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.

Book Review: What Do You Choose?

This quarter go ahead and pick what you want, rather than what you think you “should” read. Let this be a time to read what calls to you, an inspiring biography, a juicy romance, a tough historical book you’ve wanted to read, a fond book from your childhood. What will draw you in when you’ve had enough scrolling through social media in the evenings? Enjoy!

PS Here are a few titles I highly recommend:

–Beyond The Sky And The Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa –page-turning travel memoir.

–Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory by Deena Kastor –inspiring and intimate look inside the mind of an Olympic marathon runner.

–The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff– historical fiction centered around three women and a ring of female secret agents during World War II.

–The Five Things We Cannot Change and The Happiness We Find By Embracing Them by David Richo– offers concrete suggestions for finding peace and meaning in these difficult times.

Moving From Theory to Action

To support you in creating your narrative during the “Stay At Home” directive:

–What are my intentions for this Stay At Home period? This could be a quality you want to focus on, a mood you want to help generate in your home, a kind of leader you want to be during this crisis.

–What are the behaviors and practices I can implement to help cultivate this intention?

–Is there a concrete goal I’d like to create for myself? You know for yourself if you will be served by a stretch goal (plant a garden, do 20 push-ups) or something simple (read a book you’ve been wanting to get to).

–Whom would you like to connect with during this time? We may be in social distancing for a while, so having a list of people (friends, family members, people you knew in college) that you can refer to can be helpful.

–Where do I want to be kind to myself? In all of this, there is an opportunity to practice listening to what our bodies need and build a little more self-compassion.

Creating the Narrative for the Stay At Home Directive

Several girlfriends encouraged me to write a piece on some of my strategies for the Stay At Home directive. I begin with deep appreciation and gratitude for the blessed life I am living and recognizing that social distancing is a privilege, staying in my own home with my family is a privilege, having nature out my front door is a privilege, internet and online schooling is a privilege, safety is a privilege, and soap and food are privileges that won’t be afforded to so many in the US and around the globe.

Still, the day-to-day challenges that come with social distancing and self-isolation are real, and what I’ve decided to focus on is Steven Covey’s Sphere of Influence vs. Sphere of Concern, and put energy toward where I have power- with myself, my family and those connected to me. While there is a lot of uncertainty, for now I’m holding that I get to create the narrative for my family and me. What is my intention for holding all of this? Here is a poem that resonates with me:

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
–Mary Oliver

In the martial art Aikido, one of the main principles is to move where you can, rather than where you can’t. If your opponent has your arm, don’t focus there and resist it, but rather bring your awareness to all the other places that are open and make your next move there.

This is how I have been feeling about the “Stay at Home” directive. I could spend my energy resisting and being angry and sad about what is so–  that my girls aren’t going back to school this year, I can’t visit with friends, our April vacation to a warm beach is off… all of it. But to help me move through this grief (please check this out On Grief), my next move is to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do. In many ways, boundaries are crucial for creativity. The structure of a Haiku is what makes it so powerful, brainstorming can be helped by setting parameters of time, and “Stay at Home” boundaries give me new territory in which to focus– the four walls of our home.

I believe I can have huge influence over the narrative I create for my family on how they will later look at the Covid-19 crisis. What do I want them to remember? Certainly not just the sibling squabbles, boredom, and frustrations. I’d actually like them to look back at this and say there were some fun things we did, and it was a special time in some ways (though they’ll probably never admit it until they’re adults).

So here are a few examples of what we’re doing in hopes that it might spark some ideas that feel doable for you and the loved ones in your life.

  • Family Fun (or Forced Family Fun as it may be). Each member of the house is responsible for leading one  evening family activity per week. It could be as simple as choosing a game of Scrabble, or more creative– one of my daughters came up with an Aubrey (our dog) trivia game on Aubrey’s birthday. (Our younger daughter won, as Jon and I had no idea Aubrey had a favorite color). I had a fancy dinner where everyone dressed up and spoke in bad British accents all night. (Our elder daughter surprised us wearing her prom gown as it seems that’s off this year). And Jon has been using his evenings to show old family videos when the kids were little, which we all love. We take lots of photos of these events- it will help with the memories later on.
  • “What I wouldn’t have done today if it weren’t for Covid-19”- Each night at dinner, we write down one thing we wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the pandemic. They can be simply be a record of where in the pandemic we are, from “Had first zoom class” to “Saw a raccoon, a fox and a deer” (Younger daughter as she spent much of the day doing homework in our cozy chair that looks out toward the forest).
  • Physical Challenge- We have a pull-up bar that’s been used more for hanging laundry recently- so Jon had us do a baseline pull-up contest, and now everyone gets money for each additional pull-up they can do. We’ve got a weekly mandatory hike (with lunch and treats on top, taking photos when they’re smiling) and I am trying to learn one hard yoga pose. 
  • Individual goals-I relooked at my Sabbatical List (as I wrote about here) and realized I had quite a few things that I still want to do but didn’t prioritize last year, and which don’t require me going anywhere: reading, gardening, cleaning out the garage, etc. There are new opportunities as much of the world has opened its doors to take online courses, watch a Broadway show, etc. And then there’s the opposite- your goal could be to do less, to sit with a cup of tea more frequently. It’s up to you. Putting intention to it can be powerful. The thing that I learned from my sabbatical, though, is that you can’t do them all.  Pick one that really interests you right now, and keep the others on the list as a “could do” for the future. No added stress needed, the intention is to just offer a little focus.
  • Relationships- We all know how important this is now: Regular phone call check-ins, virtual happy hours with long-distance friends, walk and talks with friends (where we’re each in our own neighborhood taking a walk and talking on the phone), help me feel connected. And having a couple of coordinated family activities like movie night where things are positive helps to counter the moments of friction.

At work, we can also influence the narrative:  it is about what we pay attention to and highlight. I am working with an ER Nurse Manager at a hospital and we spoke about the importance of highlighting the wins and small positive moments that make it worthwhile. At work, to recognize the effort people put in to make one’s office go virtual. In The Power of Moments, by Dan Heath he speaks about the importance of creating or noting peak moments as what influences how things are remembered. How can you create a couple of peak moments in your work now? 

To close, I remember the first time I saw footage of the Italians out on their balconies singing, I was moved to tears. Such an simple, amazing example of turning toward what they could do in the boundary of the four walls.  While it may be bumpy and difficult at times, I believe it is in our power to create our personal narrative and to find meaning in all of this.

Moving From Theory To Action

To support you in identifying some life priorities:

Creating a Life List- Could Do:

In 2018, a year before my sabbatical, I created a document titled “Could Do Sabbatical 2019” – throughout the year, whenever something came to me that I’d like to do someday –making dandelion wine, singing in a women’s chorus, taking a pottery class, trying taiko drumming, etc., I’d just add it to the bottom of the list. On January 1st I sorted the list into categories to see what arose. These categories then became my focus areas (e.g., relationships, adventure, travel, spiritual).

From there, I highlighted a few of the things I think I’d like to take on this year. The list shifted over time. I thought I wanted to learn guitar but after investigating it, realized that I didn’t want to put in the time, and would prefer to bike instead. Life is full of choices, and I realized that this list is for a lifetime, so at the end of 2019 I renamed my list to “Life List-Could do”. It is there as a repository for things that I could do- and I don’t feel obligated to complete them all, but it’s fun to review from time to time. I invite you to try it out and see what happens for you.

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