White Folks Doing the Work: Turn It Inward
I’ve been feeling many feelings this week and there has been a low (sometimes high) level tension running through my days. With the murder of George Floyd by police officers, Christian Cooper being harassed in Central Park, and the riots in full force in Minneapolis all so soon after the horrific murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, it’s a lot. It’s brutal. It’s time to turn it inward.
My social media feeds are full of ways white people need to do better and be better. Here’s where I am at with that. One on hand I love the resources being offered up. Some of them are so good. On the other hand, I am nervous about white people going through checklists and believing this is the way to be a ‘good’ white person. It’s the being and doing thing.
Action, without awareness and analysis, can be dangerous.
The framework of Awareness, Analysis, Action, and Accountability from Desiree Adaway who attributes Barbara Love’s work, Developing a Liberatory Consciousness, is the approach that I take in my justice work.
Yet here I am, offering up something to be consumed too. Keeping a critical eye on consumption culture, please take a breath before moving forward and allow your body to let you know if what I offer is for you or not. If it resonates, great. If not, move on. I trust you and your journey.
An Exercise for Radical Reflection and Deeper Connection
Step One – Feel
Create a space for yourself with no screen distractions. Maybe light a candle.
Now, feel your feelings.
Seriously. This is all I am suggesting.
You can do this in whatever way you want. Helpful ideas: find a 10-minute meditation or sit quietly using a timer on your phone and breathe. Practice feeling the sensations in your body. Think about George Floyd’s family and friends. Or the post that someone shared that rattled you. Start noticing your feelings and write them down…rage, confusion, guilt, shame, discomfort, defensiveness, righteousness, despair, numbness. Notice them, name them. Write about your feelings as you experience them and stop every once in a while to really feel into them again and allow yourself to notice where those feelings show up in your body. This is centering yourself with yourself. Be in you, feel deeply, and be radically honest about how you feel.
As you acknowledge your feelings, you may be tempted to think of things you need to/want to do. Observe that. Maybe write it down. What is the feeling? A desire to act, perhaps? Writing a list of your feelings and writing a list of the things you want to do are two different lists. Keep them separate.
Taking action can be a bandaid to not feel the way we feel. I ask myself, “Am I doing this to make myself feel better? What feelings am I trying to avoid or wanting to push past so I can feel better?” Do you sometimes act out of desperation to feel better? Write about that…the doing vs. feeling, the emotions, the desire, and how you navigate it all. Just allow yourself to feel and journal for a while and see what comes up. There is no right answer.
When we allow ourselves to feel, we are able to tap into a deeper, internal motivation, which is much stronger and more sustainable than external motivation, which comes from a sense of obligation.
Step Two – Talk it out
Call a friend and talk about it. Get off social media and get into a real conversation with someone who can hold space with you and engage in a helpful way. If you don’t have someone in your circle, reach out to someone who you think might be interested in having a conversation about the current events, racism, and your feelings. Ask them if they are open to talking. You don’t know unless you ask.
What is the point of the conversation?
Processing through conversation helps you hear yourself and see yourself differently. Getting out of your head is important and getting off of social media to engage in relationships more deeply can be effective to creating change. What if that is the only point? What if you don’t need to figure anything out in the conversation or prove anything to yourself or to the other person.
There is nothing to prove. Not today. Not with this conversation.
Being seen and being heard is powerful.
Allow for that.
Giving yourself and the other person that space can have a ripple effect that we can’t even imagine. Maybe the point of the conversation is simply to practice what we keep hearing and saying…we need to be in more conversations about hard things because courageous conversations become courageous actions.
Conversation tip: As you navigate the conversation, notice your feelings, reactions, and how your body responds to whatever comes up for you. You might be raging and your eyes may water, you might be quiet as you acknowledge shame, and you feel your throat restricting, you might be frozen and unable to find words and feel a weight on your chest. Notice it and don’t judge yourself. This is self-compassion and healing work. This is also a practice in being in integrity with yourself and with someone else. Deeper in connection.
Side note: for this exercise I recommend calling on your white friends. During this time, when my friends of color are experiencing compounded trauma and grief, I don’t call on them to sit with my feelings. However, the thing about relationships and friendships, is if you are in integrity in your friendship, you know what is okay better than me. There are no blanket rules for being in relationship with someone.
Learning to engage more effectively in uncomfortable conversations is a goal of mine. If it is a goal of yours, I offer you this resource: Get Messy: a Workbook for Better Conversations. Other resources for practicing conversations around race are here.
Step Three – Reflect and write
Take time to reflect on this exercise of sitting with your feelings, writing about them, and talking to someone about them offline. Reflect on where you resisted, how you processed, what feelings came up in your body, and whatever else comes up for you. Reflect and write. Keep taking deep breaths. You care deeply and you are hurting too. Be gentle with your sweet sweet self.
If it helps, make a list of action items you can take in the next 30 days as you move forward on your racial justice journey. You see the resources out there, you know how to access the lists. A challenge for you: notice the difference when you feel pulled/externally motivated with a sense of obligation versus when you feel internally motivated to change this world for true liberation for all.
This is complicated work. We can act with urgency and we can take time to feel. I would argue that turning inward to feel is actually an act of urgency in many ways too. This is not an exercise of coddling. This is an act of courage. I am a tender-hearted, badass warrior. If I don’t take care of my tender heart and practice healing on a regular basis, I am not who I want to be. I stand powerful in that truth.
My tender heart sees your tender heart and the tender hearts all over the world. That’s where the power of empathy lives.
Thank you for bringing your whole self to the act of radical love and a deep desire to disrupt, dismantle, and end racism!