This past week has been a huge learning curve for me. I’ve never considered myself much of an activist, mainly because I never felt confident enough to speak out on issues I felt passionate about. I participated in a few women’s marches in the past and honestly I felt that doing that was enough.
I thought that this was all that activism needed to be. A sign with words I stole from someone else and a quick march around the block. I posted the picture on my social media and checked off my “activism” box. It wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd, that I truly woke up. Me and a lot of other white (passing) people.
I’ve taken the past week to listen and to learn. I’ve started following black activists on instagram and taken to heart and to action what they’ve said. I stayed quiet for a while, afraid to say anything out of fear of getting it wrong. I reflected on that fear and the phrase “Silence is violence” kept popping up on my feed, as if the universe was calling me out directly. I began “speaking out” by resharing important resources that other wonderful individuals, both black and white, put together.
But still, was it enough? My anxiety heightened and all I could think about was my long to-do list specific to Black Lives Matter. I would go to bed, readying myself for slumber, only for my eyes to flash open and for my hand to instinctively grab my phone. I needed to add some more stuff to my to-do list:
- Educate myself
- Find a book to read: White Fragility maybe? No, that’s by a white author. I need to start with a black author. White Rage perhaps?
- What about articles? I need to stay up to date on the news.
- Speak out
- What should I say? Obviously black lives matter to me but simply posting that isn’t enough.
- What if I offend someone?
- What if no one even listens? Or does that matter?
- Take action
- Where do I begin? I already posted on my social. Is that taking action? Or am I just performing?
- I need to call legislators and demand justice for Breonna – talking on the phone gives me anxiety…
- There’s a petition to sign! And another, and another and another.
- I should donate money. But to whom? Is $10 enough? Should my donation be reoccuring? But I don’t make that much money.
- I need to go protest! But I don’t want to get sick or get tear-gassed. But others are out there and I need to be there!
This was the refrain in my head. Then I saw this:
In order to do this work, this important but difficult work, I had to be kind to myself first.
I don’t know who created this but I am grateful. It allowed me to take a step back from the neverending to-do list and evaluate exactly where my energy needed to go. I have posted on social media and will continue to do so as a way to inform and educate others. I’ve put together some Speak Up Speak Out Resources with the help of others on the internet, which will remain as a permanent and continuously updating fixture on my blog. I have donated to several organizations, both local and national. I am reading White Rage with my anti-racism book club (which you can join here). I have been having difficult conversations with my friends and family, especially those whose views are different from mine. I have called the legislators in Kentucky to demand justice for Breonna and signed her petition. I’ve spoken up during team meetings at work.
All of this would not be possible if it wasn’t for my self-compassion and self-kindness. In order to do this work, this important but difficult work, I have to be kind to myself first. Especially when, in reflection, I found that I had stayed silent for too long. I found that I had remained complacent for too long. I found that I was lazy for too long. I had to accept this failure on my part but rather than ruminating on it, I learned from it and moved forward.
If I stay angry at myself, then this important work can not be accomplished.
I challenge those of you who have felt similarly this week to challenge yourself with kindness and compassion and to do the same when you challenge or question others. I’ve said it before: anger, while a great catalyst for action and for change (because I had to get angry at myself and the state of the world first) is not always the right tool to then enact that change. If I stay angry at myself, then this important work can not be accomplished.
Just to clarify, I am not criticizing nor condemning the rioting and the looting that has occurred as part of the protests. When it comes to that, I stand with Tamika Mallory. No, I am strictly speaking about anger towards the self.
Edit: Right after I hit publish, I saw this series of tweets reposted by a friend: