If this title made you cringe and roll your eyes, I dedicate this post to you.
In recent months, I have both read and listened to the literary arsenal of Brené Brown. I have devoured every word she has said and taken it all to heart. I find what she has to offer in Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone most universally relevant in our current political climate, however, it was everything else she has written on shame and vulnerability (similarly wildly unpopular subjects) that I found most relevant to tackling the difficult subject of racism.
Perhaps, because I read (and reread) Braving the Wilderness first, I started to think critically about the political tactic of dehumanization, and face the agonizing truth that both sides are equally culpable of this. This meant, as thoroughly opposed as I was to admitting this, I was just as guilty of dehumanization as the people I dehumanized for dehumanizing others. (Did you get that?)
Point is, I started to realize that you can’t dehumanize a group because you think they are the ones who deserve it. Because both sides thinks the other one deserves it. I had to face the truth that all peoples are just humans, trying their hardest to make it in a terrifying world. And admit that we are all capable of both good and bad. The only real monsters are sociopaths, and truth is that even now, they are pretty rare.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been coming to grips with the pain and divisiveness enveloping the world. As someone in recovery, I had to address, on a national and global scale, what exactly I was capable of changing. Where is my power? How can I make things better? We have to recognize our powerlessness in order to find our power. I cannot control governments. Fixating on the news cripples me from acting. We are so consumed by the powerlessness that we forget there is anything within our power at all.
I started to realize that my journey towards bettering the world had begun when I worked on myself. I started to realize that I impact, on a daily basis, those I talk to or cross paths with. People hear my words. They see my Facebook posts. They see what I do for my community and for myself and others. They are touched by small acts of kindness. I have an impact, one person at a time. I can choose to spread love, hope, and joy; or I can choose to spread anger, pain, or divisiveness.
This is what I came up with in the journey: LOVE. It sounds of the utmost absurdity to everyone screaming at each other and ready to fight, but truth is our power is in love. I had a friend fight and abandon me on this. And when she told me every horrible thing she could possibly think of about me, and why it made me a horrible human being, I simply told her that I understood she was going through a lot and that I loved her anyway. The only response she could muster before walking out of my life was, “I love you too.”
Right now, as much as we want to take up our weapons and go at each other’s throats, the MOST disarming thing you can do to oppose your opponent, is simply to love them.
Look them in their hateful eyes and tell them you love them anyway.
When it comes to the difficult subject of racism, I have experience with both sides of the coin. I am half Mexican. To the world, I am white. You cannot look at me and tell that I am even the least bit Mexican and as a result, I have sailed through life as a white woman, without the racists having a single clue. I have benefited from white privilege and in the years since becoming aware of it, I have wrestled with what I can do about it.
This is where Brené Brown helped me find my power.
Having placed racism into the frame of shame and vulnerability, I have realized quite a bit. And I wanted to share it, specifically for the white people out there, aware or unaware of their own racism, so that it can help us tackle an issue that is most largely ours to tackle.
I, very specifically, remember what I was taught about racism in elementary school. I was taught about the painful history of racism and that we are all equal, and the the color of our skin is irrelevant. And that, my friends, was where the conversation ended. And that, my friends, is where white people would like to leave the conversation. But ah, there is so much more too it.
In recovery, we learn about the peeling away of the layers of an onion. In the beginning, it also seems as simple as getting sober. But getting sober is just the first step. There is so much more work to be done if you are to STAY sober. Truth is, getting sober is but a small step in an ongoing journey of endless work. Self-betterment is not a destination, it is a journey, that we take one-step-at-a-time…. one unlearned negative way of coping at a time.
Our level of education on racism in school was “Racism bad. Colors good. The end.” Problem is, the story ended there… for white people. People of color are finding their voices and saying, “Oh, but there is so much more.” And the large response to that has been, *plugging ears* “la la la la la I don’t want to hear you, my teacher said ______ and teacher is always right.”
