I didn’t know what happened in Charlottesville. I’ve had my head in the sand the past few days. Sometimes after a long week of therapy, sitting with people struggling with deep sadness, I bail out of life and stick my head in a book.
Today I was planning a walk with my friend Jason, but when I called to confirm, he told me he was going to a march downtown. I asked him what it was about and he filled me in on the recent news (without scolding me for my ignorance, for which I’m grateful). So I got online and started reading. I moved from news sources to Facebook to see reactions from friends on both sides of the aisle. I was almost more disturbed by some comments on FB than I was by the news.
Honestly, dear ones, I can’t understand how anyone cannot see the institutionalized racism and white supremacy here coming from the highest office in our land and trickling down through all of our institutions.
Listen, I’m one of the least political people I know. I don’t say that proudly. In fact, I’m embarrassed by how little I march for what I believe in. To be completely honest (and I’m sure I will be judged for this as a weakness—but that’s okay), I am someone who has always been overwhelmed by the pain in the world. I used to cry as a child when I saw homeless people. When I finally got a job working with Seattle’s homeless population, I cried after work many nights. I became a therapist 20 years ago because as a high school teacher (my previous profession), I felt CRUSHED by the pain of the 150 adolescents I spent day after day with. My intuitive nature means that I take pain into my body and stay up at night when I know someone I care about (sometimes even someone I encounter briefly) hurts. Becoming a therapist, I hoped would give me a sense that I was bringing healing into the world one person at a time instead of simply ingesting pain through less intimate contact.
In some ways I think I was right and I’ve helped people heal. When it comes to the grown woman who was repeatedly raped by her father, I feel I can offer safety and warmth. For the man whose parents abandoned him, I can offer connection and mirroring. But for my clients of color, or GBLTQI clients, the perpetrator of their pain is represented in my skin color, my cis-genderedness, and my class. The healing I can offer, though it may be minimal, is both personal and much more than personal.
When Txxxx was elected, I thought my own heart would break. I couldn’t believe so many people could think he was the better choice, and I was afraid of how the United States would look to the rest of the world. And then I went into work and sat with client after client who cried through our sessions for many weeks. The brown-skinned political activist, the Indian immigrant, the Southeast Asian mom, the middle Eastern dad raising daughters alone, the MANY gay or gender-nonconforming teenagers… My god, pain and fear after the election was so thick. So deep. What could I do for my clients. Even the therapy room cannot be neutral.
As the damage continues to deepen, ONE thing I can do is to listen without defense. When whiteness, white privilege, and class privilege are the causes of pain, I DO NOT defend myself or anyone else. I do not tell people to “get over it” or demand that they be more “fair.” I don’t accuse anyone of reversing prejudice or racism. I don’t encourage my clients of color to move beyond their “hang-ups” about white people or call people ungenerous. When people are angry, I don’t demand they settle down to make me feel more comfortable.
Listen, would you tell a rape victim she should look at both sides of the story? Would you say that the rapist has a right to self-expression and accuse the woman of being unforgiving?
I would not. I hope you would not. If you wouldn’t do such things over an individual perpetration, why do it when the perpetrator is a wide-spread and often-unconscious worldview (unconscious to those who hold the worldview, I should say)?
Dear white friends who feel defensive, please deal with it by digging into your own reactions with curiosity and fearlessness. When a friend who is not white challenges you, notices you are short-sighted or leaning on your privilege, do not speak. Listen. Don’t speak of forgiveness. Please do not ask for fairness. Please do not use the term “reverse racism.”
I’m talking to white friends here. YOU have nothing to lose by listening and eschewing defensiveness. YOU have something very important to gain. Humility. A new perspective. The opportunity to see your world from a different angle. A chance to change.
Ultimately, though I hope so very much that presence with my clients brings healing, I KNOW my time in that space with them changes me, deepens me, makes me a better ally.
I didn’t go downtown and march with Jason today. I wish I had. Instead I sat and stewed and wrote this blog. I’m thinking about my own inactivity, how my own head-in-the-sand avoidance actually makes the world a LESS safe place. I’m thinking about what I don’t know that I don’t know, and how that is not an excuse, and how none of this is about me, anyway.
I’ve been mulling over the words of my friend, internationally renowned speaker on racism and white identity, Robin DiAngelo:
“The default of this society is the reproduction of racial inequality. All of our institutions are set up to reproduce racial inequality, and they do so with profound effectiveness. Our schools in particular are highly efficient mechanisms for sorting children into the racial hierarchy. We all know this or we would not care what schools our children went to (but good lord do we care what schools our children go to). There is no neutral place in this society. To not speak up is to silently support. We now have open white supremacists in the highest level of government. We all knew exactly who they were before they were elected. No surprise there. No subtlety there. I cannot uphold white solidarity by validating the claim that racism – and deep anti-black resentment in particular – had nothing to do with the last election. In the same way that cameras and social media have only made visible to the white collective what has always been going on – the state sanctioned murder of Black people – Trump’s presidency has made visible what has always been there but was barely concealed under the thinnest veneer of decorum – deep white resentment at absolutely any Black advancement (read Carole Anderson’s White Rage). Trump only gave permission to more openly express it. I feel sickened and discouraged by this ugliness and the structures of power that feed and support it, but as a white person I cannot succumb to these feelings, for white hopelessness only serves to sustain the racial order and my position in it. To my white friends: I urge us to get in touch with that racial resentment that lives within us, work to recognize how it manifests in our daily lives and relationships, and fight to uproot it. To my Jewish friends: I commit to keep struggling to see the connections between white supremacy and anti-Semitism. I am so sorry that you have yet to find rest from fear and violence. To my friends of Color: I see the continual terrorism perpetrated against you. I AM SO SORRY. I will not be silent and I will not stop pushing, however inadequate and confused my efforts may be.”
I want to echo Robin’s words: “However inadequate and confused my efforts may be,” I will not stop listening and hearing. I will speak up and challenge others. I am so sorry.