When it comes to healing the racial wounds that divide this country into the oppressed and the oppressor, the thing that comes up time and time again as a means to healing is dialogue. We need to talk. And we, as White people, need to listen.
And more importantly, we need to listen when people are expressing their anger. As I have read the accounts of different Black Americans, the thing I continually hear is White Americans only want to listen when it's comfortable. We must be spoken to in soft, calming tones. We want to be reassured we're good people. We want to be told things aren't that bad, and it's okay to let time heal this. We don't want to be made aware of the sense of urgency the Black community lives with.
We, the White people, must be treated like fragile glass eggs that could break at any second. We must not be made aware of the deep residing pain that develops within Black Americans as they live with the daily struggles of racism - from both micro and macro aggressions.
White Americans are uncomfortable with the anger of Black men and women for many reasons. It makes us feel guilty. It makes us afraid we'll respond wrong and be labeled racist (this is a reflection of how much we make this about ourselves). It makes us afraid because we have internalized false biases about how Black people are naturally more violent (if you believe this, we need to have an even longer discussion RIGHT NOW). And on a deeper level, we don't want these inherently cruel and patently wrong prejudices to be surfaced, because again, that would make us look bad.
On average, White people want to see things change without having to acknowledge that people are angry. Because if we see the anger, then we see the pain, and if see the pain, we must admit things have been bad for a very, very long time and we have done nothing for a very, very long time.
A Black man's life, in his own words:
It gets so tiring, you know. It sucks you dry. People don't trust you. From the moment I wake up, I know stepping out the door, that it will be the same, day after day. The bus can be packed, but no one will sit next to you. You get served last... when they serve you they have this phony smile and just want to get rid of you... you have to show more ID to cash a check, you turn on the TV and there you always see someone like you, being handcuffed and jailed. They look like you and sometimes you begin to think it is you! You are a plague! You try to hold it in, but sometimes you lose it. Explaining doesn't help. They don't want to hear. Even when they ask, "Why do you have a chip on your shoulder?" Shit... I just walk away now. It doesn't do any good explaining."
The above example features many of the micro aggressions that Black Americans experience on a daily basis. For the most part, a lot of the protests have revolved around the macro aggression - the open killing of unarmed Black people.
However, when we are only moved to action by the overt racism, we are looking at the waterfall while ignoring the gushing river leading up to it. Yes, the waterfall catches our attention. But it's the powerful current of water behind it that causes it.
This current shows up as daily forms of insidious judgement, prejudice, and demeaning behavior. The problem is, as White Americans, we don't see it. Below are two powerful example of this. You didn't see these things happen. And if there weren't videos, would you believe they did? I have left the caption in so the Black people who experienced it can speak about it in their own words.
I can't even come out here for some fresh air without a White lady telling me I shouldn't be sitting here."
The above videos are an example of what it means to be labeled by White Americans as "other" in this country. To be Black is to constantly encounter people who think you don't belong. You must constantly prove your right and your worthiness to exist. Make no mistake - these videos are not isolated incidents (as Team Top Figure noted in their caption). It was just the one time they decided to film it happening. Imagine how exhausting that would be. How infuriating it would be. How you would see this happening to not just you, but your friends, your family, and your community. How it would get under your skin and inside your head - is it me? Am I imagining this? Why don't White people do something to stop this?
Along with the micro and macro aggresions, there's something in between this. A sort of national complacency that allows a deeply racist man to own a NBA team with a mostly Black roster (Donald Sterling). It's what allows us to make folk heroes out of men like Cliven Bundy. In 2014, Bundy held an armed standoff in Nevada to oppose government overreach. Bundy, who is a source of inspiration for many White Americans, said this about the Black community, "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves?"
Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy are only the tip of iceberg. The fact is, we as White people have a long history of idealizing and elevating racist people into positions of power and influence. The most glaring example is of course our current president (to understand this begin with his role in the Central Park 5). But as I pointed out in the two examples above, it's not just the man at the top. He's just the one we are all aware of. Racist people hold positions of power, from city council to landlords to middle managers, in every corner of this country. As a White person, this can be hard to see, because to us they appear neutral. There is no negative impact for us. Nothing forces you or I to acknowledge their existence. And so we don't.
You add all of that up, plus all the things I didn't get into (there is so much more) and yes, there is a lot to be angry about. And adding to the anger is the fact that, as a Black person, your anger is considered inappropriate and unwanted. If you're Black and talking about your life, your children, or your community, you're not allowed to express any emotion. Don't yell. Don't glare. Don't get tense. Be as soft and tender as possible. Make us feel safe.
