I am working on sharing in the discomfort and I have to tell you it is hard.
About a year ago I went to NYC to meet one of my best friends to see a play. She drove in from Boston and I came down from upstate and we sat in the audience of our favorite musical and cried. Afterwards we ate cheap sushi a dozen subway stops down some line and then walked.
We are very different people. While I spent college at home getting used to being depressed, Joanna traveled the world. Two semesters abroad and countless trips later my father said, “Joanna would feel trapped in a gypsy camp.” I, on the other hand, landed a job 300 miles north and was terrified that the depression I had fought off would return when I left my family. I tell you this to illustrate the type of people we were and still are.
We walked that night and spoke about listening to people. Joanna spoke about her need to know the pain of others. To feel things fully. Where I would avoid the book, the movie, the podcast on the wrongs of the world, Joanna would listen, absorb and be better for it. While we talked I felt a little less for it because I knew I was missing something, maybe a lot of somethings but I couldn’t. I have an overwhelming fear of depression and while I know my depression was not caused by the world being a terrible place I still feared the knowing.
So I year ago Joanna, the wander, the finder, the feeler of all feelings, and me, the protected, the unable to let go, and the avoider of feelings, walked for a long time and by the end I knew. I wasn’t doing a good enough job.
But I wasn’t ready yet. In fact, I am not sure I was ready for a while after that.
I started by reading feminist literature. It’s real easy to be a white cis-woman and a feminist! I mean really, pretty much everything was written to me. I’m even straight! It was easy to identify with and easy to share.
I even put this poster on my board…
I put pictures around it of feminists. I was pretty proud of myself, three women of color and a man. Yep, I was feeling good.
I mean look at me, I was a t-shirt wearing feminist and I had always been a strong LGBTQ ally. I was the best.
Then I went to the Stanley King Counseling Institute and while they presented about race it wasn’t the presentations that did it. (Although it certainly shone a light on the fact that I never ever think about it.) It was the people. Now, none of the people from Stanley King read this but if you do, thanks. Thanks for talking to me. Thanks for being my friends and thanks for allowing me to process things that I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t even know what was missing in my life until I went to Stanley King*. I can tell you what it is now though. It’s diversity.
And then I got home and Jason and Grace wrote this.
And I realized that I was not feeling the discomfort. That I was still avoiding it.
So I started educating myself as Jason suggested. I read. I read more. I will continue to read more.
And I read everything Jason tweeted. Even when it was too angering, or too sad, or too much. He tweeted and I read. He tweets and I read.
And I will feel the discomfort and the anger and I will sit with it. And I will cry because I didn’t realize that the feminist movement that I love so much has an ugly habit of forgetting women of color. And I will cry when it happens again this week.
And I will feel the feelings and I will do my best to use my privilege that I did nothing to earn to help. And I will do my best to shut up and just be there when I can’t. And I will be an ally, at least I will try.
If you made it this point you should check out the articles I link below because what I write here is so much less important than these.
- If you didn’t read about #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Go to google and figure it out. Then read this and then when you want to be a better ally read this.
- If you haven’t heard of bell hooks use wikipedia. Then read her autobiography. It’s fantastic and really hard to find. In fact the entire library system where I live didn’t have it. 10 libraries.
- If you want to tell me Syria is more important than Miley, you’re right but you know what? Read this anyway.
- If you’ve seen Fruitvale Station, know what it is, or even if you don’t you should read this piece on privilege.
*To everyone at Stanley King, I love you. That is all.
I have been writing this post for a while now and while it’s not perfect I am going to hit publish. I understand that this is a story about me, a white cis-woman talking about becoming an ally but I can only tell my story and do my best to continue to share and listen as much as I can.
Lastly, I speak about Joanna in this but still from my POV. This is how I see her. She is often my hero.
3 thoughts on “Sharing in the discomfort.”
Soph – thanks for this post, and all the great references. You’ve given me some homework (thanks A LOT!). As the parent of a genderqueer child, I am learning to share in that discomfort as well; the approach is similar, and similarly difficult. But it’s a struggle born of love, as is yours.
Hope I get to hang out with you again before next TMC.
Hmm, I haven’t been reading new feminist stuff lately. I read tons of it long ago. My feminism was full of women of color and lesbians and women who talked about all sorts of issues. Feminism led me to the best reading I ever found. Have you read Audre Lorde’s work? Pat Parker? Alice Walker’s essays? Cherrie Moraga? Ahh… Now I’m going to have to find some of those old books and re-read them.
I’m more up on good kids’ books and good sci fi. Have you read Octavia Butler?
I haven’t really felt it as a discomfort, though. (Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) For me it has been a joy to open my eyes to more and more of the world. But yes, I am still appalled at how much pain there is, how much is wrong, … (My son is Black and Latino. I am scared sometimes at what this world holds for him.)
Wow, Sophie, thanks for recognizing these insights and writing them down. I too have been reading Jason’s and Grace’s posts, feeling mad admiration for their courage to articulate these points in ways that are unconditionally constructive. I have been trying to sit with/share in the discomfort and, man, is that hard. Also, there’s, like, zero feedback. Also also extremely hard not to co-opt. These things are problems for me because, well, that’s how things work in my head (Everything on Planet Elizabeth revolves around me, me, me, of course).
I wonder if this is similar to how some kids sometimes feel in math class, wondering, Am I doing this right…?
Strangely, of all their challenges, the one I feel best equipped to tackle is to focus on just “doing the work on [my] end.” So I am trying to stay “in the process” and to work on my own “stuff” there. As Jason and Grace said, “Being able to start a conversation about racism without worrying about being accused of being racist is part of your privilege. Use it for something positive.”
I hope we are doing that in this conversation because it is essential for the world I believe we are working for. And — without trying to elicit external feedback or praise here from anyone in any way… I really hope we are doing this right.
Thanks for helping me to think about this.
– Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)