The problem with how it was taught, aside from no perspectives of people of color being included in the telling, was that there is so much more to the story than this. You cannot cover it in February and leave it at that. For fuck’s sake, February is the shortest month of the freakin’ year!!!!
I started to realize, reading Brené Brown, that we are dealing with an issue of very deep shame. The only thing white people were taught is that racism is bad. Developmental psychologists are starting to realize the deeply debilitating impact that being called “good” or “bad” can have on a child. It is inextricably linked to shame. The majority of racist people are hard working people trying their best to be good people. So, if you tell them that they are taking part in something as shameful as racism, the response is uninhibited rage or flat out denial. They are hearing that everything they were taught was wrong, and they crumble under the weight of shame. But at the end of the day, all they hear is the worst thing a child can hear, “You. Are. Bad.”
I’m sure if you pose this to anyone who claims to not be racist, they’d deny it. Brown talks endlessly about people who talk to her claiming shame or vulnerability doesn’t apply to them. And again and again, she reiterates that these two things are UNIVERSAL Everyone experiences them.
I learned very early on that you do not appeal to someone who is delusional, by simply telling them their delusions are delusions. That can, in fact, make their entire reality dissolve, which can lead to a total downward spiral.
So, let’s address real quick the “Racist=bad” and “Not racist=good” dichotomy. Here’s the thing, those equations simply equal to “Not white=good” and “white=bad,” and let me explain why. There is not a white person on this planet who has not partaken in or benefited from the system of racism. There is no such thing as a non-racist white person. It doesn’t exist. There are only those who are aware of their racism, and those who are not. Those who are actively seeking a solution, and those who are not. In the current national conversation, there is only the racist/not racist binary. While I am sure, as a result of the frustration stemming from obliviousness of white people, some don’t see a problem with the second set of equations I listed, my opinion on that was back in my paragraph on dehumanization.
Let’s all try to find our power here.
Being told you’re partaking in racists things is not an attempt to say, “You’re a bad person.” Its an attempt to say, “There’s more to this story. The ones who’ve experienced it should be the ones teaching about it.”
Whenever anyone asks me about the traumatic experiences of another person, I simply reply with, “That’s not my story to tell.” I would not want someone else explaining what happened to me when I was raped. No one else knows what I went through. No one else knows how it made me feel. I get my voice and my power back, when I tell my story. It is my healing, and no one else has that right.
And for years, white people have been the ones teaching about racism. But how would a white person know?
All I know is what happened to my grandmother, the history that was passed to my dad. I know how racism affected her, because she told my dad, and he has told me. And I will keep her story alive. It not only wrecked her life, but the lives of my father, aunts and uncles, and cousins, brothers, and sisters. The trauma she went through played out in her alcoholism, which in turn affected them, and now affects me.
That is how racism or terrorism or abuse work. The impact lives on for generations. THIS is why this is still important. This is why, in 2019, slavery is just as relevant of a subject as when it happened. The impact did not end with the slaves or the slave owners. Families are still reeling from the impact.
But do I have firsthand experience of racism? No, I do not. I cannot tell this story. All I know is the impact its had on my family. All I know is what I was taught and what I’m still learning.
There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, more rage-inducing, for me, as a victim of violence than to not have my voice heard. If you want to see me turn red fast, silence me, talk over me, address me like you know my story better than I do. I can go from 0 to 100 faster than a candle flickers if you do these things. So, take that into consideration if you are a white person who denies the experiences of a person of color. The most healing thing you can do for someone is to listen. Or, as they say in the recovery world, “take the cotton out of your ears, and stick it in your mouth.”
White people, this is a call to action, a call to vulnerability. Yes, realizing you are culpable of racism is a deeply painful and shameful feeling, but it doesn’t have to be disempowering. I’ve grappled in my years since coming to understand racism, and coming to understand what I’m capable of changing in this world, how the two work together. I’m living proof that change is possible. Brené Brown has taught me to challenging my fear of vulnerability spits in the face of shame. The only way to combat the shame of realizing your racism is to get working on vulnerability.
