A Barrage of Microaggressions

Some years ago I began recording everyday microaggressions toward learning to recognize racism, which is so often coded and which whiteness has taught me not to see. This recording project aimed at building a repository of common microaggressions to teach with and practice interventions using Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed.

The project emerged from conversations with colleagues of color, who shared how often white colleagues failed to believe their experiences. Across a number of institutions, colleagues and I began writing what we observed—disguising the primary players, but keeping the details true to life. We hoped this project would help to counter epistemic injustice, or the problem of prejudice resulting in marginalized peoples not being believed about their own experiences.

Word Art

From my vantage point as a white woman, there’s been MUCH systemic racism I haven’t recognized in everyday life, but the more I actively choose to listen and learn, the more I witness. This process of witnessing means that some days are beyond tough. Recently, I had a day that felt like a constant barrage of microaggressions making themselves visible in individual and intimate ways.

To help me process my emotions, to sort through my response-abilities, and to figure out when/where to take action, I returned to the practice of documenting microaggressions—making a list of what I could recognize from the tough day. I’m sharing this list in the spirit of showing how microaggressions are anything but micro. They stack up, cumulate into vast inequities, and feel like a constant barrage or ongoing assault.

Though these scenes are tied to higher education, such scenes happen daily in and out of workplaces, family gatherings, church settings—throughout all of our everyday lives. May sharing them bring attention to the work that’s needed when we talk about standing TALL for justice.

Morning

  1. Even before arriving to campus, I recognize that my university is reeling from white supremacist hate speech (photos circulating as clear threats against students of color) that’s drawn campus-wide and beyond-campus attention.
  2. While hearing from students of color how little the university is responding, I see that my participation in the YWCA’s annual #StandAgainstRacism campaign has been used to give the optics that the university is responding.
  3. A white campus leader goes completely colorblind on a situation disproportionately impacting faculty of color.
  4. Another white leader says that a faculty member of color will be fine, professionally, because they’re “well liked,” making clear that white folks LIKING a person of color is what determines career viability.

Afternoon

  1. A panel on the school-to-prison pipeline names numerous problems rooted in racism, including that the majority of K-12 teachers in Milwaukee are white women who play into the savior archetype and expect students of color, therefore, to play the victim. Students’ behaviors that show strength and independence (not victimhood or gratitude for being “saved”) are considered behavioral problems.
  2. Following this panel, a white professor posts to social media how proud she is of white students (pre-service teachers) for buying school supplies for “underserved communities,” playing into this savior script and celebrating altruistic charity instead of teaching ways to re-route power.
  3. Another white pre-service teacher tells a white student colleague that she’s doing an act of Othering by designing a teaching unit with literature by authors of color. The student receiving the feedback takes it seriously, expressing concern that she might be marginalizing white authors. (Short answer: that’s not possible.)

Evening

  1. In a Facebook group, white feminists say they don’t appreciate me citing/amplifying Alice Walker in a recent blog post because she’s not vegan. When I take time to engage in discussion and calling-in, I have to ask: “Do you take seriously only the ideas and experiences of vegans?” before they get just how shitty their dismissals are of a womanist of color (in fact, of the feminist leader who coined the term womanist).
  2. A colleague of color is asked to bear emotional labor that goes uncompensated, while financial compensation is offered to white faculty/facilitators doing similar work.
  3. And all of this is happening against ongoing anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate speech, while the Supreme Court “weighs” the Muslim ban, Chikesia Clemons is assaulted in Waffle House, and Starbucks plans a day of anti-bias training.

Such a day calls attention to why a commitment to racial justice needs to be actionable in everyday life, why it asks us to be in it for the long haul (not quick fixes), and why self-care and community care are so important for bolstering ourselves against the constant barrage of microaggressions.

May we—especially those of who are white, who hold power and privilege within this white supremacist world—do more to name and speak out against injustice.
May we do more to find humanity in the midst of dehumanization.
May we do more to recognize and counter ongoing, everyday microaggressions.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Microaggressions Matter,” Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric,’” or “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Reading Martin Luther King, Jr. as a White Woman in the Work for Racial Justice

Each year, celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day in the United States brings new opportunities for mis-appropriating, mis-remembering, and mythologizing Dr. King’s legacy and the broader Civil Rights Movement. White people get the history wrong in many ways.

