Pivoting Rather than Retreating in the Work

I’m not gonna lie. Today hurt real bad. I’ve been writing about anti-racism and anti-oppression work a long time, and have been an anti-racist practitioner in the classroom for longer. I’ve trained people in restorative justice. I’ve consulted with school districts, universities and businesses. I study a lot, break bread with multi-cultural communities and have read White Fragility well enough to know that when I’m called out then I should stay quiet and take in the feedback rather than continue to perpetrate harm. But today hurt. A fellow-White woman involved in the work called me out, and I reflected and determined that I didn’t agree with her assessment and that I, furthermore found it controlling. Then I was publicly shamed for my faux pas on an email chain.

“I defer to his lived experience and apologize for the harm. I’m still marching tomorrow,” I wrote.

But then I thought, will I really walk? is protest necessary now that I’ve been publicly humiliated?

I went for a walk to process. My husband’s out of town and I was kind of relieved he couldn’t ask me, “What’s wrong?” as I ruminated when he tried to talk to me.

I was offended. I had been publicly called out and reprimanded by civil rights activists as opposed to the white institutions I usually rail against in my work for justice and recognition of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color)*. Multiple people copied in the email and told not to contact the person of color I had reached out to to partner with because he felt harassed.

I am an assertive woman and knew in my training that I had to honor his lived experience. But, honestly, I was really frustrated. I didn’t feel heard or listened to. I had insights, didn’t they know that?

I went for a walk to process. I thought about how I should just stop being so invested in justice and civil rights. That everything was being accomplished right now without me and so I could just go back to being comfortable again.

I thought to myself, “There’s no structural racism – I’ve been brainwashed to think that there is. BIPOC are crazy!”

Deeper my mind went down the rabbit hole, and yet at the same time I thought to myself, “–and, yet,..”

I had studied whiteness enough to know that the thoughts I was having was typical of white fragility. And I had thought that I had been immune to it with all of my studying. Clearly I could not go back to the relationship that had been ended over email with ten people on it calling me out. The connection was gone.

What do I do with all of this emotion? My friend “betrayed” me. She had said I had been inappropriate in making my comment.

ME! Who does this for a living.

But then I realized the powerful time we are in. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be someone who is racist and yet says, ‘I marched with Dr. King.'” As if that cleared me of responsibility as a White person in this society.

On my walk I encountered a person of color and they didn’t make eye contact with me. They seemed afraid. “Yep, it’s real. Racism is real.” I’m “White” – I “belong” in my predominantly White neighborhood. Ahmaud was killed for jogging in such a neighborhood as this. A unarmed Black man innocently jogging, killed by two White people, and it was filmed by another White person.

I still didn’t agree with the feedback and that I was publicly insulted.** I trained in restorative justice, why wouldn’t they apply that methodology with me? And yet the relationship was irrevocably broken.

Now what?

What I realized was that I had to write about it and to publish it now while it was still fresh and it still stung. Before I could find a liberatory narrative for myself to forge on ahead. Right now is the time that needs my words, because right now is the time when people will be inclined to throw in the towel because people are taking it “too far” or they’re called out and disagree.

There are probably many people like me right now.

White and passionate. And yet we are dismissed for not following the script. Especially right now. We can’t even offer solidarity without having somehow “offended.” I’ve studied enough to know that the offense is real when people say that they feel harassed.***

I am going to the protest tomorrow, alone now that I don’t have the community since my husband’s out of town. But I will be going nonetheless.

As regards to community, I will build a new one with new relationships and dig down deeper into those connections with people that my Whiteness hasn’t offended. I will learn what I can from today so as to be a little better in the future in my walk as an anti-racist White woman.

I will pivot rather than retreat. Racism is a psychological process, and I experienced it in myself today. I can’t go back to complacency even if I can’t go back to what was once my community. I have no choice but to pivot rather than retreat.


6/12/2020 endnote:

*I just read this article and it clarifies why BIPOC (used above), is a new but problematic term: https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-bipoc.html


7/9/2020 endnote:

**Here’s a cool link about why shaming isn’t a useful social justice tool, and also on why it’s not shaming if you’re called out for being racist – which was good for me to hear. I’m not sure that I was actively racist in this exchange, but after listening to this podcast, I’m not ruling it out anymore, and I’m writing about it more this Monday (see my 7/13/2020 post in the upcoming archive): https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-shame-and-accountability/?fbclid=IwAR1oUr_TdnE7E9kGjcnZvTil8A-b2GygPhDLN9hmuHNxLH81A2L7dMQn9z4


6/26/2020 endnote:

***I just encountered this article, “How to not be a “Karen”: Managing the tensions of antiracist allyship” from June 19th, 2020 that brilliantly addresses what I should have done: https://medium.com/@yara_mekawi/how-to-not-be-a-karen-managing-the-tensions-of-antiracist-allyship-6f02f5514c4b

Published by Seahurst Wellness and Education Center

I’m a skill-building, proficiency-obsessed tutor and consultant who puts relationships first. I am also a certificated teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. Everything I do is geared to facilitate students’ familial and scholarly wellness and their sense of meaningful contribution to society..

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