Crocheting Granny Squares, Connecting to Grandmothers, and Crafting a More Just Future

Recently, I felt inspired to pick up crocheting again, after many seasons without touching a needle, hook, or yarn. Feeling the call for creative self-care, I ordered vegan yarn in the colors of the 7 chakras and laid them out, planning a small afghan of granny squares.

Thread yarn onto hook. Chain five, and connect stitches, making a circle.

Days after purchasing the yarn and only a few stitches into my first granny square, my mom shared some news. Betty, the woman who’d taught me to crochet from the back of her bait and tackle shop in rural East Tennessee, had died of cancer. She’d died as I was casting yarn onto my hook, beginning this new project with red for the root chakra and grounding.

Red yarn cast onto crochet hook and chained into a circle.

Chain three (to count as one double-crochet, or dc), and then add two dc stitches.

The summer before fifth grade (at age 10), I learned to crochet in the bait shop with fish lures, rods, and night crawlers as backdrop. I spent Wednesday afternoons sitting at a counter with Betty—watching her create elaborate projects, as she taught me stitch after stitch. That summer I made several potholders for my mom, a football for my brother, and an afghan for my grandmother. All projects were gifts, just as Betty gifted the blankets she made.

Chain two, and then add another three dc into the circle’s center.

I’d become interested in crocheting after watching my great-grandmother. She crocheted until her 90s and made gifts that decorated the homes of family and friends, near and far. The trouble was we were never in each other’s company long enough for her to teach me, so my mom inquired at work and learned that Betty was willing to become my teacher.

Continue with the pattern: chain two, and add three dc. Chain two, and add three dc.

What followed were weekly tutorials in Betty’s shop, which involved my mom having to rearrange her schedule and transport me to and from daycare during her work day. I was aware of the sacrifice this involved: my mom working longer hours and paying Betty for the lessons. I was aware, too, of her love for me and desire not only to foster my interest in arts and crafts but also to free me from required afternoon naps at daycare, which I despised. To this day, my mom’s efforts feel important as symbolic and literal work to connect me with my great-grandmother and other women crafters in my family. My mom didn’t crochet, but she found a way for me to learn and to see myself as part of this lineage.

Red yarn crocheted into the center round for a granny square to emerge.

Chain two, and use a slip stitch into the top of the first chain of three to finish the round.

In the past few months, especially since spell-casting to heal my concussion, I’ve been thinking about ancestral healing: how to be connected to a lineage of white women, while working to heal the harms associated with white womanhood.

At the same time, I’ve been hearing others share stories and raise questions about ancestral healing—thanks especially to the How to Survive the End of the World and Healing Justice podcasts. And I’m re-reading essays by Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks (among other feminists and womanists of color), who carefully trace ancestry lines and speak of elders with truthful grit, gratitude, and generosity.

I find in these sources language that feels ground-shifting. I see myself recognizing lineage, while highlighting how whiteness has falsely constructed and eroded connections, including with the people who raised me, my mother, and my grandmother.

As I pull on ancestral threads, I’m considering when and how to call on grandmothers for support, while recognizing this lineage as both the perpetuation and denial of white supremacy. What are my responsibilities (response-abilities) as a white woman wanting to heal the harms of whiteness backward and forward in time?

Begin the next round by chaining three in the first “corner” of the granny square. Add two dc.

Through Reiki, I’ve learned to see myself as part of a lineage and to ask for assistance from ancestors and other spirit guides. When opening Reiki, I visualize my teaching lineage, naming teachers in order. I then ask for support in channeling energy, imagining especially two great-grandmothers: Daisy, who crocheted, and Selma, who prioritized daily contemplative practices.

I know too little about these great-grandmothers. What I know is that they both endured and got free from abusive, alcoholic marriages. I don’t doubt that they have their own #metoo stories and stories of enduring and surviving violence. I can see that internalized oppression (inferiority and superiority) were passed through them and the family, reinforcing sexist, racist, and other sorts of bullshit. So, through Reiki, I talk with these white women, women who made my birth possible, asking us to face collectively not only the hurts done to us but also the hurts done by us.

Single granny square with red center and orange outward layers (7 rows in total).

Continue the pattern, using dc and chains to construct granny squares.

Granny square. There—in the name of this craft pattern—is the connection to lineage: to grandmothers, those by blood and those by human kinship.

Betty, who taught me to crochet, became an elder (now ancestor) connecting me to granny squares and grandmothers. Her death from cancer occurred as I was reading Alice Walker’s “Longing to Die of Old Age”—making intimately real for me the connections among environmental destruction, detached food systems, and dehumanizing structures that Walker correlates historically with cancer becoming commonplace. I see before me lifespans limited by the loss of right relationship with the earth, each other, and ourselves. I grieve, and I pray, and I commit again to righting wrongs.