Each year, celebrating MLK Day also brings new opportunities for re-reading Dr. King’s words and re-seeing the work that he—and so many people working for racial justice—have envisioned.

MLK offers visions of the ought to be, of engaged activism, and of multi-racial movement-building. Such visions are essential to avoid getting stuck where we are and to spark imaginings of new and more equitable futures.

As a white woman witnessing, learning from, and participating in MLK Day, I’m reminded at this time of year how Dr. King’s legacy and wisdom can guide me in the work of visioning. His words keep me focused on what’s possible rather than thinking only about what’s problematic.

Specifically, three of Dr. King’s often-cited quotes keep me focused on my role in taking steps and speaking up, even when inevitably and always falling short of what I can, should, and want to do. With gratitude and humility, I hope to amplify these words and share how they provide guidance in my life today.

1. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Though I have trouble placing this quote’s origin, the King Center in Atlanta describes how Dr. King combined two scriptural verses into one to create this line. I’ve been repeating it for years, since noticing how white colleagues ask for professional development as a prerequisite to taking action. Ongoing learning is always important, yet I’ve seen how it can be used to delay, dismiss, and excuse away the responsibility to act.

Instead, taking some action, any action, matters. It helps us learn, gets us started, gives us practice, makes feedback available, and opens opportunities for additional actions. It helps us join and build relational networks, and it helps us develop habits or routines for taking action.

Taking a first step and a second and a third and so on adds up to sustained action, and the importance of “Doing Something Small and Sustained” is part of why I’m vegan for social, environmental, gender, and racial justice. Certainly, there are many more steps to take, but a daily commitment to taking steps helps grow momentum, while allowing for rest and self-care along the way.

2. “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

As part of the Steeler Lecture in 1967, these words remind me of the importance of breaking white silence, as silence does real harm. I remember the gut-punch I felt when watching many white friends and family remain silent after Charlottesville. After writing “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville,” some sincere conversations emerged with white folks who expressed “a loss of words” and the fear that they could do more harm by saying the wrong thing than by saying nothing at all.

Just as a fear of doing it wrong and the desire to “learn more” blocks taking action, a fear of saying it wrong and a desire to “listen more” blocks speaking up.

To these fears, I’d say that there are many ways to speak by amplifying the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) who are already speaking up and leading the way. If you’re not reading and reposting feminists and womanists of color, consider doing so. Sharing the work and words of activists, scholars, and leaders of color help promote and make widely visible their leadership. Amplification is an important form of speaking and one that invites listening and learning too.

As a white woman, I also need to remind myself again and again and again to let go of perfectionism. The possibility of a “perfect” or even “right” way of speaking is another lie of internalized inferiority and superiority. I’m sure to trip over the words. I’m sure to do it wrong. I’m sure to confront my own limitations. But I’m also sure that I must speak up in order to practice, to get feedback, and to learn by doing (with the attitude of “try-try again”). And more than the importance of learning, the costs of complicity are too high.

3. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I end with this line from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” because it reminds me of the costs of failing to act or speak up. It reminds me why I must keep the reality of white supremacy and the commitment to racial justice at the fore throughout everyday living. It reminds me why an intersectional approach to justice is needed and why I have a role to play in this work. And it reminds me why imaginative, creative, critical visioning is so deeply needed.

As I spend MLK Day this year tuning into myself, I’m reminded that, like Dr. King’s words of wisdom, our embodied, lived experiences have much to teach us about how to act and speak up in the world. I’m resolving in 2018 to “Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses,” even or especially when my body hurts and my voice shakes. I’m resolving, too, to use inner listening to learn more about when and where I can direct my energies, knowing that I have a role to play in the work for racial justice.

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Photo taken during one of several pilgrimages to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice” and “Refueling with Feminists of Color.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Caterpillars and the Butterfly Effect: Noticing Small Signs and Taking Small Actions

2018. New Year’s Day. I am with family in Florida and noticing many interesting insects, including these caterpillars and moths:

Curiosity leads us to watch, take photographs, and later look up the species, learning that these are oleander caterpillars transformed into oleander moths.

