This white woman’s inner work

In this post on Black Girl in Maine, Shay Stewart-Bouley writes to white people: “You aren’t going to read 75 books, amplify marginalized voices online, donate money, attend rallies and occasionally have an uncomfortable encounter and earn a good white person badge. That’s not how any of this works. Instead, your mission if you accept it is to strike at the heart of white fragility both internally and externally.”

What does doing “internal” racial justice work look like? I wrote a bit about doing internal work here, and here, but in this post* I’m going to experiment with going inside some aspects of my experience in a train-of-thought way. (This won’t be a post that offers solutions.)

I’m a middle-aged white woman with a nice smile. As I’ve become less visible in our culture, carrying more weight and showing my age, I’ve noticed a decrease in some of the special treatment I used to get when I was younger and thinner.

When I started learning about white privilege, I became hyper-aware of the good treatment I receive in public spaces, even as a relatively less-visible older woman. I’m also able-bodied, cis-gendered, and come from an upper/middle-class socioeconomic background. The world generally treats me well. Sometimes, when I’m out in public being treated well, I feel a nervousness.

This is what it’s like: I feel an emotional shakiness. Maybe twinges is the right word? There’s a wordless sense that I’m going to lose something valuable. In my body it’s a whispery bad-butterflies in my tummy kind of feeling. Anxiety. My nervousness is that part of me doesn’t want to lose what I have.

Some of me likes trusting the police will look out for me and assume the best of me. Some of me likes that I’m frequently called on first when a group of us is waiting for [insert any group-waiting activity like boarding a ferry or purchasing something at a store where the line isn’t well-formed]. It’s convenient and nice to know most servers will defer to me and give me what I want. Store clerks won’t assume I might steal something.

Why do I feel like I might lose this? Realistically, our whole social structure of white supremacy isn’t going to change overnight. I’m not going to lose my nearly-top-of-the-heap social status overnight. Plus, in some ways, the ideal would be everyone gets to be treated as well as most white people are treated. Why do I feel scared or uncomfortable? Part of it is that I’m working on finding ways to change these structures. I am actively working to change a system that benefits me. It’s confusing!

There’s nearly constant cognitive dissonance. I know it’s not right that I get all this good treatment, this assumption of innocence that people of color don’t get to have. The nerves are probably related to shame, too, that I get this and other people don’t. Not that it’s my “fault,” but as I benefit from the good stuff, people of color don’t. What do I do? Do I walk around saying “don’t treat me so well!”

And then, there are my own emotional/spiritual sickness issues of too frequently putting other people’s needs first. I’m working on those issues, too. So should I celebrate the fact that I expect to be treated well? Should that be an example of how I move in the world in a positive way, that my needs matter?

As I said, I’m not talking about solutions in this post. I’m only talking about how much of my mind and emotional energy goes into sorting through these confusing feelings. I feel the fear, the anxiety, and the shame. I feel the enjoyment of good treatment by strangers when I’m out in public. Feeling all of these mixed up feelings is a part of what I have to do to clear away the garbage and get to being just human.

Part of this noticing all of these mixed-up feelings has led me to realize how much of my racial justice work has to be done on a spiritual and emotional plane. I can’t think my way into not being complicit in white supremacy. I can’t even act my way into changing. Like an addict who wants another hit, I like being treated really well and believed the lie that it doesn’t hurt anyone. In many ways, it goes against the ugliest parts of my nature to change the system. My addiction to white supremacy wants me to keep coasting.

For me, and I recognize this won’t be the case for many other people, I need to turn to prayer and meditation to help clear the garbage out of my head. The fear of losing my status is something intellectually I know is foolish—I want the system of status to be dismantled and I’m working on being a part of that change—so I use my spiritual tools to release me from the bondage of self, of fear, and I let go.

Usually I don’t try to put into words how things are changing inside of me, but they absolutely are. I have no gifts like spiritual leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh or Rev. angel Kyodo williams who can use words to describe spiritual transformations. But I want other white people to know that the messy emotional expression I just did in this post is only one part of the inner work I do. I have the over-thinking (thinking enough?), hyper-awareness (absence of denial?) and I have new peace.

I can be with my advantages, notice them, and always be on the lookout for ways I can share them. Racial justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes I’m a mess inside, sometimes I’m grounded and okay. As long as I’m continuing to learn and practice in my everyday life, I’ll be doing more good than harm.


