Cycles of Violence and “Staying for the Children”
Sometimes I sacrifice too much when I work through your racism.
Cycles of Violence
“If we can’t do it, how can anyone do it?”
“I know this is hard for you, but we are trying. We want to learn! Please help me change!”
“I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry. Let’s get over it!”
Does this sound familiar? Some people might cite the remorse phase in the cycle of violence after a partner engages in psychological or physical abuse. They then make amends, swear they will improve, and promises to read White Fragility (Diangelo, 2018).
Most people have come to critique the idea of women enduring abusive relationships for the sake of the children.
Contrarily, when it comes to race relations, people are perfectly willing to sacrifice people of color’s spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing. People of color are expected to stay put and do the hard work of healing racial wounds inflicted by unaware white folks.
Maybe POC do need to educate others
I have heard over and over, it’s not people of color’s job to fill in other’s emotional and intellectual gaps.
No, it’s not our job, but we might be able to do it better than anyone else because our “BS” goggles were ripped off long ago. We also don’t want people speaking for us. However, that doesn’t mean that at anyone’s beck and call POC need to fall into full-on educate mode. When we do decide to take on the task, people must recognize that it is WORK. Not only intellectual but intense emotional work. It isn’t just sharing ideas, it’s about toppling paradigms, and possibly getting hurt in the process.
Sometimes when I share my experiences of racism, especially in real-time, it’s like telling people the emperor has no clothes.
No one wants to admit they’ve been staring at a bare a$$ all these years!
Build up and Explosion Phase
I spent the last year as the head of an almost all-white institution through what were probably the US’s most pivotal months of racial reckoning since the Civil Rights Movement. And I almost threw the towel in due to their indifferent and misinformed response and just plain ignorance about Black Lives Matter and the killing of George Floyd. We discussed, we sent emails, we had Zoom calls, and it all seemed so inadequate. The focus was on my “hurt feelings,” and not that their response was problematic.
Remorse and Honeymoon Phase
Part of me did want to give it a second opportunity. Part of me wanted to see if maybe it could be better next time. I felt a glimmer of hope based on their words, which of course I heard with skepticism, but I also wondered if it could be true.
“We want to learn.”
“We want to try,”
“It’s important that we do the work.”
“We need your help.”
Maybe this group of white women would be different! Maybe things in the world have changed enough. Maybe some of them will get it. And I was willing to say, even though I don’t know what the outcome will be, I will try it again, anyway. I was ready to experience “clean pain.”
[Clean pain is] the pain you experience when you have no idea what to do; when you’re scared or worried about what might happen; and when you step forward into the unknown anyway, with honesty and vulnerability” (Menakem, 2017, p. 73).
Honeymoon Phase, the cycle continues…or not
I think we know how the story ends. To say it blandly so as not to get my heart rate up, let’s just say I heard too many words and saw very little action. All the promises of unlearning racism turned into,
“Well, I have other things to do, [“hype” over George Floyd’s murder] is over now.”
Things got worse from there to the point that I was having panic attacks.
I realized I partly stayed “for the children.” I stayed to see if I could make something grow even though I knew the toll would be high for me. No, I am not a pessimist, and like James Baldwin, I didn’t give up hope. Maybe my efforts will just be one of the hundreds of little knocks on the head needed for white people to “get it” (Diangelo, 2018).
I can’t say it is always the answer to leave when things get tough. I can’t even say whether I benefited from this relationship or not. I only know this wasn’t the first or last time.
Often being black is just about living between a rock and a hard place.
DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands, racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press, LLC.