What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice

This week has been INTENSE. As a writer, educator, and person committed to racial justice and the work of healing internalized white supremacy, I’ve been following and affected by the dysfunction, injury, and trauma on display. I’ve been confronting my own shadow, while watching collective shadows in the United States come into light.

And these shadows ask us to reckon with legacies of colonialism and slavery, institutionalized racism, and deep dehumanization. These shadows ask no less than for us to answer: Who are we as a people?

With this question in mind, I share five lessons I’ve been learning (and re-learning) this week. I share these in hopes that they may be of help to others, especially other white folks, as the work for racial justice is ongoing far, far beyond this week.

1. To make a commitment is to make a long-term investment.

Yes, tactical, improvisational, and immediate responses are needed when intense events/emotions erupt, but these must be paired with strategic, sustainable, and long-term plans to make commitments actionable for the long haul.

I think I know and will remember the importance of pairing tactics with strategies, but then a major event arises, emotions take over, and I get pulled into the moment, burning myself out through the immediate response. So, I’m learning again that a commitment to justice is a commitment to long-term investment.

Commitments ask us to put in the work regularly and not only when there’s a crisis.
Commitments ask us to look within, recognize what’s hard, and engage in healing work.
Commitments ask us to ready ourselves with response-ability (the ability to respond).
Commitments ask us to look to the future, readying ourselves with the willingness to act.

2. Self-care really, really matters.

It’s a tough time to talk about self-care because it can be used as the exit line to disengage from racial justice work. Still, I’ve been reminded this week that if I’m getting depleted and not refueling, then I’m no any good to myself or anyone else. I need to practice self-love in order to write, speak, and act with love.

What I’m re-learning is that while I can skimp on sleep for a night or two, by day three or four, I’m a crying, complaining wreck. If I sugar binge for more than a few days, my body rebels, and I truly don’t want to be doubled over in the bathroom or aching all over! And if prioritize play/pool time and meditation/movement, I actually come to more creative solutions and more compassionate stances sooner.

The more that I ride the roller coaster of emotions, the more I need self-care to support critical self-work that’s required for unlearning conditioned racist crap.

3. It’s important to name lies and look at my own complicity.

I’ve been living with so many lies (many I’ve internalized), and the more I identify them and call them lies, the more they lose their power. Countering the BIG lie of “I’m not enough” feels especially important for building the courage, resilience, “willingness to be disturbed,” and other attributes needed at this time and going forward.

When I see myself as “not enough,” then I need to be sure of my goodness (that I’m a “good person”). And that need to be “good” keeps me from recognizing, much less befriending, the “bad” within. To confront my shadow, I need the certainty that I’m already enough, worthy, valuable, divine. From this certainty, I find the courage to visit my inner dungeon, looking where I’ve actively and passively participated in white supremacy. I see that racism is here, at home, and within me. It’s not just out there, with them, with “THOSE racists.”

This blog post that’s been circulating—“How America Spreads the Disease that Is Racism by Not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends”—includes a racism scale for plotting attitudes and internalized beliefs. In the past week, I’ve had several conversations about this scale, and I believe it’s helpful for digging into internalized lies that need to be named and reckoned with. To name racism only as covert, explicit, hateful acts—as only Nazis marching—is to perpetuate another damaging lie. And I’m invested in naming and owning my own lies, my own complicity, and my own responsibilities.

4. I keep learning from feminists and womanists of color.

This week I’ve been especially inspired and challenged by Adrienne Maree Brown, A. Breeze Harper, Sagashus Levingston, Vanessa Mártir, Mia Mingus, Docta E Richardson, and Loretta J. Ross, among other colleagues and friends and scholars. (Deep, deep gratitude!)

So, when I’ve been asked by white people this week what I believe are authentic questions—like “How can I learn about racism?” and “I know what I’m seeing wrong, but what can I do?”—I’m clear that the answer must involve reading and learning from feminists and womanists of color. If you’re white and reading only white authors, changing this is one good place to start. Check out these blogs by feminists and womanists of color, and please add other resources/links to this post’s comments.

I’m learning again that sharing resources can help with building community and capacity. And it’s clear that we need each other—we need community—for the long-term investment.

5. Truth-telling can feel shaming when the truth if shameful.

So much is written about white fragility and emotional resilience, I believe, because of lies associating whiteness with “goodness” (that I am good, that the United States is good, that our neighborhoods are good, and so on). And when goodness needs to be complicated (because, really, how could there be a single, flat narrative?), realizations about dirty, ugly histories and ongoing, violent injustice raise intense emotions of betrayal, hurt, anger, guilt, and shame.

