I had to look up the definition of this term today. Not because I don’t know what it means but because I needed to confirm that what I was witnessing fit the definition. It did.
Several times I’ve been in conversation circles, talking about race issues with a diverse group of people and I’ve found that one person, a white person in our group will express quit honestly that something has welled up inside them. Some anger or angst. A dis-comfort. In one case, with a former boss – he actually couldn’t move through it to complete our equity and inclusion meeting. He left the meeting early and never came to another one.
This frailty around racial stress. The need to be insulated from it. The extreme discomfort people feel, people who don’t experience racial bigotry or oppression in their everyday life – is real.
I’ve always been the sort of person who embraces discomfort and stares it down. Who takes that nervous feeling in my stomach as a message to dig in and rise up to the challenge of the moment. But I have felt it too.
I’m noticing that others shirk back. Recoil. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It’s like there is a threshold and until you cross it and walk into the room – it seems overwhelming and an unwillingness to go there can dominate. I have no idea why some can walk through and others stutter. I know there is a book that I should read but I haven’t yet. It probably explains all this that I am witnessing. I will read it. Eventually.
Today though I contemplate that fragility. Where does it come from? It seems to me that it manifests usually in anger or angst. Esoterically I know that all anger is really fear. Fear arises from a deficit of unconditional love. And I know the best remedy for anger is forgiveness. The question then becomes – what do white people need to forgive that will allow them to move past the initial feelings of anger. I think it’s ourself. Our heritage. Our ancestry. The cellular memory within our DNA that was either directly or complicity involved in an atrocity that has wounded an entire race of people. Maybe we need to forgive the humans that perpetuate the wound. Or the humans that remind us of our complicity in creating and perpetuating the wound. There is something that on a deep level we feel we have lost. Or that has been taken from us. Our innocence. Our righteousness. The presence of the stress of racial tension is something we don’t want to experience. Something we don’t want to be reminded of. Something we wish didn’t exist. And yet it does.
It’s such a selfish perspective to put our own discomfort, our own self loathing above the care and restoration of another’s well being. And that isn’t our intention. Sometimes we don’t even see that it’s selfish. Lost in our own perspective we can’t always see that it’s a white privilege to wish our angst to the corn field. And why do we want so badly for the whole problem to go away? Other issues we are happy to tackle. Women’s issues – we march and knit pink cat eared hats. Brush fires, child abuse – we fund raise. Environmental causes – we take them on. We buy electric vehicles, recycle, go vegan. Why can we take up these other causes against un-equality so much easier than racial un-equality?
I believe we don’t know where to start. It’s overwhelming. It a horrific injustice that we can’t even begin to imagine the scale and scope – it’s the worst thing we ever learned about in history class. And we’re complicit. We’re guilty. And we don’t know how to fix it.
Deep down we’re afraid fixing it will mean sharing all the toys in the sand box. It will mean giving up all that we have because we know it was that bad and we can’t face the loss that we know we should suffer to right the karma. That’s because we are beings of lack. Beings of remorse. Beings of empathy. And we subconsciously know that making it right requires restoration on a scale that will use up all our resources. Or at least that is our fear.
But it’s not true. In truth we are beings of abundance. There is enough for everyone. If we could restore those who have been left behind. If we could share the sand box equally – we’d all have more fun.
We have to forgive ourselves. Our biased and racist great grand parents and their ancestors before them. We have to be willing to give everything that we have to right the karma of history in faith that there is more than enough for everyone. We have to step out of fear and anger and feel into our capacity for compassion and love. To feel that we are not separate but united. To know that reparations doesn’t mean lack but means we all become equal in the sand box of life.
For some this isn’t going to be easy. My old boss used to really get torn up about families who couldn’t pay tuition at the school where we worked. It actually made him upset, annoyed and angry that some families expected the school to help them financially. Instead of feeling into that emotion and actively forgiving those families for being unable to pay tuition he let the resentment grow into a hatred. One that guided his decision making into a death spiral for the school.
Nothing can grow from hate and anger. Only in love can we thrive. We have to forgive whatever it is that is at the root of our angst. Whether it’s ourself or the other – it has to be healed. It’s the only way to unwind the knot. To be able to speak and console. To find healing words of love. To share freely and help the wounded up. To play fair in the sandbox. Without the secrets and elephants in the room. To be free of the guilt, shame and loss for words.
Be vulnerable. Acknowledge the fragility. The privilege to wish the angst to the corn field. Feel the squirm in your stomach and don’t turn away from the conversation.
Forgive, love and give up all the rationale that your psyche whispers in your head that prevents you from fully stepping into an authentic relationship with that which you fear. Just stop – stop justifying why you should not have to deal with the ugly, painful, upsetting situations that are around us because of a long history of denial. Just stop. Stop being fragile. Get some thick skin and do the work. Your fellow humans are asking this from you. Now.