I don’t know whether what I’m going to try and articulate today will end up being coherent enough to send you (which, really is sort of silly given how low the bar is to match your coherence when you’re at your absolute best, but I do have standards for myself and I’m not sure I’ll meet them) – we’ll see. It feels rather tender and hard to talk about because it involves owning up to a number of shortcomings that have me feeling super squirmy and embarrassed. I’m hoping that writing about them will help me figure out how to interrupt my problematic ways.
Without going into to details about who, what, and where, the gist is that I’ve gotten feedback lately that I am being overly critical and insensitive to BIPOC women and that I’ve asked them to do things to help make me, as a white person, feel more comfortable or that are centering my needs. In short, I’m hearing from some young BIPOC women that I’m engaging in old, oppressive patterns that white feminists have visited on women of color for decades.
I am loathe to admit this, but what I’ve realized is that it’s one thing to acknowledge in the abstract that I swallowed racist conditioning and have racist thoughts and it’s a completely different deal to have my racist actions and attitudes pointed out to me. It’s awful, but I am seeing now that I was pretty smug about doing all that acknowledging and “owning” of my racist baggage, but damn if I didn’t react defensively and with all sorts of hurt feelings when that baggage banged into people and they let me know (and I have to face that there are no doubt thousands of times when my racist baggage has banged people in the past and I’ve not been told and remained oblivious).
After a fair lot of self-reflection and some very helpful conversations with a couple of other white women I can now see how fortunate I am that I got this feedback and that these young BIPOC women respected me enough to tell me hard things I needed to hear. And, if I’m being completely honest, I’m finding that I still have to fight my defensive “yes, but….” reactions as I still feel raw and exposed and have the strong urge to explain myself and to get absolution, which my frontal lobes know is neither appropriate nor necessary but my lizard brain absolutely craves. It’s the primitive “I’m a good person, I didn’t mean any harm, please don’t be mad at me” deal that I resort to when there’s conflict and someone is upset with me, but now it’s on steroids because it feels like my ok-ness as a person is being questioned.
And I’m seeing that I’m just going to have to sit with all this squirmy stuff and find constructive ways of dealing with it, including not insisting that I need to be soothed or that it’s all about me and my feelings.
And I’m also seeing that this isn’t going to be the last time it happens – even if I do my very, very best all the time, I’m still going to make mistakes and I’m going to get more hard feedback.
There’s a note I wrote to myself at some unknown time in the past that’s resurfaced on the counter between our kitchen and dining room that says “always make new mistakes.” I feel like it’s mocking me since my very strong sense is that when it comes to my racist baggage, I keep making many of the same mistakes over and over. Still, it’s a good thing to aspire to – to try and not shy away from the hard feelings and self-doubts that such missteps trigger so that I can actually do the deep learning that needs to be done to avoid falling into the same crack in the street over and over again.
Ok. Thank you for listening.
May we be safe to learn what we need to learn.
May we be willing to hear what we need to hear.
May we see that health and strength are not all/none propositions.
May we accept that real life is way harder than abstractions.