I am a white woman feeling a heavy heart as I watch civil unrest unfold.
I have a natural tendency towards empathy and I have made a career out of providing empathy and understanding to my clients. I feel a tenderness towards all people of color who have faced micro and macro acts against them. I feel anger about the lack of justice, the lack of opportunities and the cruel laws that perpetuate systemic racism.
Mostly, I feel guilt. Chronic guilt. Sometimes paralyzing.
What did I do wrong to illicit this chronic guilt?
I stopped paying attention to where I have implicit bias. I stopped challenging myself. I stopped noticing my white privilege. It’s easy to ignore blind spots, isn’t it? In fact, ignoring blind spots is an excellent way of staying away from shame. Let’s be honest, who wants to feel shame? But also, I just got lazy. My life has its own unique challenges. Often my plate feels full enough just as it is. And when I saw the recent uprising, it was the uncomfortable wake up call that I needed. It’s not enough to just manage my own little plate. (I am beginning to understand that I have the luxury of ignoring life outside my own little plate. Many, many marginalized people don’t have that luxury). Ignoring or minimizing is not going to change anything!
Where does it start?
It starts with humility (most growth does). It starts with recognizing there is a lot I don’t know. It starts with admitting that if I am not actively a part of the solution then I am a part of the problem. I allow the heaviness in. I don’t run from it, I don’t shut down. I sit in it. By myself or with others. I call it sorrow. It is a deep sadness for what has been. It is a deep sadness for what is still. It is grief and remorse. I allow the sadness and the guilt to motivate me to action.
Humility is just the beginning. I must seek to make amends. Perhaps I need to apologize to someone specific. Perhaps I need to be more present, noticing where an implicit bias pops into my head. Perhaps I need to listen more, and get less defensive. Perhaps I need to familiarize myself with history, laws and my local communities. Perhaps I need to use my voice more, in my circles, speaking out against racism. Perhaps I need to get involved. I stay open. Noticing opportunities, stepping out of my comfort zone and into the fight for equality. Most likely, I need to do all of these things.
This is a key to growth. This is the key to sustainable change.
Sorrow and Repair.
We can apply this both to big systemic change and on a small scale – like a relationship. We pause to notice our role in the problem. We allow the sorrow to settle in us as we take a fresh look at our blind spots. It takes courage to feel uncomfortable emotions.
It takes courage to admit our imperfections. But it is worth it! And then we begin the work of repair.
Can we just stop and talk about what a real apology is?
A real apology does not include the words “but” or “if”. (I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings). A real apology does not include excuses or explanations. A real apology does not put guilt on the offended party. Let the offended party have the suffering instead of needing to comfort the offender.
A real apology includes empathy and humility. Take responsibility for your actions, but keep the focus on the offended – let them speak. Listen with compassion. And then pivot. Do it differently from that moment forward (to the best of your ability).
Whether we need to apologize to a specific person or not, let the remorse summon the actionable change. Pruning can seem harsh, but it produces new sprouts. I will allow the pruning in my life so that new growth deepens. If we all do this, can we end inequality? Can we at least try?