A roller coaster of emotions. This isn’t a new experience for me, but one that’s becoming an every-day, every-week norm. I swing from moments of real hope and sweetness to moments of real hate and sourness. This roller coaster can motivate resistance, and it can send me back into the cave to confront both personal and collective shadows.
This sweetness then turns to sour as I am newly confronted by the cost of racism in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the United States. I live downtown—in a problematically gentrified and expensive area—and I’m moving only 3 blocks away. This move takes me from east of the river (an area historically white) to west of the river (historically black). When my partner calls to update our auto insurance, we learn it’s going to be $10 more per month, which represents almost a 50% increase from $23 to $33. When pressed for an explanation, the insurance agent says “location is the only factor.” The location is still downtown, still in this area that necessitates class privilege to afford the rent, and still predominantly white. From what we can see, historical racial divisions are the defining features of “location.”
There’s lots written about the costs of being poor and the costs of being a person of color experiencing the racial wealth divide. Similarly, it’s legally allowed and well-documented that people pay more for insurance based on who they are or where they live. Though none of this is new, it is grossly unfair. I see again first-hand the everyday cost—as in concrete, material cost—of being a person who’s devalued in the United States. It says volumes that my insurance was $23 (what I imagine to be much less than what many others pay) and that my privileged “locations” have been those not additionally taxed.
As a white woman with racial, class, and other privileges, I experience not the consistent experience of being beaten-down, but the ups and downs of the roller coaster. And so I experience the swing from upbeat, energetic moving energy into the visible sourness of systemic racism. A sour stench that lingers.
* * * * *
I learned about the Philando Castile verdict in the bathroom pictured above. I went from a surge of hope, as I snapped that photo and stepped into that bathroom, to feeling flattened when looking at my phone.
And as I sat down to my computer, I had a similar slap, learning that a former Milwaukee officer was found not guilty in the shooting of Sylville Smith. In August, Smith’s death set off volatile protests, a city curfew, and arrests. The pain is real and raw, and my heart hurts thinking about families (like the Smith family) for whom the denial of life is not sour, but stolen. As in life stolen, money stolen, land stolen, history stolen, rights stolen, stories stolen.
My desire for sweetness is not to run, look away, or deny the ever-present injustice. But it is to cultivate and share the motivation, resilience, healing, self-love, and community to carry on the work—the work for justice. And the work itself is so so sweet. The work is joy from connectedness, hope for the ought to be, and possibilities of summer solstice.
May the sweet bolster and sustain us, for the sour is all-too-real.
As someone interested in and impacted by the outdoors, hiking, human connection, harmful historical legacies, and ever-present white supremacy, I absolutely love and highly recommend Rahawa Haile’s article “Going It Alone”:
Haile shares her experience through-hiking the Appalachian Trail as a queer black woman. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
“By the time I made it through Maryland, it was hard not to think of the Appalachian Trail as a 2,190-mile trek through Trump lawn signs.”
“Harriet Tubman is rarely celebrated as one of the most important outdoor figures in American history, despite traversing thousands of miles over the same mountains I walked this year.”
“There were days when the only thing that kept me going was knowing that each step was one toward progress, a boot to the granite face of white supremacy.”
I crave so deeply ways of re-seeing and relating differently with my childhood home in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Haile names places where I’ve spent much time and where I’ll be visiting again this summer: the Smokies and Shenandoah, Roan Mountain and Gatlinburg. These are places I feel within my body, both in the sense of heart expansion and heart ache. These are places I’ve fled and yet still seek again. These are places with deep legacies of racial, colonial, and other traumas that underwrite contemporary white nationalism.
Haile gives voice to the struggle of craving the expansive mountains, the blue ridges, and the relationship with birds and bears, while confronting Confederate flags, Trump signs, and stores selling blackface soap.
Haile gives voice to the differential risks, to the differently embodied realities, and to the significantly different threats that she (a queer black woman) and I (a straight white woman) face when walking in the woods.
Haile also gives voice to the need to keep going, to keep walking, and to keep writing. To put one’s “boot to the granite face of white supremacy.” Haile reminds me to commit yet again my body, my words, and my actions toward justice.
So, how do I “make actionable” a commitment to racial justice, especially as a hiker?
