I got really, REALLY overwhelmed after the 2016 election when I tried to DO ALL OF THE THINGS to keep the progressive agenda moving forward in Obama’s absence. I was very worried we’d lose what tiny bits of progress we had made in transgender rights and criminal justice reform and immigration reform and environmental issues etc. I called and emailed my representatives and I donated to charities and I marched and I signed up for 19 million newsletters telling me all of the things we needed to be worried about and then our fears started coming true with the undoing of protective orders and adding of new hurdles and I just collapsed in a pile of fear and anxiety and disappointment and shame in the middle of my living room and wrapped myself up in beer, french fries, and episodes of The Flash and ignored the world around me for quite some time.
I mean, I stayed up to date with the basics of the news. But I stopped calling my representatives and I stopped going to meetings and I stopped reading action items and…I stopped showing up.
I have continued to read during this time, however. I just finished When They Call You A Terrorist which was one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve read in a long time and one written from a life with absolutely zero similarities to my own. I’ve been trying to read more and more from authors outside of my realm of experiences and that memoir definitely was that. I mean – we are talking ZERO OVERLAP. It was also an incredible lesson in empathy and when it was over, the neurons in the “DO SOMETHING” part of my brain started firing again.
I never stopped caring, I just had to take a break from all of the “action items” because I cared about EVERYTHING and I got too overwhelmed by the leaving of the Paris Climate Accord and the rescinding of the rules for bathrooms for Transgender students that the Obama Presidency left behind. I was buried under fear of the result of a criminal justice system that seemed to stop distancing itself from the privatized prison complex. I was restless every night as I worried about children losing health insurance and mental health coverage no longer being mandated, at a time when people in mental health crisis create an unnecessary burden on our local law enforcement.
So, last night, I finally showed up again.
The Alabama Youth Justice Coalition put on a community forum at my library about youth justice reform and what we can do from a legislative standpoint and what can we do at the community level. It was a fascinating learning experience as I was eunaware of some of the hurdles faced by teens in the “system” as young as 14. We broke out into small discussion groups and I kid you not: I ALMOST LEFT THEN. I do not handle the “small discussion group” thing very well because it involves not being awkward and I AM ALWAYS AWKWARD.
But I remembered what I’ve read time and time again in regard to issues facing people of color. I am NOT expected to be a white savior, no matter how much the racist systems I grew up in wants to make me think I am. If I really want to help, I need to just listen. And you con’t be TOO awkward if you’re just listening. So that’s what I did. Listened and asked questions.
In my group there was a gentleman who started a non-profit for mentoring local at-risk kids. There was a retired teacher who took education to an adjacent county jail system for the teens who were missing out on high school due to imprisonment. There was a husband who used to work with DHR (or I guess CPS depending on where you live) and his wife who worked with youth in their church. And there I was, a middle class white lady who types a lot of words about race on the interwebs.
When I got home last night, I brought this up immediately on Facebook and a few friends brought up the importance of showing up and caring. So I’ve been reflecting on that this morning, how important that is. Showing up and Caring. I’m trying to find my place and to not get overwhelmed again. I know I’ll never stop caring, but I want to keep showing up however I can, and I can’t do that unless I keep from drowning in all the work that needs to be done.
I’m also trying to remember there’s value in writing about my struggles and my learning online. I tend to dismiss it like I did in the paragraph above when I reduced it to typing “a lot of words about race on the interwebs” but there is real value in being authentic about my journey to understand my own privilege and helping other people put into words their own struggles with facing the same. It’s not up to our communities of color to teach white people about racism. I mean, they’re struggling to rise up above systems built to hold them down, why should they have to take time out of that struggle to hold our hands through the reeds. So I try to put out the lessons I’ve learned so as to take the burden off of them. And there is value in that, as well. It’s not going to be something I lead with in a group discussion, “I have a blog where I talk about how stupid I am about my own privilege,” but it is something of value and I need to remember that.
So here’s to always caring and reading and sometimes showing up when the pull to hide is not too strong.