The bottom line is, asking Black people to talk about racism while demonizing their anger is akin to emotional torture. It's a brutal way of negating someone's experience. It's a direct blow to someone's right to feel in response to the world around them. It's a form of silencing people who need to be heard more than ever.
And so I leave you with last one video. This one might make you uncomfortable. It might bring up all kinds of stories and biases. It might make you want to return to the words and voices softened for your comfort. Keep watching. Resist any urges to project onto them how they "should" act or what you would do. We, as White people, do not experience racism. We have no idea how it feels. We have no place to say how anyone should respond to it. Our only place is to listen and understand this is but a glimpse of the emotional weight Black Americans carry every day.
This post is part 2 of 4 in a series I'm doing on modern racism in America. As I have learned about what racism and anti-racism work are in a modern cultural context, I have come to understand one of the most important things we can do is end the culture of silence (we will dive into that in part 4). Let's break the silence together and continue the conversation...
When white people talk about a person of color in a movie, they will often identify that person by their race or ethnicity. "I really like the black woman, she's..." or "Why did that one guy do that? You know, the Asian one..." We, as white people, are well aware of other people's race and use it as a way to identify them. When we speak about our fellow white people, however, we rarely, if ever, identify them as being white. "The tall woman..." or "The one on the phone."
For us, as white people, we do not see whiteness as a means of description. In our minds, to be white is to exist. To describe the "white woman" or the "white man" wouldn't make sense because, at any given time, we are surrounded by white people and that could mean just about anyone. To white people, we are not a part of a race. We just are.
When it is pointed out that we are in fact part of a racial group, we, as white people, tend to cringe with internal discomfort. We don't like to be thought of as a collective. We like to see ourselves as individuals, free of the constraints of racial identity.
Part of the reason being a member of the white race makes us so uncomfortable is because we know that, historically, a white group was often an angry mob, a conqueror, a system of terror. The white race is associated with the colonization of Native lands (the US, Australia, South Africa, India, etc.), genocide, the KKK, white supremacy, and so on. And not to mention the millions of whites who still, in present times, consider the white race to be superior. To be a part of the white group, the white race, means we are a part of a group that causes inexplicable pain (when I say "white race" I mean as a social concept - there is no biological white race).
On the other hand, when we as whites identify with the white individual, we connect ourselves with heroes. There is no shortage of white people (mostly men who are straight and able bodied, but that's another conversation), who we feel have contributed valiantly to politics, medicine, art, and science. We loathe the idea of being lumped in with the white race but love the idea of being white individuals. We even fantasize about being the next great white hero, the next Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Bill Gates, Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, and so on.
We wonder what contribution we'll make, how we'll be remembered, and how our legacy, as the individual we are, will be memorialized.
However, to not identify with a race is something only whites are allowed to do. We can choose to ignore our racial identity because we see whiteness everywhere (the government, tv, movies, CEOs, writers, our neighborhood, restaurants, work, etc). It feels like the norm, and we've internalized it as the norm, thereby negating our need to identify it, because to be white is to just be. Whiteness defines the Western human experience.
It is so interwoven into the society white Europeans built that we (as white people) don't even realize it's there. Which leads us to believe it's not necessary to acknowledge it, or to claim we're a part of it. For many white people, they would say a part of what? And in that question, they unwillingly acknowledge that society is so intertwined with the white experience that there is no place where they end and everything else begins. You can't acknowledge something you can't see. But, just because we can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. In fact, brown and black people will readily tell you that they see where the white race begins and ends. They see what it means to be white. And because we, as white people, are so used to seeing ourselves everywhere, it's a shock when someone points out that because whiteness has no end, because it so deeply pervades society, it is actively erasing everything that exists beyond its borders.
In other words, to be brown or black is to be invisible. It is to be outside the scope of what we've deemed human existence is.
Its is only us white people, who cannot perceive of ourselves the way everyone else does, who see our skin color as so universal, so standard, so equated with the very concept of humanity, that we don't even realize that our whiteness is intertwined with the reality we're living. We rarely, if ever, reflect on what it means to be a person of color and interacting with the white race.
In order to root out systematic racism, we as white people must acknowledge the reason it makes us so uncomfortable to be thought of as a white race or a white group. And in acknowledging this, we must come to terms with how other people see us, as white people dominating a diverse world.
As we've talked about so far, we white people prefer to be defined as individuals. That's what we've been socialized to believe we are. And so when we enter a room with people of color, we don't register why our presence would make anyone there uncomfortable. In our minds, we project onto them our individual qualities. We think they see a person who is kind. Or a person who is funny. A person who is warm and loving.
