This post is about something that I find difficult to nail down, but which I think is important: hope. Before beginning, I’d like to remind you that a) I’m not trying to educate you here–I’m trying to educate me–and b) you don’t have to read this.
You know what it’s like to be overwhelmed. It could be anything, but often it’s everything: career, family, friendships, renovation, fitness. Different obligations that each seem to demand five more hours a day than you can give it.
To me, this feeling applies to the aspiration of being an ally. All that I don’t know, and how much I have to change, each feel overwhelming.
Let’s take them in turns.
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling that don’t have any ‘way in’ to understanding what it is like to be a person of colour. Like, I don’t know how to start. How do you begin to find out what it’s like to feel this constant pressure, every day of your life, when you haven’t even felt it once?
I know how to do research in academia. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I didn’t have a way in to a topic there. I always know someone I can ask which paper to start reading, and the threshold for doing that is usually low. (Hey, sometimes I feel like an idiot for asking, especially if I’ve somehow already purported to be an expert. But I have friends from grad school, and I’ve seen most of them make an ass of themselves plenty of times. So it’s ok.) And then I follow the footnotes from there.
Not so about being a person of colour. How do I even begin?
Actually, this feeling was completely spurious. It was just an excuse to not do the work.
And it was cowardice.
The world feels too horrible. I am a wannabe activist, but I scroll fast past the really awful stuff all the same. I want to change the world, make it better, but I can’t handle it all. I can’t see it. I can’t see the bleeding, disoriented, frightened, lonely five year old boy in the back of the ambulance. He looks too much like my own kids. The injustice is too much.
It was a bit like that. Racism is so ugly, so fucking vile, and it’s everywhere. Including not least in myself, and in lots of people I care deeply about. I didn’t want to see it. I still don’t It’s too much. Did I mention that my wife is brown, that my children are brown, that half my family is brown? Nice stance, there, homie.
Had I been the least bit honest, all of this would have been clear to me all along. I do know plenty of people I can ask, and many of them are really close to me. In the end, I didn’t ask any of them, but instead some people I’ve never met. And they came through magnificently, even though they didn’t have to at all. It’s no person of colour’s job to educate me, but they chose to help anyway when I asked. Samir Chopra. Kristjiana Gong at the Get.
And then I had the material, and still didn’t read it.
I have to change so much. It feels impossible. Scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll.
Until I hear Ivy Onyeador and Rhiana Gunn-Wright, again, over at the Get,* talking about their privilege. How they had overlooked it. How they had been exclusionary. Two razor sharp, ‘woke’ (I’m nowhere near cool enough to use that word), women of colour.And they did it too.
This, finally, gave me hope. And courage.
It felt like if they can make mistakes of this nature, then maybe I can learn to not make them too often, or at least to engage with them in a proper way. Hey, that’s almost a contradiction! But that’s how it felt.
Perhaps most importantly, it also made me feel what I can only describe as moral hope. Maybe it will be possible for me to overcome what I’ve perpetrated by being actively and militantly ignorant (Mills), by scroll scroll scrolling past my privilege again and again and again. Perhaps, if even these other people, who I admire so much, screw up good, then I can be an OK person too.
It sounds kind of nuts. It’s a bit embarrassing to reveal self-doubt about being, not even a good person, but an OK one. But for me it was a real shift.
I know that I have many times acted in ways that made others feel like I held no moral hope for them. Feeling the shift of getting this hope in myself, how it now feels possible to at least make a start, I’ll definitely try not to do that again.
*I promise that this blog won’t all be about the Get.