Jessica Havens Physical Limitation Spirit

Imperfection

 

“The wound is where the Light enters you.” -Rumi

 

I am lying in the arms of my lover, sobbing. It’s embarrassing to feel like this—a grown-ass woman who does anti-racism work should have thicker skin.

It feels overindulgent and weak.

He reminds me that it’s okay to be broken, and whispers that I should just sit with the open wound for a bit. I am crying because I am ashamed, because of the violence perpetrated in the defense of whiteness, because the chasm between she and I may be too deep to bridge.

Rewind three hours. I’m casually checking my text messages and read a text from an old friend, a woman of color, who has barely spoken to me in the past year. Our friendship started over twenty years ago, but we floated in and out of each other’s lives at different phases. A year ago she asked for space from our friendship, because she was upset with me about an unrelated incident (or so I thought), and we took a break from each other without much of a conversation. Recently, we planned to get together, but she canceled the plans. When I inquired about making new plans, she sent this text in response: that I would never understand what it feels like to be a woman of color, that the problem was my white privilege, and that we never had had a real friendship... I stared at the screen and put down the phone. My world shifted, and all I could manage was to grab a beer and pace the confines of the driveway. I had to force myself not to put up a defensive wall and just sit with the gravity of what was said. Because this wasn’t the first time someone had called me out on white privilege. But the sting wasn’t because I had been falsely accused, but because perhaps I was indeed guilty.  

I mistakenly assumed that I could somehow be exempt from embodying whiteness.

I get it. I mean, intellectually, culturally I get it. I was raised as a white woman within multiple racial communities on the Southside of Chicago, and learned how to navigate across borders and communities.  Moving between Black, White and Latino spaces my whole life engaged my six senses in such a way that these communities were inseparable from parts of my cultural identity. While I struggled to find belonging in any of those spaces, I developed a keen awareness of race, and especially of the fact that I was white and female.

Because I identified as culturally different than many white people, had no problem discussing/critiquing white people, I mistakenly assumed that I could somehow be exempt from embodying whiteness.  Shit, I teach about white privilege and systemic racism. It’s difficult to have your self-image cracked by someone else’s reflection of you. To sit with the fact that you failed again. Of course, who knows what the other person is going through, where they’re at in their lives, what events preceded their response that was unrelated to me… but what if they’re right, even partially right? And if they’re right, then what does that say about me? I felt like a fraud. How dare I think about talking with other white folks about white privilege if I had clearly not “overcome” it?

We’re all working to get the devil off our backs ya know

I sent a text back to my friend, expressing my willingness to discuss things in person if she was interested. I haven’t heard back, and don’t know if I will. In the absence of conversation, I sit alone in my living room and reflect on our relationship. Did privilege blind me to the ways that our different realities shaped our perceptions of our relationship? I’ve always known how vastly different our lives have been, but what if the love and care I thought I was showing was actually condescending and paternalistic?

And then I heard the deafening silence again. The silence from women of color friends who never said anything about race or privilege to my face, but who just quietly faded out of my life over the years.  I wondered about the silence, because we’re all working to get the devil off our backs ya know… Maybe silence was a survival mechanism in a white supremacist world…

Maybe silence was just simply that, a sign that we had moved on from each other

…  But my worst fear was that the silence was a sign that our collective wounds, ignorance and imperfections created a chasm so vast that no bridge could span it.

In these moments of failure, my go-to urge is to get the hell out of racial justice work and the crosshairs that come with it. But then, I’m reminded of my own belief that this is the work, at least that’s what I preach in my workshops. Damn. It isn’t just about intellectual and institutional shifts, it’s also about spiritual growth, of which pain and loss are an integral part.  It’s amazing how wisdom functions, that the more you learn and evolve, the more you realize how imperfectly perfect you are, how human you are,And that revelation is humbling…

…the middle class professor of color, anti-racist and anti-imperialist guru, constantly feeling the push-back of white colleagues, gets called out for being bourgeois and disconnected from the everyday lives of working people…

…the white male activist, teacher and organizer, down with the cause, dates women of color,  is called out as being a womanizer and using people of color to bolster his image…

…the viva la raza latinx, proud mexica  who rallies against gentrification, community artist, is called out for their fear of Black people, just like the white people…

…the black male revolutionary, fanon follower, proud hbcu alum, lovely lyricist of lost dreams and self-determination, gets called out for being misogynist and ego-driven…

---the white social justice high school teacher, civil rights enthusiast, only liberal person in their conservative family, discovers in an anti-racism training that the ways they ‘ve been talking to their Black and Brown students is problematic and racist…

…the middle-age queer activist, went through hell with their family, dedicated much of their adult life to seeing gay marriage legalized, gets called out for being capitalistic, conformist and transphobic…

…the mixed race feminist, often “passes” for white, but identifies as woman of color, lover of lorde hooks and anzaldua, fierce warrior for justice, is called out for not recognizing her white privilege…

…the afrocentric black woman, natural hair blogger, celebrates black love and resilience, discovers a lingering obedience to whiteness she thought she had overcome…

…the white yoga teacher, committed to mindfulness in all things, passionate about sharing the gift of yoga and healing with others, is called out for elitism, cultural appropriation and  being disconnected from the realities of people of color…

For those of us who strive to be critically conscious and “woke”, it is devastating to see our own imperfections and contradictions scattered before us in broad daylight for all to see. This can be a moment of spiritual transformation, if we allow it to be.  We can also choose denial, defensiveness, or shifting blame. In an honest account of my adult life, I am guilty of all three. How to decolonize the mind and spirit when the colony is the air we breath? The…air…we…breathe…

Let’s call each other into conversation, allow ourselves to sit with the shame and messiness for a moment, and then… keep growing, keep moving…

Commitment to the truth.

Radical love and forgiveness.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

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