I certainly don’t have a full answer, but the work includes:
Intrapersonal work: ongoing reflexivity and introspection, especially toward noticing more, disrupting biases, and changing my own limiting self-talk;
Interpersonal work: writing, teaching, and interacting—with others and often in relationship—to raise awareness and to make change; and
When I’m out on the trail, I’m engaged mostly in intrapersonal and interpersonal work—talking with myself, with hiking partners, and sometimes with others I meet along the trail. Part of why I love hiking is that it allows for long timespans that become more meditative, more contemplative as the body and the brain tire. I find that the more removed I am from my everyday habits and habitat, the more I can de-normalize damaging scripts that have become internalized. Like the meaning I find on my yoga mat, time on the trail is essential for healing, reorienting with gratitude, confronting my shadow self, and refueling my commitment to justice.
As I reflect on these components of making my commitment actionable, I’m thinking also about the ways my privileged positioning (e.g., as white, U.S.-born, cis-gender, able-bodied, economically secure) makes the trail a space of such possibility for me and for people who look, talk, and move like me. And this a reality—that outdoors spaces are made inaccessible and inhospitable for many people—makes the need for justice all-the-more urgent.
A case in point:
Last summer I had too little water at the trailhead for Big Schloss, a trail running a ridgeline between Virginia and West Virginia with outstanding views on clear days. My partner Jonathan and I thought there’d be water at the trailhead; yet, the well was dry. We asked others for water, and two white hikers returning to their cars emptied their bottles for us. I felt a sense of comradery with these other hikers, and I felt courage (surely from white privilege) in asking for help.
I also was sure that if we couldn’t get water from fellow hikers, we couldn’t do this day hike (the closest gas station was miles away, so we’d spend our time driving instead of hiking). On the drive into Big Schloss, we’d passed many confederate flags (easily more than 10), and I couldn’t see myself knocking on any doors to ask for water. I remember feeling fairly vulnerable in this rural area.
And here’s what I want to remember and communicate more widely: my feeling of vulnerability arose from a trauma that’s shared, that’s part of the U.S. collective, yet is experienced so differently and with such potentially different consequences. As a white woman—especially when hiking in partnership with a white man—my concerns are primarily about emotional hurt. In contrast, hikers of color face the U.S. legacy of lynching (the hate crime of murder) that is part of America’s Black Holocaust that continues today through both microaggressions and macro-structures like unchecked police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, the cycle of poverty, voter disenfranchisement, and many other institutional issues. Haile addresses how such legacies impact not only human interactions but also basic choices like how to protect one’s body from cold and wind and not be perceived as a threat/target of hate crimes.
My pain of traveling in the Appalachian Mountains, which are so in my blood, involves being re-traumatized with each confederate flag, each Trump sign, each park or trail name that celebrates “founding fathers” and other prominent figures who took part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, forced Indian removal, colonization, genocide, and other atrocities. I think it’s important, though ever-painful, to take notice of such physical manifestations of ongoing dehumanization, especially as they show up in “the outdoors” or “the wilderness.”
Truly, all spaces are social constructed, so it’s important to keep asking: Whose stories do these spaces tell? Whose stories aren’t told? And why? What can be done toward recovery, retelling, and rewriting?
It’s important, too, to inquire into and take notice of the racialization of space and spatialization of race. As a white woman, this means asking about how my body works within spaces, especially along trails and the roadways that connect and supply trails.
Thank you Rahawa Haile for “Going It Alone”! This is an article I’m sure to come back to again and again. I so appreciate how it’s shaking up and shedding light on the connection between hiking and pursuing justice.
Recently, I’ve been fielding questions about which blogs I read and recommend. This comes during Women’s History Month when I’ve been thinking about how to center the voices, intellectual contributions, and leadership of women of color. So, I’ve begun tracking where I spend my time online and compiling lists of my favorite blogs by feminists and womanists of color.
What I’ve created are some initial lists—and I say initial as there are many important blogs. I also include links to similar lists that others have compiled—to give starting points for podcasts, YouTube channels, and other media you might follow.
As a white woman committed to racial justice, I see Women’s History Month as a time to make explicit the commitment to racial justice as a commitment to all women.
