I’m new to paying attention to politics and social justice
and even newer to speaking/writing about it.
I mean, this last presidential election is the first time I ever voted, and I only learned that “body positivity” is a political movement which I am excluded from being a part of a few months ago.
So. Yeah. #newtothis
But this recent thing in Charlottesville kind of blew some stuff open for me.
As I read through article after article about what was happening, and what white people need to be doing right now, I felt a surge of emotions that needed to come out. I started writing, and what came out of that was my recent blog post:
Now, here’s the thing.
While I’ve received a lot of lovely feedback about that article, I’ve also gotten quite a lot of criticism.
Most of the criticism came from white people who are very well-educated on social justice issues, who are concerned that my compassionate tone could be misunderstood as sympathizing, and how dangerous it is to be putting anything like that out into the world right now.
Plus, I heard quite a bit of concern that by writing that, I missed the more important fact of racism existing in every single (white) person in our culture, due to the cultural values our country was built on.
And that’s true, so I’d like to clarify a few things:
I benefit from white privilege. This means I benefit from a system which is built upon the assumption of white supremacy, and therefore I have benefited from the long-standing systematic oppression of POC in our country.
I am racist, because like all white people in our culture, I have been brought up to be racist in many subtle (or not-subtle) ways.
Want an example?
Easy. My heart rate speeds up higher if I am walking alone at night and see a black man than I would if it was a white man.
Why? Not because I am a bad person. Not because I hate black people, or desire to oppress them.
Rather, my heart rate responds to mental concepts that were likely created before I could even talk, in response to seeing and feeling how my caretakers responded to the world.
It was later reinforced with statistics about black men being more dangerous, based on the fact that more of them are in prison (something I now understand to be a symptom of systemic racism, rather than proof that black men are actually dangerous).
Plus quite frankly, my body reacts to the fact that black men often have more imposing and powerful-looking physiques, and as a 5’3’’ woman with a history of sexual trauma, I am easily triggered by that.
Now let’s add to all this the fact that I grew up in a very rural, homogeneously white town, and was 14 years old when I met a black person for the very first time. (I remember it well, because I kept waiting for him to be scary, but he was so nice and funny, and I left that encounter deeply confused.)
So, yes. I am a part of the racism problem in our country. This is due to factors which are not my fault, but they are my responsibility.
As such, I am doing the work on myself to recognize, examine, challenge, and deconstruct the old beliefs, assumptions, and values that continue to support white supremacy and white privilege.
On top of dismantling those things inside my own self, I am also beginning the process of discussing this stuff with other people- specifically with the people in my life who have no idea what “social justice” means, and think things are fine just the way they are.
But here’s where I get a little prickly.
The internet is full of white liberals “holding each other accountable” to do better, and “be a part of the solution.”
I know that all the heat I got for my article was done with this in mind- to help me do better. And I am grateful for that, because I really do want to do better.
But I also genuinely believe that you cannot change minds if you’re not willing to really listen, engage, understand, humanize, and have compassion.
If you have unconsciously racist people in your family (and if you’re white, you do) attacking them for being ignorant and hateful will not make them suddenly go “oh, sorry, I’ll just stop being racist now!”
As any good coach knows, change occurs by meeting people where they are, really listening, acknowledging, validating, and sharing your experience.
You cannot force people to change, you can only invite them, and if you invite them by saying “you’re doing it wrong– let me tell you how you should do it instead,” you will fail.
Change takes time, and compassion.
My article wasn’t meant for liberals who are already bought in to the fact that we have a problem with racism and want to do better. It was meant to plant some seeds of consideration, for someone who has never before been (compassionately) invited into this kind of conversation.
The article may have missed the mark for you, and I’m comfortable with that. I’m not perfect.
But with the litany of “I punch Nazi’s” memes going around the internet I can’t help but asking:
Do we want to be right, or do we want to make a difference?
Anger and fear might be the appropriate response right now. It makes sense, it’s valid, and it’s ok. But taking that anger and hate into your “educational” conversations with people who don’t agree with you– I’m willing to bet that won’t work.
All I know for sure is that it doesn’t work for me.
Love and courage,
PS If you want more proof that changing minds through humanizing and compassion is effective, I’ll leave you with this wonderfully feel-good little gem.
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