However, upon looking at me, or you, or anyone else who is white, there is no way to know who you are individually. What you are, to people who don't know you, is a white person. You may be racist. You may not be. You might be a white supremacist. Or you might not be. You might wish harm onto people of color. Or maybe not. How can anyone tell by looking at you?
We as white people must realize that although our intentions are good, we are part of a race of people that calls the cops on a black family having a bbq. We are part of a race of people who calls the cops on two black men sitting in Starbucks, waiting for a meeting to start. We are part of a race of people who have been caught on video killing black people.
Therefore, we must acknowedlge that although we believe ourselves to be good people, when we walk into a room, down a street, or get on a bus, there's no way to know whether or not we're the next Karen. There's no way to know if we're about to exert terror on an unsuspecting person of color.
There. Is. No. Way. To. Know.
As I learned about identity, racism, and where I stood in it all, it was hard to reconcile the public perception many people hold of me with my private self. To come to realize my presence caused people anxiety and uncertainty was something I wanted to deny. Surely not me. Them, yes. But not me. And that is me returning to my insistence that I be seen as an individual, and not a member of the white race.
And now you might be thinking That's not fair! I'm not racist! I'm a GOOD person!
All I can say is, now you are beginning to understand how it feels to be judged for your skin color. But make no mistake - the way white people are judged is incomparable to the way people of color are judged. You will not be killed for being white. You will not have a police officer kneel on your neck with his hands in his pockets, casually strangling the life out of you. You will not lose out on jobs, housing, or loans because you are white.
Rather, you will benefit. Being white is not going to derail your life. It's going to accelerate it (many people refuse to hear this point because discrimination is illegal. Legality does not stop people from committing crimes. If it did we would not have robbers and rapists. People break the law all the time. The only way to stop discrimination is to stop racism).
We may not like that we are a race, and one of the main reasons we don't is we've never had to think of ourselves that way. Generalizing and grouping people by race is thus far something that has been done by white people and not to them. We exempted ourselves and therefore respond with anger, defensiveness, and wounded pride when it's done to us. When we are asked to see ourselves as white, our knee jerk reaction is to claim we are not racist. We're not like those people. We're different. We're an individual. We proclaim this with pride, without a hint of irony that our insistence on being seen as an individual, rather than a member of a socially constructed race, can only be done if we grant ourselves special privileges no other race has.
For more on this I highly recommend the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (make sure you get the updated version - the first edition was published two decades ago). This series will be continued with part 3 - what does it mean to be a good ally?
Last night, I watched Michelle Obama's "Becoming" on Netflix. It centers around the time she did her book tour for her memoir of the same name (late 2018 into early 2019), which took place a year after she moved out of the White House. There were so many amazing quotes in this film. I've listed some below and why they stood out to me. If you have a favorite quote yourself, share it in the comments!
When Michelle met with a group of teenage girls, one of them asked her how she feels about transitioning back to her normal life. How would Michelle navigate the leap from First Lady back to the life she was living before? How would she get back on track?
I love this quote because so many of us are currently in a place of transition. Due to the current circumstances, many of us are facing the reality that we cannot do, or don't want to do, what we've been doing. We're also acknowledging that life won't be like it was before, and we have to create a new track. Considering what it would be like to go from the all-consuming role as First Lady onto a completely new, unknown role, inspired me to embrace the unknown and the new with courage and integrity.
In a later group meeting with young black women (Michelle speaks often in the film about her passion for working with the youth), Rayven asked a powerful question:
"I just want to know, how did you, as a black woman, persevere through invisibility?"
One thing I loved about this film was how open Michelle was about racial inequality in this country. It's something she wasn't able to speak so directly to while she was First Lady. And I also love how she empowered each one of those women with her words. She didn't ask them to wait for something outside of them to change. She asked them to change their circumstances within while at the same time acknowledging we are not on an even playing field. This is so important because I see so many people who say the first part - change begins within. But they don't do the second part, which is to validate the affect that oppression and bias has.
"I have high expectations of young people. It's the same expectations my family had of me. My grandfather, Dandy, expected us to be great. But he went through life being underestimated. Growing up, he was a brilliant young man, somebody that loved to read books, to delve into things in a deep and meaningful way. He could have been a professor. He could have been a doctor. But because of race and class, he couldn't get into colleges. He didn't have the money or the resources. And imagine walking around with all this ability and the world telling you, "No. No, you're not good enough. No, you're not ready." Watching people half your intelligence being promoted past you. Watching opportunities slip away, Not because you're not able, but because nobody thinks you deserve it.That caused him a lot of disappointment and anger. That made him push us to be better." - Michelle Obama, Becoming
Of all the quotes in the movie, this one stood out to me the most. It struck me not only because of the anger I would feel if I was Dandy's granddaughter, but because this is still the world we live in. We still promote people based on the fact that they fit an inner ideal of what we think a successful person should look like. Until we tear down all our prejudices, we will continue to all lose out on the brilliance and ingenuity of so many of our fellow citizens.
