I am saying that a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you find will do to you. James Baldwin, June 30th, 1979 in the opening of his proposal for a book to his literary agent. I Am Not Your Negro, pg 5, Vintage Books, 2017.
It was relentless. The images. The words. The jabbing at how my beliefs have been shaped by my limited white perspective. I saw the movie I Am Not Your Negro Saturday night with my daughter. The movie is a compilation of an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, who died in 1987, plus excerpts of interviews and lectures he gave against a backdrop of decades old and recent news events. It is raw and his words were prophetic.
A few weeks before that I saw Hidden Figures, a movie based on the true stories of the black women geniuses (I really have no other word to describe how smart these women were) who worked for NASA and played a pivotal role in getting the first man launch into orbit (and beyond.) Also profound is what they endured and “yet they persevered,” to use a now popular phrase.
And I have been reading the points of view from women of color (WOC) on the Portland Women’s March on Washington FB page. Hear the anger of those who feel marginalized in what is "supposed to be" a show of unity. Read the push back from white women who feel affronted. Then the peacemakers step in: “Why can’t we get along and focus on women’s rights and work on these ‘other issues’ later?” Back and forth. Things being brought into the light. It can’t always be “later.”
An interesting start to a blog post? If you are generous and stay with me to the end, I hope you see how this reflection does tie in with nurturing one’s journey.
By opening myself to viewing, reading, listening to difficult parts of American history and current societal issues through a different lens, I have set myself on a journey that, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t reset. What is my role in the treatment of people of color (POC) in this country? When I was much younger, I thought I could take an easy out. After all, my parents immigrated from England. I am first generation American. What did my family have to do with 400 years of slavery? It wasn’t my “problem.” My conscious was at ease.
That didn’t work as I got older and began to learn about institutional racism and inequality. I saw how I might view POC as “other” and knew that was wrong. But I still didn’t have many friends outside my own skin color and the areas I frequented didn’t make expanding that possible. I was busy with a young family and the struggles in my own little world. The energy it would take to make changes, well, it just wasn’t that important to me if I am being honest. After all, I didn’t see how I was affected on a day-to-day basis. It was too easy to sit in my bubble without being involved.
I can’t hide behind those excuses anymore. Especially not the “I’m first generation” excuse. I have a lot of pride in my English heritage and there are some wonderful pieces of my family and cultural history to be proud of. But, the British were empire builders and believed their culture was superior to those they invaded. My mother’s grandfather worked his way up to the highest NCO rank in the British Army, which was an honor considering the class system he lived under. We have his service medals from Afghanistan and North Africa from the late 19th century, when the British were still conquering those “unruly and inferior cultures.” We know how well that has worked out. On a deep cellular level, I have this in me. I was not responsible for it, but by acknowledging it, perhaps that offers a single modicum toward healing.
What is more in my face and uncomfortable is POC are not responsible for making me “feel good” about my newfound awareness (Yes, that has been brought up in several posts and in the movie, that white folk still want the focus on them.) If I go into a meeting or attend a rally concerning equality and justice and expect to be given kudos about how far I’ve come in seeing my own prejudices, get a pat on the back for how I want to help or not expect to have some anger hurled my way, then I need to take a step back and consider who I’m there for. Is it so I can feel better about myself? Or am I there to support those who have been marginalized. If it is the first, then I need to own up to the “colonialist” in me, who once thought she knew what was better for “the other.” (Yes, I confess to having a period in my life where I thought the solutions could be dictated by those outside the community and then wondered why wasn’t it appreciated. The shadow side of white liberalism.)
This leads to what I feel I am responsible for:
- Listening deeply. Offer no excuses. No “I’m first generation” prattle. When my white face is in the room, I am representing “white” and that needs to take a backseat. It isn’t about my story at this time. Later, maybe, but not now.
- Continuing to deepen my own awareness and share that with other Non-POC (aka-“whites”) using the skills and training I have. Creating safe space to explore the roots of our beliefs about “others” and our role in continuing old paradigms and what will it take to overcome our own discomfort to change.
- Don’t be silent. When I witness injustice, say something. Do something.
- Realize I can’t fix this but I can be part of the healing.
I Am Not Your Negro continues to deeply impacted me, as many books, movies and poems I have taken time to sit with these days. I am at a junction in my life where I am being called to go deeper. I feel that. Perhaps you have felt that at times in your life. Perhaps it is now. There is a risk in the deep dive, the risk of getting “the bends.” Which brings me to the fifth thing I am responsible for: self-care. When a diver comes up from the deep dive, they need to decompress or risk serious injury or even death. Spiritual deep dives carry emotional and soul risk. As I often say (to the point you may be tired of it) finding balance during these expeditions is imperative. Taking time to exercise, read something light, watch a comedy, hang out with friends, listen to music are some of my self-care “to dos.” Sounds trivial, even as I write it, but it is part of nurturing my own journey so I don’t get lost in the depths, unable to resurface without becoming ill—physically, emotionally, spiritually.
What about you? Is there a social or other issue that keeps begging for your reflection? How do you go about engaging? How do you nurture yourself through challenges to your beliefs? As a spiritual director and holder of sacred space, I offer this honest reflection as assurance that I will create space for you to dive deep when you are ready.