Women’s History Month is a time to learn from the writing, art, and activism that feminists and womanists of color share in the world. It’s a time to get fired up with powerful critiques of “what is” and mobilizing visions for “what ought to be.” It’s a time to see beyond inherited (and typically normalized and uninterrogated) ways of understanding the world. It’s a time to explore white racial privilege/power and to imagine different ways of seeing, being, and doing.
I believe we all have a lot to learn from feminists and womanists of color. And I center feminism because it’s an ever-evolving movement to end oppression, including sexism, racism, and other –isms. Feminism is a movement for unlearning internalized oppression and supremacy. Feminism is movement that asks us to understand injustice and to enact more equitable and just worlds.
May you find a blog (or a few) to love from this list. And please share what you’re reading, exploring, or doing for Women’s History Month.
Blogs sharing news and commentary:
Awesomely Luvvie—“all things pop culture, from TV to social media to travel to race and whatever else is in my little shadeful heart at the moment.”
Crunk Feminist Collective—a rhetorical space for “hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without.”
For Harriet—“community for women of African ancestry” for “celebrating the fullness of Black womanhood” and aspiring to “educate, inspire, and entertain.”
INCITE—“a nation-wide network of radical feminists of color working to end violence against women, gender non-conforming, and trans people of color, and our communities.”
Kinfolk Kolletive—“here for black people without qualifiers,” featuring writing that is “brutally honest, methodical and gripping with well-supported arguments.”
Blogs by feminist scholars of color:
bell hooks Institute—“The bell hooks Institute documents the life and work of acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer bell hooks,” and it’s also where bell hooks posts new pieces.
I like following the blog Raising Race Conscious Children because it helps me relate with the young people in my life, including my own inner child (my younger self). Among the blog’s resources are examples of scripted conversations and sample statements that align with racial justice. Such language helps me think about the language I use with myself, including language that reinforces an old lie: “I’m not enough.”
I’ve been thinking about this message—“I’m not enough”—as a lie since a student recently shared Jim James’s song “Same Old Lie.” At the start of my “Writing for Social Justice” class, we typically listen to protest songs. Students bring into class music that they enjoy, music that shapes their understandings of justice.
When the student shared this song, I listened carefully, following along with the lyrics. Then the student asked us each to identify a “same old lie” we’ve been taught.
At first, I wrote about internalized sexism: messages that my value is tied to being thin, pretty, and white; messages that I should wear make-up and should not have body hair. I could see how these “lies” are wound up with a much bigger one: that, as a woman, I’m not enough. Constant efforts to reshape, refine, and re-create the body all indicate this not enoughness.
As I wrote about the work I’m constantly doing to unlearn sexism, I thought about a different but related set of messages I’ve inherited about class, education, and even productivity. I often try to shore up my sense of self (to shield or secure myself) through credentials, educational attainments, honors, and other markers of “success.” I fall back on degrees and measurable productivity to create a sense that I’m doing well, that I’m meeting my next goal, and that I’m worthy. In doing so, I’m unintentionally upholding the Protestant work ethic and the social stratifications it creates. These old patterns are related to my perfectionism (something that’s served me well in the past, but is now tripping me up). They are also related to the deeply internalized message that I’m not enough as I already am—that I must be striving for something more, something better.
I’ve been working with mantras to let go of this not-enoughness discourse, affirming daily:
Still, I’m finding something new, something powerful in this exercise of naming “I’m not enough” as a “same old lie.”
I can see more clearly that this internalized and seemingly individual issue perpetuates and is perpetuated by larger systems of injustice—the holding down (denigrating) of some people and the holding up (elevating) of others.
I can also see more clearly the relationship between being rocked by internalized sexism (feeling that I must shield myself from awful feelings of inadequacy) and the inability to confront white supremacy and other forms of privilege (experiencing white fragility when faced with seeing one’s position as more-than-enough—that is, socially constructed as superior—within race, class, religion, ability, and various other social hierarchies).
It feels especially important to name the dualistic problem of not-enoughness facing people who experience both internalized oppression and internalized supremacy (for example— white women like myself). Imagine a single coin with two sides, one facing up and the other facing down. We can see only the side that’s exposed to us (this side representing lesser-than messages of “you’re not enough”).
