Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fears of an Aspiring Anti-Racist

Sometimes, you just have to write it all down and hit print before you lose your nerve. Here are some fears and confusions which plague me:

I need to have always believed and known what I now believe and know. If my social justice friends find out all the ways I used to be racist, if they find out all the ways I am still racist, they will never forgive me. Is there a way to convince myself once and for all that 1) they absolutely know how racist I was and still am and 2) they know I’m working on it and won’t write me off because I make mistakes? How do I convince my White peers not to be scared to engage in this work when I am scared myself? How do I show them that we must be vulnerable and willing to accept critique when both petrify me? Why do they still petrify me when I experience them all the time and always live to tell the tale?

Will I ever stop being scared of the conflict that comes from this work? I mean, obviously I’ve pushed through some of the fear to do what I do, to have gotten where I’ve gotten. But there is always fear that keeps me from pushing more. Will I ever be completely fearless? Is anyone? Should I stop aiming for fearlessness? Is fear a tool I should use?

I believe that while my personal education and growth are important, and the work in which I engage is meaningful and fruitful and valid . . . there is a significant missing piece: my time in the community. In organizations that combat racism in any number of ways, from explicit anti-racism education to community organizations that address the resulting ills of racism. My time is split in 3 big chunks: work, family life and school . . . with little chunks of extended family and friends floating around, often neglected. I work long hours an hour away from home in a job I’m not leaving anytime soon, and take night & online classes which means that when I finally get home I’m usually doing homework or collapsing. My weekends are designed to make up for what I’ve missed during the week: full-on family time with only the occasional diversion to hang out with friends or work/family-related travel. I’m already stretched thin, how can I possibly add in a time commitment to a community organization? Yet, how can I NOT engage in this crucial aspect of this work? Should I be looking at this time in my life as a season and know that one day I will have more time for community work, or is it always going to be this way (it has been this way for YEARS) and I just need to make some other change to the way my life is structured so that I can engage?

I am not qualified to do this work. I have not mastered ___ concepts and don’t know all the racial identity development models or many of the Names in anti-racism and I can’t afford to go to conferences and I’m not on staff at ___ organization and I still freak out when people yell at me and tell me I suck for doing this and I still cry when friends drop me or slowly back away from me and tell me I’ve changed and they don’t like the new me. I should read more journal articles and should have a thicker skin and shouldn’t second-guess my interactions with people I admire and I only learned about intersectionality a few years ago and I still have three John Mayer songs on my playlist and and and.

This work can only be done in two ways. It must be academic or activist or it isn’t real. I am neither and so my work isn’t valid. I know I said in a different paragraph above that it is, but really it isn’t. I am an imposter and I will be found out.

How do I balance the knowledge that White people need to stand up and get involved with combating racism, and that committing to this means I will begin to stand out to some people as an “expert” simply because so few others are making the same visible commitment, while not taking up the spotlight that has for so long been pointed at White folks instead of the People of Color who have always been doing the work, who live the work? How do I combat this thing where White people will listen to me about racism before they will listen to a Person of Color, while not ignoring the ways my privilege gives me access to those who need to hear it? How do I use my privilege without abusing it? Can it be used, ever, without it being abuse?

How do I convey the gravity, urgency and devastation of racism without co-opting people’s stories? Without using their trauma as an object lesson? How do I tell White people that terrifying things are happening to people without training them to only respond to the most terrifying story? How do I help people respond to the “small” stories, the everyday occurances if the only thing that gets their attention are the over-the-top horror stories?

How do I show the ways that racism damages communities – financially, for example – without painting the picture that People of Color all live destitute lives? How do I combat the stereotype of People of Color = poverty without erasing the fact that poverty is a hallmark of being oppressed via racism?


Can I do this and one day look back on my life and believe I tried my hardest and made a difference? Or will I look back in regret at all the ways I failed?

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