My Journey, So Far, with Anti-racism
Before diving into this blog, I feel compelled to speak to a couple of different things that this blog will not be. This will not be a political statement. This will not be a reflection of my spirituality or religion. This will not be a recommended path for anyone else, this will not be advice. This is not an academic exploration, nor is it sanctioned by any professional who might teach or coach around anti-racism work. This is not a story of how I have triumphed and succeeded in doing the work.
What this blog will be, is me pulling back the curtain on my experience over the course of this year in relation to the work of anti-racism. I am a young, able-bodied, white, queer female who lives in a predominantly white county with a full-time job that provides benefits. This is important for you to know because within those “boxes” that I fit into, there is a range of privileges that have allowed me the space to do some of this work that others might not have. I do not have the stress of physical or mental struggles, I have not struggled financially over the course of the pandemic and I have not experienced racism and discrimination firsthand from my racial presentation. This has made it easier for me to financially invest in things like books or Patreon donations toward learning. This has made it easier for me to mentally invest because my stress levels in other aspects of my world are low enough that I can engage in this work. And this has made it harder for me to engage in the work because of my fear of looking directly at my privilege.
And that last sentence was my catalyst for doing the work. When I realized how afraid I was of possibly being racist, I knew I had to find out. Spoiler alert, I have had racists thoughts and behaviors throughout my entire life. And to say that out loud hurts on so many levels because I had to acknowledge that my family, friends, community, media consumption, and surrounding culture have all contributed to racism. And on a deeper level that means that I have loved and valued humans and practices that have contributed to the systemic oppression, discrimination, pain, and suffering of people of other races other than my own.
Unproductively, I have struggled with the shame-based inner narrator that immediately went to refrains of, “You are a bad person.” More productively, I have tried to dismantle that shame by looking it in the face and redistributing some of the underlying truths. For one, the way I was raised and the communities that I was placed into as a child were things I had no power over. Like any other parts of our childhood, it was important to me to look at the aspects of racism that developed back then with curiosity and compassion for that child who didn’t know better. The curiosity has been instrumental in allowing more room for my exploration of my internalized racism instead of hitting shame walls that prevent discovery. I had to be okay in looking at memories and labeling my thoughts or behaviors as racist, and then pushing through that memory to get to the “why.”
The other productive redistribution of truths challenged me to look at decisions I have consciously made from the time I left home, to now. I have made choices to live in fairly homogenous places. I have made the decision to work in private mental health care. I have made the decision to make purchases of items that are produced, harvested, transported, and so on in ways that directly collide with my personal moral compass. I have made decisions out of comfort and convenience, and while that in itself is not directly racist, it is also not anti-racist. If we go by Ibram Kendi’s definition of anti-racism, there are just two ways we can live: either racist or anti-racist, there is no middle. And because of myriad ways that racism, or any other -isms, could intersect with these decisions, it’s important to evaluate the range of impact a decision has.
Has moving to a predominantly white area enabled me to have a homogenous group of friends thus limiting my exposure to other stories and experiences? Has buying a product from the Dollar Store perpetuated a cycle of enabling the selling of environmentally destructive products for low cost, and the low wages that support that cycle? And how is this possibly racist? If it’s not directly anti-racist, then it is racist, because there isn’t a “not racist” decision if I don’t evaluate these types of impacts my decisions might have. This is racist because I have not evaluated my impact. This is racist because I have chosen my comfort and my blissful ignorance over education and awareness.
We talk about comfort zones often in the context of therapy. Often, a visual of circles is used to emphasize how we start in the smaller circles and progress to the larger circles as we engage in more discomfort. The concept is that as you do things that you aren’t familiar with, you will start to grow your circle and thus expand your comfort zone.
In the context of anti-racism work, I have had to step into circles I didn’t know existed and didn’t know would be so hard to look at. The aim in all this is to keep expanding my circles, thus allowing even more space for me to connect with other people. I once believed myself to be a pretty empathetic human being. And once I dove deeper beyond the wounds that I carried, and began exploring the wounds that others do, I realized how much depth empathy could have.
In the pre-anti-racism stages of my life, I have been narcissistic when it comes to race, and probably other differences between me and others. I have held my personal wounds and successes close to me like medals that proved I was worth what I got. The thought that others might have it harder or better than me were both threats to my sense of self and the power I was eager to wield. The circles of discomfort I have yet to master include understanding that in order to be antiracist, I will have to share the experiences that make me unique and the experiences that make me special with others. It means that I will have to understand life experience as it is and not as it compares to me and what I have or what I believe I deserve. And as I have used that concept as a way of protecting myself and empowering myself for years, it’s a daunting and necessary task in order to do better.
It would be wrong of me too, to not recognize that a lot of this work has been a direct result of reading and listening to black stories. I have subscribed to a daily anti-racism email that I commit to reading in the morning. I have read a couple of books by black authors and continue to seek out more. I have added more black voices to my weekly collection of podcasts. This work is virtually impossible for me without incorporating more learning from a black perspective. I have made the mistake of asking black friends “what should I read” and have been more attentive to doing that research on the “what” myself. There are so many resources out there to discover and many black voices that are creating resources and systems for anti-racism work. I have learned to be curious and eager. I have learned to sit in my anxiety. And my hope inside my control is to continue to learn.