A few weeks ago one of my friends posted this clip on Facebook. My friend is a black woman. I watched the clip and remembered watching videos ofJane Elliot's experiments when I was growing up in some class on the Civil Rights Movement.
A couple of people commented on the thread saying "What a racist woman" and "I simply don't buy that all white people are racist... for instance, in my situation..."
I felt tired.
I didn't engage publicly.
Kelly came into my office while I was watching the video and asked me about it. I told him about Jane Elliot's experiments. I dug a little deeper into the video archives and showed Kelly this video of Jane's work with Oprah. We both agreed that the first video made more sense in a larger context of who Jane Elliot is and the history of her work.
A week or so ago, I ran into my friend at a party and brought the topic up. I told her I was disappointed in the way the thread went. We talked a while about the thread, the video, racism, and the difficulties of social media as a platform for dialogue. She thanked me for saying something to her directly.
We kept talking. (I am the kind of person who goes to a party and either stays in the kitchen and makes food or talks to one person for a long time. But that is another story.)
As our conversation unfolded over the next hour, she shared some of her story and her personal challenges and triumphs. Toward the end of our talk, I asked her, "So, as a black woman in Texas, who is in community with so many white folks here in Austin, what is actually helpful to you personally? For instance, I didn't comment on that thread because I felt too exhausted by the topic to engage it that day. But, as a black woman, not engaging because you are tired of people's ignorance isn't a choice that you have, right? Like, that would have helped. Had I chimed in and supported you directly, that would have helped, right?"
She looked me in the eyes, and with no malice whatsoever, said clearly, "Yes. That would have helped."
Our conversation-- and my own discomfort-- has stayed with me for a few weeks now. I spoke about my experience and my feelings last night at our local Social Justice reading group, which opened up a conversation about the difference between education and conversion or condemnation, about how staying awake to injustice can take practice and requires support, and how, while not every fight is ours and we all hit our limits along the way, the discomfort of inaction may simply become more painful than the fear of criticism, rocking the boat or ostracizing ourselves or others.
And since we are all yoga teachers in the reading group, we latched on to the analogy of how many times we tell students to "take your thighs back" or to "straighten your arms" even though it seems futile at times. Why, when we are willing to repeat those same instructions in every class are we unwilling to speak up repeatedly regarding our culturally-conditioned blindspots? (Anne wrote a blog entry about her impressions from last night.)
Anyway, I am sure this post reads a little bit like "blinding flashes of the obvious" to people in the trenches of social justice work or like "confessions of a spoiled white girl" to people who do not have the luxury of choice in such matters, both of which are probably true. Be that as it may be, if my own fumbling attempts to stay awake and bring my insights into action can be of use to you in your world, I offer them today in this entry.
If you are interested in hearing more on the topic, this is an excellent clip--
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