* As a writer for Black Girl in Maine Media’s blog, I was tasked with writing about racism without centering on whiteness. Through that work, I realized I haven’t yet found a way to do that. In the introduction to Robin DiAngelo’s new book, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism, she says she’s going to center on whiteness because she hasn’t figured out how not to do it while also using her position as a white person to bring important issues to wider audiences. I suppose that’s where I am, still, in my own racial justice work. In this post, I’m writing mostly to white people. I welcome readers of color, of course, but, again, what I say may cause harm because I haven’t learned how to not center on whiteness. As I said: yet.


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My faith journey…lessons learned

This is a post discussing religion and faith, specifically my faith. If religion isn’t your thing, this might be a good day to skip BGIM…no hard feelings.

I make no secret of the fact that I head a Christian faith based agency and that prior to my taking the position I was in the process of applying to seminary. People often query me about my faith since to some I don’t exactly present as the “typical” Christian/religious person. After all, I have been known to use foul language, I drink, I practice yoga and I am pretty upfront about the fact that I am a deeply flawed human.

That said I am not one prone to discussing my faith because it’s just that, my faith. Yet this morning, I woke up with the thought that I needed to write about my faith and after spending all day trying to avoid doing so, here I am. In some ways maybe it’s the time of year coupled with recent events, I mean really, all one needs is five minutes of the news to wonder where exactly is God if God exists in the midst of such unspeakable horrors. Just last night in my community, two teenagers were shot dead by an irate landlord.

I found God for the first time at 22 though looking back I am not sure if I really had found God or more specifically taken out a God insurance policy since the idea of an eternity spent in Hell seemed like a pretty bad idea. In any event, after becoming born again after a series of events that made me glad to be alive and for the first time turned me on to the thought that there might be more to this world than what I could see. I threw myself wholeheartedly into serving the Lord. I went to church, I shared my faith, I paid tithes, read my bible every day, I even quit my job in sales and marketing to go serve the needy. That last one being one of the few things that has endured from that first phase of my meeting God.

For years I lived in my happy God bubble, silently judging others and parroting what I learned, all the while thinking of God and Jesus as my personal genies. The truth was I had no idea what was coming my way.

The first true bump in the road of my faith journey happened when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer not long after I turned 30. It was scary, but as a family of faith we just knew it would all be well. After all, hadn’t God spared my father’s life when told he had less than six months to live? Hadn’t he raised my father off his death bed, sent him to seminary and seen my father dedicate his life to the Lord. Surely, this was Satan testing us, testing my mom. I won’t go through the play by play but needless to say, when my father called me simply saying “Mama passed” after I hung up the phone I was in shock and kept expecting another call to say that she was alive. After all hadn’t Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Surely, he could raise my mother from the dead?  Despite the fact that ten minutes before his call for some unknown reason, I had crawled into a fetal position, cried harder than I ever had and literally felt a shift in my being. I would later learn that at the exact time I was in that fetal position that was my mother’s time of death. That detail would later come back to me.

For many people this is the place where it would be easy to just say, maybe this God stuff doesn’t exist. Trust me; I tried that later down the road. After my mother’s death, my faith started to feel hollow, reading the bible provided comfort but also left me with many questions. My questions continued to grow when in an 18 month period, I saw so many people close to me die that I could have just started answering the phone with a “Who died now” message.

It was several years after my mother’s death when I decided I needed to know did God exist and if so, why did bad things happen to good people. Were all the rewards simply on the flip side of this journey or are we who claim faith just delusional?

That need to dig deeper led to the decision to go to seminary. In preparation for seminary, I started reading any and all biblical scholars that I could get my hands on. I was stunned to learn that the Bible while considered The word of God had a lot of back story that frankly most preachers never get into. Many of the so called laws and things we shun such as gay marriage are in fact decisions the church decided on. I did a lot of reading and literally not long after interviewing at one program, I got a call about a job. Long story short, I wasn’t exactly looking for a job but in the end figured I could help out a small agency for a year while I figured out where I would be going to seminary.

Instead of seminary, the past four years have taken me to the deepest depths of my soul at one point I was pretty certain that I had walked away from the faith of my youth and at another certain I might be a pagan. In the end coming full circle though and secure in my belief that there is more to this piece of rock than what we see.

