Shining a Light on the Shadow of My Racism

White Exceptionalism.

There’s a new term for me. 

In Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, she uses this term to refer to people who feel like they are finished with their self-examination of racism, have passed the test, and are good to go. As if once they are “woke” they don’t have to continue their awakening. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like all the work I have been doing to dismantle areas of my personality, areas I didn’t even know were there, has prepared me to hear from BIPOC in a way I was unable to before.

How do I know?

Because I can’t unsee all the times that I have ignored BIPOC who tried to tell me that I am part of the problem. All the times I said, either to myself or out loud, “You don’t understand me…I’m different.” Or frankly, “You don’t understand racism.” The balls (or ovaries) on me.

I really thought I’d done the work and had conveniently surrounded myself with people who reinforced this belief on my behalf. People who called me to ask me for my thoughts or people who told me “I don’t mean you.” The ego loves to hear, “everyone else but you.” My ego certainly did. I still catch my ego in the act of loving that, despite knowing the truth.

I’ve had this awareness ~ like a big “aha” ~ that the reason I had been led to the Enneagram as a tool and accompanying spiritual work (literally, daily), over the last several years, was to wake me up for this.  Prior to that, I was blind to my own racism. Racism was a shadow that followed me 24/7 and while BIPOC could see it with clarity, my white friends were complicit with my ego; they either did not see it, or did not call me on it. 

{As an aside, the psycho-spiritual work I both participate in and teach to clients, required me to explore some really, really dark places in myself while people I have come to love, acted as my witnesses (which I think, now, is an essential part of this work); they held me accountable and continue to love me through it. I had to be willing to do that work, so that I can now do the work of dismantling my own racism, which, like the Enneagram work, will be a lifelong project for me.}

I must have known, at a subconscious level, that I was being prepared to look at my role in white supremacy because as I reflect, I see that over the last couple of years, I started following the social media accounts of more and more leaders in the BIPOC community. I had always taken an interest in racism and classism, but as an outsider, not as a participant. It was all academic. It was absolutely, as Layla Saad calls it, “white exceptionalism.” This was more of that.

And then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

My heart broke. I felt responsible. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. I spoke about it with my teacher and my group….it felt egotistical to feel responsible and yet I did. I think I was confused because I was holding on to being a “white savior,” while also holding “white exceptionalism,” along with a deep, subconscious, “inner knowing,” that I am, in fact, part of the problem. I was holding all of those parts of this without the clear awareness or language. These were all shadows and the light was approaching them.

After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, something felt different. It was not academic. I felt it in my heart. It physically hurt. I felt broken. Where I used to treat racism as something I had to learn about but was apart from me, I actually felt like I had participated somehow. I was no longer an outsider to it.

Something opened up. Everything got clearer. What lived in my shadows was clear now. This is what they mean when they say the light shines through those cracks that made us feel broken. 

Like the work of thinning out my ego, thinning out my racism is not “either/or.” I used to think I was either racist or not. Now I know that I am both/and. The paradox of illuminating my own racism while also being an accomplice and ally to BIPOC is clear. 

Being a good ally is not about not being racist; being a good ally REQUIRES me to see my racism. Over and over again. I have to be willing to hold my racism and my anti-racism, my white supremacy and my ally-ship, my need to understand in my brain and feel in my heart all of the pain that comes with this, while not making it all about me. 

What I have learned is that I will always be part of the problem.

For what it is worth, I feel whole. I feel open ~ a bit broken open, but open, nonetheless. The parallels of looking at the darkest places of my personality and looking at the darkest places of my racism are uncanny. Until I wrote this, I didn’t actually see that they go hand in hand. I think that my own racism is a dark place in my personality. To yield to that means that I have to give up the illusion of “better than.” And as I give that up, I see yet another paradox. When I relinquish “better than,” I embrace, “BETTER OFF,” both individually, and collectively. 

Until my white exceptionalism came out of the shadows, I had no choice in it. Now that I see it, I do. Now that I know better, I’m committed to doing better.


How #JusticeforAhmaud Woke Me Up to Myself.

I think it was mid April when I first heard the story of Ahmaud.

I have been weepy for several days now…unable to place the reasons. It occurred to me yesterday, sitting in my stillness, what was going on. 

My outrage was meaningless.

I heard the story. I told my husband about it. I did nothing.