What happens if we don’t ask what’s on the other side? If we don’t turn the coin over? If we only focus on the feelings of being lesser-than? Then we fail to see the still present, though hidden, side—the side in which we’re actually positioned as greater-than (in a position of privilege, power, and supremacy).
My sense is that too often we don’t flip the coin, which explains why white women can deny or fail to explore participation in white supremacy. It’s as though the fixation on the lesser-than side makes it impossible to turn the coin over. Perhaps it feels too painful to touch the coin at all?
To step back for a moment, it might help to name the warrants (or assumptions) this metaphor is built on. I’m assuming the following:
That readers share a commitment of working to attain equity and justice.
That though we’re socially constructed as unequal, we as humans are equal (all valuable, worthy, and human).
That there’s a relationship between buying into internalized oppression (e.g., buying into sexism, even while feeling/experiencing its harm) and buying into the conditions of inequity (which keep us feeling/experiencing separation).
That buying into internalized oppression is closely related to buying into internalized supremacy, so that these ideologies can co-exist within the same individual, even when trying to hold ourselves accountable through self-work.
In my life, I can see that I’ve bought into internalized sexism at the same time as using class, race, and other positions of supremacy as a shield from gendered oppression. Only when looking at feelings of not-enough straight-on can I see my own participation in perpetuating the lie. Then possibilities emerge for seeing and changing my own participation in passing along the lie to young people—to my own inner child and to children in my life.
So, there’s BIG TROUBLE in the lie that “I’m not enough.” This lie limits the ability to see systems of inequity, injustice, and violence. It limits the ability to act. It limits the potential of undoing sexism, classism, racism, and other -isms. It limits the potential of imagining alternatives—a vision of the world in which we all are already enough, already worthy, already valuable.
To stop telling the lie, I affirm today that I am enough. I speak to myself as I would to a young child, affirming my humanity. Being human is messy, sure, and I’m sure to mess up. But the mess does not make me less. I remind myself to that I am worthy. And to step into worthiness, I step into the ability to stand TALL, to speak UP, and to act with COURAGE.
How do we work to align feelings, thoughts, and actions (heart, head, hands) with the world we’d like to see? How do we go about our everyday lives for the “ought to be,” for justice?
I’m thankful for Jardana Peacock (of the Liberatory Leadership Project) for modeling a contemplative writing practice that I’ve been using to think through these questions. At the end of each day, I’ve been filling in the answer to her prompt:
“Today resistance looks like …”
I immediately connected with this practice and the way I see Jardana enacting it in her life—situating self-care alongside community care and direct action. I see a connection to my focus on the everydayness of living a life for justice. I see how variable answers help us see resistance as many different things, including writing, reading, work, play, connection, friendship, reflection, practice, art, awareness. I see the potential for self-reflection—for noticing and questioning my habits and the privileges associated with these habits. And I see how this writing prompt makes daily resistance seem both possible and sustainable, especially in a time of chaos and uproar.
So, this past week I’ve been recording my own daily (and horribly incomplete and messy) responses. I’ve debated whether to share these responses, engaging in self-doubt, vulnerability, and fear. My inner judging voice has spoken up, lodging concerns that I’m not doing enough, that I’m doing more harm than good, that I’m doing only the sorts of “resistance” I find fun or comfortable, that I’m showing my privilege, that my ego is acting out … and the list goes on. Let me tell you!
Against this backdrop, I’m sharing my responses because I believe we must act, however imperfectly. I really struggle with perfectionism and with all-or-nothing thinking, but I see how both shut down the very real work we need in the world. Instead of listening to my inner judging voice, I want to listen to the still-small-and-quieter-but-brave voice that says, “Share. This might give others ideas or inspiration.”
I’ll always be writing from my position as a white woman with layers of privilege shaping my perspective. Still, I’m coming to believe that my voice is needed, too, if only to get other white folks to think about privilege, to act with the responsibility that comes with privilege, and to develop the readiness and resiliency needed for a lifelong commitment to justice.
So, I’m sharing my responses to Jardana’s writing prompt because daily writing can bring mindfulness and intention (in addition to reflection and recording) toward daily acts of resistance. I’m also sharing some of the stickiness—like my ego getting in the way and my privilege stepping out—that’s come up through this list-making exercise.
