Get Over Your Guilt. Get Into Action.
Overwhelmed. Under siege. Drowning. Guilty. Ashamed.
These are words that come to mind when I reflect on the past three months, and in particular, the past 7 days.
As a middle class, she/her, straight, multi-degreed, white woman with a white-collar job from a very white and conservative county in Michigan (Berrien County has favored a Republican Party candidate in all but six elections since 1884), it has become more clear to me than ever how little I’ve done to use my inherent privilege for good.
I keep thinking how ashamed I am to be from Michigan, where just a few weeks ago, armed White Supremacists stormed the state capitol because they decided their “rights” mattered more than people’s lives. Some called the lockdown "tyranny." 100,000+ people have died in America.
I keep feeling guilty and wondering how much of the problem I have personally contributed through my ignorance or my silence.
I keep fretting over what to say or not to say, afraid that both are the wrong choice. I go to bed reading the news and wake up seeing what I missed.
But let’s take a step back and actually explore these emotions. I don't remember where I originally heard this, but it has stuck with me.
Guilt: The feeling we get when we do something bad or wrong
Shame: The feeling we get when we think we are bad or wrong
Guilt is something we encounter and then eventually leave behind. Shame is something that lingers, that stains, that destroys. Shame is the feeling we have forced on the BIPOC community through centuries of oppression, dehumanization, and enslavement.
What I feel is not really shame, not in this case. It is guilt. It is White Guilt.
And it is not helping anyone on its own.
So here are some steps I am taking to turn my guilt into curiosity. To stop reacting to the moment and start living by the message. I hope you’ll join me. Because it is through curiosity, compassion, and communication that we can do the most good. Guilt and anger can be the impetus, but other emotions will keep things going long after we’ve exhausted our outrage. We are accomplices in this fight, all of us, together.
This is a non-exhaustive list based on my own research. I hope it helps you, my fellow white friends, family, and strangers alike:
Donate. Don’t brag about it. It's not about you.
Sign petitions. Again, don’t brag about it. It's not about you.
Read. Not just one book, but many. Not just for one month, but forever. It doesn’t even have to be non-fiction. Read a book about Black teens being teens. Read some poetry. Find a short story.
Actually follow BIPOC voices on social media all the time, not just by consuming retweets.
Learn what BIPOC means. I just learned this week. How is that possible?!
Find a podcast. There are hundreds waiting for you to be a willing listener. Whether it's about the psychology of racism, what it's like to live in a trauma that never ends, or criminal justice reform.
Listen. That’s the crux of the issue. Just listen.
Share what you’ve learned with people who may not be on the same page. Don’t just talk about it with likeminded folks, but people you’re afraid will disagree with you. So much is politicized today. Even wearing a mask has become a political statement. So much feels like an unbreachable topic. Breach it.
Question things. Social media is rampant with disinformation from both sides of the political spectrum. If something seems off, too inflammatory, has no link as a source, or isn't from a website you've ever heard of...do some Googling. Can you verify it? Here are more tips.
Vote. Don’t let 2020 be a repeat.
Lastly, try. Just try. Share one post you’re afraid is controversial. Start a book club with your mom to hold each other accountable. Donate to a bail fund. Relearn your history.
Just writing this scared me. I’m afraid of how my more political posts may affect future job opportunities. How my relatives might take it. How “correct” my ideas are. And isn't that fear itself a symptom of the disease? Isn't the fact that I can choose to act or not to act a sign of my privilege and unused influence?
Fear never just goes away. Like anything, it takes time and effort and action, and curiosity, to ease it.
It’s not the least I can do. But the time for doing the least is over.
Yours in Curiosity and Courage,