The author Brene Brown just gets me. My guess is that she might get you too. Brene is a shame researcher. Crazy vocation if you ask me, but she’s changing the world with her research and insights. Her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong have been my constant companions for the last decade. Navigating the waters of a culture that is steeped in “NEVER ENOUGH” is serious business. A couple of weeks ago, the reality that I will never be enough hit me square in the face, bored a hole in my heart and threw me under the bus.
I made a comment on Facebook in response to a question someone asked about black children. My comment came from an honest place of love and honor in my soul. I was totally unprepared to experience being called out as a racist white woman. I was equally unprepared to have my one comment singled out with five others from 600 comments, put together in a screen shot and held up as a gross example of white racism. I was devastated.
If you know me, you know that racial equality is something I have been passionate about my entire life. I was a white child who grew up in a poor and multicultural neighborhood. At 13 I ended up in a community where few minorities even existed. I deeply felt the culture shock of an all white culture. As a result, I’ve been the one among my peers always reaching out to minority students. Always.
The author of the original post was a black author who described the screen shot with my purportedly racist comment among the others said she had put her post out there as an experiment. It was basically a worm on the hook to catch the unsuspecting racist white people. The real irony was that the women actually chewing my ass about what I said were WHITE! The entire exchange caught me totally unaware and though I tried my best to understand why the words I said had been taken the way they were but it only seemed to bring more damage to the conversation. Though I understood to some degree what they were addressing, I found the entire experience so difficult I chose to delete my Facebook account and start over.
Brene talks about putting ourselves out there as an act of bravery but also as an act of vulnerability. I have never really felt angst against anyone whose skin was darker than my own but on the evening of this exchange, staying true to my core values were sorely tested. I bought the author’s memoir and started reading it but my compassion for her was lacking as a result of my own pain having been so publicly shamed by her that I put it down right away. I do want to read her story and try to grasp her experiences but right now I’m not able to.
What I said that day when the world of Facebook fell apart for me was this: “they are children”. Apparently because black children are never the center of conversations by reducing them to mere children, I was being a racist. The fact that I teach children, that I would be in BIG trouble as a teacher were I to single out any child of a certain race and draw attention to their physical appearance meant nothing. The fact that in my circle of friends there are several people of color meant nothing. The fact that I read books like Between the World and Me by black author Ta-Nehisi Coates or anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie meant nothing that day on Facebook.
The level of anger leveled at me by the two white women on top of the author’s singling out of my post and displaying it as an example of rampant racism made me aware of a whole world of black expectations I knew nothing about. I know that in the end, it will become an enlightening experience and I will be better for having gone through it. For now, this is my attempt to come out of the corner and process it to some degree.
What is striking to me is that Brene’s words are truer now than ever. We ARE a culture that regardless of the issue that DEMANDS perfection from each other. We demand that our truth is fully recognized and if it is not, we have no problem publicly shaming the blind, ignorant fool who dared to try to illicit a response. The woman who tried to be of help to me was accused by the other of coddling me, “that white woman”. How is it okay for a white woman to call me one in condescension? What was more difficult was that her response to this woman’s suggestion that I was being coddled was something like damn right, I should have called her out on the first chance I got.
Maybe we ALL need to be a bit more coddled because the world of social justice seems to be is full of “experts” who demand perfect allegiance to every single cause on the docket. I’m passionate about a lot of things and try to contribute where I can but this standard of all/nothing compliance is impossible to adhere to and I believe that it is also damaging our country’s ability to have civil conversations. It is literally creating a world where people are afraid to even try to participate.
I am totally guilty of demanding this kind of compliance from others with my posts and too often shaming those who do not respond according to my standard of perfection against something. Right now, when it comes to anything close to supporting Donald Trump I am immoveable. I want him out of there. I don’t believe for one second he is a Christian at a heart level and I pretty much hate everything about the way he was elected and how he is running his administration. I want the entire swamp to be drained of traditional white male Republicans. I’ve been hyper-focused on trying to get my people to see what a total jerk the man is. Have I succeeded? Not even a tiny bit. I am simply the fruit and nuts liberal black sheep. The tragedy is that I know we share many of the same values and want many of the same things.
My family grew up visiting National Parks. Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks were our favorites. We were not a wealthy bunch and yet we could enjoy these treasures together almost for free. The Black Hills and the Badlands are etched in my soul from childhood vacations. My strongly conservative parents LOVE these parks. When they were here a few weeks ago, in a calm voice and looking them in the eyes I was able to share what their party wants to do on these sacred lands. Drilling for gas and oil will change those places forever. I reminded them of our wonderful experiences in these places and how much they are in my heart as a result. It got quiet and they listened with heart and ears wide open. In one 20 minute civil, non-shaming, not personally condemning conversation, the world changed a little bit between us.
Of course I want to think of myself as a version of authors Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams when I’m ranting on Facebook about these parks but I will never be the experts that they are. I will likely never know the wild to the degree that they do but reading what they have written, empowers me to fight alongside them. What must change for me is to figure out how bring their messages to the people in my circle without condescension. Trying to hold people accountable for what they do not know or understand isn’t working for America. Pretending to be experts and self-righteously declaring how stupid others are in their ignorance is only making all of us less aware and open to understanding.
I have a new Facebook page and I’m cautiously attempting to continue to be engaged but I am now committed to figuring out a new way to be the change I still very much want to be in this world.
I am imperfect but I am worthy of love and belonging – and patience as I struggle through toward deeper awareness and understanding.