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.


The Enlightened Summer

If you could see me now. Well, thanks to modern technology, you actually can. And I’ll attach a few more pictures, too. Why on earth should anyone care about seeing pictures of me? Well, it starts with me, right? Leadership starts with the one practicing leadership. I am a coach, coaching leaders, students, young adults…..for the most part in designing their futures and in facilitating the growth of those around them. I sat down today in my “office of the day” and felt compelled to share what I’ve learned this summer about designing my life with the intention of feeling happy more often. And its only July. Can’t wait to see what else I get to learn this summer!

First and foremost, it starts with me. My coaching is so much more effective if I am leading from a place of practice. I need to wholeheartedly believe that transformation is possible, that like me, while my clients are perfect exactly as they are, there is always room for growth. I am ineffective if I am not doing all I can to live authentically, to operate from a place of choice, and to take responsibility for all that I want. From this place, I am prepared to hold the space for others while they do the same. My work with others continually reinforces this for me – I get to look at what holds me back, where I lean into my strengths, and how my perspective towards a situation, which I alone choose, can completely alter the course of that situation. The leaders I coach have shown me time and time again, the difference between a perspective of “It can’t happen,” and “It can’t happen yet.” Our work together reminds me to practice these principals in my own life, first and foremost for my own benefit, but clearly to shift my impact in the world, as well. So in setting my intention to have a more conscious awareness of feeling happy, I also hold the belief that it is, without question, possible for me.

Q: What challenges are your direct reports, your coworkers, your partner or your children calling you forth to look at in yourself?

Quincy Market, Boston

Something is always possible. I could have said, “no”. I could have said, “I’m too busy.” I could have stopped scheduling clients for the summer. I could have said, “I can’t.” All of which would have been ok. Truly. And all would have been honest responses. But if I have things I want in this life {read: a more conscious feeling of happiness}, I need to look at what I am willing to work for. I need to look at what my personal responsibility is towards moving in that direction. When it feels like there are so many things, seemingly outside of my control, keeping me from working towards an intention or goal (in my case, it is generally a pull of desire to put both feet into my home life and both feet into my work life except that I only have two feet, as well as a magnetic pull towards blaming others for any dissatisfaction I feel), I need to hold a belief that possibilities always exist; even the ones I did not know existed. From time to time, I coach someone who says, “Well, I couldn’t {insert whatever action they designed from our last session} because {insert whatever got in the way}.” Examples of this have included “look for a job because my internet was down,” “reach out to that client because I didn’t want to bother them over the holiday week,” and “talk to my boss because she has been working from home and has not been to the office.” So I ask, “What would have to happen for you to be able to say, “I did my best to… {insert the action they designed}. Inevitably, the client comes up with something that they could have taken responsibility for. In these three examples, the responses were, “gone to the library or used my phone,” “cut through my own BS and been honest with myself that I wasn’t calling because the call was causing me angst,” and “called my boss and asked to talk on the phone or at least made an appointment,” respectively. When they felt stuck, they stopped moving but when prompted, all three easily came up with something else they could have done. Maybe conscious happiness can’t be my primary emotion 100% of the time, but where can I take responsibility to create it to improve on my current percentage?

Q: What would change in your life if, at the end of each day, you were able to say, “Today I did my best to {insert the action you’ve designed for yourself},”?

When I clear away the noise, what I want is often within reach. So this brings me to today. My epiphany. I sat down, on the second floor of Faneuil Hall, computer and work bag in hand, and looked around me. I couldn’t believe, that for the second time in one week, I was breath-taken with the beauty of my “office”. My daughter and her friend were doing some shopping and I had work to do. Writing this blog was not the work I had to do but I could not help myself. Suddenly, sharing this with you felt imminently important. Not long ago, I would have been angry at myself and the world for having to choose between taking these girls into Boston and getting my work done. I would have made up a story about how hard my life is and how unfair it is and the self pity would have taken me directly to the refrigerator or to my bed, or worse, to raging about all of the demands put on me. My daughter would have felt awful for causing my tantrum, the mood of the house would have changed, and I would have felt self-righteous and then, if I was lucky, much later I would have been able to see the error of my ways…which would have only led to shame. When I think back on this past year, I realize that when faced with what could be a conflict, before I head to the proverbial cheesecake or 100 year slumber, I have learned to do a quick inventory of the situation. I get honest. I clear the noise of self-pity or resentment or “I’m too busy” and say, “What is possible here?” I put space between my feeling and my reaction. And from here, I get to fully enjoy both my work and my home. I get to joyfully choose the direction I take. And I get to take full responsibility for that choice.

Q: What becomes possible when you put a tiny bit of space between your initial thought and what you actually say out loud?

oceanside

Just last night I met someone who, while lovely, was clearly skeptical of life coaching. She learned I was a coach and started asking questions about my practice and the people I coach. She offered up her belief that coaching is just a fad and went on to say, “Work is work for a reason. No one cares if you are happy or not.” As you can imagine, there were several thoughts that came to my mind, but what I said was, “What if it is possible to have both?”

Maybe that is what ignited my thinking today. I never want to be limited by a belief that the social norms don’t allow for me to get what I want in whatever area of my life I feel called to work. This summer, I’ve been called to work on my own life satisfaction {read: happiness}. Happiness is not an emotion reserved for someone else. I don’t so much care if you care if I am happy. I do care if I am happy. And I would argue that those who interact with me care if I’m happy {see #3 above}. My happiness has a ripple effect on those who live with me, those who are close to me, and maybe even those with whom I work. With this ripple effect as a backdrop, I hold a belief that the world would be a better place if more people spent more time (work, home, recreational, etc.) feeling happy. And for today, I’ll hold the possibility for the lovely woman I met last night.