This reflection is to continue a conversation on racism and how much I and we are all swimming in it constantly. I invite your reflections on additional ways I could have responded in this recent attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and all the ways I can find more balance in my attempts to redistribute my privilege to minorities.
Before telling the story below, I want to acknowledge that my greatest regret is how quickly I outreached the Anti-Racism Leader (ARL) of the below event in a fear-based need to protect their minority group (which some perceived as my white savior complex). I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for her (and still is, since, apparently the event was just canceled). I wish I had followed and vetted the texting conversation all the way with this Male who Identifies with Racist Beliefs (MIRB). I can only hope that this might have spared all involved a great deal of misery.
My privilege includes that I am a white-passing, graduate-educated, heterosexual female. And this encounter over the last 24 hours shows how I am part of the reason this minority group needs to meet separately and even more tragically, I am part of the reason why they didn’t meet today as planned. Internalized racism is so pervasive that no matter how much time I spend sharing about and working to step up as being an ally instead of a rescuer (or white savior), I still find myself at times like this, where my ignorance and positive intentions led to harm for others. It reminds me of the fish in water joke. Sometimes I think I get it, and I dont!
In misunderstandings, there are a variety of experiences and stories that lead to a tangled social knot like this, and first I must increase my own awareness around what happened from this direction. As I grow from this swamp of shame, I hope to listen better now and in the future and respect the rhythms already in place. So, here’s the story:
Yesterday I saw and shared this event on my Facebook feed:
Before I reposted to my own social media community, I noticed that on the original post, there were emoticons of “likes and loves” and then there was one reaction, a laughing emoticon, that seemed out of place. I decided to outreach this person and learn more.
This is not my first encounter with inappropriate emoticons towards a minority event/post. As I’ve developed my own self-awareness and healing process around my internalized racism, and considering my experience with emotions professionally (as a therapist), I have learned to outreach the person “laughing” or “angry” or whatever they are clicking they feel that might contradict an appropriate or supportive emoticon response to a minority post.
This work is part of my practicing that ally is a verb, and one micro-intervention is to take more time than just rebuke and doxxing (calling them out publicly) and instead practice “calling someone IN” to new awareness of how their unconscious reactions might affect others. This feels ironic now, a day later, considering my own knee-jerk response to “protect” and how much harm my pre-mature “alerting” may have caused. Because I am not calling anyone out, but instead using this to practice my own self-examination, names and other identifying information have been removed.
Here is the outreach conversation with the Male who Identified with Racist Beliefs (MIRB).
I think of this work like inviting the purge of internalized “ism” poison. I suspected that this “humor” was an abcess of racism, but always want to check these things out. In Gestalt theory, the paradoxical theory of change states that the moment we acknowledge things as they are, they can no longer remain the same. My curiosity felt like a warm compress on the abscess and often tends to help these scary beliefs of harm towards others “pop” instead of be driven deeper in. Even though I have done this micro-intervention before, it was still shocking to see his answers:
I would have been done for the moment with this “let’s get it out in the open” part A, and was going to drop contact after he wrote: “I support those who help themselves.” I’ve learned to give these interventions a day or so to sink in, and then come back “thoughtfully” with feeling words (I’m sad, I’m discouraged, I’m dismayed, etc) and reflection on how the person’s words have haunted me. Almost walking the journey as if I am in a new round of awakening from my own internalized racism, I work to model for them the path to the center (and use the pause in between our connections to try and find new and interesting meems/articles/news events to send them when I engage during Part B). Sometimes these conversations take weeks or months, and have often paid off in awareness level and contrition. However, MIRB’s comment of “I’ll see you there” confused and alarmed me since it is a “blacks only” event.
After the heart racing horror subsided a bit, and considering the recent media and news about Proud Boys and a stark increase in race and other minority-targeted crimes in this city, I noted that his cavalier and outspoken racism indicated a much deeper association with these beliefs than ignorance, and I found myself worrying that he might be a leader in one of these groups. At this time I decided to outreach the Anti-Racist Leader (ARL) and in the meantime use MIRB’s feelings as a bridge to intervening on a deeper scale.
At this point in my conversation with him, I have outreached the ARL around their event which will occur in less than 24 hours, and am trying to make sure they know that a protest of this scale might be happening. I feel protective of the group and sadness/guilt/worry to be the messenger of imminent social harm (and maybe worse), but decide I would rather be the recipient of the ARL’s anger than have them face this experience the next day as a surprise. Later, I mention below consulting with my POC mentors, and I wish at this point I had done this instead of outreaching the ARL so quickly.
