Wrestling with my white fragility

Right now I find it is hard to find words for anything – a problem for a Director of Communications – ha!

But many progressives like me in my home country of the U.S. are experiencing a great loss – not the loss of an election, but perhaps it’s the loss of our sense of selves. Like the loss of a family member or a friendship that once meant everything, there are no sufficient words for it. It is hard to put pen to paper when all I can feel is a hole in the deep cavity of my chest, this sore grinding jaw, shoulders that seem to reside in my ears, or perpetual hunger. Since November 9th, my body is ruled by tension and my mind races and races.

I am grieving, deeply. I am fearful for those who will be hurt, and likely killed in the time to come. Our nation will never be the same again. The stakes are that high and I don’t know what will be on the other side of this.

I’m overwhelmed. I’m afraid I’m not ready. To be an adult in this moment seems a heavy burden, but here I am in the generation that is demographically supposed to be leading this country.

I’ve been full of not just worry, but self-doubt. Why me? Why should this Nebraska farm girl be fighting anti-Black racism? Am I ready for what it will feel like to lose more of my privilege, my mooring, the self I used to be?? Do I have what it takes to make the sacrifice? Am I ready to lose the comfort of individualism, and rest and rely on the community, the collective? What if I’m not actually good at the interdependence I have been espousing? What if don’t know enough yet to “ditch” white feminism, only that I must? What if it was me all along who was not OK with ambiguity? What if I can’t quiet this lizard brain of mine?

So, to find any clarity at all, I must turn to the yet-to-be-revealed, undercurrent theme of this blog. So here goes:

What I have really been writing about on how-matters.org all along is…pain.

The reason that I have ever wanted to make the world better is because of that little girl’s pain, my own broken heart. My desire to first join the do-gooder sector back then and my desire to step up my commitment now (and maybe yours too?) is because I don’t want anyone else to have to feel the pain I have felt in my life – as ambitious or foolish or self-important as that may sound. Right now, I have this nagging feeling that the only thing that will enable us to change the world is our pain.

Recognizing and soothing and transforming your own pain is what makes injustice reigned on others so intolerable – not “convincing” or “influencing” one another to look beyond our self-interests. Not a person’s intellectual prowess, nor an organization’s innovative approaches, can replace what being present for each other unleashes.

This moment in my country’s history calls me to enter spaces where my people’s shame could arrive with me, charging in on white horses. Then it reminds me that the suffering and trauma we have caused and benefitted from, also might turn us right out.

So first, can I sit with my own pain? Can I refuse to not be distracted from my purpose? Can I overcome my pain consistently enough to choose kindness, especially for myself? Can I really believe and act in ways that prove love will overcome darkness?

Then and only then will I be able to sit with anyone else’s pain. Only then will we be able to connect and come together in the ways that change and evolve us as humans, together.

Movements can save us. They have advanced societies throughout history and throughout the world, and they will again. Our shared pain and our vision for its transformation is what binds the souls in the movement, creating bridges of understanding and pathways back to love and courage we cannot yet see.

women-power-clipart-1-jpgOur duty in this sector, at this moment globally, is to unleash people power. That must be our sole focus, our relentless pursuit, our greatest joy. And with our bodies and our planet under threat, we have no choice but to take such tender loving care of ourselves, that taking care of others becomes an easy expression of self, of community, of resistance.

My pain is my strength, and that is why I don’t just want to by an ally to those working for racial justice and global equity, I want to be a comrade (as described in this useful, yet daunting guide). I don’t know how to do this, exactly, or if I have what it takes. I’m scared of that too. Turns out though, my whole broken self is all I have to offer to the resistance.

There is no shame if you do not know how to do these things or cannot do them, but if that is the case then you still are on the hook: we need you to help bring forth leadership and support leadership who can do these things and will do these things starting right now. ~Caitlin Breedlove

There are many who have gone before us, who have shown us how to protect humanity and to venerate love and courage. They are not development economists nor organizational heads.

They are people around the world, who have faced regimes down, all the way down, before.

They are Indigenous peoples. (Oh how grateful we are to you, Water Protectors!)

They are our spiritual leaders.

They are our ancestors.

They are with us now.

They are us…our brokenhearted selves.


Related Posts

Get there (updated with more resources on solidarity!)

Getting money to the ground, directly

White supremacy, black liberation, and global development: The conversations we’re not having

“It feels like history”

Moving along on the do-gooder journey

Confessions of a Recovering Neocolonialist

Getting real about dominant white culture

Bad guys, good guys, and the people in between

The thing about women and development

A new discipline for development practitioners

The practice of global solidarity

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