I was part of a Zoom book discussion last night where we were invited to share stories of our experience around race. I had so many things enter in to my consciousness…Stories of being in situations where racism was being wielded and what my reactions were, situations where difference was highlighted as a way to set apart one person or group, cultural elitism, classism, the establishment of a cultural hierarchy and realizing where I fell—sometimes on top, but not always…. Somewhere along the way we got to talking about fear-based reactions… and it was then that things started taking shape.
I went to bed thinking about human nature and awoke with a blog entry. It was like waking up and seeing the puzzle picture on the box top for the first time. Suddenly, the pieces within me had a place and I understood how they fit together into something bigger. I am still testing out how the specific pieces go together, but I had a response to “Why the work of antiracism is important to me.” I knew it was…but I was missing the clarity of articulating a connective and penetrating Why that was inner as well as outer.
It began when we started talking about fear…fear of The Other, the Different, the Unknown, Unfamiliar, possibly Uncomfortable….and how that fear can lead to the attitudes I mentioned above…cultural elitism, racism, etc… And I thought—’Twas ever thus…the human need to feel safe, secure, better-than… This, though, is reactive. A perceived threat comes along, a social position is challenged, someone or someones who think differently, have a different culture, language, skin-tone, and…systems are created that favour the economically and culturally dominant group.
I thought about moments and situations when I had been stripped down…stripped of control, stripped of familiar support…I thought about what it has felt like within me to walk into a room and have people move away, to hear I was not wanted or welcome because of my country of origin, moments when I spoke about my family and it was met with assumptions about me and about situations that others knew nothing about beyond it being different than their own experience, moments when it became quite clear that my take on something was radically different than others around me.
In those moments and times, what mattered to me and matters to me still, is not being better than. What matters is welcome; is love; is honour, respect, openness, and freedom…being able to be free, transparent, authentically who and how I am…
What matters is being offered this by another human…having a place where my humanity is welcome.
Where that happens, that’s where I want to be…and why would it be different for others? So, my question is what can I do…how do I need to change in action and attitude to help create mental and physical places where others know that their humanity, their Being ad Truth, is welcomed with honour, respect, openness…? How do I help create spaces and places where stories are heard, injustices decried, and actions taken that foster belonging as-is and challenge systems of belief or action that quash, minimize, or impose domination upon, differences, in order to maintain higher positioning on a social, economic, power, racial…ladder?
How do I not lose sight of my own humanity, my own vulnerability…how do I recognize places where I can breathe freely, where I can show my humanity in its curves and quirks, graces, particularities, and challenges without it feeling like a threat or without me feeling threatened… And also recognize where that isn’t happening because of mental structures or systems in place that prohibit it for certain groups, and then act to help change those systems?
I come back to paragraphs from a piece I wrote after the death of George Floyd who died when a white police officer knelt on his neck.
In part, I have come to this— I feel like I do because I am still alive…when others are not.
I am alive…and my respect for that gift, my utter wonder and respect for that gift that has allowed all else to unfold in my life so that I am able to feel what I feel right now calls me to be repulsed when the use of that honour, being alive, is weighed upon the neck of another to deny them their own wonder, dimension, and grandeur…
To deny someone else the grace of standing in their fullness and dignity is putting parameters around what it means to be alive and who gets to have breath and being; doing that is not a right bestowed—it is stolen, appropriated, abused. I work to recognize those moments when I am the one who denies the fullness and dignity of another. Trying to do that lets me look in the mirror and into the eyes of those I meet. I ask over and again to not forget the sources of my empathy; do not let me forget what it feels like to shake and to shrivel inside and do not let me forget what it feels like to flourish. The strength of both, bonded together, plants my feet beside my brothers and sisters who fight to breathe.