Fix and Lead
*This is part of a series breaking down my Aliveness Scaffolding to discuss our collective (un)learning of racism in America. Today I talk about Awareness and Listening, the first two practices outlined in my Scaffolding.
A few days ago, I had an idea.
I’ve been reading the devastating history of black enslavement, American policing and systemic segregation. There have been phone calls and workshops and rally cries to local officers and policy makers. I’ve watched videos of police shootings so when I say the names of Oscar Grant and Breonna Taylor; when I read about the cop in Buffalo who pushed a 75 year old white man to the pavement so hard, his head bled onto the city pavement, I’ve actually witnessed these crimes.
And so a few days ago, I had an idea: I was going to do something about all of this. I would try and fix these problems by using my platforms and social circles. Fix. Fix. Fix.
So I gave it a try. I filmed a short video sharing my disgust with racism and my commitment to learning, so that I can do my part to drive change. In it, I announced a dialogue I’d host called, “Conversations Around White Allyship”, and then I posted that video on Facebook -- first to my Hivery community, then to my larger feed. I also shared it with a few close friends via text. I told my mom.
The whole thing made sense at the time. It felt good. I was going to create space for white people to gather and discuss our privilege, white fragility, parenting and implicit bias so we come to terms with our roles in the movement toward anti-racism.
It made sense at the time.
And then I received some powerful feedback from two friends of mine, and the whole thing changed. I won’t go into the details on those texts, because that’s not important here. What’s important is that I was ignoring a critical step in my process of (un)learning: Listening and Awareness. Instead, I jumped straight to doing. Straight to solving, fixing, changing; getting things done.
One friend warned my workshop might be wrongly perceived as “performative allyship” or another example of white privilege. The other pointed out that the language in my Facebook post excluded POC community members completely, and that I might want to publicly recognize the (unintentional) exclusion.
At first, my ego kicked in, telling me they didn’t know what they were talking about; that I was perfectly capable of facilitating this triggering dialogue around race. That was telling. If my ego was the first to scream and shout about my ability to lead, was I doing this for the wrong reasons? Had I missed a step?
I removed the post later that day. But that is not at all the point here. The point is this: I am in this fight for the very, very long haul and it starts with Awareness and Listening. I’m not ready to lead a conversation around allyship when I’m just now learning what that means. I am centuries behind on all of this, and while I’m ashamed to say that...it’s a true fact.
So no, I’m not ready to lead. I will instead take all of this energy and anger and shock and humiliation and put it toward doing my work.
Because the honest truth is: I have a long way to go.
Awareness and Listening is part of an Aliveness newsletter series I started last week. These past few days, Awareness and Listening have taught me this:
On June 2nd, yet another young black man was murdered just thirty miles from here in Vallejo, by a white officer in an unmarked vehicle. His name was Sean Monterrosa. He was kneeling on the ground, hands on his head before Jarrett Tonn shot at him five times. The last bullet killed the 22 year old. Get involved.
Enslaved women had no rights over their sexual consent. Their masters owned their labor, their bodies and their children. Often, white slave owners practiced what’s called “Reproductive Labor” -- raping black women in order to produce more working slaves. Thomas Jefferson raped 16 year old Sally Hemmings and fathered four of their children at Monticello, VA.
It is common for black men and women in corporate America to be held at a certain level in their companies by white leadership, for fear they’ll
play the “race card” at the “top”.
American law constantly shifts and changes to keep black civilians at a disadvantage. A notable example of this was the loophole in the 13th Amendment, whereby black people were emancipated unless they’d committed a crime. Crimes were determined by white people and blacks were rounded up, imprisoned and once again….enslaved.
I didn’t know any of this until I became Aware and Listened; until I paid attention. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but there it is. My experience earlier this week was a blatant reminder that we can't drive change until we know what we’re changing, and that starts with doing the work.
Where are you in all of this? Are you listening? Or are you trying to fix and lead?