Please read all the way to the end. Breathe, and face the emotional swerviness, and push through your defenses. I’m here for you.
If you are white, as I am white, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, in a conversation about race, “I am not a racist,” I would ask you to pause.
If you are male–I am not, or female, as I am, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, “I am not a sexist, nor a misogynist, and/or I am not part of this patriarchy, and internalized misogyny is bullshit” I would ask you to pause.
If you have no emotional, physical, neurobiological, academic, cognitive, or specific other disabilities, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, “I am not an ableist,” I would ask you to pause.
If you are a nonsecular practitioner, of any of the various major, or classic, or new age religions, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, that your prescribed religion is the only one that matters, and that this does not make you, “hateful,” I would ask you to pause.
If you are a cisgender individual, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, “I am not an enemy of the LGBTQ’s–to each their own!” I would ask you to pause. (OK, a little help here, just in case–cisgender means; your personal identity and gender correspond with your birth sex. You identify as a male-male, or a female-female, and really, that’s even tricky, because some days I’m really cis, and some days I’m like a 70/30 one way (you pick), and other days, well–you see how it could get complicated. The “inside joke” here, for bonus time, is that cisgender and LGBQ don’t really correlate. Gender is gender. Sexual preferences are sexual preferences. Completely separate categories. So, only T counts, when we’re talking about gender, and I guarantee you, the understanding of how people define their own identities has already surpassed my simplistic understanding, as demonstrated here in this funny little post.) Moving on.
If you are straight, and you hear yourself saying, aloud…OK, just read that last one and sort of check in if you’re still not sure.
If you speak English, and only English, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, anything to shut down a person’s non-English dialogue, or saying, “I am not ethnocentric,” I would ask you to pause.
If you are unsure about another person’s attire, appearance, or behaviors, and you hear yourself saying, aloud, “To each their own,” in a dismissive fashion, and then later feeling hostile or agitated or uncomfortable about the encounter, I would ask you to pause.
You see how I could go on, and on, and on?
Because inclusion has no boundaries. It includes everyone. It includes the black man who was really fucking mean to me the other day, because I did not one thing but walk by him as I warmed my freezing cold hands. (Black men get to have bad days, and act like jerks, just like you and/or I do. It’s crazy.) It includes the mentally ill kids who used to punch me in the face and spit on me in my inpatient work. It includes the little kids, who are so cute and not quite like you, and the grown people, who are maybe not as cute, and not quite like you. It includes the methamphetamine addicts in my neighborhood. It includes the wealthy people in my neighborhood. Inclusion has no time for how they sit and peek across the street at one another, cursing one another, secretly, but waving stiffly in the street before rushing off, in order to avoid one another.
I am not friends with everyone. I can be really fucking mean, too, and when you are sloppy with your kindness, your boundaries become really good. I have excellent boundaries now, unless I’ve had to much alcohol, or I’ve fallen into old patterns, as we all do at times.
But I do work to remember, and see, how each of these people is human. And before I dedicated my life to the art of inclusion, I used to defend myself against the fear that I might have any of the —ism’s, in any one of the ways I mentioned above. (Inside joke bonus point #2: thank you James Comey.)
And no, I don’t think you’re racist, misogynist, sexist, gender-rigid, ableist, ethnocentric, nationalist, asshole-ariffic, etc., though I might suggest it, or react toward you, if I see it. I can confirm that to be true. The point is not the name, or that you are that thing, and therefore a throw away. It’s not about the behaviors, or the reactions, though I do not tolerate them, at all.
I want to invite you to really focus on the pause. If you hear those words ready to rattle or blurt free, pause. Tuck them back in. Don’t slam that door just yet, because when we shut that door, in order to protect ourselves, and our best, healthiest image of ourselves, we keep ourselves stuck. We avoid admitting, or geez, even considering, that we might be “bad,” in any way. Then, we stay right exactly where we are in our personal and humanistic development, without ever even peeking in that little room, where we store our —ism seeds, and even our —ism monsters. Lurky.
The pause is one tiny act of love, and if you allow, it will stretch you over time, and like the Grinch–your heart will grow in size. But not like with cardiomegaly. That’s bad. But hey, pretending you have no —ism’s, that might actually contribute to cardiomegaly. It’s stressful to deny your own nature, and the nature of the human psyche, to take in societal imprints and garbage, and conjure up these odd constructs that somehow come to drive our social agendas, and even our formal identities. Again, lurky.
Further, having —ism seeds doesn’t make you bad. It makes you human. Doing nothing about them would be like stepping on dog crap, and leaving it there. You didn’t mean to, but then there it is. You can throw the shoe away, but there will be more dog crap. You can clean it off–gross. Takes time, too, right? Or you can ignore it–walk around with it all up in the tread, chuck it in your closet at night. Let it sort of dry on–forget it’s there. But it’s still there, and really it probably bothers you, deep down. And it stinks.
A pause is all I’m asking. I’m not asking you to forget your own, personal experience, which has informed your beliefs, and defense mechanisms. I’m not asking you to be like me. I’m not asking you to do anything, really, other than pause. And what after the pause? Well, that is up to you. I know what I choose to do with mine, but that’s what’s right for me.
**Addendum: Please know, and hear that Yes, I understand racism is not a problem inherent to only white individuals. Racism exists against all races, and is perpetuated by all races. In the same vein, it is important to understand the role of race shame in our interactions about race, and racism.
When we respond to the topic of racism by defending ourselves, having poor boundaries, or otherwise acting inauthentically, as white individuals, or persons of color, we might be struggling with some amount of race shame. (i.e. I did not perpetuate this history, ergo I am not racist, and I am mortified that it ever happened, and maybe it’s easier to pretend it’s all just done now, and look how un-ism’d I am. I do not participate in that, and why do you all keep bringing it up to me, and really, you are just making me feel bad for no reason. Hands on hips. All Lives Matter, I mean, really!?! Quit living in the past, people.)
It is important to reject race shame, and yet move into a place of understanding. No, you may not have started racism, but we all carry the seeds of it, whether we accept them or not, in my opinion. The shame is a version of licking one’s wounds, but in an infection perpetuating fashion.
If you find yourself responding to my introduction, aloud, with “What, only white people are racist?!?” I would ask you to pause.
The reason I wrote from this perspective, is very simple. I am white. I am talking to my white friends, who are struggling to do the hard work of inquiry around their relationship, be it symbiotic or undesired, with any seeds of —ism they may be carrying, and trying to eradicate, or sadly, justify–whether intentionally or unwittingly.