I am complicit in the perpetuation of racism for all sorts of reasons, but what strikes me is that this happened 8 weeks ago.  I don’t know exactly when I read about it, but it was not recent. It got filed along with the thousands of other things that I have filed away in my head about racial violence. Awareness without action isn’t enough. 

There have been other events since then that have enraged me; most notably, the impact of COVID on communities of color both in terms of access to care and enforcement of laws around social distancing and the wearing of masks. This also got filed away. Alas, knowledge, even rage, does not equal activism.

I actually had a thought last week that I was suffering burnout from reading about all the racial injustice in the world (I subscribe to a number of media outlets that track these events). 

Daily. This happens daily. 

Not only when white people hear about them. 

They. Happen. Daily.

This thought that I could suffer burnout from just knowing about these events is not surprising. It is what I feel. But to put my head in the sand or to shut off social media, for me, equated to abandoning people I love who cannot do the same.  Not only can’t my brothers and sisters of color “shut it off”, they actually have to heighten their awareness every single day. I can’t imagine wondering whether I’d get shot if I go out for a jog. Or wondering whether it was safe for my child to go to a prom or a school party. And yet, I know that people of color feel it when they come to my lovely, suburban neighborhood. They live in a state of trauma – a brain chemistry that is focused on staying alive – every day. So no, they cannot shut it off.

If I want to be in solidarity with people of color and learn from people of color, I have to listen to people of color and try to understand their experience, at whatever level my awareness allows for.

So I am here to say that I am exhausted but will never be as exhausted as a person of color. 

I can no longer claim to be an advocate for racial justice without taking action against racial injustice.

I am asking for guidance. I am putting out into the universe a need for direction on what action I can take. What is next for me? Please, call me into something. In the meantime, I will seek  opportunities on my own. I commit to this. 

I did nothing when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, others did.

image taken from http://www.time.com

Turning Away from the Sun so that I Can Grow

Its that time of year again. Sunflower season. In the next few weeks, fields will be blanketed with these amazing flowers – myriad breeds, shades of yellows and oranges and browns, different heights – all pointing to the sun. I often think of August and September as a time when we start again. I imagine this is from so many years of going to school on a traditional academic calendar (in the northeast, at least!), with a new classroom, a new set of teachers, classmates, subject materials. I loved this time of year ~ unlike others, I found excitement in the newness and very little conscious fear. I remember that first fall out of graduate school. I felt lost; like something was missing. I remember the awareness that there was nothing new in my life, no new school, new college apartment, new books to buy, new subjects to eagerly jump into. I was depressed and at the same time, grateful to know where it came from.

I know my “sun”. I know that my life patterns are about the next new thing. I know that I feel a “hit” when I shift my attention towards something that is not what I’m doing right now. This has allowed for myriad experiences and exposure 

to so many concepts, topics, and types of people to come into my life. But what has it cost me? It has probably cost me some depth. Some awareness. Some awakening. If something gets boring or painful or difficult, I am easily swayed to something new {read: avoid pain at all costs}. In that newness, I cheat myself of the ability to really feel; to really experience; to really know myself outside of my defenses and my ego. My truth ~ who I am in my soul ~ never reveals itself if I don’t sit still and listen.

So this month, my attention is pointed to the sunflower. Sure, its the logo for my business, for all the reasons I cite on my website {shameless plug: www.christinagranahan.com}. Sunflowers need the sun for survival. But they also need their seed

and the dirt. Sunflowers, like me, shift and change when they hit the sun. I want to know who I am before I ever hit the sun; who I am at my core, my seed, my dirt, my soul: I want to find my own light, completely separate from the sun. I want more choice over how I view the world and how I react when I’m in it. I know that only by sitting still, turning inward, and just being in the moment without the noise of my thoughts and beliefs, can I do this work and have that choice.

Anyone want to come along and “grow” yourself with me?

Why the sunflower? While unique in color and size, all sunflowers share the desire to find the sun. Sunflowers will point their bold centers towards light – in fact, their vitality depends on it. Their potential for vibrance, growth, stature, and sustainability in a field of many, is completely dependent on their ability to poke through the dirt and move towards the sun. Like the sunflower, we all have the ability to find our own light. Our ability to stand confidently and with purpose among many, moving towards our unique genius, happens only when we find our light. Let me help you find your light.