I’m understanding more and more that repairing relationships involves the both/and of looking backward (reckoning with the past) and looking forward (imaginatively creating the future). This both/and of repairing relationships involves honoring those who have taught and raised me and honoring a commitment to justice by naming, truth-telling, and healing wrongs associated with my upbringing and ancestral lineage.

Multiple stacked granny squares, balls of colorful yarn, and crocheting in process.

Repeat process to create multiple granny squares, sew in the loose ends, and then stitch-and-sew squares together to assemble an afghan.

Stitch by stitch, I talk with grandmothers through the movement of my hands, through embodied-soul-connection that speaks beyond words.

I’m far away from understanding ancestral healing, but I’m committed to healing with my whole body: heart, head, and hands. I’m hopeful that crocheting will allow me to keeping pulling on threads of the past (memories held in my body, if not yet in my head)—toward building, assembling, and crafting a more just present and future.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Reclaiming Childhood Power with Coloring Books” and “Revisiting Fear Through Walker’s Essay ‘Everything Is a Human Being.’Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice

Today marks the final day of the 40-day practice I’ve been leading for a local, predominantly-white church on developing emotional literacies. We’ve been focused on building and strengthening emotional awarenesses, knowledges, intelligences, and response-abilities for racial justice. As part of this practice, I’ve been sharing resources, including TED talks that provide language for understanding emotional literacies.

View of TED.com Talks Search Page

In this post, I share five of these talks that are helpful for acknowledging a fuller emotional range, for building emotional courage, and for leveraging emotions to take action.

1. Jay Smooth’s “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Talking about Race”:

Hip-hop DJ, cultural commentator, and videoblogger at illdoctrine.com, Jay Smooth breaks things down in a really accessible, engaging way. In this talk, he offers a simple-yet-powerful framework for thinking about feedback on racist beliefs and actions as similar to having something stuck in your teeth. Lowering the emotional stakes can help with countering white fragility, resistance, or defensiveness that block this work.

2. Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”:

Psychologist Susan David defines emotional courage, rigidity, and agility in this talk, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging rather than denying tough emotions. She shows the individual and systemic harm that comes from denial, reflecting on experiences of processing her father’s death and growing up in white suburbs of Apartheid South Africa.

3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”:

One way to notice more in everyday life is to ask the question: “What single story am I being told about _______?” Then fill in the blank with just about anything: from the story of normative skin color told by bandaids to the story of imagined business leadership (restricted by race, class, and gender) told by clipart. Author Chimamanda Adichie’s talk is especially helpful for thinking about the narratives we’ve inherited and hold within ourselves. To rewrite narratives, we need to make them visible and to see the danger of continuing to tell them.

4. Valarie Kaur’s “3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage”:

How does rage impact the capacity to love? Civil rights attorney, activist, and filmmaker Valerie Kaur describes fierce, revolutionary love as an “antidote to nationalism, polarization, and hate.” She describes revolutionary love as the “call of our times” and as the work of “birthing a new future.” Kaur attends to the connections of anger and joy, rage and love—asking us to understand emotions as action-oriented and actionable.

5. Luvvie Ajayi’s “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable”:

Writer, activist, and “professional troublemaker” Luvvie Ajayi (of Awesomely Luvvie) explains how she’s learned to push through discomfort and still to speak out, arguing that “silence serves no one.” She describes the work of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” underlining the importance of speaking even/especially when there is risk and consequence. In this way, emotional courage is not about leaving behind fear, but still acting when scared.

Together, these TED talks call us into self-inquiry alongside continued, committed action. As I close the 40-day practice, I commit to flexing my emotional muscles, to sitting with discomfort, and to speaking/writing up, especially when shaking. May these TED talks give fuel and inspiration for the continued work of developing emotional literacies for racial justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Snapshots of Support,” “Blogs I Love: Reading Suggestions for Women’s History Month,” and “What Is 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.

Version 2
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!

A Few of My Favorite Things

December. It’s a hard time for folks walking on wires to please others. It’s a hard time for folks finishing semesters when running on fumes. It’s a hard time for folks grieving family hurts or losses. It’s a hard time for processing what comes up in contemplative moments and social interactions alike.

This December is especially hard because it punctuates a year of great injustice, dehumanization, and the increasing visibility of wrongdoings. Now, as so many of us personally and collectively are doing (and being asked to do) “shadow work,” there’s a heightened need for self-care/self-work that embraces both/and.