I keep seeing caterpillars and moths, so I begin researching their symbolic significance. Suddenly I realize this is another example of everyday divination and miraculous timing, as caterpillars are helping me see the potential of birthing new projects and ways of being in the near year. They ask me to look more carefully at changes in my life and to ask what transformations I’d like to experience this year.

The symbolic significance of seeing caterpillars may be small (like the caterpillars themselves), but what’s small can have BIG impact.

2017-12-31 12.57.06

Just as caterpillars transformed into butterflies can influence weather patterns miles away, the butterfly effect reminds us that actions can create far-reaching ripples. A flap of the wing matters.

With the caterpillar’s reminder, I’m entering 2018 attentive to small moments. I’m asking myself in what moments am I closer to my best self. When am I truer to my commitments? When am I standing TALL? When am I acting in ways that might ripple outward toward social action and social justice?

I’ve noticed in the past days a few moments that might be small flaps of my butterfly wing:

  • Talking with a white family member about how the frame of whiteness limits our understandings, experiences, and relational networks.
  • Witnessing sexism impacting me and repeating to myself: “That’s not mine. I’m not taking it in. I’m investing my energies toward building gender justice.”
  • Instead of blowing up in a hard conversation, noticing myself get angry, allowing the anger, stepping away, and then re-engaging when ready.
  • Preparing and sharing yummy vegan foods for kids who ask for more: more strawberry smoothies, roasted potatoes, pancakes, tempeh sticks, and other foods creating memories.

The small signs of seeing caterpillars and moths are reminding me to appreciate small actions like these. In 2018, I hope to amplify, multiply, and learn to sustain these small actions. And I hope that like asking for more yummy foods, we ask for more of ourselves and our collectives. A sort of “more” that manifests in everyday, seemingly small, and consequential ways.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Why I’m Vegan: Doing Something Small and Sustained” or “Today Resistance Looks Like …” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

7 Lessons from My First Year Blogging

As we approach the new year, I find myself engaging in a personal “year in review”: looking back on 2017, questioning what I’ve learned, and setting intentions for the year to come. This review prompts reflection on my first year of blogging, which has been both improvisational and planned, both reaching beyond and helping me set better boundaries. Blogging, for me, has meant speaking up and starting something new and scary that represents larger changes rippling throughout my life. It’s also opened possibilities that I’m excited to explore as we head into 2018.

From this “year in review,” I share here 7 lessons that seem applicable for others, even beyond the realm of blogging:

1. Everyday life is a constant source of curiosity, inspiration, and learning. I wondered early on if I’d have difficulty creating content, but as my list of writing ideas continues to grow, I’m reminded of the richness and complexity of everyday life. I’m also reassured that my academic training in ethnography, conversation analysis, and other research methods translates well to the work of observing and writing about everyday living for justice. What I’m learning is that when stepping into unfamiliar ground, my background (or previous groundwork) makes new steps possible. I’m bringing my research, teaching, and healing experiences along with me, as I’m shifting into new roles and responsibilities associated with public writing.

2. Doing makes it so. Though I’d wanted to write publicly for many years and created this blog in 2016, I truly committed to regular, weekly posts in 2017. (I’m excited to say that this is my 52nd post this year!) The more that I’ve created and shared posts, the more that I’ve come to see myself as a public writer, creator, educator, and blogger. In other words, the activity of writing (verb) has helped me step into the identity of writer (noun). I’m learning from this experience that whenever I want to be _______ (fill in the blank), I need to do the associated activity. One current example: Because I want to be a hike guide and backpacker, I’m now prioritizing weight training. May carrying weight make me someone who can carry weight.

3. Community provides motivation and support. I’m especially grateful to Vanessa Mártir and the #52essays2017 writing group for helping me stay focused on steady, weekly writing. In the past, I’ve appreciated writing challenges like AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month), and now this year-long challenge has bolstered me, giving me courage to share my work before it feels ready. Being in community with other writers has kept me accountable, and it’s helped me set a sustainable pace. Now this rehearsed rhythm sustains me and my writing.

