Reflections: Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable
If you had told me last New Years that 2020 would start with a pandemic and dissolve into mass protests, I would have looked at you in total disbelief. The past 3 months have been disorienting, confusing, and emotional.
When I decided to write this message, I was at a loss. I thought maybe I would write something and people would be angry with me for not getting it quite right even if I had good intentions. I thought about not writing anything but then felt guilty for shirking away from a leadership role during this time. I was right to feel guilty. Now is the time for courage, not silence. It’s time for community leaders to stand up and give a voice to those that have been muted. So in that spirit, let me share what I have learned so far from this experience.
It’s ok to not know what to say right now. It is not ok to be silent.
If you are lost, like I was, try listening. Read what people are saying, watch videos of what’s going on, take in the values and ideas that brands are promoting right now. Use this time to observe and form your own opinion.
Current news outlets and social media have been best described to me as like the grocery store. You know there’s junk food (click bait), but you also know what your body needs to stay healthy (verified facts from trusted sources) so you stick to the outer edges of the store and avoid the middle aisles. You read the box labels before ingesting the contents. It's time to go on a media diet and start watching what you are consuming. That doesn't mean watch less, it means choose carefully, because too much of the wrong thing can make you sick.
I’ve been in my apartment all day watching the police and National Guard out my living room window. It’s been informative to say the least.
It is ok to create space for people of color to tell their story and listen to their experiences if they are interested. It is not ok to tell someone that their experiences are imagined, false, or overblown.
I’ve had conversations recently about combating racism or making the general public more aware that racism is still running rampant in our society. The solution that has come up in many conversations is hearing from someone directly how racism has affected them.
If you’re interested in hearing stories about racism from friends, ask. Some people want to share and maybe haven’t felt comfortable or that you were ready to hear yet. A great conversation starter is “I think this question might be offensive, but I’m coming from a place of trying to learn. Can you help me understand how racism has affected you?”
However, as you seek to better understand people of color, and during this particular state of affairs Black/African American persons, be prepared for them not to want to explain or discuss. Be prepared for them to challenge you and your history of actions or circumstances in response to, "Can you help me understand how racism has affected you?” Let’s hear about why from our lead judge wrangler, Crystal Belcher:
“It's exhausting to continuously talk amongst ourselves since we were youths about heinous acts and expected behaviors amongst others. Yet we tend to only receive texts, calls, tags and so forth when proof of violations have been captured and plastered on all social mediums. Which doesn't say much to us. It's more like a band-aid and pat on the back. If you aren't doing the work to be better and to charge others to do the same, then you too are not a part of the solution. Just another collaborator or individual who'd rather conform to the status quo because it ruffles less feathers with your peers and/or allows you to be neutral instead of decisive.”
If you get this response, respect that person’s feelings. There is a wealth of information, videos, books, editorials, documentaries, movies, poetic slams, music, art, etc. because the experience of racism has been written, publicized, performed and expounded by so many scholars, artists and creators. There's no excuse to not google search such an expansive catalogue of information that details generations of injustice and inhumane practices that still very much resonate today.
It is ok to have a tough conversation and not agree with the person that you are speaking with. It is not ok to avoid a conversation because it is tough.
As you are having that difficult conversation…Try hard not to give offense, try harder not to take offense and most importantly don't be defensive.
Here’s an example of giving offense: “I don’t see color, all lives matter.” The reason this statement is offensive is that it downplays the different experiences that individuals have based on race. It says to that person, “your experiences don’t matter”. We are all racist whether we like to believe that or not. It’s not a flattering realization and it’s an ego hit to admit that about ourselves. However, it’s our job to acknowledge that racism in us all, and then take steps to move forward. Another example of giving offense is to be more publicly upset on social media about the looting and property damage that is occurring now, rather than being upset about the many, many deaths or acts of physical and emotional violence that have come from a racist culture. People are greater than property.
An example of taking offense would be hearing “I don’t see color, all lives matter” and hanging up the phone, or walking away from that person, or writing an explosive post about them on social media without asking them some more questions. When you escalate a situation, even one where you may have righteous anger, the person who is the target of your anger stops listening. Have you ever been in a situation where someone screamed at you, embarrassed you, or swore at you? Did you change your mind in that situation, or did that behavior just make you tune them out? If you’re like me, that targeted anger makes me shut down and be less likely to be interested in hearing another viewpoint.
Tough conversations need our communication skills to be sharp and on point. Communication skills are both in speaking our words and also in listening and interpreting others’ words. We should do our part to be kind and assume the best in others. If both parties come to the table with this mindset, our conversations can go further. We can have healthy debates that go deeper and hit harder. People's minds are open to receive your opinions when they feel safe, not judged, and respected.
It is ok to protest, donate, or ask how you can support your friends. It’s not ok to be a passive bystander.
An action suggested by Crystal:
“By seeing you practice and influence solidarity to your cohorts, friends, family, etc there is a possibility where you can lessen present anxieties and anguish to the parties most affected and open the door to conversations of vulnerability and resolution.”
If you are ready to act, head out with your mask, go with friends, protest peacefully, and let your voice be heard. If you are ready to donate, you can check out the local Black Lives Matter chapter in your city.