Understandably, she is upset and reeling. Seeing her fear and confusion only adds to my own. I continue to talk with MIRB, just in case ARL wants me to ask or do something else.
Since it sounds like he is outspoken around this… and I am practicing being the change I’ve seen and wished to become more like in the world, I decide to invite him to my office where I could show him this model I work with that often unlocks and aids in a rapid release of harmful dichotomous and hierarchical beliefs (i.e., racism in this case).
The ARL is increasingly upset and repeatedly asking for the same information, which I am struggling to provide.
I am triggered by the word accomplice, even look it up to remember it’s definition, and then drop into deeper guilt/shame.
Back to my efforts to engage MIRB
Now I’m trying to protect the ARL’s Group, and am also volunteering my time to speak with this MIRB veteran, that I imagine might be a leader, to see if I can do some type of intervention. I am taking inspiration from a history of multiple mentors and leaders I have seen work as allies and grow relationship with “the other side.” Back to speaking with the ARL:
This is a place where I wish I had realized how much I was spinning out. I feel her terror/rage and my own shame that takes me back to conversations with my dad where he endlessly pushes for information on my family, who has no contact with him. Now I feel like I am protecting “a racist”.... And am realizing how much I did not think this through in getting involved, but can’t see how I would have chosen a different path this far even if I had known how quickly this was going to escalate.
Since the ARL pressured for more evidence of an invite so much, and this seemed like a threat worth taking seriously with how the MIRB was bragging, I decided to ask him about an e-vite. My guess was that at this point, I had built enough social capital (or trust) with the MIRB that he would connect me to the e-vite if there was one.
Such regret flooding me at this point. I’m shocked, horrified, relieved, and angry that I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole bluff.
The ARL seems terrified and enraged when this whole things turns out to be a “hoax” and I’m the one who carried her the “Toy bomb.” (Albeit in this metaphor, it would probably still have a swastika on it.) I’m wiped and it seems we are at an impasse.
A whole other level of guilt, shame, and spiraling happens here as the ARL is getting more upset.
A few minutes later, I got a notification from Facebook face-recognition that I had been tagged (or “doxed”). The ARL had publicly posted this entire conversation, which now puts me (and my rather diverse clientele) at risk for retribution from the MIRB.
Here are the responses:
Notable is that I clicked on quite a few of the commenter’s profiles, and the major trend is that they were also individuals who are white-passing. In consulting with one of my POC mentors today, it was brought out that just like there are "white supremacists" there are also "black extremists." While this is not mine to decide or judge, it gave me more of a continuum to understand some of what might have been happening here. I only slept 2 hours last night and woke up in intense physical pain from my body being so tight/tense while I slept. I can only imagine what kind of night the ARL had!
When I woke around 2am, I saw that the MIRB had asked the question “Why is this event segregated?” as a comment on the event’s page. I can only deduce that this likely led to someone matching his photo to the partial thumbnail photo in the screenshot I sent of him saying he was joking. There was also a post with his picture and additional texts on the ARL’s page publicly shaming MIRB as a white supremacist.
Since last night, I have received texts from the ARL’s friends that I cannot stomach opening at this point. MIRB just sent me an additional text saying that the event being canceled was on me because I “caused such a stink.” I am guessing he is also receiving texts from the group connected to the ARL.
I believe the difference between pain that is suffering and pain that is growth is meaning or the consciousness added. Therefore, when something hurts this much, I try to turn this pain into a hunger to learn new things or re-read guiding words and find new awareness on how to support equality better with less harm in my own learning curve. Here are a few of my favorite articles that have helped me remember that I’m always growing:
Finally, this modified meme, seems an ideal way to end this reflection, as it has been bugging me this week before this ever happened. I’ve seen a variety of these cycling around and all of them seem to say “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.” However, I believe that the moment we think we’re done healing, we are the most dangerous of all.
This weekend I hurt and am hurting, and I am also healing. Thank you for your witness and patience in my process of learning how to be a better ally. I apologize for my actions that no matter how well-intentioned, caused harm. Your reflection/comments/growth here is welcome.
About the Author
Ruth Diaz, LPC, Psy.D. is a counselor, consultant, and coach on returning to compassionate connection in relationship with ourselves and each other at every level. She works as an organizational consultant and therapist in Portland, Oregon.