You are vulnerable when you admit you’ve benefited from these systems. That’s a success! You are vulnerable when you listen to the stories of people of color, without the need to say something. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable when you see something racist happening, and you challenge it, despite the risk. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable every time you get a chance to say to a white friend, “listen, you said something the other day that I want to talk to you about.” Its a scary thing, especially when you’re committed to maintaining a relationship, or paralyzed by people-pleasing, to have a compassionate talk with someone about what you’ve learned about racism, but the main thing missing from the conversation on racism is compassion and empathy.
Here’s your chance to change that.
Because truth is, you’re a part of this conversation whether you want to be or not.
I see a lot of blogs doing years in review. I would do that for you, but I feel that, although I have learned a lot and accomplished a lot in 2012, I haven’t done anything exceptionally noteworthy. I was looking back over my year, and what I realized is a year summed up in learning. I have grown a lot this year, through experience and through trial and error.
In the spirit of a new year, I will share my top ten lessons from 2012. I pray that the next year is full of new lessons, exciting growth, solid accomplishments, and exceptional love, for all of us.
Top Ten Lessons I Learned in 2012:
10. Life is worth living. I know this sounds like a pretty basic concept, but it is one I did not believe for a really long time. I felt like every day was just a repeat of the one before, and every situation was going to end grimly. Let me emphasize, every situation will end badly, if that is the intention you place upon it in the beginning. Your world, your life, is what you make of it. Keep deciding that you are cursed, and you will be. Place positive intentions on your day-to-day life, and on your goals, and they will manifest before your very eyes. This year, I took one of my business cards and on it, I wrote down what I want for myself in the next year. I carry it around with me daily, and I believe these things will unfold in my life. You can do the same with a dream board. Take a poster and create what you want out of your next year. Watch it happen. I did this during my hospital stays, and I always conveyed stability, health, balance and love. These things are now ever present in my life. It is like magic. Whatever you put your energy into, you will have.
9. Doing what you’ve dreamed of is worth the experience. I always dreamed of living in California. I was just sure I’d feel at home there. This year, after treatment, I had an opportunity to move out to California. I took the opportunity and have been here since. I love the weather, and having access to beautiful beaches and sunsets. Living here does have its pros and cons, but I am so glad I took the opportunity to come here. I’m acutally living out one of my wildest dreams. How amazing is that? I’ve also learned that this particular city isn’t somewhere I plan on settling down. I wouldn’t have known that, if I had not tried. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here.
8. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but traveling is hard. As a result of living out my dream, I’ve been transplanted a very long distance from a lot of people that I really love. Being here has made me realize how much I truly appreciate these people, but it has also made me realize that I’d like to be closer to them. Traveling is difficult, I’m sure most of us would agree. And expensive. I love my loved ones that much more, but the added cost and stress of being away… is it worth it? I’ll keep you posted. I have, in the meantime, made great friends out here on the left coast. So, I have multiplied my love. That’s always a good thing.
7. Recovery is a lot of work, but I’ve never done anything this important and this necessary before. My sponsor always reminds me that recovery has to come first, before everything else. I know this is true. I cannot have success in work, school, family, or life, if I do not work on the one thing that keeps me stable and keeps me sane. Without recovery, all those other things are irrelevant because they aren’t even possible.
6. Failure may not be an option, but neither is perfection. I’ve always heard the cliché that failure isn’t an option. I think it is this phrase alone that birthed perfectionism. “I’ve got to do it,” turned into, “I’ve got to do it perfectly.” I walk on a thin line between two extremes. Balance is crucial for me. I know I can have an “all or nothing” attitude, and I have to remind myself constantly that an accomplishment is an accomplishment, if I didn’t do it perfectly, at least I did it. We are always our own worst critic. Ease up on yourself a little. Strive to do well, but don’t corner yourself into unforgivable expectations. I see a lot of people in recovery around me either throwing their hands up, or striving to attain the unattainable. Expecting perfection is like driving into a brick wall. It doesn’t matter wether you do it quickly or slowly, eventually, you’ll hit that wall. Eventually, you’ll be devestated by the fact that you messed up. We all mess up, it is inevitable. Learn to brush it off and keep moving.
