that is going to take time and a great deal of work. 


4. Blaming Systems – Expecting the systems to get us out of this one (voting in new leaders, a gradual culture shift in policing, greater education in our schools about racism and white supremacy) is complacency. It is laziness. It is us being unwilling to swim in the waters we have helped create that are literally destroying communities of black and brown people. Blaming systems (government, fascism, “our country”) serves only to deflect responsibility from the people who run these systems and those (like us white women) who benefit from them. We need to stay in discomfort, acknowledge the ways in which we have held up these principles and systems, not wallow in shame, and work through our own fears about what we might lose if black and brown people are treated with full humanity and equality in this country.

This is our work. It is hard and necessary. And we can do hard things if we do them together. It is our responsibility as white women of privilege to do it. Telling others loudly and proudly that we want change without being willing to dive deeply in to these really hard conversations is disingenuous. It means we don’t really want change, or that we want it to happen in spite of us. But the truth is, it can’t happen without us. This isn’t about judgment or vilifying anyone. It is about steeling ourselves for what we’ll find, knowing that whatever happens, it won’t kill us, and trusting that we have the strength and power to do this work. I hope you’ll join me. It’s well past time.