My Year Dancing with Racism

This all started with combination of events within a week in the fall of 2013. It all started from a place deep in my heart and over the past year it has fluidly moved from my heart to my head and then back into my heart.

The first event was a women’s luncheon where I sat stunned through the Race to Equity Report. I remember what I used to think of Madison WI before that day. I remember being ignorantly impressed with my city.

The second event happened that weekend when my son, Alex, had a soccer tournament and there was a racist hate comment on the field. It was an intense moment for me because I hadn’t encountered racism that much and I had just been hit over the head with this different reality of Madison – the one that is held back by institutionalized racism and horrific disparities in every aspect of life; education, employment, earnings, incarceration, poverty.

So I wrote about it. I shared my experience and all of the emotions that came up in a blog post. Here is that post. I had just started blogging and was still shy about sharing it on facebook but I did it anyway. The amount of comments on my facebook post was overwhelming. People told their own stories; people shared their opinions, their concerns, and their appreciation to me for telling my story. A friend of a friend shared the registration link to the YWCA Racial Justice Summit that was being held in the upcoming weeks. I signed up for the Summit.

I had no idea what I was stepping into. I had no idea what the temperature of the water would be. I wrote about that. I wrote from the perspective of knowing I would experience a shift but not knowing what it would be and the fear that goes along with that. Sure enough my world was rocked at the Summit.

Here are my before and after accounts.

Before – Showing Up White – My ‘Before’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit
After – Showing up White – My ‘After’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit

Over the following months I explored my own white privilege story. I shared my stories along the way with rawness. In January I was asked by the YWCA team to talk about my experience at their annual Circle of Friends Luncheon…in front of 800 people. I said yes. I said yes because I had committed to engaging in conversations around racism and what that means for me personally, professionally, spiritually and as a human being living in this city, on this planet. I said yes because I believe that white people need to be passionate and outspoken and fearless around this crisis. This is an US problem. Not a THEM problem. I had decided that my voice, as a white woman, in a biracial marriage, raising bi-cultural and bi-lingual children, could be used for change when offered the opportunity (or perhaps the right word is ‘challenge’). So I said yes.

In February I surrounded myself with my strongest supporters of friends and family at the luncheon and I politely declined my meal as my stomach flipped around in anticipation. I delivered my words from my heart. Some said it was honest and moving. One guy told me I sounded guilty. Many wanted to know what they could do. This post, Designing a To-Do List – Madison’s Racial Disparities, came from those discussions.

I continued to explore different aspects of where our city was failing and I focused in on the business community and my own inner work. I listened to the heated conversations of the value of ‘the conversation’ vs the need for an action plan. As someone that has grown up in action (in the doing) that meant that I didn’t give much thought to the ‘being’ and I started to meditate on it. I wrote about it. I noticed the shift.

One of the best things that have happened to me in the past year is that I created new friendships, friendships with black people. I almost didn’t include this because it can be misunderstood. Another reason is that Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings shared her opinion at a panel discussion and it made me question my intentions. The discussion was around meeting new friends from different circles, and specifically different races. She shared such an honest perspective when she said she didn’t need any more friends and this idea of white people going out to find new black or brown friends is another example of how we need to stop the cycle of black people serving white people.  I got it. And I respect that perspective a lot. In contemplating that, I was certain I was not asking for friendships where there was no connection. And I was intent on getting out beyond my white and Latino world and in doing so, friendships came to life.

It hadn’t occurred to me to be specific about it until it became a recommended action item. Creating new friendships never felt like it was a checkbox on my to-do list. It happened naturally. There was one time I reached out to a woman in a way that felt on purpose and maybe because she was black. I had been following her on facebook and her message and her heart called to me. She is all about love and I knew I wanted her in my life. I was open and honest about it with her when we met for coffee and she embraced me as a soul sister.

It happened naturally in a couple of ways. I started attending events where the audience was not predominately white. I was talking about race more and asking questions. People connected me with people they thought I should know. Others reached out to me and connections were made.

Some connections naturally turn into friendships. Others do not. I know this from being in business. It becomes quite clear when a connection is shallow and when one is deep. I don’t hesitate when it feels right. So yes, friendships were made. Another thing that happened this past year is that I felt kinship with a couple of women that became more than just friends. They became confidants and I learned I could ask their opinion about hard issues (at least for me, surely not for them) and they would be honest with love. They knew my heart. I didn’t have to defend and I could let go of guilt, hesitation and fear. That gave me confidence to speak even when I didn’t feel comfortable with my thoughts and my words.

At the end of April I was contacted by Brava magazine and asked if I’d be willing to be featured in an interview about my perspective on the racial disparities in Madison (read article here). They had been at a table at the YWCA luncheon and related to my story as a white woman wanting to see change happen and all the feelings that go along with that like helplessness, otherness, ignorance, white privilege awareness, an itchy feeling and an ache deep down that feels the suffering of others. I said yes. I openly admit to being very new in this process. I acknowledge my ignorance and point to those that have been doing this work for many years. The article created more conversations and more connections were made. Then I spoke for a couple of minutes with Leigh Mills on NBC15…here is the video of that.

And here we are again. To the doing.

We are praised for our productivity and our worthiness is based on our accomplishments.

Through the past year I’ve reflected on that a lot, learned more, accepted the yukkiness of it and I’ve been willing to shift. I’ve added a TO-FEEL list as I make my TO-DO list (thank you Allison Crow). I’ve learned to simply BE in this process, enjoy the journey and put my best foot forward. It has became a part of my spiritual practice – to do less and to be more. 

My impatience is not abnormal. It is part of our culture. We want things now. We want bad stuff made right quickly and the concept of allowing the time the space for what needs to happen happen makes us uncomfortable.

The confliction is obvious here. I reflect on the past year and I come up with all that I have done. Perhaps, I feel the need to prove something in the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken. Yet I don’t believe that this is the answer. It is easy to feel like you are doing something and therefore you are helping. As long as I’m part of the solution it’s all good and I can sleep well at night. I call bullshit. The depth of racism is too deep for that to be the only answer. The fact that so many white people grow up color blind (and many grow up in very racist homes) means that what we are dealing with requires a deep shift in mindset, in our thoughts and our belief system on many levels. It is okay to just sit and be with it. It is okay to try different things through the process and then to pull back, re-examine and start all over again.

The practice of intuitive living means that I slow down enough to listen to what feels right and what doesn’t. It means I catch myself making a judgment, notice it and release it in hopes it doesn’t return. And when it does return, that nasty judgment or uncomfortable thought, I am gentle with myself. I trust my heart and the art of this practice. It is a dance. I love all human beings. I know my heart is good and my passion for justice is strong. I also know that I live in a powerful culture that is bombarding me with nasty messages all day long (picture yourself walking down the Las Vegas Strip).

The more I connect and listen, really listen, to what other people experience, the more I am able to open my heart and to allow the shift to happen within me. Not because of me.
There is hope and I have faith.

2 thoughts on “My Year Dancing with Racism”

  1. Barbara Boustead says:

    Sara, Thank you for sharing your year of transformation! It’s so authentic and full of compassion which is how I’ve always experienced you. Keep up your excellent work to shed light on what has been a very big racial/ethnic divide here in Madison! Love you and what you stand for! It is not an easy path…..

    1. says:

      Thank you for all the love and support you have given me this past year Barbara. You have no idea what you mean to me! <3

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