Here goes. Deep breath.
What resistance has looked like for me this past week—followed by some observations:
Today resistance looks like …
sleeping in (so greatly needed after a LATE night following nationwide bans, detainments, legal actions, and airport protests);
rewriting an article abstract (arguing for cross-campus collaborations for community-based learning);
enjoying my dad’s first-ever visit to Milwaukee—with brunch at the local café and the afternoon attending a friend’s concert (an activity my dad dearly loves that gave me time to really think and feel with the music);
drafting an initial publicity plan for an upcoming racial justice workshop; and
working to observe and affirm my boundaries by repeating my now-nightly mantra: “I release and bless the energy of the day.”
Monday Today resistance looks like …
taking time for a LONG processing conversation with a best friend;
affirming self-care (sustenance and sustainability for the “long haul”) through emails and phone calls with friends, family, and colleagues;
teaching and conferencing—and then writing about these relational acts through an advising philosophy statement;
starting a new e-course with guided meditation to call back energy by Chani Nicolas;
appreciating a network of campus and community partners who are teaching me about WordPress, Medium, and other important-for-the-work tech stuff;
signing a few more online petitions and continuing to post via social media; and
wearing snow pants to/from school to honor my desire for warmth, especially on a very cold day!
Friday Today resistance looks like …
finding my way back to the gym after almost a week away (it’s been a wild week!);
designing a new course I’ll teach in the fall—focused on writers’ rights and asking, “Who has a right to speak? To write? When, where, and under what conditions? How does our social positioning (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other intersectional identities) impact our rights as writers?”
nourishing my soul with friends and colleagues over lunch and dinner meetings focused on firing things up in writing, teaching, and community engagement;
processing with my mom some hurt through social media and thinking about our own participation (and how to stay in the work and be true to ourselves);
continuing to heal longstanding back pain through acupuncture and cupping;
gathering groceries and pre-cooked meals for the weekend from a local coop;
responding to plans to hold a teach-in on February 17th (in alignment with plans for a nationwide general strike);
curling with my spouse, while sending Reiki for collective healing; and
getting back up after only an hour or so in bed when my heART desired writing more than sleep.
Saturday Today resistance looks like …
reading the first of three graphic novels in the series by/about John Lewis, March;
following up on a campus climate issue involving racial microaggressions;
sending activist love letters and thank you notes and other handwritten mail J;
getting organized for the week ahead, checking in with students, planning classes, and completing service responsibilities;
taking an afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in deep conversation and connection with my spouse (thanks, Jonathan!);
refueling via time soaking in an Epsom salt bath, talking with a good friend, and moving on my yoga mat; and
reflecting and setting goals while drafting this blog post and feeling my way through vulnerability.
Now I’m imagining Jardana asking, “What have you noticed through this writing exercise?”
Centering Resistance Around Education and Healing (My Work and Spiritual Life)
As soon as I began record-keeping, I noticed that my daily forms of “resistance” center around (1) my work as an educator (writer-researcher-teacher) or (2) my self-care and spiritual practices (e.g., yoga, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture, walking, and eating vegan). This surprised me, though it likely shouldn’t have. I’m an educator and a healer, so it follows that my resistance would center around these activities.
First, these observations help me feel especially appreciative for a job that allows me to engage in social justice work daily—with and alongside others and in ways that encourage both my own learning and my community engagement. I often grumble about injustices I witness at work, so it’s refreshing to feel appreciation. Through my work, I clarify and make actionable my deepest commitments. It’s a privilege to have a job that matters in the world. May I act on the responsibility that comes with this privilege. May I use it well.
Second, these observations help me value healing and spiritual practices as part of (not just the precursor to or the result of) activist/resistance work. Truly, self-work matters, as Jardana argues in “Winning Our Movements Inside and Out: Shifting the Social Justice Back into our Work.” I’ve had a number of conversations with white folks recently about how to be in social justice work for “the long haul,” for the lifetime. If we understand justice as both the end and the means (an idea I hope to address in a future blog post), then we need to enact now the lives we’d like to see. After all, we cannot get to justice down a road of injustice. Such work means healing ourselves and our inherited ways of being in the world (e.g., inherited and internalized white supremacy). Such work means rethinking how we take up, use, and exist within space. Rethinking our ways of being in the world. Rethinking our very being, which has been assaulted through racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of injustice that create deep hurts—trauma—for us all.
