Posts tagged healing
For Weary Friends

I know you thought America couldn't disappoint you anymore. You've been followed in stores too many times. You've had to show your ID to prove who you are too many times. You've been stopped and frisked too many times. Told you look like a "suspect" too many times. You've received enough backwards compliments to fill every pocket you own. You've watched criminalization ravage your community for decades. You read too many "apologies" from actors, politicians, musicians, and friends. Since you were six, you've been navigating the space between "I am somebody" and "all men are created equal". And then came Ferguson.

How could we not be immune? Though we are not at all surprised and can claim no sense of shock, we still feel horrified- dishonored and disrespected as distorted images of ourselves unfold on screens. This is a disease America has refused to treat, and we feel the shivers run down our backs. Numbness overtakes us in between feelings of great sorrow, great anger, great frustration. We find ourselves trying to cry it out, shout it out, read it out, write it out, march it out, and yet it remains. Our feelings. Our emotions. Our desire to be fully human demands our emotions. Try as we might to divorce ourselves, to just not care… Our humanity refuses to let us go. Our feelings must be felt. Even when we wish we couldn't feel a thing.

For days we have been unable to turn our heads from our devices as Ferguson's demands for justice for the brutal death of Michael Brown was met with even more violence. We couldn't sleep knowing our community was standing face to face with police dogs, tear gas and tanks. We couldn't fully focus at work or at school. Between meetings and over lunch we pulled out our phones to keep up as the events unfolded. Shaking our heads in unison, we just couldn't turn away, our ancestors somehow wouldn't allow it. So we watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We watched and we wrote. We had to process our feelings, while we wrote. Defend our feelings, while we wrote. Feel our feelings, while we wrote. 

But as our words came to life on the screens, we realized that having to explain our humanity was in itself dehumanizing. So we turned toward one another. Twitter shout outs, email messages, text messages- anything and everything we can do to shout above the noise, "Hey, you are not walking this alone. Hey, you are not feeling this alone. Hey, you are not writing this alone. Hey, you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone."

Because ironically that is the danger of the work of reconciliation; far too often it feels isolating, lonely, and solitary, but you are not alone.

So go ahead and cry. Weep to your heart's content. Go ahead and shout until the immediate frustration has waned. Go ahead and write- write in words, in phrase, in the language that your heart knows. Go ahead and take a time out. You don't have to hold the line alone. Go ahead and march, sing, write, draw, dance, pray, act until justice is done. 

Don't let them take away your humanity. Feel. Expect. Hope. Pray. Mourn.  

Feel every emotion as it courses through your body. No apologies for feeling feelings. 

Expect America to do better, churches to do better, people to do better, police to do better, politicians to do better. Your expectations of being treated as fully human is not setting the bar too high. 

Hope for better, even as you prepare your children for a world that fears them. Hope for better even as you delete the hateful comment at the end of your post. Hope for better as you work. For this is what the ancestors taught us to do. 

Pray. Remembering a God wrapped in flesh, executed unjustly, knows your pain.

Mourn with abandonment. There are too many tissues in the world to try to stop the tears from flowing. Mourn what is while we work for what could be. Mourn the loss of Michael, John and Eric. Mourn the loss of Renisha, Jordan, and Trayvon. Mourn the losses in your own life, for this is good and right. 

Feel. Expect. Hope. Pray. Mourn. For these are things humans do, and no matter what is said. No matter how many times they call you thug or race baiter, no matter how many times they call you ungodly or unChristlike, no matter how many times they question your humanity- refuse to be dismissed.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. This (I hope) your soul knows full well. 


White Privilege Weariness

I am standing in the infamous white privilege line. Our class has answered all the activity's questions one by one. As usual the White participants are grouped at one end of the room, the Black and Latino participants at the other end. In between stands a handful of Asian participants. The facilitator asks a series of questions, mostly directed at the group of White participants. Their conversation continues... and continues... and continues. After a few minutes, I notice all of our bodies have naturally turned to reinforce the focus of the conversation between the White participants. The people of color form a quiet outer circle, glancing at each other as the conversation continues largely without us. One of the young women next me raises her hand; she is too far away to be noticed. Remaining unseen, she gives up. As she lowers her hand, I suddenly become very weary.

Let me pause here to note that this is not a critique of the facilitator nor the activity. I myself have led the white privilege conversation more times than I can count. I've led it. I've chosen it. I've started and ended classes with it. I've done it with young people and elderly people. I've done it when the racial mix is huge and when I'm the only person of color in the room. I am quite sure I have facilitated the resulting conversation well some days but from a place of hurt and bitterness on others. My weariness is not from being tired at the activity itself.

My weariness is rooted in realizing how often starting the race conversation with white privilege automatically centers the experience of white folks. On the day mentioned above, I so clearly saw how focusing on white privilege filled the space. There was no room left for the stories, the experiences, the realities of people of color except in service to the education of white folks. We almost served as more of a comparative study than live humans standing on the opposite side of the room.

How often have you been a room where the feelings of white people take priority? Do they feel guilt or shame? Are we making them feel guilt or shame? How uncomfortable are they? Is the room safe for them? Do they get it? In the natural occurrence of asking these questions, people of color have a tendency to become background music to the story being created for white people. As a result people of color must manage their own expectations, emotions, language, questions, frustrations. I think the trauma of racism (and recalling it during these sessions) is severely underestimated. It is such work, such risk for people of color to enter spaces created with the purpose of serving white people.  

So here's what I've been contemplating. Is it possible for us to talk about race, even white privilege, without making white people the center? I wonder if it's possible to bring the narratives of people of color to the center, to hold them for their own sake. I'm trying to recall if I have ever experienced a workshop/training that sought healing for people of color rather than education for white people. Isn't it weird that white people would experience such privilege even when trying to make them aware of that same privilege? One day I would like to try hosting a workshop where people of color tell their stories, and thats it. Period.

Where people of color talk, vent, laugh, cry and affirm one another's racial realities. 

Where white people don't talk, don't justify, don't question.

Where white people are given different rules that require seeking permission to participate.

Where white people are expected to connect the dots themselves, to own their learning, to manage their emotions.

I wonder if white privilege could be taught by eliminating even the small privileges/rules that typically serve white folks well in a classroom setting.        

This is not an exercise intended to be mean or to make white people feel awful. Nor is it an exercise to minimize the stories and experiences of white people. I just want to spend a little more time asking myself what it would be like for the priority to be reversed. Rather than judging the success of my training on whether or not white people walked away understanding privilege; could I define success based on the emotional energy of people of color after the training is done? Could I so center the experience of people of color that they walk away feeling some measure of healing, of energy, of understanding about themselves and each other? Could they leave more alive then when they came? 

I often lead with conversations on white privilege because I work with predominately white institutions. It kinda feels obvious. However, I am beginning to believe that this reality makes it even more important that I not center whiteness. It's possible that my little training or class will be the only space when people of color are at the center simply because their stories are important- not so that white people can have an "aha" moment- but because people of color need to speak their truth. My weariness of white privilege is creating an energy source within for new ways of training, of leading, of being. I'm kinda excited about it.