How do we both honor the ways we’re falling apart and go about surviving? How do we both recognize the possibility of human extinction and invest in living more authentically, courageously, and lovingly? How do we both unlearn oppression (including internalized inferiority and superiority) and build new, more equitable relations? How do we both stay centered in gratitude and committed to justice? How do we experience both the depth of grief and the height of joy? How do we get by in the midst of inherent contradiction, paradox, incongruity, and change?

One answer (for me, this December) is that I’m getting by with a few of my favorite things. Specifically, I’m making “play dates” to hike with friends, to eat nourishing foods, and to read books and blogs that fill me up like adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy and Chani Nicholas’s weekly horoscopes. (I even happily found this recorded conversation between adrienne maree brown and Chani Nicholas!)

My most frequent, almost-daily “play date” has involved listening to a new podcast while sipping peppermint cocoa and soaking in an Epsom salt bath. Here’s what this looks like:

1. How to Survive the End of the World Podcast

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been falling in love with the podcast How to Survive the End of the World from the Brown sisters: Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. And I mean falling in love as in feeling my stomach sink when I’ve listened to all the episodes and getting super excited when a new episode is released.

These recordings are directly about living within both/and, as episodes focus on “learning from the apocalypse with grace, rigor and curiosity.” Truly, episodes give deep insights, rich storytelling, and committed calls to action—modeling ways forward and asking how we show up for ourselves and others to be in “right relationship.” If you’re not already listening, check out the trailer here:

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.57.24 PM

It’s not by chance that this podcast is offered by two women of color at a time when the hashtags #TrustBlackWomen and #FollowBlackWomen are trending on social media. May listening to feminists and womanists of color do more to counter epistemic injustice and to honor the lived stories, experiences, and knowledges that need to be trusted and followed.

2. Peppermint Cocoa

Chocolate, I’ve found, makes falling in love even sweeter. Because I’ve also got a complicated relationship with sugar, I mix raw cacao and stevia so that I can enjoy chocolate daily, especially when luxuriating in a warm bath with my favorite podcast. Here’s the recipe for this month’s peppermint hot cocoa.

Combine and stir the following ingredients:

2017-12-10 09.31.57

 3. Epsom Salt Baths

Truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed baths, but I didn’t give myself permission to take them daily until struggling for several years with chronic back pain. It’s amazing how often pain has been a motivator for doing what I desire, what gives me pleasure and joy. Now, whenever my body or soul hurts, as they do when facing systemic racism and other institutional violence, I immerse myself in salty water. This is a privilege I am grateful for everyday.

I add several cups of Epsom salt to a warm bath, and soak while listening to awesome podcasts and enjoying hot cocoa. The combination, I’ve found, grounds me, while also lifting my spirit.

When we talk about building resilience, I wonder if we should talk more about Epsom salt and warm water for grounding and clearing energies. As a white woman, when I think about building fortitude to counter white fragility, I definitely think about Epsom salt baths for crying, releasing, recommitting, and re-emerging ready to work again.

2017-12-10 09.46.51

Together, (1) the How to Survive the End of the World podcast, (2) peppermint cocoa, and (3) Epsom salt baths are a few of my favorite things. As favorites, they help with refueling and with readying for ongoing resistance.

I talked recently with my six-year-old nephew about his “favorites,” and I realized that I don’t often have this conversation with adults. How often do we, as adults, name our favorites? How often do we take time in the day to enjoy something simply because it’s a favorite? Recognizing and honoring favorites feels important for navigating the both/and of life, especially at this time and especially in December.

May these or other favorites bolster you in personal and collective shadow work. May these or other favorites help with surviving when falling apart. May these or other favorites help with feeling what’s hard and also with feeling what’s incredibly beautiful, amazing, and possible too.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Sieving Life: Keeping What Nourishes and Releasing the Rest” orBreaking Commitments and Recommitting through Mindful Reflection.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

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!

Microaggressions Matter

Sunday evening, night of the Oscars.

I’m not watching TV, but Skyping with my friend and co-author Rasha Diab, as we work on an upcoming presentation and related academic article. The article’s focus? Proposing a rhetorical framework for countering microaggressions, or everyday and seemingly small, yet cumulative and consequential, actions.

Among others, psychologist Derald Wing Sue explains that microaggressions communicate denigrating messages to people of marginalized groups and typically take one of three forms:

  • microassault—verbal or nonverbal attack (typically conscious and intentional);
  • microinsult—insulting messages, rudeness, or other insensitivity (often unintentional); and
  • microinvalidation—interactions or communications that exclude, hide, make invisible, or otherwise invalidate people or their experiences (also often unintentional).

Sue and his colleagues find that microaggressions happen persistently in the lives of marginalized people—through slights, through lack of recognition, and through many other means. Microaggressions matter. They happen again and again. And they add up to macro-injustices, both resulting from and perpetuating systems of inequity and oppression.