4. So much depends on others. Just as community has provided writing support, I’ve relied on and am deeply grateful for the many people who have read, made suggestions, shared, subscribed to, and supported the blog this year. Unexpected miracles and miraculous timing have propelled particular posts into being, and they’ve helped me form new relations and discover new spaces of creative conversation and community organizing. I’m realizing (again) the importance of learning from, with, and alongside others, while staying true to my own “strong YES.”

5. Writing supports self-awareness. While this blog relies on many people, it’s also become a space for me to do critical self-work, slowing down to reflect as I make sense of the world and my actions within it. As a writing teacher, I believe in the power of writing to engage in contemplation, identify patterns and outliers, see one’s own assumptions, set intentions, clarify commitments, and hold conversations with the self. Blog writing has engaged me in such processes this year, as I’ve used writing like yoga and meditation to look within and ask who I am and what I’m about. Writing feels like powerful spell-casting: the stuff of everyday divination wound up with resistance and artistic creation.

6. It’s important to act, even/especially before feeling ready or right. If I’ve learned nothing else in this year, it’s that perfectionism has been slowing me down and tripping me up (getting in my way for many years). Blogging has helped me interrupt this pattern by sharing work in-progress before I feel ready. In the process, I’m shaking off the sense that writing must be carefully reviewed before being seen. I’m recognizing that imperfectly acting is important not only with writing but also with speaking up, taking risks, and taking a stand. Standing TALL is about showing up and being seen, even when shaking, uncertain, and sure to still need revision.

7. The time to build is now. Through this first year of blogging, I’ve realized that it’s time to build: to build myself, my vision, my commitments, and my contributions. Building doesn’t mean starting from scratch, but securing the roots while expanding and growing. For this blog, my building will prioritize web development: creating a fuller website with a range of offerings. Early on, a primary concern with blogging was creating content. Now that I’m generating content, I need to make it accessible and navigable. I hope that investing in the blog aligns with collective investment in building, creating, and restructuring toward the world we’d like to see. Truly, the time to build is now. I look forward to building and hope you’ll want to build with me, too.

Thanks for accompanying me on the roller-coaster through 2017, on this journey through sweet and sour. I send many good wishes for the year ahead and recommit to blogging in 2018 as part of the long haul toward justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations in which things were going wrong. White folks were talking over folks of color. Men were taking up far too much space. White, cis-gender, able-bodied women were sharing their experiences as though they were universal truths. In each of these occasions, I found my stomach churning, my heart hurting, my chest tight, and my mouth dry. And in each of these occasions, I found myself entering conversation simply by naming my embodied responses as a way of identifying that something was wrong.

Essentially, I used my body’s guidance system to enter conversation, saying: “This is scary, but I need to speak up because my stomach hurts.” I then explained what I’d witnessed about the interactions, attempting to name what my body was registering. In each instance, I felt like speaking from/about my body was taking a real risk because we tend to value explanations and evidence from the realm of logic (the head) more than emotions held within the body (the heart and the hands).

What I learned from these occasions is that naming my body’s responses served as a strategy for getting the group to stop and discuss what was happening. This strategy opened space for others to name their own tensions or felt-senses that things were going wrong. Further, because I entered conversation without the language to name or shift group dynamics—but with recognition that the dynamics weren’t working—this strategy invited others to share insights and the responsibility for the disrupting dysfunctional communication patterns.

I’ll certainly continue to reflect on this strategy, and I can imagine times it wouldn’t work … but I share what I’m learning because I know that it’s too easy to remain silent in the face of injustice because the words (the explanations for the problem) remain out of reach. What if instead of identifying the problem, we simply identify our body’s signals that there’s trouble underway? What if we commit to speaking aloud our embodied responses—whether they involve anger flushing heat or sadness leading to a contraction of one’s shoulders? What if speaking up took the form of saying, “Hey, my heart is hurting, so something’s not right”?

Going forward, when I can see that conversations need disruption but I’m not sure what to do, I’ll try naming my embodied responses with the hope that saying something—even if it’s only that I’m nauseous—might reroute conversation and the direction we’re headed.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Disrupting the Mind-Body Split” or “Heart, Head, Hands: Explaining the Blog’s Name.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence

I didn’t learn to drive in drivers ed. In fact, I never drove the car that whole semester because the teacher was a creep.

