A few weeks ago I went to yoga for the first time in months. It wasn’t hard to get to yoga, but it took a lot of intentional steps to get myself, two kids, and all our gym gear out of the house on a Saturday morning. Once we got to the gym and everyone was squared away, I went to my yoga class. Since I hadn’t done yoga in a really long time it was hard. The tension in my body was more acute. I also noticed I had to purposefully move and sit and hold awkward positions for the tension to slowly melt away.
As I held a long-deep-twist and had to breathe deeply since it hurt, I thought about how in undoing racism work we have to contort ourselves, our minds, and sometimes our bodies to release tension and move beyond the tension of racism. What I reflected on during my hour on the yoga mat is I can’t release my tension without acting. Like social justice movements, we don’t create change by sitting still and being comfortable.
Easy vs Hard work
I believe anti-racism work is hard work, and it should be hard. There are times when some of the actions are easy. Such as it is to go to the bookstore or library and to pick up the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates or Ibram X. Kendi books, listening to NPR’s Code Switch, or even asking a question in a meeting. It takes a little bit of planning, maybe some intention, but overall it is easy. The same for attending a training or lectures. It takes intention, pre-planning, energy and resources are expended, but overall I’m guessing no one put their body on the line, no one was forcibly challenged to do something, and there was freedom of choice – choice to stay or leave.
As we do our work to undo racism, I am struck by how easy we want to make racial equity work. My friends and colleagues joke about how people say they want “the checklist.” The checklist is the magical checklist on how not to be racist, how to be an ally, how to not think but just do. This week I was reading evaluations from a meeting and a white person wrote on their eval they wanted more conversation prompts – in other words, they didn’t want to have to sit and grapple with what the real conversation should have been. They were also probably a little lost and overwhelmed and because of this uncomfortable with their uncomfortableness.
I was also thinking about which movements have a lot of white allies who show up and which ones don’t. When it is easy and there is a critical mass of white people it is perceived to be easier to be an ally. More people show up to those movements and expect to be accommodated. It is easy to protest when the protest has the backing of elected officials through resolutions and class credit is granted. Many of the marches, protest, and rallies I’m thinking of took a lot of effort to put together and helped to move movements forward – Pride, Womxn March, MLK Day marches, March for Our Lives, etc. People attending these marches and rallies were still relatively safe. The movements very much needed and moved our collective work forward.
It harder to show up for Black Lives Matter, Murdered Missing Indigenous Womxn, supporting Latinx immigrants at the border and our Muslim relations, and other poc led movements to put bodies on the line when police and other state-sponsored ‘security’ forces (e.g. police, military, etc.) are present and violence could be incited for the same actions. I acknowledge I’m a hypocrite here since I often do not show up at protest movements. I have no excuse other than to say I am complicit in taking the easy route at times.
Releasing the Tension
Doing harder work allows us to release more tension. We should make ourselves uncomfortable and that looks different to different people. Some people call it having a growth mindset. There is no checklist, no anti-racism lecture series, tithing or donation making that can get you out of doing the harder work of being anti-racist.
Ibram X. Kendi calls it giving up the addiction to racist ideas. Giving up on something we’ve known our entire lives is hard. It takes a lot of deeper thinking and reflection and unlearning the things I’ve been taught and know. As an example of how hard it is to unlearn something say the ‘th’ sound with your tongue behind your teeth, it should be easy and unconscious if you are a native English speaker. Now try to say ‘th’ but do it with the tongue in front of your teeth. It probably feels very unnatural and sounds more like ‘da.’ This sound formation was taught to you and embedded into your brain. Unlearning it would be hard and take repeated sessions with a speech therapist or others to remind you to correct the sound. The same for unlearning racism that is embedded in all of us.
Still Stuck – need to add some tension to your life?
If you are really stuck on a place to start here are a few prompts to think about — I’m givng you the cheat sheet but you still need to think:
- When have you done something hard or challenging related to race – What made it hard or uncomfortable?
- When was the last time you supported someone of a different race? Did you expend power, privilege or make a sacrifice? Were you being a martyr or savior?
- What is a habit or default you go to that could be shifted to be in solidarity with pocs?
- Reflect on where you’ve spent your time and money – were these purchases in ways that support pocs liberation and justice?
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