I prayed tonight.
It’s still a weird instinct I have as I’m lying in bed and feeling anxious. It’s not that I believe anyone is listening, it’s just that it was my go-to move for several decades and it’s not a habit that dies easily. I’m anxious. I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m hurt. I pray.
The difference is that now it’s not really directed at anyone, but a way to cement something into my subconscious. Maybe a mantra of affirmation. Maybe an appeal to the universe for rescue. Last night? It was simply a way to remind my heart about what I was feeling.
Please. Please. Please don’t let me forget these feelings before I can write them down in the morning.
That’s when I started openly referring to myself as a “writer” by the way – when I recognized it as a compulsion. Something I had to do in order to process something.
I was composing the words in my head, hoping I’d remember them when I woke in the morning and then – because the topic was not peaceful sunshine and rainbows – I started realizing I wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep after all. The prayer was unnecessary. I needed to get up and write.
But I’m anxious. And I need my comfort items. Those items change regularly, but if I’m in tune with myself (something I’ve learned to be more of after starting therapy) I can easily pull out those things I need in that VERY moment. Those comfort items. And I went and I grabbed one of Donnie’s hoodies out of his closet. Truthfully? I wanted him. He is often my comfort item. But he is asleep so his hoodie would have to do. And then I made a pot of coffee. At 12:46am. I know that seems silly, but coffee is often my comfort because it indicates the start of a new day. It’s representative of my quiet morning time when I write the best. So I made my coffee, pulled my hoodie on over my head. And now here I am, sitting down to write.
Sitting with Discomfort
Kelly Wickham Hurst – founder and CEO of Being Black At School (I actually met at a Blog conference years ago when she was then simply known as MochaMomma) – shared something out on Facebook and while the article is important and I’ll get to that in a minute, she used the words in the share:
“It’s okay to be uncomfortable with this title. Sit with it.”
My Go-To story I tell about basking in my own discomfort long enough to learn something – is from over a decade ago. It’s an easy one to tell because the shameful wounds have long healed and it’s also story that most can get behind without getting too…”OMG. PC CULTURE IS RUINING EVERYTHING.” It’s my story of a friend many moons ago who called me out on my casual use of the word “retarded” as she explained how people (like her) who were connected to the community of people with mental handicaps…bristle strongly at that word. It causes them a lot of pain. I was ashamed and embarrassed and I’m pretty sure I kinda cut the conversation short and stumbled off in a huff of defensiveness and shame.
But I have an intense ability for empathy and her words would not leave my head. They kept bouncing around and I kept hearing them and finally I just sat in the discomfort for awhile. Really sat with it and thought about it. Why was I so hurt? So uncomfortable? So ashamed? And the truth started revealing itself. Because she had told me something that was her truth. And in reality, I could not argue that. Not as someone who has not walked in her shoes. Her truth was she was hurt and that hurt was caused by me and I needed to really come to terms with that and decide if I was okay with causing her (and countless others I might encounter) hurt just to hold onto my pride? Or would I learn from this and move on.
And I learned from it and moved on.
But holy shit, y’all. It’s hard. It’s hard to really sit in the discomfort that is often caused by a feeling of shame. Especially if you were unaware that your words or actions had any negative impact whatsoever. Or even worse, if your words or actions were something you were PROUD of, something you thought you were doing RIGHT. And then you come to find out you’re doing it wrong, very wrong, to some people.
Black Lives Matter
When I first started hearing the term “Black Lives Matter” after the verdict was read in the Trayvon Martin case I had weird feelings. That verdict hurt me in my heart. How? HOW? HOW? And I was reading so much pain on Twitter and I just couldn’t process the pain of so many people. But the phrase “black lives matter” made me feel strange. And then I saw someone say “all lives matter” and I thought Shew. Okay. That one is MUCH better. That one does not make me feel strange. I like that one better.
But then – a very short while later (thank god) – I read someone condemning the “all lives matter” response in a way that caused me extreme discomfort because I had very quickly adopted that phrasing as a better mantra and this person was shaming me about that. I got defensive and angry and I felt hurt and I got off twitter and quit reading anymore.
But again…those word kept bouncing around in my head and because of my intense capacity for empathy…I started trying to really understand the Black Americans who were angrily shouting about their lives mattering and how the Trayvon Martin case proved they didn’t matter. And then it hit me. F*ck “all lives matter” – that person was right. I’m obviously part of the racism system they’re all talking about as my first instinct was to remind everyone that my life mattered too, without even noticing that OF COURSE IT DOES, that’s the problem.
I still feel a lot of shame associated with that journey. I’m embarrassed that – even for a small moment – I waved the “all lives matter” flag in the face of the hurt black men and women trying to have their voices heard. GOD. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed. BUT – it reminded me again the importance of sitting with discomfort and really letting it rattle around in your head and your heart and find where it comes from.
Old Habits Of Old White Ladies Die Hard
Now. Back to the article Kelly was reference:
I’ve been sitting on the title and the article for about a few hours. This is what caused me to pray to a non-existent god that I not forget the words rattling around in my head before I could write them down. This is what caused me to give up on that prayer and just get up, get in my comfort hoodie and make my comfort coffee, and write.
I had several initial responses to the article. I’ll be honest. Even in my constant attempt to reprogram my brain, the Privileged White Person is still very much in charge of many of my initial reactions to things.