When girls would drive, he’d start off complimenting perfume or jewelry or clothing. Then he’d lean into the driver to observe them better (the perfume or jewelry or clothing). From there, he’d put his hand on the girl’s leg, sometimes leaving it there and sometimes moving it higher along the thigh. All of this with two additional students in the backseat. All of this with students feeling powerless to do anything.

That semester he asked me multiple times when I’d like to drive, and I always made one excuse or another. In the meantime, I sat in the back of the car and watched. I never told another teacher because everyone at school already knew, and nothing would be done anyway.

My parents knew, and they knew I wasn’t learning to drive. That became the immediate concern, as it seemed to relate to my physical safety. To me, physical safety meant never getting in the driver’s seat next to that instructor. I’d take my chances on the road itself.

This is one of many, many stories that come to mind as I add “me too” in solidarity on friends’ FB posts. This is one of many, many stories of sexual harassment, intimidation, and violence that are so normative, they are simply everyday. This is one of many, many stories that bring to mind the costs and consequences of this violence—with the loss of drivers education a small piece of the stories I hold, stories I bear witness to.

At what point do we say ENOUGH?

I see posts online saying that the past 24 hours of “me too” responses have been triggering as hell. I see posts online saying that one person facing this violence is too many. I see posts online questioning the political efficacy of this outpouring of raising hands and storytelling.

As I sit with the emotions, memories, and physical pain that arise, I also feel deep gratitude for the storytelling, as it feels like a moment of building trust when trust is so corroded. It feels like a moment of affirming that “yes, this really did happen” and of countering the epistemic injustice that underlies women (and people facing prejudice) not being believed. It feels like an important moment for saying aloud—again, STRONGLY—that no one should face this violence and that we must stand TALL in the commitment to justice.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Microaggressions Matter” or “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric.’” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Vegan for Environmental Justice

This week I’m caught up in strong emotions and difficulty finding words as I watch the precarity, migrations, and destruction associated with climate change. The world is literally on fire and under water, and yet there is still widespread denial of global warming:

Or, as some might say, the world is trying to kill us:Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 7.16.49 PM

This current environmental destruction is not only extreme, but it’s also extremely inequitable. The people who least can afford to are bearing the weight of hurricanes, fires, droughts, and related environmental destruction from toxic waste and hazardous pollutants. We’re witnessing the impacts of environmental discrimination, which is entwined with discrimination based on race, nationality, socioeconomic class, and other group memberships. And discrimination is why we need the language of environmental justice, or equitable and just distribution of environmental protections and impacts.

One of the many reasons I’m vegan is for environmental justice. Veganism offers anti-speciesism as part of an intersectional approach to justice. Veganism also contributes by limiting greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and methane emissions, among other pollutants, and reducing carbon footprints. The impact of eating vegan is environmentally significant—much more significant than eating locally or upgrading appliances or turning off lights.

Certainly, there are a LOT of ways to work for environmental justice. Veganism isn’t the only answer. Antiracism isn’t the only answer. Anti-discrimination isn’t the only answer. However, these are pieces of a larger puzzle, and when these pieces are missing, there are evident gaps. What’s so troubling is that their absences seem frequently to not even to be noticed.

Though I’m sorely limited in what I understand from my privileged position in the world, I can see more and more that the unwillingness or inability to engage veganism is connected to the unwillingness or inability to engage larger matters of rights violations, discrimination, racism, inequity, injustice, and the related need for justice. It’s not enough for vegans to be vegans. Vegans, too, must take an intersectional approach that works to dismantle white supremacy and to enact racial, social, economic, and other forms of justice.

This intersectional approach is why environmental justice matters for vegans and why veganism matters for environmental justice.

This intersectional approach is needed within environmental organizations and vegan organizations alike (thanks, Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper, for your advocacy).

This intersectional approach is why veganism for environmental sustainability is much richer when rethought in terms of environmental justice and commitments to justice.

So, why am I vegan? Because I’m committed to environmental justice. And as a commitment, environmental justice leads me to an intersectional vegan approach.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. Feel free to check out other answers to “why I’m vegan,” including cookie dough, ecofeminism, and doing something small and sustained. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!