Love is a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is action.

3918713The Fakequity team wants to acknowledge the horrific mass killings at the Pulse Gay Nightclub in Orlando earlier this week. 49 mostly Queer and Trans People of Color, and disproportionately Latinx (with nearly half with ties to Puerto Rico) lives were taken. Too many lives have forever been affected by this unimaginable and preventable event. Let us remember their names, lives, memories, and the preciousness of space where people can be their whole, uncensored selves. We also want to support our Muslim friends and family who during this holy month of Ramadan, are yet again being targeted, ‘othered,’ and asked to bear the burden of the actions of one individual who professed to share their faith. And, for our queer and trans Muslim friends, we want you to know we see you. In the words of Sonja Basha, the speaker at the Seattle Vigil on Sunday, “The Muslim community and the LGBTQ community are not separate; we mourn together. I am Muslim, I am queer and I exist. The fact that I exist does not erase the fact that you exist.”

Erin told me no one is going to read a blog post on love. This is one time I really hope she is wrong. The odds are probably in Erin’s favor. Love, and emotions in general, don’t seem to be a hot topic in dominant society racial equity conversations. Most people I work with want a framework, definition, tools, practices, and data. In fact, I can’t ever recall someone asking me to support them in exploring love, emotional connections, or empathy. But really, aren’t emotions the real fuel for our racial and social justice work, even for white allies?

This post about love is a reminder to myself to stop intellectualizing everything and embrace the emotional parts for this work. I had been thinking about writing this post before the mass murders in Orlando. But that horrendous event served as yet another, too frequent reminder that we need really figure out how to move our racial justice work forward with more of a sense of urgency. Maybe more than urgency, I have been thinking that it is a sense of love and connection that is really missing from my work.

For people who know me, writing about love is a little (ok, a lot) out of character. I’m not usually one to talk about emotions. Not to get too personal (I guess if we are talking about love we really should be getting personal), but I really think one of the ways I’ve dealt with issues related to my being adopted has been to shut down and try to “control” all my feelings. It is easier to intellectualize an understanding of the choices that my biological mom/family made, rather than to feel the sadness, anger, and rejection. Those feelings suck, and I’ve been socialized to not be the “ungrateful adoptee.” I’ve been socialized well and “rewarded” for controlling my feelings and make things more “comfortable” for people in power.

But the question that has been keeping me up at night, is at what cost? What has been the personal cost of suppressing emotions in my work? What has been the cost to people of color? Even, what has been the cost for white people? Have I been upholding systems of racism by not working to bring the emotional, often messy parts of this work into dominant society spaces? Sometimes, I want to make excuses that as a women of color, my presence in those spaces is tenuous at best and bringing up emotions such as love is the quickest way to get shown the door. While there is probably some truth to that feeling, it should not be the excuse or pass that I use to exempt myself from digging into this hard, uncomfortable work.

So these are some of the commitments I am striving to integrate into my life and work.

Love is a Feeling
I want to remember love is a feeling. Love is about caring, connection, and empathy. Love as a feeling means I am connected to people impacted by racism (and other oppressions). If we are working toward educational racial equity/justice, our work will be much more meaningful, real, and urgent when we are actually emotionally connected in our everyday work. It is easy to criticize others, but I know many people doing work around racial equity who don’t have appear to have meaningful, real, and authentic relationships with people of color. How can we be working together for racial justice when we are not even connected and we are not really even talking with each other? I am just as guilty of living in a bubble, and am committed to working harder to build intentional relationships with people impacted at the intersection of racism and classism.

My partner sums up love as a feeling much more eloquently; she is the feeler in our family.

“When we think of Love we usually equate it to romantic love, the butterflies, the euphoria, the pangs in the pit of our stomach feeling. It is the one feeling that makes us feel like we can do pretty much anything, be better, care more for someone else other than ourselves. That is an amazing and powerful source of energy and motivation. Best of all, it’s free and there is no limit. You can’t buy it, sell it or steal it, but we all need it and we all have the capacity to give it to each other. Many people try to complicate the concept of love, but really it is just a feeling and a need. It is a feeling that is felt when our need for empathy, compassion and tolerance is being met. This formula can be applied to any type of relationship whether it is between lovers, family members, friends, colleagues, strangers or even sworn enemies. 

Love is the foundation for any relationship to thrive and survive because it connects us on the most biological primitive level. I challenge you to find a human being who would ever refuse to be accepted, understood or cared for in some way. If we make efforts to contribute to someone else’s needs knowing that we also have the same exact needs, imagine the all the possibilities of making our communities and our world a better place for everyone. No wars ever started from giving or receiving love. We reap what we sow, so start planting new seeds of compassion and tolerance for one another.”

Love is a Choice
I want to remember love is a choice. These are three choices I want to commit to making in my work.

Love is a choice to embrace discomfort. This means embracing the difficult feelings and along with the happy ones. The impact of racism is not pretty or happy, or even intellectual. It is emotional, messy, traumatic, and sometimes murderous. If we are doing our work through the true human connection of love, we have to be willing to embrace all the experiences, and not just pick and choose the happy or controlled ones.

Love is a choice to slow down. Earlier today I was locking up my bike in Little Saigon, and smiled at a guy walking past. He then stopped, smiled back, and stuck out his hand and introduced himself. That moment of slowing down almost scared me. But it was a magical moment of connection that ended up being the highlight of my busy day. So many times, I work with people who refuse to slow down. How can we make any significant or real changes to our work, if we are unwilling to slow down?

Love is a choice to NOT make it all about me. I recently watched a video called, “What Our Movement Can Learn from Penguins.” It shows how penguins take turns being on the inside and outside of a circle to keep the whole group warm. I love this idea that sometimes I need to take my turn on the outside for the greater good of the whole community. I, too often, encounter people of privilege who have a hard time taking their turn on the outside. When you’ve always been warm and comfortable it can feel awkward to take a turn on the outside. Almost like a script, the moment people of color begin to tell their truth, there are usually one or two (or more) white people who start saying they feel uncomfortable or attacked. This is that moment you need to make a choice to take your turn on the outside of the circle. For me, although I identify as a queer person of color, this moment after Orlando the Latinx LGBTQ community really needs to be at the center of our responses, along with the Muslim community, and Muslim LGBTQ community.

Love is an Action
Finally, I want to remember love is action. Real and concrete action that is connected to love.

In the wise words of Erin, “hashtags and social media posts don’t change the world, they bring attention but we need people to turn the sentiment into action. Policy and systems change lead to bigger changes than just hearts and sympathy. And, policy work in absence of relationship and love is meaningless. Relationships have a component of love in them, whether love for the person we are working with or love for the community we are working to support. Love is important for sustaining our work. It gives context and truth to the work. Love also holds us responsible to each other.”

  • Love as an action is knowing real names that connect with the numbers we collect.
  • Love as an action is calling your elected representative about gun control.
  • Love as an action is correcting people when they say Orlando is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, because it ignores our nation’s violent, racist past.
  • Love as an action is being an accomplice more than an ally in word only.
  • Love as an action is giving blood.
  • Love as an action is speaking from a place of love.
  • Love as an action is supporting and cultivating spaces where people can be their whole selves.
  • Love as an action is financially giving to organizations led by people of color and rooted in communities of color, such as Entre Hermanos and Noor.

What does your love in action look like?

The next time you see me, ask me how I am doing on my commitments to love.

Posted by Heidi, with support and contributions from Dr. Christine and Erin