I have often been triggered by the real and justified anger of those who’ve been marginalized and oppressed by white people. I admit it — I used to get defensive when I read articles that derided or shamed white women who were trying to “help.” Because, wow, did I identify with being a “woke” white woman! But, awareness is the first step in letting go of identification with that which limits us. It’s the path into your shadow, to healing yourself, so that you no longer make others suffer. I am grateful for the triggers because they spur me to greater introspection and self inquiry each time I feel that old familiar pain, defensiveness, bubble up inside like black gunk.
These are the typical responses I’ve observed in myself:
“But, I’m on your side! Can’t you see that?!? You are going to alienate me if you continue to show your anger like this! I am going to just throw up my hands and walk away and leave you to try to fix this mess without my help, because I see you don’t appreciate me — or want my help! I’m going to be bitter and resentful that you aren’t appreciating my efforts! I’m really proud of my enlightened stance — why don’t you reward me for it by telling me how “woke” I am???! You are so ungrateful!”
And other narcissistic denials like that.
(And I am sure there are a lot of men feeling this way right now, because of “Me, too” but that’s another essay. I am talking to white women right now, mostly.)
I’ve come some ways from my early kneejerk intellectual defense responses, and it’s been a hard journey, humbling, but I think I see where letting go leads now.
Because what I am letting go of is my own pain and fear.
How do I process the triggers, the pain, even if part of me feels it is not justified, or if I don’t want to “feel like a doormat?” That defensive response, “Well, yes there are shitty white women who are racists and who voted for Trump, but I didn’t vote for him!! I’m a sexual assault survivor, too, so don’t disrespect me! I’ve really suffered!!! It’s not all white women!!!”
Yes. Not all white women. Not all men. We all know this. Blah blah blah.
It’s enough white women (and enough men) who have made consistent choices for most of their lives that were selfish and either unconsciously OR purposefully oppressive and marginalizing — in order to sustain their portion of institutionalized white/male hegemony and patriarchy. (The suffering we experience, well, it’s all about power and control.)
It’s enough folks that we ALL (white women, and almost all men) need to sit down and shut up while we get our asses handed to us by WOC who are beautifully manifesting the righteous and fearsome Goddess of destroying all delusion, Kali, who are saying very clearly right now:
“ENOUGH. I am mad as hell and am not going to take this any more. And you are going to sit there SILENTLY and listen and LEARN exactly what happens — and YOUR part in it: You have perpetrated, enabled, colluded, condoned or remained silent in the face of oppression - and you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise.
“But, maybe, if you are quiet, maybe if you don’t leap to defend yourself, maybe if you show actual empathy without the automatic simultaneous need to feel good about yourself, you will see truth — and then you can use that truth to evolve beyond your small, selfish, self absorbed ways, to REALLY help and serve others and dismantle systems of oppression. Maybe then you will grow up, and start being a human being. You will learn to love. And we can all heal.”
That’s Kali’s/their message — and I am hearing it loud and clear now. I hope other white women hear this message, too.
(Let’s also really hope men hear this message — they MUST hear it and give space, sit silent and show empathy without defending themselves, too — otherwise, nothing’s going to change.)
Are some messengers angry or bitter? Yes. Guess what: They are justified in their bitterness and their anger. Get over it.
Finally, the thing I have discovered about empathy — real, honest-to-God empathy (not just sympathy, because there’s a difference, see Brene Brown on this) is that real empathy doesn’t always mean you get a gold star. Real empathy means you have to admit your own part in causing the suffering that ultimately requires you to say sincerely “I am sorry.” Because, All One: you are both the oppressed and the oppressor. Hurt people hurt people.
Consider a different path: sitting down and shutting up and giving space to anger and pain so that the ones expressing it feel heard and seen. So they can heal. And then you may find you do, too.
Empathy means sometimes you might feel “trodden upon” for a time — but you don’t cling to resentment or martydom, which is a fom of spiritual bypass. You eat the bitter pill of mea culpa, selflessly.
I’ve found the bitter herbs to be the most cleansing and purifying. The way out of feeling trodden upon indefinitely is to use the bitter pill to finally reveal your own clinging ways, to let go of identification with the very thing that you based your false self upon, that most definitely caused suffering in someone else. For me: white cisgendered heterosexual womanhood and internalized patriarchy.
What replaces it is beautiful — not bitter, but better: freedom from identification with the burden of whiteness. Whiteness brings nothing but suffering — it is a painful racial abstraction of white people, grown from and sustained by our deep fear and ignorance, and it causes a lot of pain.
Mind you, I remind myself daily to not get holier-than-thou about this work, because it’s an unending process of letting go of identities I’ve long held (and the identity of being a “better person” is also a trap.) This is selfless service — stepping up to the real work of having empathy and responsibility — and hence, that includes deep humility and no expectation of reward.
I know most people will always see me as “white, woman, cisgendered heterosexual, American” — even if I some day personally become more able to no longer self-identify as any of those things. And, that I will always have to process and silently hold space for their fear and anger towards me, working through my reactions to their fear — selflessly serve — until the seeds of all my false identities are truly burned away, and there is only one thing left: Love.
Love is what replaces all the identities that limit us. And it floods us eternally, infinitely, always — we may not be to see it or sense it because we are, all of us, veiled by fear-based abstractions and conditioned identities that limit our understanding, make us ignorant of the Truth.
May we all find our way.