Finding courage

Last week, I saw a thread on twitter that got me thinking about Black people, white people (especially women), and the concept of courage. In the stream of tweets, Dr. Jenn M. Jackson wrote, “Courage and vulnerability require so much of us. And, I keep thinking about my Black foremothers and ancestors whose courage was about evading the noose or marooning from slave plantations.” She continued, “I’m not sure courage and vulnerability are big enough containers for Black willpower in the face of white violence.”

Reading those words again, I have to pause and sit with them. [I stopped typing and breathed with my physiological response for several minutes.] I have to pause because whiteness wants me to stay in my head, stay intellectualizing, stay thinking—all to avoid the depth of the feelings that come into my body when I consider the truth in those statements.

Yet another example of how essential “both/and” ways of being are required.

Breaking free from whiteness for me requires a significant level of courage. It requires courage because I have so very, very little experience living in a world that isn’t designed to protect me.

AND the courage required for me to be on a path of liberation is a whisper. It’s a microscopic droplet when compared with the kind of courage—and I want to repeat Dr. Jackson’s noting that “courage” as a word doesn’t feel big enough—that Black people must have to live in this world. As she writes, “For many Black folx, courage is the very thing the State uses to incarcerate them or put them in an early grave.”

[Again. Pausing. Breathing with and in this truth.]

One of the reasons I keep needing to pause and breathe as I write about Dr. Jackson’s message is because I have an emerging awareness of how much I don’t know and of how little courage I have had. That is to say: As a white woman, our dominant culture is built to protect me (the threat of sexual assault and other violence is a real too, though, another example of “both/and”). As readers of this blog surely already know, protecting white women like me has been used as an excuse and as a weapon to abuse, oppress, and murder Black people. Black people being some kinds of courageous can get them killed for doing nothing wrong.

Writing about the emotional courage that is required of me on this path toward collective liberation and dismantling white supremacy can land—can have the impact regardless of my intention—as a minimization of the courage required of Black people in their everyday lives. I want to be very clear here that the small story I am about to share reveals how far away from courage I am when it comes to breaking free from white supremacy.

Last spring, I participated in an “Embodied Social Justice” program. In most of the sessions we were led in various somatic embodiment practices to “arrive” in the class, frequently leading to what I would describe as a meditative state. In one session, after we had all reached a very centered space, the guide/teacher/instructor asked the Black and brown-bodied people one set of questions and then asked those of us who are white bodied a different set of questions. One of the questions touched a place of such deep terror that I was not able to stay with even the imagined experience of the answer for more than a few seconds. The instructor asked us to imagine: What it would be like to do something that would put us at risk of State violence?

[Pausing. Breathing. Not typing.]

Since that time, I have been taking steps to build resiliency and develop emotional skills that will allow me to reach and process that fear. It is this fear, along with others just as deep, that prevent me from being fully human and trustworthy as a potential “ally” or “conspirator” or whatever other word you want to use in transformational change work.

The fear that white supremacy has installed inside of me will insist that the racial justice work I do must be “safe” and, therefore, ensure that it will have limited impact. I believe it’s because we white people haven’t excavated our fears and because we don’t have a lot of skill when it comes to facing and holding horrific truths while also (both/and) continuing to live our lives that we historically have these cycles of awareness and action among well-meaning white people that always fizzles back down into apathy.

We must face what courage has been required of Black people (see Dr. Jackson’s tweets). We must face what our ancestors and now our peers and we ourselves continue doing to uphold the systems of oppression. We must have the courage to see that we have been willfully ignorant. We must work with each other to develop the capacity to stay in the truth. When George Floyd and Brianna Taylor were killed, so many white people were “activated.” For our own sake, so we can be fully human, and for the future of all the Earth, we must not let each other slide back into lies and avoidance.


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No strings donations: Breaking the cycle of privilege’s rules

A few months ago as I was walking with a friend, she was telling me about people in her home country who had even less money than she does. She was telling me about them because I had given her some money and she wanted to tell me about who the money was helping. I had a physiological response to her sharing the details of this with me. I desperately wanted her to stop. I’m still confused by this response, but am going to tease out some aspects of it here.

On the one hand, I come from a culture where we “don’t talk about money.” Talking about money signals a crassness, or, more accurately, a lack of the right kind of culture. While I didn’t grow up with enormous wealth, I grew up with people who did and I learned their language. I learned enough to know what it would take to be a part of their circles. I spoke their language with varying degrees of success.