This trauma is NOT THE SAME for each of us, as we positioned differently across privilege and power, facing differences in degree and in kind. Yet, this trauma results from/in shared inequities that undermine humanity. For those of us conditioned by and positioned within white supremacy, this supremacy denies human connection, equal rights, and equality. Further, the trauma of supremacy underlies the dysfunctional ways we continue to relate with self, with others, and within institutions.
Together, these observations bring me back to the problem of white folks colonizing the spaces and practices of others. My resistance lists read clearly as the product of a white, well-educated, upper-/middle-class, able-bodied woman in the United States—someone fairly close to Lorde’s “mythical norm.” This means that my resistance involves a lot of un-learning, destabilizing, and upturning of what is assumed to be normative. It also means a lot of stepping in and smelling my own shit (and, interestingly enough, using frequent poop emoticons and metaphors, it seems) … It means getting good with the reality that I’ll always be doing harm, even as I’m trying to do good. It means living in paradox and mess.
Still, here’s the question I’m still not sure about, still wrestling with, still feeling shitty about, even as I press “publish” on this post: Does sharing lists of actions that are clearly “normative” uphold “the norm” that I’m working to de-normalize?
The Problem of Normalizing Particular Notions of “Resistance”
By raising this question, I hope to acknowledge that we not only show up for resistance differently, but these differences also represent inequitable material conditions. My privileged position enables me to participate in resistance more readily and to navigate to, from, and within resistive spaces/acts with relative ease.
To illustrate, this week I read a powerful Facebook post by Sagashus Levingston (of Infamous Mothers). Sagashus addresses how people (especially people with privilege) express a desire for more diverse leadership in social justice movements, yet at the same time, fail to recognize, value, or organize around these diverse experiences. Sagashus provides this insight into how we differently show up for the work:
“But we get uncomfortable when it comes to addressing or even talking about the REALITY of difference—the reality that they walked and you drove to the stage or that they stood in the food pantry line before you all’s meeting. You’re both there—the hero and the antihero—but the pathways to showing up this morning were different. For one, the road was smooth and clear, for the other, it was filled with hurdles and thorns. And while you’re glad they showed up, you’d rather not talk about how they showed up and what they had to go through to get there—even when, for them, their path was as normal as your morning coffee from Starbucks. Why is that?”
To echo Sagashus: why is that?
Because it means that those of us who experience privilege and power within resistance (and I’m thinking of white folks, though there are many interlocking forms of privilege at play) need to do serious self-reflection about our own lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance needs to be more variable. It would need to address and confront different sorts of lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance means rethinking everyday ways of doing things (like choosing meeting locations accessible bus or foot instead of car OR rethinking systems of public transportation and the inequities that stack up around car ownership and the racialization of space).
Because resistance invites some serious self-work—personal and collective healing that goes layers and generations deep.
Because … the reasons continue, on and on …
As I end this week of tracking my acts of resistance, I’m thinking about how much needs to change, especially in how we conceptualize this word: resistance. Jardana writes about the need for change, asking:
“We need to honestly ask ourselves and consider: what does it means to build towards love and liberation for the long haul? What needs attention individually, in our internal structures, interpersonally, and collectively in order to realize more balance? What does wellness really look like for folks across race, class, sexuality, gender, and ability? How can we expand our definitions and imaginations to create a more dynamic and expansive understanding of healing? What needs to shift, change or be enhanced within ourselves, our communities, and in our movements in order for social change to be actualized inside of ourselves and outside in the world?”
Jardana’s writing prompt “Today resistance looks like …” has invited me to explore these questions and to take notice of my habits. I’m encouraged to see that I’m getting stuff done, despite feeling especially distracted, ungrounded, and emotionally roller-coasting through this chaotic time. I’m also encouraged to see the centrality of my work and spiritual life in resistance.
At the same time, I’m going forward with serious questions about how to upset normalized notions of resistance. I’m looking for broader definitions and depictions of resistance. I’m questioning how to write about resistance—how to encourage other privileged folks to act without taking over or taking up too much space. I’m thinking about how to shift from the stance of power over into stances of power to and power with. And I’m questioning the links between resistance (critique against) and vision (critique for).
