We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot
We shall not cease from exploration. Where do we start?
I am in my house. I’m comfortable here, with my furniture, my books, my knick-knacks, my music. I’m vaguely aware of a doorway to…somewhere. Periodically people emerge through that doorway and I’m happy to see them. Then they go back. I’m not curious enough to follow them, and I don’t really know what’s inside.
Then one day the ground begins to shake and the door swings open. My Black friends are there, beckoning me to come inside. What I see astonishes me: a large room with different furniture, different books, different knick-knacks, different music. They show me around. I thought I knew them; now I realize I don’t know them.
Then it hits me…their room is part of what I thought was my house. It’s our house, and I’ve only been living in a small part of it.
My commitment to openness
My White friends and I have made a commitment to meaningful change, whatever it takes. The first step, then, is to figure out what needs changing, and the answer is us. This blog is a highly personal account of the beginning of my journey, with the hope that others will see themselves and have the courage to come along.
My guide is a blog Jean wrote some years ago:
If you are bearing the weight of a persistent and nagging private issue, consider testing the assumption that this situation is so private or so unique or so shameful that you cannot discuss it with anyone. Not sharing may keep you from the very help that could point you in the direction of positive change and restore your sense of balance.
This is where clearing your negative emotions of resistance or even shame may come into play. We describe the steps in Chapter 3 of Reframing Change: feel the feeling, intensify it, and release it. Feel the shame and embarrassment that you even have this problem. Intensify it by journaling about how badly you feel until new insights emerge. Keep writing until you feel better.
Therefore, I am writing this blog. I must add it is taking a certain amount of courage to go public.
Dr. Barbara J. Love’s Framework to Develop a Liberatory Consciousness aptly charts my journey.1First comes awareness, followed by analysis and accountability, and ending in action. She says:
The awareness component of a liberatory consciousness involves developing the capacity to notice, to give attention to our daily lives, our language, our behaviours, and even our thoughts. It means making the decision to live our lives from a waking position. For some, facing life with awareness may at first seem painful.
Analysis and accountability are essential to avoid causing harm. However, at any point, we can return to awareness. I have returned to this several times, each time finding myself at a deeper level.
That’s where I am – at awareness. I thought I was woke, as the kids say, having embraced action as far back as 1963. Jean has written about my recent a-hah moment, that I had more to learn about race in this country. Each time, I found myself needing to pay more attention, to notice more. I wonder if it isn't more difficult, for those of us who have been supportive all this time, to realize we need to go back to the beginning.
What holds me back?
First out of the gate: how shall I begin? This is not a list in any sense of the word, but a disjointed and random stream of consciousness.
I want to help. No... it shouldn't be help, which implies something episodic and based on the other being needy.
I should use my White skin to protect BLM. No, I shouldn't be using my privilege right out of the gate. Using privilege comes only when requested.
I should encourage a dialogue. No, I need to be quiet and listen.
I need to organize actions and protests. No, it's not my show, I have to step back.
I have achieved everything on merit. No, we started way ahead. For all we railed about Jewish quotas we were still counted as White. I have internalized a lot of false assumptions.
I have received a lot of benefits unfairly. I am unsure and apprehensive about what I need to give up to level the playing field.
I don't know where I'm needed, what I should be doing, whom I should be doing it with. That cannot be the basis for doing nothing.
This is a real commitment, to remain as equals and stay the course.
How do I become an ally?
I check in with Jean Latting, my endlessly patient friend of 30 years.2 She texts:
People want to know the magic bullet to fix the problem. If every White person would educate themselves to influence those around them, that would be wonderful. People who want to jump out and do things want to skip over that step. Learn history. Google Black history and you will be flooded with information. Read my blog post on it. People want the magic bullet. Well-meaning White people who think they get it are wearing us out. Well-meaning White people who want us to teach them from scratch are wearing us out.
Me: White people are afraid of having to give things up. What do we need to give up? Jean responds:
Looking for the secret to fixing something, rather than educating yourself.
The illusion that Black people will tell you when you mess up. We encounter too many incidents to go around educating people.
What is an ally? asks Robin Givhan in The Washington Post Magazine3
I’m an African American woman. I teeter between relief that this latest outcry for racial justice has so many White allies and frustration that those White faces are necessary. Equality should be everyone’s battle. No one is just passing through. No one is excused or untouched. So there shouldn’t be a special title for those who understand that racial justice is fundamental to being human.
An honest dialog between friends
I don’t think of you as Black,4 is a dialogue between two friends, one White, one Black: Rose Bator, founder and president of Common Ground, and Nontombi Naomi Tutu, human rights consultant and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
During one of their conversations, Rose said to Naomi, I don’t think of you as Black. Naomi responded with anger and disappointment: What did she mean? What did I hear? Why do almost all people of color tell about similar statements said to them and almost no white people do? The message people of color usually hear is, I accept you, but in order to do so I must ignore one part of who you are. Your blackness is a negative I am willing to overlook because I like you. For me this story is about being reminded of separation, exclusion and denial. To me it not only says that you need to erase a part of me in order to accept me, but it also says that you have the power to do so.
Rose’s response: I understand, like I never have before, how your skin color has impacted every part of your life experience. You spoke of "getting yourself ready" to walk into your workplace or a restaurant, like steeling yourself for battle. I heard those words and did understand them at the time, but apparently did not grasp the depth of them. I guess I never will. I don't feel judged because of my skin color and it hasn't been the source of my acceptance or rejection I feel gratitude for the chance to journey a treacherous path with your companionship.
This public soul-searching is new to me, hoping it will resonate with other Whites seeking to make profound internal changes as well. If so, I offer myself as a sounding board. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Add a comment below. Share with others. Be kind to yourself.
Moving ahead, we go ahead from awareness through analysis and accountability, to action and liberatory consciousness. Let's do this.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
— Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers
I am reminded of the punchline – the last line – in Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” After 289 pages of Portnoy baring his soul, the analyst speaks his first sentence: “Now, vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”
This is a movement, not a moment. We now to begin. Yes?
Questions to ask yourself:
Where are you in the awareness-analysis-accountability-action loop?
What have you learned since your first experience of awareness?
Leading Consciously concepts and skills covered in this blog post:
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