Riding back home on the train last night, I started crying while reading the news. I am scared and very nervous, and I am doing my best to reach for the highest thought possible. Amidst the sea of emotion, I have a deep, quiet voice within that assures me to breathe and stay the course. Hence this post.
As a white, liberal, formerly straight woman, I have not known struggle on the same level that black and brown people have, that gay/trans/non binary have, that Muslim or Jewish people have, and those too with disabilities. I have had creative struggles, emotional hurdles and general steep life learning curves, but I have never felt threatened or in danger in a primal, survival-based way. I don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street and be scared that I could be killed by a cop, or a white supremacist, or anyone in a position of power who would end up getting off with impunity. I'm a woman, which has given me a bouquet of life experiences, but I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to not personally know physical or sexual violence, and I’ve always had the means to have a roof over my head and access to needed resources with no questions asked.
I remember learning about white privilege and feeling like I had just gotten hit by a truck. Long story short, I learned to lean into my discomfort and use my privilege as leverage, to begin to help other white people examine our privilege without fear or shame, blame or judgement while sitting quietly and listening to the stories told by black and brown Americans so that I may learn and keep learning so as to be an effective ally and accomplice in the collective awakening of our world.
My great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. My father doesn’t talk about his family as his father was likely so traumatized that he turned to numbing out through destructive behaviors and was shut down to those who needed him most, like my dad. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma, and there’s a lot more to that story. The wounding goes so deep, and I long to know more about my family who were killed by the Nazis. I can’t change history, but I can feel them in my blood and in my bones, knowing of their fates and wondering if their souls could talk to me, what would they say?
So where the hell am I going with all of this? That’s a good question. My head and heart are swimming with emotion and worries and concerns for the safety of countless people at the effect of this government. I can’t think about the global refugee crisis without wanting to throw the towel in and run deeper into the woods than I already have. That urge to hide is one I know well, and it is one that I am actively negotiating with because that urge, that reflex no longer serves my purpose.
Another word for privilege is convenience. I like to offer that word to folks who are having a hard time understanding the nuances and pervasiveness of white privilege. It’s convenient to be overwhelmed and do nothing. It’s convenient to numb out by hopping onto social media or an app that will devour hours of your time. It’s convenient to avoid the news and do nothing because it all feels like too much. Convenience is an illusion, and we lose a crucial part of ourselves to this urge, this habit when we numb out and let time slip by.
We are living in unparalleled times, and in a way we aren’t. History and the present moment alike have countless stories of destruction and collapse of people, races, and civilizations. We are not alone in facing adversity of this scale. It’s just the first time we’re seeing this in these bodies.
America is no longer what we believed it to be. Trump’s election has shown us the vicious, hateful and inhumane underbelly that our country has been built upon and is now governed by. That in itself is a massive reckoning, because it goes against the narrative that so many of us have held dear as Americans. We have some very scary realities and signs that this horrific downward-sloping rollercoaster is far from over, and much like me last night on the train, it's not uncommon for people to be collapsing in tears right now from rage, helplessness and fear.
I have been turning to civil rights leaders and their examples to help me make sense of what's happening right now. I came across this tweet yesterday, and am sharing it precisely because Rep. John Lewis, civil rights activist and congressman, has walked the walk and talked the talk for decades, and his message lifted me up.
I think back to my rude awakening into the reality of white privilege. Realizing how bad black and brown people had it in this country turned my stomach and frankly shut me down for a few months. I couldn't handle the truth. I couldn't handle the brutal reality that had been hiding in plain sight for my entire life. Coming to terms with that felt like laying down part of me; my innocence, my idealism and my reflex to make shit into sunshine. I am grateful now, looking back on it, for it provided me a baptism by fire, and for as searingly painful as it was, it vaporized in the face of what black and brown people have had to face every single day of their lives as residents and citizens of this country.
It is time for us to get very clear on what is in our hearts. If you are feeling helpless or depressed, reach for anger. Move up that emotional ladder. Anger is a powerful accelerant. It can push us into action, and it can help give courage and words to speak what our truth is. Please know, though, that anger in itself is never justified. Do not stay in that place. Do not reside in anger, for it will burn you up. Honor the grief and sadness that lie beneath it if you choose to use your anger for good. Apply that fire to the change you want to see happen, and reach for the hope that Rep. Lewis talks about. Look back on the civil rights movement, where black people's lives were in imminent danger and they faced those cops and forces of hate with the strength in their hearts and conviction in their souls. Pay attention to that fight, because the tools they used and the message they proclaimed is the one we need to be using now.
We have chosen this time, these conditions and these bodies for a reason. We are being pushed into our purpose by the anger and the hate that we are seeing. The fight is far from over, and I invoke the energy of a warrior for those of us who are wanting to fight the forces of authoritarianism, of hate, of narrow-minded belief.
As Rep. Lewis says, this is the struggle of a lifetime. We were made for these times. I urge you to drop any resistance you have to that and begin to step into your purpose with the conviction of what is right. Your family, community and country need you to have the courage to speak what's in your heart. Now is not the time to be silent. If you are scared, then please speak for those who don't have a voice. Speak for the children and families locked in detention centers. Speak for the victims of police brutality and hate crimes. Speak for the countless people whose voices, stories and histories are ignored or swept under the carpet. Use your privilege as leverage. We are the ones we have been waiting for, and our voices are needed more than ever.
postscript: I write this for myself as much as I do for you. Fear has played a big role in me staying small. I now hold that fear as I would a child in my arms and take a step forward with the intention of continuing for as long as I have breath in my lungs and energy in my body. It is a step by step, day by day, moment by moment process, and it's one that I know will lead me to where I need to be going. The opposite of certainty is faith, and I choose to fortify my faith by speaking to what I want to see happen. Please, please, please cultivate the courage to stand up for what's right. Get out and vote, make your voice heard, and above all take care of yourself. We need you, and we love you.
In truth, simplicity and love with plenty more to come,