I’m sure they voted. And maybe they campaigned and canvassed and volunteered. And maybe they were genuinely disappointed by the results of the election. But they have the luxury to not really give a fuck 12 hours later—to discuss the election results with the same glib curiosity and intrigue they’d discuss sabermetrics or James Harden’s true shooting percentage—because this election doesn’t change much for them. It’s not a sweeping referendum on their status as full citizens.
Me: But! But! I still give a fuck! I’m still up all night! I’m still…
But these “well-meaning” white people—the ones who voted for Hillary but were able to sleep last night—are. And they haven’t done enough. Because it just doesn’t matter enough for them to do enough.
Me: But! I’m not sleeping at all! I’m a mess!
The privileged White Woman is a tough voice to crash down.
But I did what Kelly asked and really sat with it. (I do that whenever the Privileged White Woman speaks first, I know she’s always wrong.) And here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve said it 100 times since Tuesday. My family and my life will not suffer. I’ve said it over and over and over again. The only vulnerability in my life is my oldest child and – don’t get me wrong – that vulnerability keeps me up at night. But that’s not a vulnerability that broadcasts in his skin color so I can breathe a little easier than some.
But for the most part? My family is safe. Safe from any negative impact of electing a president who emboldened racists. That is a fact you CAN NOT argue with. You can argue if you want about Trump and whether or not he’s racist, you can argue whether or not the people who voted for him are racist, but you can NOT argue that fact that his campaign emboldened racists. We’ve never seen a surge of Racist Vandalism or Racist Group Rallies like we have with Trump. You can not deny that. We didn’t see that at McCain rallies or Romney rallies. Hell, McCain shut down a birther at one of his rallies and it went viral.
His campaign emboldened racists, his presidency will do the same.
And I’m somehow comparing my White Lady sleeplessness to the pain of my black neighbors? NO ONE GOT TIME FOR THAT, ZOOT.
And I sat there licking my cheese-slicked fingers, savoring each bite—finally finding the tiniest satisfaction on a day 59.7 million of my countrymen said they wouldn’t terribly mind if I were dead.
Finding The Black Voices That Support Our Privilege
A common thing for Not-Woke White People to do is to find that one YouTube video of a black man saying he loves cops and they always treat him great. Or that one video of the black lady who hates Michelle Obama. Or that Martin Luther King meme that is posted as “proof” that he would be against protests or riots. They really like to manipulate the voice of Black America to support their position in the middle of a racist system. And whenever I see this kind of stuff surge I remind Facebook about MLK’s letter from a Birmingham Jail where he said:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
He also gave a speech in 1967 where he talked about riots:
A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’
The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes.
We can not ignore the millions of real black voices around us speaking their pain, we can not ignore the discomfort we feel from it, just because we found one black voice who echoes our own, or one MLK meme that makes us feel justified in our distaste of the movement. And we definitely shouldn’t ignore all of the other things MLK said just because our history books taught us that one quote that makes us not feel too icky about ourselves.
Silent Support Is Secondary To Loud As Hell Support
My point of all of this is that we MUST revel in our discomfort and really get to the bottom of it. We feel hurt that we were wearing our safety pins only to now read that some people don’t see it the same way we do. We have to sit with that and refrain from saying “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE!” If we are truly to make a change, it is up to us: The privileged majority. And we won’t make true change in the society if we don’t allow for true change to happen in ourselves. I’ve decided that if I’m not brave enough to wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, then I don’t get to wear a safety pin. I’m still – deep down inside – a chicken shit. I let someone use the word “gay” derogatorily recently and I didn’t call them out on it. I’m so ashamed of myself and both of my younger kids would have called it out in a HEARTBEAT but I sat silent. I heard someone say, “they always smell weird” referring to Indian Americans and I didn’t point out how terrible of a statement that was. I didn’t confront the girl with the “all lives matter” sticker on her car.
I seem to draw the line RIGHT WHERE it starts to put ME at risk.
At the same risk where our marginalized friends live EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. I write my support on Facebook and on my blog…safe places where if someone confronts or challenges me I can take the time to craft a response. I don’t do well face-to-face. So I avoid confrontations in person. If I call out the person who said something was “gay” and they get upset, suddenly I’m fumbling my words. I don’t put myself at risk for anything, really, so I don’t deserve to also wear a silent symbol of solidarity. Maybe if I felt confident I was shouting from the rooftops too? Then I could. If I donated a million dollars to breast cancer research? I could wear Pink and ignore the people who shamed Pinkwashing. But I don’t, so I get defensive when people call out my safety pin, instead of really basking in the discomfort.
I do feel confident in my evolution though. I am moving the right direction. My eyes have been opened and every day I try to do better. I’m learning to revel in my discomfort so I can learn the important lessons about myself that are buried within it.
Intent v/s Impact
Real change can only happen if the privileged majority ushers it in. And we will be unable to do that successfully if we do not listen to the pain that our marginalized neighbors are sharing. We must amplify their voices because they speak the truth in a way only they know how. Even if their truth makes us feel uncomfortable, even if we feel ashamed, we must listen to the truth only they can tell. And we must let it sit in our hearts so that it becomes a pain we can channel when we need to be reminded the difference between the INTENT of our actions and the IMPACT of them. My INTENT is always to help the marginalized, but my IMPACT is rarely noticeable. We can not feel complacent with only a good intention. True change will only happen if our actions have an IMPACT above just an INTENTION.