My Racial Awakening

I’ve read a lot this year. I mean, a lot. For someone who is obsessed with books I didn’t realise I could step it up any more than I had. But a year of rest, fiction and play gave me the grounding I needed to do the work this year – to dig deep and get my hands dirty. To feel the pain and do it anyway.

Because peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of calm clarity of conscious awareness. As Danielle Coke demonstrates so beautifully in her visual below, we cannot close our hearts to the painful troubles of the world, but rather open ourselves up to the issues around us, in order for us to make meaningful change where we can.

A few years ago, as I ran on the treadmill at my local gym, I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s voice – I can’t remember if it was a Ted Talk or a podcast, or anything else about what she said, but I do remember her very clearly saying “you need to listen to what makes your heart hurt, because that’s your calling.” I remember it so clearly because at the time I was so heavily involved in my feminist education, calling out sexism and creating female-focused spaces, all of which I believed formed the foundation for my calling, but that was not made my heart hurt.

I remember hearing Glennon’s voice say those words and my exact response was “Pssh… that can’t be right, because what makes my heart hurt is racism, but that’s not my calling.” I thought sexism was my calling – as a woman who had worked in male-dominated industries and struggled with the lack of female support, I thought that challenging those structures was what I was meant to be doing. I was aware of racism – of course I was – but I was ignorant of the extent of its far-reaching, systemic impact. And, shielded by my light-skinned privilege, I had given myself permission to look away, because it made my heart hurt too much. TOO MUCH.

I look back now and cringe. It hurt too much for to LOOK at racism, never mind the privilege of having a choice in the matter?! Completely oblivious to the fact that the lived experience of racism is not optional. Unwittingly continuing my support of a system that maintained inequality, injustice and unfairness, simply based on the colour of people’s skin.

I thought the Civil Rights Movement belonged in the past. I thought I had missed my opportunity. I thought I had found my calling. I was wrong.

But my racial awakening this year was not that racism existed, or even that I had a responsibility to do something about it, it was a realisation, an understanding, a revelation even, that I myself am not white. It seems obvious. I have brown skin. I am of mixed heritage, with a white Irish mother and a brown Indian/Sri Lankan/Malaysian father. But I was raised in a small white Irish town, with only a handful of non-white faces to be seen – one of three brown families who were constantly mistaken for each other, despite being from three different continents, let alone countries! So despite my “lovely tan”, I was raised as white, and assimilated as much as possible – proudly Irish, almost aggressively so.

Barnor Hesse refers to a spectrum of whiteness, for those of us who identify with any form of being white – whether by cultural influence or skin colour – ranging from white supremacists all the way to white abolitionists, as demonstrated below:

He goes on to explain each of these categories as follows:

And, looking at his explanations, I have to admit I think that before June of this year, I probably sat firmly in the White Privilege camp, safe in the protection of my light-skinned advantage, only occasionally dipping into White Benefit or White Confessional areas, despite my supposed “hurting heart”. Whereas now, I’d like to believe I have moved clearly into at least the White Critical zone, if not becoming a White Traitor at times (when I feel brave enough!).

So, I would like to ask you now – where do you think you sit?

And what do you think you could do to move up a level or two?

Let’s share this racial awakening, and find peace together.

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