This week I’ve had some tough interactions in which I’ve blushed red. I’ve felt anger and heat rush through my body. I’ve felt both defensive and like a guard or bully on the offensive team. And what I’ve realized from these interactions is that truth-telling can feel like shaming when there’s deep shame around internalized white supremacy. Unpacking this shame is important healing work.

Like naming lies lies, it’s important to name shameful histories and realities as shameful.

It’s important to engage in truth-telling work that is sure to be messy and involve messing up. I write in other posts about countering perfectionism, in part, because perfectionism is a construct of whiteness. Letting go of being “good” or “right” (much less “perfect”) is central to racial justice work, and I can’t help but notice it’s central to my own healing work as well.

This is to say that I’m learning yet again that it’s important to say something, even when saying it awkwardly. And to do something, even when doing it wrong. And to show up, even when showing up incomplete, imperfect, and truly as “a mess.”

May we keep learning together.
May we keep speaking, writing, and standing up.
May we listen more openly than ever before.
May we keep committing to racial justice.
May we resolve to the work that lies ahead.
May we ready ourselves and be ever-ready.

In solidarity! ~ Beth


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville,” “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric,’” and “Microaggressions Matter.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

 

For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville

This post is for white friends who’ve remained silent or continued social media posts as though there’s not a national crisis. Certainly, white supremacy is systemic and personal, historical and contemporary, everyday and ongoing. Yet, this weekend it’s especially visible and sanctioned, immediately resulting in intimidation, terrorism, injury, and death. The events in Charlottesville have wide-reaching impact, and to deny (or fail to engage/recognize) the significance of these events is to deny the trauma and ongoing threats facing Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

As I’ve watched white friends posting updates of cute animals and kids, of beautiful sunsets and delicious food, I’ve felt disconnected. I’ve felt betrayed.

As a rhetorician, I think about intention and impact—what words, photos, and actions say about the author and what they communicate to audiences. Through status updates and social media, we indicate affiliations—who we see ourselves in relation with, who we stand with and alongside, and who we see as part of our relational networks. Bottom line: our communication indicates who and what matters to us.

Status updates acting as though there’s not a major crisis—as though the display of white supremacy doesn’t need comment—undercut the possibility of cross-racial relations, affiliation, and solidarity. These updates communicate relations with other white folks and lack of care for BIPOC.

Thinking metaphorically, imagine showing up at a funeral in bright colors, laughing, and pulling out videos of fluffy chicks. Now, certainly I’ve been to family gatherings where grief turns to humor, and the desire to look at fluffy chicks takes center stage. But not until there’s real recognition of loss, hurt, anger, resentment, regret, and a range of emotions that can fold the lighthearted into heavy grief. And not without relational connectedness that involves ongoing recognition that the grief remains and needs attention too.

So, when I’m seeing white friends share vegan recipes, food pics, and arguments, I’m just not there. Yes, I’m vegan too, and yes, I write these posts too. But unless I’m going to make an intersectional argument about how veganism is connected to my stand against white supremacy and why vegans need to act for racial justice, this isn’t the time. My post about tahini dressing can wait.

And when I see white friends posting photos from summer vacations, I’m wondering who gets to celebrate or depict joy right now. I get that vacationing makes it easy to be out of touch with national events, but any engagement with social media reveals the trauma unfolding. And vacation photos aren’t time-sensitive.

What is time-sensitive?

  • Signaling deep care for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
  • Believing the experiences, insights, and knowledges of BIPOC.
  • Recognizing the deep hurt of this moment.
  • Doing the self-work involved in countering internalized white supremacy.
  • Acknowledging white shame and the “ghost of whiteness” lingering over everyday interactions, including those in social media.
  • Self-regulating by asking with each new post: “Who am I relating with? Who am I imagining this post will connect with? And who am I alienating?”
  • Considering how everyday “stuff”—like food and vacations—is shaped by the ghost of whiteness.
  • Taking action to learn more about allyship and what allies can do.
  • Saying something to acknowledge that this really is happening, and it matters.
  • Committing to racial justice. Again, and again.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric,’” “Reframing ‘Independence Day’ as a Day for Truth-Telling and Committing to Justice,” and “Microaggressions Matter.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Why I’m Vegan: Normalizing Plant-Based Options

Traveling can present real challenges for eating vegan. Recently, though, I’ve been encouraged by several kind and curious interactions. Here are three scenes to illustrate:

Scene 1: When ordering off-menu at a local café, the café owner says, “You know, we should really have more vegan options. I’ll work on that.”

Scene 2: When placing an order with modifications, the waiter asks me to explain: “What’s vegan?”

Scene 3: When visiting a chain restaurant, the waiter reveals she’s also vegan, and she uses my modified order to talk with the manager about their menu, something she’d been wanting to do but was waiting for a customer to provide the rhetorical exigence.

