I’m Here To Learn and Grow, Not Be Right: Opening Ourselves to Learning about Racism

(Please note that this post is geared toward my mostly white audience. For my friends and colleagues of color, please know that I’m committed to continuing my learning and being an ally- and I welcome you to engage with me or not, as you like.)

As I sit at the mid-point of 2020, I never would have imagined I’d be sitting with such a heavy heart. I feel the United States is breaking apart, and I feel some hope- that the country will break open into a new future committed to moving toward social justice and equity in our society. But in order for that to be, I can’t just go to a Black Lives Matter protest and call it a day. As an educated white woman living in Vermont (who is also heterosexual, married, financially solid, home owner, able-bodied, raised Christian, the list goes on…) I have extraordinary privilege. And I have a choice now, to use this moment to commit to continue my learning and sustained action toward societal equity, or to let myself get distracted, lose focus and forget. My white privilege affords me the choice. My integrity as a human being says otherwise. Peeling off the Band-aid can be painful, but it can also allow the light to get in for true healing. What are your questions and what are you thinking about? I’d like to learn with you in this conversation.

Owning up to white privilege and racism is tough. We have to put our egos on the line in service of something bigger. For me it’s been helpful to remember:

I didn’t create it.

It’s bigger than me.

I am a part of it and benefit from it.

What I do now is on me.

In a recent podcast with Brene Brown and activist/author Austin Channing Brown (she wrote I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness) Austin says, “The work of being anti-racist is being a better human to other humans.” It’s a basic definition that I find compelling. But I need be open to getting it wrong in service of learning. This is where Brene’s focus, “I’m here to get it right, not be right”, and Austin’s perspective, “We all mess up. We all get shit wrong,” offers me a little space to learn and grow without my inner critic breathing so closely down my neck. As a somatic coach, I believe that to get that space it’s critical that we get ourselves in an open and receptive place so we can be with the learning, the pain and growth to move toward more centered accountability and action. For me, staying focused on my commitment to protect others over protecting my own ego is the fuel for this uncomfortable work.

And this work is for the long-haul. In my own life, I’m re-looking at how I can use my privilege to support anti-racism more deeply, and how I can maintain this commitment over time. I’m using my attention and energy to create longer term plans:

1. To educate myself: What are the books, movies, podcasts, courses, etc. that I want to prioritize in the next year? How do I get them on my watch lists, news feeds, and downloads now, so I can easily get to them? How can I authentically spend time with difference? (This could be non-white authors, movie directors, etc.). Where do I want to start?

2. To leverage my resources: Steven Covey’s work on Sphere of Influence versus Sphere of Concern is useful here as it helps me move into action from overwhelm. I don’t need to take it all on, but I can take it on where I have access and power. For me that is in a few areas. Here are some of the questions I’m asking myself.

  • Work– In my field, how do I integrate more conversations on unconscious bias, white privilege and racism into my work? How do I create a safer place for people to do this work rather than close off to it? How do I ensure my practices and policies in my business are anti-racist? What actions can I take now that will further permanent structural change? (For example, making changes to hiring practices.) How do I leverage relationships in the organizations and affiliations I am already a part of, whether that’s through joining their initiatives on social justice and equity (such as B-Corp and VT Businesses for Social Responsibility) or bringing these conversations into greater awareness?
  • Family– How can we have more conversations about white privilege and racism? Why does it feel hard? How can we expose ourselves to more media that’s not mainstream white? What are the real costs of white supremacy for us? Why don’t we have more friends of color? How is structural racism embodied in us and how do we benefit from it? What are some actions we can take individually and as a family toward social justice and equity?
  • Financial– Where do our financial investments need to be tweaked to be more in alignment with our values? In reviewing our charitable contributions, are there anti-racism organizations we want to support in an ongoing way? How do we demonstrate our anti-racist values through the power of our spending? How can we more intentionally support minority-owned and values-based companies and avoid others?
  • Community– What are the volunteer activities I want to be engaged in in the next year? What role do I want to play in the upcoming elections? How do I support the work of others in my community? How can I increase my awareness to see who is at the table, and if there isn’t diversity, to ask why not? How do I speak up more courageously when I see racism in action?

If you’d like to join me, one concrete action I am putting forth as a part of my own development and to support the development of others is to offer a pro-bono quarterly book club with the theme of anti-racism. If you are interested, please check this out. The first book will be, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem.

This work takes humility, courage and energy. It must be done. We must do better at being a better human to other humans. I invite you to join me in taking the next step, and the missteps that will come along, as well.

water-shed (watr'shed') Noun: a critical point that marks a division or change of course; a turning point — © 2014 WatershedCoaching. All rights reserved.