Perhaps you’ll join me in these inquiries. Perhaps you’ll join me through contemplative writing. Perhaps you’ll join me by filling in the prompt: “Today resistance looks like …”
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.”
Mash the banana; then mix in the cacao and peanut butter (or other nut butter).
Enjoy for breakfast, snack, or whenever a boost is needed throughout the day.
This recipe has just three straight-up ingredients: ground peanuts, cacao/cocoa, and banana. Unlike many sweets, this one is exactly as described (no hidden sugar or artificial ingredients).
It’s full of iron, potassium, and other anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting vitamins and minerals that I often crave, especially whenever feeling low.
It allows me to feel that I’ve had a “sweet” without eating sugar, and the protein keeps me feeling full for a few hours after eating.
This snack helps with my ongoing struggle with sugar addiction. I now notice when I’m craving sugar and ask myself to reflect on “why?” while still enjoying this sweet.
Changing My Relationship with Sugar
SUGAR! Sugar. sugar …
Growing up, I loved Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster and identified with this character whose key personality trait was an endless appetite for sugar. Like Cookie Monster, I could easily down more than a handful of cookies (or other sweets) and would readily binge-eat.
Growing up, sugar of various sorts (cookies, ice cream, cake) became associated with holidays, seasons, and special events. I’ve found myself eating sugar to recreate feelings associated with these memories—feelings tied to a sense that “everything is ok.”
Growing up, sugar became my addiction of choice (especially as I don’t drink alcohol or coffee), and I’ve found that it’s taken a toll on my body. Now when I over-eat sugar, I often get sick and end up with derailed plans. It’s like sugar has become a coach taking me out of the game when I don’t recognize or act on my desire/need to cut back.
I’m still very much in the middle of figuring out my relationship with sugar and how I use it to harm (rather than heal) myself. Yet, these memories of “growing up” give me important clues into this troubled relationship—a relationship I want to better understand and to change so that I can fully show up in everyday and ongoing work for justice.
I’m noticing that I use sugar at different times to purge or hold onto, to comfort or disrupt, to numb or feel, to decompress or energize, to forget or remember … Sometimes I use sugar to “fill me up,” as though feeling full and sweetly satisfied will take the edge off vulnerability. Other times I use sugar to punctuate (like a period at the end of the sentence)—to mark the end of an interaction, encounter, or period of time. Still other times, I find sugar sweetening (like softening) what’s hard about getting through the day.
The more I become aware of these patterns with sugar, the more I find myself asking: Why am I using sugar in these ways? What emotions underlie and lead to these habits? How might I heal what’s unresolved in my relationship to sugar—and to what it’s representing in my life?
Changing My Relationship with Sugar as an Act of Self-Care?
I understand changing my relationship with sugar (and I’m still far away from an actual changed relationship) as an act of self-care linked with self-love. And self-love linked with love for others. And love linked with justice.
That said, I’ve really struggled to write about self-care, because it’s so often watered down, meaning everything and nothing at once. It’s also really problematic when used to shame (e.g., fat-shame or body-shame). And because talk about food or movement is wrapped up with embodied experience, histories of body-shaming always linger around the discussion. Additionally, self-care (like pretty much everything else) is racialized so that a quick Internet search shows images of white women meditating or smiling, alongside images of outdoor and spa-like spaces. Even the images that just convey mantras (e.g., “keep calm and practice self-care”) invoke histories and contexts wound up with whiteness (in this case, motivational posters used in Great Britain during World War II).
So, self-care is nothing, if not tricky, and yet it’s absolutely essential to building resilience and resistance, particularly when under attack. As Audre Lorde wrote, when speaking from her positionality as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Lorde’s quote is so widely cited, so ubiquitous that it has deeply shaped how I understand self-care, even as I’m differently positioned as a white, heterosexual woman. Lorde names the importance of self-care as both an individual and collective, personal and political act. By naming self-care an “act,” Lorde ties it explicitly to activism.