These scenes depict some of the ways that when traveling and eating out, I inadvertently signal the importance of offering plant-based options. Such foods are linked with histories, cultural practices, and religious observances. For many people, myself included, eating vegan is an everyday spiritual practice, and recognizing it as such helps us move away from the language of “accommodations” and toward the necessity of offering food that works for everyone.

By simply asking for soy or almond milk, I hope to contribute to the normalizing of plant-based options. In turn, normalizing can help us rethink inherited and typified ways of doing things, or “business as usual.” Instead of keeping things the way they are, we can ask what is just and equitable for all people. We can ask:

What does it mean when food options work for some, but not all, community members?

Truly, food offerings indicate who belongs and who doesn’t. In workplaces or at conferences, for instance, when halal, kosher, vegetarian, and other dietary practices are not observed, then Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others are marginalized. Alternately, if meeting organizers offer and label food for a wide-reaching population, then community membership can also be conceived as wide-reaching.

Too often we think of food as “only food,” but food is socially constructed in relation to religion and other organizing social systems. When I ask for vegan + gluten-free options, I see myself de-marginalizing, normalizing, and working to make central foods that can be eaten by people with varied backgrounds, varied food sensitivities, and varied histories with food.

There’s potential within each interaction around food, as food can connect and deepen relations, just as it can fracture or reveal fissures within communities. So, one of the many reasons I’m vegan is that there’s power in everyday conversations and the everyday act of asking for vegan food.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. Feel free to check out other posts in the series “why I’m vegan” or vegan + gluten-free recipes. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

 

Mucking around in the Mess of Inauguration Day

This post wasn’t planned. It wasn’t the “next up” in my drafting schedule to write a new piece weekly in 2017 (#52essays2017). Yet, it’s flowing forth this morning, as I try to make sense of this day before me. An inauguration day? A general strike? A media black-out? A ramp-up to coordinated global demonstrations?

What I worry about—and why I feel the need to write—is that I’m experiencing the day as a day like any other. A day that makes complicity possible. A day of routinization. A day that normalizes what should never been normal.

Today I’m in Madison (Wisconsin), where I’ll march with friends tomorrow. As I set up for daily writing in a local coffee shop, I overhear a number of conversations—all among white people (or at least people who appear white). Among the conversations, people talk about an upcoming football game with excitement (apparently, the Packers are doing well in playoff games). And the “chunky monkey” smoothie is the best someone’s ever had, leading to discussion of various smoothie recipes (and would you believe that I planned to post a smoothie recipe next?!?). And two older white people are talking about Trump’s election.

They just don’t understand, they say.

Racism was a “non-issue” when growing up, they say.

They remember class mattering—they knew whose parents worked at the local plant and whose didn’t—but even then, they treated everyone with respect, they say.

And they know they’re biased “a little,” but not in a big, “harmful way,” they say.

They just don’t understand what’s happening these days. “Is it this younger generation?” They say.

And their conversation reminds me of another …

As a teacher, I so often have conversations with younger white people, people who express shock, confusion, and anger when realizing their own power, privilege, and sense of security (as opposed to vulnerability and precarity).

After Trump’s election, I was told by someone around the age of 20 that they’re really proud to be a millennial, that their generation is really open to talking about racism, and that they’re certainly “less racist” than their parents and grandparents.

*****

I’ve been gifted access to these two conversations side-by-side. So, what do I make of them?

I’m wondering if white people are beginning to realize that white people are doing and have done harm, but it’s still easier to imagine other people (i.e., other generations of white people) as responsible?

I’m thinking about the title of this blog (heart-head-hands) and wondering how white people develop the emotional intelligence—the heart space—to do significant self-work. Such self-work would involve rewriting narratives rooted in white ignorance. It would also involve thinking about why we talk about football or smoothies instead of the day’s inauguration, strikes, media black-out, or forthcoming demonstrations. It would involve mobilizing this feeling and thinking toward acting.

When I started writing this post—this totally unplanned post—I began with a single line: “We’re all mired in the muck.”

I kept looking at this line and seeing myself literally covered in mud, as I so often am when hiking (and, ironically enough, am a bit today, as I trucked through melting snow in what’s likely to be the hottest year on record).

The thing about mud is that the more you try to wipe it away, the more it spreads or gets deeply ingrained in fabric. It certainly can slow movement, add extra weight, and look unpleasant. And yet it’s absolutely possible to keep walking with and through mud. If I let the mud stop me, I would miss out on so many trails, so many sights, so much time in my most reflective and relaxed state.

So, yes: we’re mired in the muck, but I hope we’ll keep walking/working right through it. If we’re truly committed to the long haul toward justice, then we must attend to the terrain (to see and understand the muck or mud), but also not get so tripped up in it that we fail to move forward, to accept responsibility, or to imagine and enact visions of the “ought to be.”