Suffering is part of life; there is no way around it. The Four Noble truths say it best and I am paraphrasing for length the doctrines of Buddha: all life is suffering, the cause of suffering is ignorant desire, this desire can be destroyed, the means to this is the Eightfold Path.” Once I realized that to get to the root of my desire to know whether this entity we call God exists, I gave myself permission to look outside of the Christian faith tradition and realized that in other faith traditions there is a lot more clarity around suffering and pain. In the Christian tradition, we look at the Book of Job when discussing suffering but by and large too many pastors use the carrot and reward method to deal with their congregations and it fails. We tell people they need a personal relationship with Jesus or else, so in essence we are selling spiritual insurance policies since no one wants to take a chance on dying and going to hell.

Instead of highlighting that Jesus can be a source of strength, joy or inspiration, he becomes this magical man and we miss his humanity. Most churches aren’t discussing the historical and known man of Jesus.  Frankly as a believer it doesn’t surprise me that so many are not interested in what we are selling, truth is if life circumstances were different, I might be turned off too.

Too many churches are hung up on “laws” and miss the heart, again even if we use just the Bible as a primary text, most Protestant and mainline denominations are missing the boat and in the end, lose people.

This New York Times piece made me stop and think; people aren’t interested in the church of their grandparents so churches are looking to reinvent themselves but really hasn’t the church always done that? After all what we celebrate as Christmas was really the ancient Pagan celebrations that predate Jesus’s birth.

In the end, maybe I am just a dreamer and when I leave this rock I will simply cease to be. But at this stage in life I have lived too hard and seen too much to believe that even science in all her wisdom can explain everything. I think that there are too many mysteries that can’t be explained, I believe the human spirit can’t be killed. I think that even in the unexplainable, there is a quiet still presence that connects with us and gives us what we need even when we aren’t aware of it. I think the church as a whole fails because it is unwilling to acknowledge what it doesn’t know and in the process loses people. When I look at the sun setting and the ocean, what I see moves me in the deepest place of my being and for me is more than what science says.

Ultimately though the greatest gift that the Divine gives us is free will, we can choose what to believe or not believe and that is indeed a gift.

If you feel moved to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you. However I don’t debate my faith because it’s mine, it’s a long standing policy that I have whether online or offline. The software I use is being wonky, so it may look like your comment didn’t go through but it did.

 

I love me!

I always used to wonder why once a person became middle aged they seemed to get all introspective and start going off in search of meaning for their life. You know the types, they start reading self improvement books, take up new hobbies, maybe even let loose old relationships, etc. Then a real funny thing happened to me, I became middle aged, funny because in this ever young society we are in no one wants to claim middle age or hell even old age. But in a country where life expectancy is 77.9 years, I am definitely in the middle thus I am middle aged and frankly I am cool with that!

Lately I have been feeling as if I have been on this path here at BGIM where I talk a great deal about personal development, it most certainly has not been intentional but really is a result of some internal changes I have been making. To be honest I got tired of not being comfortable in my skin, tired of feeling as if I am not quite the woman I can be….it’s a process and I still have a long way to go. Yet it’s not about the end destination, it’s about the journey and as we all know journeys have a way of taking on a life of their own.

This brings me to a quote I stumbled on this morning by Alice Walker “No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.” Get the fuck out of my head is pretty much what I thought when I read this quote. No. Seriously this quote summed up in one perfect sentence what I have been dealing with personally and even professionally.

It seems when we set our hearts and minds on growth, we can expect that others may not be as excited about our changes, I know change is hard, believe me I know. For me the area that I have had to just draw that line in the sand is around boundaries. I am a recovering people pleaser; I suspect this trait is one of the legacies of having been spanked as a kid. I learned early on that being a yes girl meant not getting in trouble, yet being a yes girl meant I didn’t cause any trouble but it also meant I was scared to be me, or to explore me. In seeking to please others, I had no idea how to please me, and in recent years that full time gig of people pleaser just became too hard to bear. So now I draw lines in the sand and lately I have been dealing with the fallout and folks realize BGIM is no longer the first person to say yes, I won’t sacrifice me time and while I will always be willing to compromise, compromise must be a two way street.

Turns out it feels a little lonely at times when walking your own path designed by yourself and lived by your own standards, but it feels oh so good. I have simply learned that those who stand in the way; can’t support the change or who seek to make me doubt myself are simply not my friends no matter what they say. The great thing though about being middle aged is I love me enough that I will not compromise and while I am not always happy to be alone, I can live with it because I love me!