Over the past week or so, I have been seeing the word sleepwalk everywhere I turn-- in email subject lines, the books I'm reading, my Facebook newsfeed, etc. It's not the most common word in our everyday lives, so I knew I needed to pay attention.
When am I sleepwalking? What needs my attention? What do I need to awaken to?
The past couple of days I've been giving my attention to these questions and of course it became clear.
For many straight white people, part of our privilege is that we get to sleepwalk through civil rights issues. We can be half awake to them, aware that they exist-- even outraged that they exist-- and still go about our day to day lives feeling little or no impact on our own livelihood or well-being.
The way I see it, racial justice and civil rights work in general, is a series of wake-up calls to white America. My own wake-up calls have ranged from the subtle, a look or body language that indicates something I said was hurtful or ignorant, to the blaring. (ahem, RACIST!)
Ouch. The r-word. It's never been directed at me personally, but I've witnessed the power (and the harm) that word can have. It's a pain-filled word (like so many from our history) but it's accurate.
When I was first faced with this word in an ambiguous situation where there was no malicious intent and the people in the room were fairly racially aware and conscientious, my initial instinct was to defend against the term. Racists are people that use the n-word, who spew hatred, who intentionally hurt people of color-- they aren't people who hold similar values to my own, who try their best, who have made a profession of helping others and would never want to cause harm.
But the thing is, we are all racist. (If you want to challenge that statement, I'd first ask you to take this test.)
Acknowledging racism is not meant as a personal attack. Most people don't wake up in the morning with the intent to bring harm upon another person-- the ones that do are called psychopaths. Racism is a systemic thing, a societal ill, that needs to be healed-- and we're the ones that need to do the healing. Our racist tendencies may not be intentional or overt, but it's critical that we open ourselves to the opportunity to make it personal-- to reflect on our own prejudices and internal narratives-- because the impact of our racism is very personal to those who live with the effects every day.
So, back to my first instinct to challenge and defend against calling someone racist. I did so because it caused discomfort and pain-- deep pain. And at the end of the day, that word shut down a conversation rather than open one up. My reaction came from a place of privilege, expecting the person of color to take care of white people's feelings by not using inflammatory words like racist in situations where there wasn't overt bigotry.
WRONG! Big time, wrong.
It wasn't the word that shut down the conversation-- it was our (white) response to it.
As a white person, who has reaped (mostly unseen/unrecognized) benefits from this racialized society that was constructed long before my ancestors even came to this land, it is my job to own the discomfort that comes from that word and work to dismantle it for myself so that it doesn't shut down the conversation.
I. Am. Racist.
By owning the word, and the pain that comes with it, I can get past defensiveness and learn to listen. By waking up to the role that I play in this racialized society, I can move past a mentality of 'do no harm' to actively challenge my own privilege and the pervasive narratives that continue to devastate marginalized communities.
So I'm done sleepwalking. I'm ready to open my eyes, my ears and my heart-- all the way-- to the discomfort and the joy of being on the right side of this revolution.
I'm awake, for:
Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, John Crawford, Sean Bell, Jonathan Farrell, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Kenneth Chamberlain, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis...
And I'm awake for all the young people who have made my life better for being in it-- because despite the sometimes challenging situations we've faced together every single one of them has made my life better, made me better, for knowing them.
Are you sleepwalking? Explore these resources and consider ways you can wake-up too:
Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake not a Pep Rally - WellExaminedLife.com
Seeing Humanity in the Context of Race and Racism - OnBeing.org
An Important Lesson White People Must Learn If They Are Serious About Fighting Racism - EmpathyEducates.org
#FergusonInClass - Storify and Kare 11
Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson - SpectraSpeaks.com
The Subtle Racism of "Post-Racial" Activism - GentlemanGustaf.com
If you can see your [shadow], if you can name it, look at it, and if you can call yourself [it], then this is not the ultimate truth of who you are. The ultimate truth of who you are is the one who can see this and acknowledge this. ~Robert Rabbin, author of Speak Truthfully
About the blog:
Reflection has been a constant on my journey. This blog is a collection of my thoughts and ideas about my healing and the world.