Last week I had the honor of attending a really amazing training on racism and how harmful racism is to everyone. I started the training both excited and nervous, knowing I would be pushed and challenged.
For the first several hours, I felt pretty comfortable. The discussions at this point reminded me of the women’s studies and sociology undergrad courses that pushed me to face my whiteness, my own racism and the privilege being white gives me in an incredibly racist society. Side note – isn’t it kind of sad that you are more likely (if you’re white) to learn about white privilege if you’re a privileged white person who can go to college and choose to take classes there that actually interest you? Anyways as the discussion reminded me of my initial, formal education on white privilege, I felt grateful because though I reacted quite arrogantly at the time, I was only 18 when I first began to face this reality and I started being accountable for my privilege at a relatively young age.
Anyways, so the training went on and then out of nowhere (or at least it felt out of nowhere), sh*t got real. And I started to feel uncomfortable and defensive. I started to focus on the gender dynamics in the room and sexism in general. I kept thinking ‘Well I don’t know if what the facilitators are saying is right because I feel this way and hey, look at that example of male privilege!’ All the while, somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice was saying, “Hey, I’m just getting defensive so this is probably my white privilege talking and how much am I acting like I’m-white-so-I’m-right right now?!” So I listened to that voice …but then I felt myself in this mental tug-of-war where there could only be one right, i.e., what the instructor was saying was right or what I was thinking was right. There had to be a right answer and only one right answer.
Thankfully, after some time, another little voice in my head said, “Whooaaa, just sit with this. This discomfort and lack of certainty is powerful and important.” I started listening to this voice instead. I sat with my discomfort and I realized that there often aren’t wrong or right answers or perspectives in life. I realized/remembered that two seemingly opposing views may not actually be opposing and may actually both be valid. Life isn’t a contest that’s about who’s right and who’s wrong but my whiteness will certainly make me think that’s how life works.
My white-so-I’m-right or I’m-white-so-who’s-right thoughts aren’t accurate. I haven’t come up with a conclusion on my internal, mental battle on who was right, me or the trainers. There’s no reason that both the trainers’ experiences with racism are valid and my experiences with misogyny are valid. But all these thoughts of mine were coming up during a racism training, not a sexism or other oppression training. So I am trying not to focus on that too much because it’s all a bunch of nonsense anyways. Instead, I am sitting with the idea that there may not be a “right” in this situation and that there may not be a “conclusion” and that’s okay, even if it makes me feel weird and uncomfortable.
My privilege and my arrogance didn’t disappear. They continued to surface as the training went on and manifested in rigid-thinking and a belief that I must be right. Or at least someone must be right. But after pushing myself to sit with the discomfort, I tried to check those thoughts as they came up. My thoughts on gender and sexism have a time and place but the racism training is not the right place to focus on them. If I focused on them during the training, I would have been feeding my privilege and not holding myself accountable for the racism that lives in me. And most importantly, if i focused on those thoughts, I missed so, so much. The racism training was amazing and informative and important and I needed to listen and to hear what was being said by people with lived experiences of racial oppression. Again, the training wasn’t about me or my experiences with patriarchy. And that’s okay, and in fact it’s a good thing.
So I was able to listen and to hear for the rest of the training. And you know what? Because I did this, I had an amazing experience. The people facilitating the training were such a wealth of information and so inspiring and it was truly an honor to have them share their experiences with me. I pushed myself to focus on that, rather than focus on myself. I also pushed myself to ignore those dichotomous thoughts of right and wrong that kept springing up and instead to sit with the notion that one view is better than the other is untrue. As I kept pushing myself to do this, I began to feel free and lighter. Later on, I remembered reading one of my favorite books, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down because reading this book was the first time I really understood that there can be more than one “right” way or answer. There’s a part in the book when the author talks about pulling skills and knowledge from both Eastern Civilization and Western Civilization because neither one is “perfect” or all bad. In other words, life is set up to be a zero-sum game but the reality is life and humanity do not work like this. As I read this, my stay-within-the-lines, standardized-testing socialization was completely countered and I experienced this trippy phenomenon of seeing everything so differently than before but in a way that made so much sense.
The truth is that unless I go to trainings like this, I forget this way of seeing the world. I forget it because I’m white and because I’m privileged and because so much of my existence is constantly validated that I don’t even have to think about it. Of course, the other option is for me to make sure that I don’t forget – whether I’m going to trainings or not. Because this view is important. And because white supremacy and white-dominant culture are oppressive – even to those who benefit from it. And breaking free of the rigidity and dehumanizing ways of racist, white dominant culture is a great, great thing for everyone.