Please don’t go back to sleep

It would be a whole lot easier, wouldn’t it, if systemic racism didn’t exist? As a basically white person, it’d be a whole lot easier, and a whole lot more comfortable, to just go on as before, ignoring what I’ve seen play out over the past month. It’d be a whole lot easier to ignore the thinly veiled but heavily defended racism getting posted on Facebook right now. The distortion of truth, the picking apart of black individuals’ characters, the diminishing of human life against an overinflated consideration for public property.

I can understand why I’ve heard gaslighting getting talked about so much in anti-racist conversations, because it’s starting to make me feel crazy. Sat on the bed earlier, I thought about what it might be like to be a black person seeing what I’m seeing right now. I’m not seeing the worst of it in my social circle, and neither am I seeing the best. But I’m already viewing almost everyone in my life with suspicion. People who were quick to disavow racism at the start of this are now changing their tune to disavow unruly protests and whatever else allows them to deflect from the problem, and nearly everyone else is silent. I guess it’s just the same old story, but, man, is it bleak.

I’d be sleeping much better if I was silent too. Multiple nights recently, I’ve gone to bed not long after seeing a hateful comment or deliberate misinformation online. Whether I’ve had time to address it before putting my phone away or have saved it to look at again later, it echoes around my head while I lie in bed. Not because I’ve seen it, exactly, but because I have accepted the responsibility of addressing it. I’m not even doing this that often, but the burden is still significant. So I can see the lure of returning to (wilful) ignorance.

For that reason, one of the people in my life I am suspicious of is me. Putting aside all of the resistance that anti-racism work is met with, both internally and externally, diving deep into a subject for a period of intensive engagement only to abandon it and move on quickly after is kind of my M.O. So, based upon that, I’m not a good horse to bet on. I guess my saving grace may be that the one thing I have always stuck with – with admirably dogged determination if I do say so myself – is trying to be a better person, and there is no way to extricate anti-racism from that.

This is too big a problem to even wrap our heads around, and new distractions are popping up every hour of every day. The system wants us to forget about it. I’m starting to understand that most of us probably will. But I need to find a way to make sure I don’t.

Dishonest conversations

I’ve heard a few different arguments against using the word ‘privilege’ in my discussions.

In recent years I have tried to take other people’s word at face value, to guard against too heavily projecting my own ideas. I’ve trained myself, even when I know they’re not giving me the truth, and especially when I know they don’t even know they’re not giving me the truth, just to operate as if I believe them anyway, to give them a chance to prove my assumptions wrong.

That was an important part of my personal development, but I’m gonna have to start delving into some subtext more often, because people are fucking BULLSHITTING right now.

It’s almost always very privileged people bullshitting most about privilege. Go fucking figure, eh?

I come from an unequivocally working class background. I don’t fit in there really, but it is where I’m from, it has shaped me irrevocably, and I know some things about that place. Working class people are pretty likely to give it to you straight why they don’t like the idea of privilege. They’ve had to grind for everything they’ve got. If they can manage to get by, it’s because they fucking earned it. Everybody else should too. Don’t fucking talk to them about privilege. They don’t have it.

Middle class people are the ones who are going to say “Yes, I know I’m very privileged” in that politically correct way that doesn’t reach their eyes. But, the truth is, most of them are thinking exactly the same thing as the working class people are thinking – “I earned all this shit I’ve got. I deserve it.” They know it’s generally socially unacceptable to to say that when there are so many people struggling, so they pay lip service to their ‘privilege’. But deep down they have to keep believing that this is a fair world where, if you work hard and are a good person, you’ll be alright. And the reason they have a good life is because they work hard and are a good person.

People think that if they acknowledge that other people face barriers that they don’t face it will diminish their entitlement to what they have. Whether it does or not probably depends on what exactly they are claiming ownership of. But either way the discomfort of that possibility is what prevents them from looking at it. So they will say what they have to say so that they don’t have to look at it. And it will never reach their eyes.

As long as people keep doing that – having dishonest converstions about privilege – we’re going to be stuck with a world of inequality.

As within, so without

When I was younger, the primary focus of all my desire was romantic love. I would happily turn my life upside down, and myself inside out, in pursuit of it. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t so important to everyone else. I assumed they were missing something.

I was the one missing something – hoping endlessly that romantic love would fill the void where this missing piece should reside.

I suffered under that misguided notion for a couple of decades (I started very young). Eventually I figured out what I really needed to do, which was, essentially, learn to love myself.

And then I could soften my focus. I turned my attention to health. And then to wealth. And looking back, I can see I’ve been filling in missing pieces in order of importance, without even realising what I was doing. I was not always very effective in my endeavours, but there was something very wise at play urging me toward wholeness.

At this stage of my life, I am grateful to genuinely feel my greatest desire is to contribute. I deeply desire to be of service in the best way I can be. It’s not a sense of obligation, but a sense of inspiration, excitement, compulsion, to find the best path to enact positive change. I haven’t exactly found the path yet, and I’m not exactly healed yet, but the difference is stark from where I used to be.

It has pretty much convinced me that changing the world for the better is, first and foremost, an inside job. We all need to do our own work to fix our broken and missing pieces, before we can fully come together and do the collective work of fixing the mess all of our pains and traumas have created.

That’s a frustrating truth that many would argue with, but I set my sights high when I think about changing the world, and I can’t see a reality where we don’t create a world in our own image.

There are a whole lot of messes that need fixing right now, so we’re going to have to make do with some broken pieces in the meantime. The point is not to lose sight of the inner work amongst the outer work. Because to get the real traction that’s required to tackle our big fucking problems, we need more whole people showing up.

To give or to hold

Things usually aren’t working out as well as we were hoping.

Especially the big bad things. The things that we’ve been toiling over trying to make a dent in for what seems like millennia. The things that are worth changing, but fuck, if only we’d known what we were signing up for.

If we didn’t have hope, there’s a good chance we’d have given up long before now. But if we didn’t have hope, we’d be less heartbroken to realise that that light we see at the end of the tunnel, well it isn’t actually getting any closer.

In those moments when we realise we’re still far from home, we have two choices. We can relinquish any lingering hope of ever getting home, and live out here in the wasteland instead. Or we can steel ourselves, double down on the effort and march onwards, holding our vision of home in our hearts.

To those living out in the wasteland, a bright homely heart will look like insanity. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about that.

What to do?

I have been lost in nebulous theory lately.

The theory of what is happening right now. The theory of what needs to be done. The theory of what I need to do.

I work best with concrete to-do lists. And to formulate those, I need space and time set aside to gather myself, sort out the tangle, and organise it into neat actionable words. So overwhelming have these past few weeks been, that I have instead defaulted to whirlwind scrawl on every scrap of paper that passes me by. I’m saving countless Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Instagram screenshots, websites, books and podcasts for later with little to no thought for indexing. I’ve been hoping that I’ll settle down soon, without any kind of plan for how that will happen.

I’ve been lost because my goals cannot yet be fully defined. And so, like everything else, my metrics remain theoretical. I have been taking action; grabbing at things when the moment arises, and sometimes even spending time seeking out the action. But without the distilled knowledge of theory, action is weak.

I need to keep visiting the Theory Nebula. My work is most certainly not done there. But the part I have been missing recently – the disconnect – has been organising what I’ve learned into something I can use.

To-do lists are basically self-care for me. I need to get on that.