"I ended up going to Princeton. I was one of a handful of minority students. It was the first time in my life where I stood out like that. I learned that one of my roommates moved out because her mother was horrified that I was black. She felt her daughter was in danger. I wasn't prepared for that." - Michelle Obama, Becoming
This quote also stood out to me above all the others. If someone couldn't live with me because my skin color made them afraid, and I was a young girl, finding my place in the world, I wouldn't know what to do. Can you imagine the impact that would have on a young, developing psyche? And as with the quote above, this is still the reality of the world we live in. No one should have to question their worthiness or their humanity because of the ignorance of another person.
"The energy that's out there is much better than what we see. I wish people didn't feel badly, because this country is good. People are good. People are decent... One of the things we do miss about Barack Obama is that he would get out into the country and he would campaign around hope, and he would fill arenas." - Michelle Obama, Becoming
This was one of the last quotes I noted. I had about six other quotes highlighted, which I cut because I wanted to end with this one. What stands out to me about this quote is the reminder that Obama filled arenas on hope. It's such a powerful reminder because I so often see our current president filling arenas based on anger, division, and bullying. I had forgotten that not long ago, hundreds of thousands of people also filled arenas, and on a message of hope and unity. Those people are still out there. And if, after all she's been through, Michelle can still believe in the goodness of people and this country, then I can too.
I wish I could have put down all the quotes from the film I'd saved. There were so many moments I paused, reflected on her words, and thought about the class and gracefulness she brought to everything she did and does. But the thing that really surprised me was how funny Michelle is. We all know she has a brilliant mind and an inspiring, forward thinking spirit. What I had never seen before was how funny and charismatic she is.
Becoming is available to stream on Netflix. I hope you get a chance to see it also! And now I'm off to download the audio book because I love hearing author's tell me their story in their own voice.
"Before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, I shared my mental health issues publicly for the first time. It wasn't easy to admit I wasn't perfect. But opening up took a huge weight off my back. It made life easier. Now I'm opening up again. I want people to know they're not alone. So many of us are fighting our mental health demons now more than ever.
The thing is -- and people who live with mental health issues all know this -- it never goes away. You have good days and bad. But there's never a finish line. I've done so many interviews after Rio where the story was the same: Michael Phelps opened up about depression, went into a treatment program, won gold in his last Olympics and now is all better. I wish that were the truth. I wish it were that easy. But honestly -- and I mean this in the nicest way possible -- that's just ignorant. Somebody who doesn't understand what people with anxiety or depression or post-traumatic stress disorder deal with have no idea."
- Michael Phelps
The above quote is from a recent article Michael Phelps wrote for espn.com. To read the full article go here.
When I came across this article, I felt a sense of relief and self-love wash over me. Although I work hard at loving myself and my own mental health journey, sometimes you just need to hear someone say, "It's okay. I get it."
While this website is all about healing, both individually and as a collective, I haven't said much about my own healing journey. I often see other speakers and writers putting their own stories out there, raw and gritty, and sharing their full truth. It always makes my heart drop a little and I feel like I'm failing. I feel scared and weak and like my self-love is a sham.
Of course, the truth is much more complicated - deep down I do fear parts of me are unworthy of love, but at the same time, acknowledging I'm not ready to share them is it's own form of self-love.
One of the main reasons I don't like to go deep into my mental health is because it began so early for me. As I was learning the stigma around mental health, I was also learning that I was one of those people. I didn't know why I was filled with anger, sadness, and uncontrollable anxiety. I only knew it was considered abnormal and was something to be ashamed of.
I worked hard to "fit in" and act nominal, which only caused all that I was suppressing to come out in explosive ways. I became self-destructive, which grew into more feelings I needed to suppress, which led to more smothering, which spiraled on and on until my family insisted I seek professional help.
I began therapy when I was 22, and I was so sure this was something I would be shunned for I didn't tell anyone. A lot has changed since then, and I am so grateful to all who speak out to normalize mental health. Things are changing, and the change is thankfully picking up momentum.
I'm now 38, and the landscape outside of me has changed in infinite ways. But the landscape inside of me hasn't yet caught up. I have not yet untangled all my deeply rooted associations between anxiety/depression/anger and shame/weakness/exile. Because of things that happened when I was younger, parts of me still fear I will end up alone and rejected if I share my full self.
I hope to one day love myself so fully, and so completely, that I can share all of me without fear.
And to give myself a little nudge in that direction, I will share a story I've never told before. When I was about 10 years old I had a friend over. She was playing with a flute I had and I got mad she wouldn't give it back. I became so enraged I hit the flute and smashed it into her mouth.
As soon as I did it I felt ashamed. When her lip began to bleed I recoiled in horror at my self. I couldn't believe I'd lost control like that. I couldn't believe I'd hurt my friend and made her cry. Later, when my parents found out from her parents what I'd done, my parents yelled at me. They reiterated to me what I had already told myself - there was something wrong with me, I was a horrible person, and I deserved the shame that was eating me up inside.
I understand now, on a rational level, that the adults guiding me (who both had anger issues) were sending me confusing messages. I was being told one thing - your anger is bad - while being shown that their anger is normal and acceptable. However, on an emotional level, all I see is what I did wrong.
The parts of myself that are hardest for me to shine a light on, the ones that line my gut like oil, are not the ones about what happened to me. They're the ones where I'm the person who caused the pain. They're the ones where I lost control. Where I lashed out, physically or verbally, before I could stop myself. And where, later in life, I turned that buried anger on myself.
They're the ones where I can't give forgiveness because I don't think I deserve it.
But I'm trying. I'm pulling at that thread, and eventually, the whole inner monologue of shame and guilt will unravel and let go. And what sweet relief it will be when it does so.
If you're stuck in some heavy or dark feelings, whether that be anxious, sad, worried, or depressed, here's a little trick. It's going to sound a little odd, but whenever I do it I feel some relief.
First, put one hand on top of your head. Then put one hand on your heart. And then imagine your heart is saying to your head, "I know you're doing the best you can. I love you." Keep repeating this simple phrase. Breathe deep. Close your eyes.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you.
As you keep repeating the words, you might try expanding the phrase.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you and you're safe.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you and so does the whole Universe.
I know you're doing the best you can. I love you and I'm taking care of you.
I hope this quick and simple trick helps you also. I'm wishing you much peace and joy going forward.
For more on relief from intense and overwhelming feelings, checkout my Relief from Anxiety or Depression package. Or, for a less deep-dive, try my Empowering Visualizations package. Both of these are offered on a donation basis - pay what you can when you can.
Donations greatly appreciated!
I know speaking up against racism is uncomfortable.
We, as white people, have been conditioned to believe it's "impolite" to have these talks out in the open. We have been told it's better than it was, so what's the big deal? We have been socialized to believe that if we speak up we will become the brunt of hate ourselves. We have been told that we, as women, are marginalized too, and therefore we're not capable of being oppressors. We have been told it's better to keep quiet and stay comfortable than to standup to our family, our friends, our communities.
What I have come to find though, is that staying comfortably silent is far more painful than rejection from those that wish I would shut up and get in line. The pain of knowing people are dying, people are being treated as less than human, hurts way more than any angry responses I receive. I cannot spend my time on this Earth ignoring the plight of my fellow humans, my fellow citizens, my friends, and my neighbors.
Furthermore, any discomfort I experience when speaking out pales in comparison to what it is like to live on the other side of this system. The discomfort, pain, and fear of living as a brown or black person in this country is so severe, and so heightened, that it is as if we live in two disparate worlds that share the same space.
So far, the majority of people I've seen speak up on behalf of Ahmaud have been black. And this is why we still live with a system of racism. Until white people hold other white people accountable, nothing will change. We should not hold the power in tearing this system down. But we do.
And this is when so many want to say, "But I didn't do this. People 400 hundred years ago did. How can you blame me???" I'm not blaming you. I'm asking you to leave this world better than you found it.
If you went to a park and saw trash on the ground, would you pick it up, or would you say, "Well someone did that before me so I shouldn't be asked to pick it up."
It doesn't matter who made the mess. What matters is who has the integrity to leave this world better than they found it.
As I said when I began this, it's uncomfortable to speak up against racism. But you know what's even more uncomfortable? Living in fear because your skin color threatens white people. Or worse, losing your LIFE because you can be killed without reason.
In writing posts like these, I realize I will turn many off to the work I do. People will come here, see posts like this, and want nothing to do with my meditations and my work. I'm sorry it has to be that way. But I cannot in good faith create work intended to heal while turning my back on the healing we need as a country.