Photo courtesy of Camilla Akrans for Vogue Germany
Sometimes I say what I think and sometimes I don’t. I think it and I just hold it in. I let it roll around in my head, sometimes dropping to my heart, on rare occasion I let it rumble in the pit of my stomach. Nonetheless I choke it, hold it in, and keep quiet. And you know the reality is sometimes that is the best thing to do. Sometimes silence really is golden.
However, as I sat in a the meeting room at the Sheraton Marina in San Diego California this past week, with 14 other people, there was someone who spoke and I was SO glad she did. The session was about racism and how White people in America had been impacted by it. The basis for the session was a book, Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism by Ann Jealous and Caroline Haskell. Caroline, one of the authors of the book was facilitating the session. She began by introducing the book, why she and her African American coauthor thought it was necessary, and read several passages from the book. Post reading attendees were asked to pair up and discuss their reactions to the passages read, how it relates to the work we do as clinical directors, and our own experiences.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte march for Twen Magazine
I paired up with an Asian woman who came to the US when she was eight. We talked about a variety of things. Everything from the Trayvon Martin case, her experience as an immigrant to the US, and what it’s like being African American in the US. She shared that she simply can’t imagine, from all she has learned about the treatment of Blacks in the US how painful it must be even in 2013. I nodded in agreement. It is painful, maddening, sad, unnecessary, unfortunate, unfair- wrong. I didn’t rattle off my list of adjectives; I just shared “It’s hard” and nodded. She then shared that while she is not African American she has indeed experienced racism and in fact she approached her staff about it recently.
She was a new director at a college in California and her staff seemed to be having a hard time adjusting to her. She initially interpreted as them having a hard time as her predecessor was there for 30 years. She then questioned her leadership style, communication style, and several other things until she wondered if it was because she was a woman of color. “I try not to think that things happen because of my race. It’s painful. It’s just too hurtful to think that people could avoid, disrespect, or dismiss me because of my race.”
Photo courtesy of Vogue Italy
Tears welled up in my eyes. She said it. I’d thought it, felt it, suspected it, but I’d never spoke it other than to my mother once several years ago.
When she said it I was relieved. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who exhaust herself for every type of shortcoming that people could possibly take issue with before allowing the idea of the issue being my race to be an option. I wasn’t the only one who knew it as too painful to think that despite the hard work, qualifications, proven track record, and intelligence, I could still not be liked, respected, fully integrated as part of the team, group, or community, because I was a person of color.
After we spoke as pairs we regrouped and shared what we discussed with our partners. My partner shared what she shared with me and the other woman of color in the room nodded in agreement. When my partner spoke, she spoke for herself, for me, and the other woman of color in the group. Her voice validated us.
Photo courtesy of Steven Meisel for Vogue
When we dare to speak we dare to validate and free others. We dare others to swallow the lump in their throats, slow the pace of their hearts, and untie the knots in their stomachs to give voice to their experiences, thoughts, feelings, hurts, and hopes.
When we dare to speak we validate and free ourselves. We dare ourselves to swallow the lump in our throats, slow the pace of our hearts, and untie the knots in our stomachs to give voice to our experiences, thoughts, feelings, hurts, and hopes.
This week I want to encourage you to speak. Say what you need to say (as long as it isn’t purposed to verbally abuse or harm anyone.). Heck, roar if you have too. Validate and free yourself. Validate and free someone else. If you are going to LIVE, you are going to have to be heard so you’re going to have to speak. Plus, if you speak, via the comments below, I promise to speak back! xxoo
Photo courtesy of Grady Hall and Mark Kudsi