Other feminists and womanists of color also name self-care as a “radical act—especially for black women,” noting the link between caring for and valuing one’s self (see the interview Evette Dionne). Similarly, Adrienne Maree Brown names the importance of “self-determined care,” which generates abundance for both self-determination and community-determination, naming the importance and interconnectedness of both types of care.
In reconsidering Lorde’s powerful quote, “feminist killjoy” Sarah Ahmed explains that self-care is an act of “warfare” because some bodies are always already under attack. To care for these bodies is to say that they matter. To quote Ahmed at length:
“Self-care: that can be an act of political warfare. In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. We reassemble ourselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters. Women’s lives matter; black lives matter; queer lives matter; disabled lives matter; trans lives matter; the poor; the elderly; the incarcerated, matter.”
So, self-care signals mattering. Through self-care, we not only express our value or worth to ourselves, but we also invest in reassembling ourselves and our activist communities. In this way, self-care is related to “caretaking the collective” (part of community organizing) and other movement-building work that invests in relations, resources, and resiliency. It also invites attention to positionality and investment in making sure that every person has access to the time-space for self-care.
Certainly, self-care is differently experienced and differently needed because our positionality and attacks on bodies differ. Rather than flattening self-care, we can do more to think about inequities. Think, for example, about how leisure time, disposable income, and many other factors amplify both privilege and access to self-care. Think about how women, people of color, queer folks, and others are bombarded by everyday microaggressions, experiencing a greater need of self-care. Thinking along these lines, it becomes apparent that there’s a mismatch between access to and need for self-care—and this mismatch signals compounding oppressions (along the lines of double or triple jeopardy).
To address these inequities, we all need self-care, especially to build self-worth. And self-worth is needed in order to stop playing small. Self-worth is needed to stand TALL, to stand up for what’s right and what matters.
Practicing Self-Care as Engaged Refueling, Reassembling, and Resisting
The most powerful ideas I’ve encountered around self-care have come from feminists and womanists of color—like Lorde, Dionne, Brown, and Ahmed. I see that their understandings of self-care invest in bringing about a more just world. They also articulate a life-giving version of self-care, one that feels very different (and more consequential) than dropping in (and dropping out) of spas, yoga classes, or meditation retreats. Here I’m thinking about how dropping-in and dropping-out (and images of self-care associated with whiteness and white women) also invite dropping-in/dropping-out of one’s alignment with purpose, attunement with the body, and attention to emotional intelligence.
In fact, as I work to understand self-care and its importance, I realize that many of the ideas I’ve inherited around self-care actually run counter to refueling, reassembling, or resisting. Think of an image like curling up on the couch to binge-watch TV, while also binge-eating chocolate … Or of winding down the week through “happy hour” or other activities associated with alcohol … Or of over-working many weeks in a row followed by total collapse (characteristic of hectic semesters and long-desired breaks). So many images of “unwinding” or “winding down” are associated with binging (of one kind or another) and replace the goal of care with goals like immediate release, mindless retreat, or much-needed recovery. Self-care easily crosses into self-sabotage. Instead of being refueled, we can become further depleted.
Certainly, my relationship with sugar has been more about self-sabotage than self-care. So often, the short-term boost I get from sugar is replaced by long-term regret, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. So often, the time spend eating sugar in front of the TV leaves me still feeling drained, still in need of refueling. So often, I end up questioning my own worth (a condition linked to all sorts of negative reactions, including white fragility and entitlement), instead of validating that I matter.
So, in changing my relationship with sugar, I’m working to understand self-care as truly showing myself that I’m of worth and, therefore, worthy to speak and act up. How might I invest in loving myself better? How might I listen to what my body’s really asking for, whether that be reflective silence, more engaged time with others, or something else? How might I learn more about the emotions or memories that sugar cravings are triggering? How might I befriend sugar?
In talking about and rethinking my relationship with sugar, I’m consciously engaged in loving myself and, in loving myself, opening myself to vulnerability, accountability, and responsibility to act. Self-care isn’t an out or a way to remove one’s self from the everyday life and activism; rather, it’s needed to fuel showing up with love within activist spaces.
These days, when I feel that I’m really gearing up for what’s to come, I need a version of self-care that lights self-love. May this simple recipe of banana, chocolate, and peanut-butter mash be one that energizes the work ahead.