5. Doors will open, when you’re ready to see what’s on the other side. God knows, timing is everything. If you hold out and have faith, things will turn around and trials will end. You may think that things are impossible, but I am here to tell you that the impossible is possible. Lil’ Kim used to be a hero of mine, and now my music taste is almost completely faith-based. I used to dread waking up in the morning, and now I’m grateful for each new day. This year, I’ve reconnected with several people that I was certain I’d never hear from again. Things change. Doors open. Anything is possible. These things hardly ever happen right away, but they will happen when you are ready for them.
4. Belief makes miracles happen. Did you know that the true power of prayer is in the belief that those prayers will be answered? As I said, the impossible is possible. They key to seeing the impossible unfold before you, is believing that it will. If you ask God for something, but doubt that He will give it to you, don’t expect it. If you hope for something, but believe it could never be, it never will be. The power lies in what you believe. You are manifesting the outcome with your very thoughts and intentions. Just believe.
3. Every cloud has a silver lining. It wasn’t until this year that I realized, what that little old lady with a walker taught me. I stumbled, but I did not fall. BAM! Silver lining. I got in a car accident, but I am safe. BAM! Silver lining. I’m struggling with finances, but I believe everything will work out for my good. BAM! You get the point. Yes, hard stuff happens. Yes, we have our struggles and our trials. Yes, sometimes we fail, or people fail us. But we learn from all of these things. We grow. Every time you lose someone, there opens an opportunity for someone new to come into your life. Every time you struggle, you have the opportunity to learn, grow, and know how to change outcomes for the better next time. Don’t see your losses or failures as a devastation. They are opportunities for new and better things to unfold in your life and your circumstances. Don’t look at what you lost, look at what you gained.
2. The hard moments will pass. A recent campaign that set out to encourage gay youth struggling with bullying and prejudice has gained new ground. The concept behind the campaign? It. Gets. Better. This idea, though it once seemed preposterous to me, is true. It does get better. The hard moments will pass, things will turn around. Sometimes it is a waiting game, but you have to hold strong, because I guarantee you things will start to look up. Look, if anyone knows this, it is me. So, trust me. I waited 28 years for my life to change, and it happened. I finally see this world in a new light. I finally love myself and those around me. I finally want to get as much out of this life as I possibly can. I finally believe. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. The hard moments will pass, and as you get used to watching them come and go, they will get more brief and less intense. The hard moments will be blinks in your vast reel of days, weeks, months, and years of the incredible that your life will become.
1. God is good. I have experienced and accomplished a lot over the past year, all of which, I am completely grateful for. At the end of the day, when my work is done, I thank God that I have had an opportunity to do this work. I have been treated for the traumas I have endured. I have met tons of new people. I have an incredible sponsor and incredible supports. I have experienced new and exciting things that I never could have imagined. I am living in a city that I used to think was only a distant dream. I am living a life that I wasn’t sure even existed. I have everything I could ever want and more. All of this, is because of God. I have done a lot of work, but only because God has provided me the opportunity to. I was in treatment for 5 months, because insurance covered it. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is. I worked with some of the best therapists in the country, because God gave me that opportunity. I am grateful for all the support I have received, but none has been more important than that of my God. I could sit here and try to claim this has all been because of my hard work, but that would be a lie. Without God’s timing, ingenuity, and grace, all of my hard work would have been worthless. At the end of my year, as I reflect, I am certain that this is the most important lesson I have learned. When I had no faith, belief, or hope, desperation stepped in and gave me God. God restored my faith, belief, hope. God instilled in me a gratitude for my desperation. God gave me a life worth living, and the desire to live it. Without God, I’m not even sure I would still be here. At the end of the day, I know that everything I learned this year, I learned because of lesson number 1: God is good.