As I’ve been practicing recovering from my addiction to whiteness, I’ve become more aware of all of the unwritten rules of speaking the language of class—and this is a cross-racial issue, though white people are more likely to be very wealthy and it’s white people I’ve known in this socioeconomic class. I wasn’t even aware that the rules were woven into me. They dictated how I moved in the world, and to a large extent they still have an impact. Even just thinking about writing this post made me feel tension in my gut, like I might be doing something shameful. I’ll get in trouble. I’ll lose access to networks. I’m not sure what else I’m afraid of, but my body has me on alert. I’m breaking a class rule, even though I’m not a part of that Super Rich class. I’m talking about money and I’m talking about the language of the moneyed class.

Another reason I flinched when my friend told me about the good results of the money I shared was because I didn’t want to feel like there were any strings attached to my gift to her. People in the upper socioeconomic classes frequently ask organizations and individuals to “sing for their supper.” I didn’t want to be one of those people. I gave the money to my friend because I had it to spare and wanted to share it.

Donors to nonprofit organizations or individuals can be very controlling about their donations. I’ve seen donors ask that recipients of financial assistance write thank-you notes to trustees, for example. Maybe that seems harmless to you, but what it does is enforce the power imbalance. You (recipient of funds) are beholden to me (donator). Individual donors often require special meetings with nonprofit management before they will make donations, too. In fact, this is very common. It’s a part of the donation process most people don’t even question. Executives in nonprofits regularly need to “court” wealthy donors. What is this courting process?

In my experience, when someone donates money but wants to be sure they have a say in how it’s used, there’s a level of white supremacy culture that is playing a part. As a white person who comes from a background of financial stability I have recently uncovered fear that real justice will mean I have to give away all of my family’s money. I have only begun touching on this fear in an embodied way. (My personal bank balances don’t show a whole lot of money to lose.) The fear lives at a deep, deep level. Existential. Cellular. I understand the urge to want to control what happens to money I donate. I think that’s why my friend describing the use of the money made me so uncomfortable. When I share money, I want to do it differently than whiteness wants me to. When I share money I do so with trust that the recipient will know best how to use it.

If you are among the class of people who has the option to share your financial resources, what do you expect of recipients? Do you trust them to use the money you share in a way that will have the most impact? If you don’t trust them, why don’t you? Are you asking people or organizations to sing for their supper? If you are, what need are you really trying to meet?


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Image by lucas Favre via Unsplash

Verdict is in, holidays are here: Live your values

As this country continues its racial awakening and reckoning, certain things have become almost predictable. It’s time to break that cycle of predictability, because that is part of what keeps us from mass movement and change. 

The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse may have been gut-wrenching and shocking to some, but for me—and many Black people and other people of color—it was expected. I fear that many white allies assumed that because Rittenhouse killed white people, the justice system might be a little less blatant in its findings. But the reality is that historically, white people who have dared to live the values of the idea that Black lives matter have always found themselves meeting a special fate. It’s a fate reserved for those white-bodied individuals who dare to turn their backs on whiteness and who threaten the order of white supremacy. 

All you have to do is look at the story of John Brown, a white abolitionist who was friends with Frederick Douglass. Yes, that Frederick Douglass. John Brown had the audacity to not only believe that slavery was wrong, but to see Black people as actual humans. Brown wasn’t a simple pacifist, as many white abolitionists of that time were—Nope! Brown believed in using violence as necessary against his fellow white men in pursuit of freedom for Black people. Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Brown survived the raid, was captured, and subsequently convicted of treason. Before his sentencing he addressed the court:

“…I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — on behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. — I submit; so let it be done!…”

Brown was hanged for his “crimes” on Dec. 2, 1859. Suffice to say, John Brown was a lot more than a white ally, and in today’s world, we need a few more John Browns and a few less passive allies who fear losing their social capital if they push too hard. 

John Brown understood what many of today’s white allies and accomplices fail to understand: You don’t need any Black person or other person of color to do that right thing when it comes to race. Sure, support us, lift up our voices, and make sure we are centered. But ultimately, your work as a white person will happen in white spaces and you need the strength of your convictions to be with you—no matter where you are. 

If you truly believe that white supremacy must be defeated and that Black lives matter, I leave you with the words I posted on Facebook—minutes after the Rittenhouse verdict was announced—and I ask you to sit with them and make a plan. Especially as we enter the holiday season and many of you will be gathering with friends and loved ones. Dare to rock the boat, disrupt the system, pass the turkey, and have hard conversations. 

As white folks, perhaps you should be reaching out to your fellow white folks to get your plans together to stem the tide of white nationalism growing in your communities. Are you sure your sons are not the next Kyle? What about the other young white boys, teens and men in your circles?

Will you discuss this verdict with loved ones over the holidays?

Please think critically about the work needed in your community to ensure we don’t have more Kyles rising up.

We are long past the point of awareness, we need action and we need it now. What’s your plan? 


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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