Why the Microaggression “Hidden Fences” Matters

Against this background of writing about microaggressions and imagining the knowledges and practices we need to intervene, I take a break to check social media. It should come as no surprise that I see talk focused on the Oscars—and hope for what turned out to be historic wins. And, given the prevalence of microaggressions, it should come as no surprise that I see renewed use of the hashtag #HiddenFences:

Shaun King explained this racial microaggression back in January when multiple presenters/hosts at the Golden Globes combined two Black films (Hidden Figures and Fences) into the one name (Hidden Fences), essentially hiding or micro-invalidating both films and their casts and crews:

I’m glad to see real rhetorical engagement around microaggressions—calling out and calling attention to this phenomenon. I’m reminded of the ever-present need to name, identify, and teach about microaggressions. And I feel affirmation for a Sunday night spent with research writing, as we need truly to step in before, during, and after microaggressive moments if we are to intervene.

At the same time, I see on Twitter white folks wanting to excuse or explain away “Hidden Fences” as a misspeak; hence, the microinvalidations are now multiplying (with invalidations of the initial invalidation):

In terms of just thinking (or what’s in my head), I’m seriously confused about why there’s even debate about whether “Hidden Fences” is a misspeak. Sure, it could be a misspeak, but misspeaks are often microaggressions. Often microaggressions are unintentional. Still, unintentional + misspeak = microaggression … These aren’t mutually exclusive categories. Even if the intention is not consciously or overtly malicious, harm is done, and we need to acknowledge that harm. In other words, it’s important to focus on impact, not intent. To try to diminish or invalidate the harm perpetuates yet another microinvalidation.

In terms of feeling (what my heart understands), I can see how white fragility makes white folks feel so vulnerable that clinging to intent is a way to avoid (admitting) wrongdoing. It takes emotional intelligence, emotional literacies, and emotional resilience to realize that one can do harm and not be bad. As I was exploring in last week’s post, it’s a tricky thing to embrace the truth that “I am enough,” but believing that truth allows us to see and admit wrongdoing (e.g., to see and take responsibility for white supremacy and other forms of oppression). Therefore, I can feel (even if it makes no logical sense) that the need to explain away microaggressions as “misspeaks” is rooted in deeper, embodied emotions like guilt, shame, fear, and regret. And there’s much, much self-work to be done, including truth-telling to un-learn and re-learn histories, legacies, and local and (inter)national narratives.

One starting point could be watching Jay Smooth’s “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race.” Jay Smooth addresses emotional literacies (and the need to stop worrying) through a metaphor of simply having “something stuck in our teeth”:

From Thinking and Feeling to Doing:
Some Starting Points for Countering Microaggressions

In terms of doing (what my hands are aching to do), I can see the value of documenting microaggressions, as documentation speaks to skeptics, who still see misspeaking as small and insufficient. In contrast to seeing microaggressions as “small,” we need to recognize that “misspeaks” and other microaggressions compound (not just adding up, but exponentially growing like interest on a loan). When microaggressions are persistent, they undermine one’s credibility, confidence, and ultimately humanity.

A number of recent Twitter hashtags have tried to show the frequency (the widespread occurrence and widespread impact) of everyday microaggressions. Here are just a few examples:

These efforts help to show the complexity, variety, scale, and impact of microaggressions. Truly, they show that microaggressions are anything but micro.

Still, I’m wanting to do more than document microaggressions. I sometimes feel that we’re stuck in trying to convince others that microaggressions really do matter. In fact, I titled this blog “microaggressions matter,” as it’s fairly common that I’m asked—and sometimes in roundabout or coded ways—why I’m studying microaggressions.

What if we could already take as granted that microaggressions happen everyday; that they cumulate, feeding into large-scale injustice; and that truly they matter? Then might we train ourselves to see microaggressions when they occur? Might we begin to notice our participation in or perpetuation of microaggressions? Might we begin to rehearse and enact interventions?

To prepare, we might orient ourselves to actions like creating different institutional conditions and seeing our interests as aligned with others’—actions that can help to prevent microaggressions.

To respond, we might speak up/out in the moment or soon after a microaggression has occurred. We might also catch ourselves in “misspeaks,” “missteps,” or other mistakes and resolve to learn from these moments. Rather than moving on (failing to act or minimizing harm), we can slow down and build emotional intelligence, literacies, and resilience.

To process, we might step into the role of believer—not only validating the truth of and documenting microaggressions, but also imaginatively replaying and writing scenes as intervention practice. Here I’m thinking of the value of Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed, particularly forum theatre.

These are only a few examples of the many sorts of actions needed. I invite you to think with me about what sorts of thinking, feeling, and doing are needed for intervention. What would shift if we were widely to assert “microaggressions matter”?