Sitting With Discomfort: Exercises in White Responsibility in Writing–Pt 1: Exposure

This is an honest post. This is a personal post. But if you’re like me, it’s applicable to you.

Getting Real for a Minute

As you may or may not know, I’m an American living in the UK. As an American, I am very well aware of the racial and political issues that go on in my home country. What’s more, I’m a white American. Not even a hint of non-European descent in me.

Because of this, I don’t feel like I have the space to speak out about anything race-related. It isn’t my injustice. So, I just listen.

This was where my listening got me.

Sitting with the Discomfort

I follow an Instagram account called ar_tic_org, an organization who are working to “To decentralize whiteness as the focal point of healing,” with the central belief that “In order to decentralize whiteness and improve outcomes for all Americans, we believe it all starts with re-evaluating our values.”

I was watching a recent IGTV video by one of the co-founders of ar-tic, Rebecca Davis , MA, MSW, who said something that struck me very deeply. Specifically to white people, Davis asked us to sit with our discomfort. If we aren’t comfortable posting about these things, talking about these things, anything, we need to sit with that discomfort, and acknowledge that it’s there. We need to acknowledge what this discomfort is telling us.

Davis has a couple of other IGTV videos which are longer, and definitely worth watching. That was how I spent my Saturday morning: listening to what she had to say, thinking about it, digesting it, and trying to understand what I can do.

The idea of sitting with my discomfort really struck me and resonated with me.

Here’s What I learned

What makes me uncomfortable?

I’ve been wanting to talk about what’s going on in the US regarding race and police brutality for a while, but I held back. For the most part, I’m only on social media on my Natural Writer Coaching accounts. I thought that perhaps it would be unprofessional to do so, and that if I wanted to be welcoming to everyone, then I needed to stay out of it.

That has been gnawing at me. That was a form of discomfort in itself.

But then I asked myself how I felt about talking about racial injustice on these accounts—and my discomfort was greater than hiding behind the cause of “professionalism.”

It’s one thing if I do it on Facebook, on my personal account, where basically all my friends are on the same page and if there’s someone who wants to disagree, a discussion happens (thankfully, it rarely turned into anything terribly ugly). I’m not longer on FB these days, only IG and Twitter.

And the only time and reason I’m on either of these two social media platforms is for this business.

This is where my discomfort is.

When Rebecca from ar-tic said to sit with my discomfort, I really listened to what that meant to me, and when I thought about what my discomfort meant to me, it was about protecting myself. And while I’m a relatively new business, I don’t need protection.

Furthermore, who am I protecting myself from? The judgements of those who disagree with my stance on the horrors that happen under police brutality or who disagree with Black Lives Matter? These things are important to me because they deal with the dignity and value of human lives. I believe that no-one should be discriminated against or oppressed, especially those who have had to deal with so much oppression at the hand of colonization. So why am I worried about upsetting the people who believe that All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter in my business?

So I didn’t want to speak out, because I didn’t want it to affect my business.

In sitting with my discomfort, I learned what was important. What’s important is seeking justice not just for the tragedies like George Floyd and all of the many others, but for those who have had a knee on their neck for hundreds of years.

My discomfort is a reminder of my privilege. The only thing I have to worry about are benign opinions.

“Let’s distinguish between feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe. White folx who are watching, you are not unsafe because I am saying these things. Nothing is happening to your body. No one is actively harming you. Black folx are not going to come and get you, right. Like, you’re not being attacked, no one is harming you. Let’s really sit with that: uncomfortable vs. unsafe.”

~ Rebecca Davis, MA, MSA, 35m11s Video 1 Linked here

This week is mostly geared toward those who are like me, who are in a place of privilege. I want to encourage you to discover your discomfort, and sit with it, and see what it has to teach you. I’ll do this with journal prompts. These prompts are coming from me, though are inspired by the videos and messages from ar-tic. I’ll create a list of links at the end of this post so you can explore them and other resources at the end of this blog post.

The Importance of Doing This Work

This is a website for writers. I know that. You know that, which is why you’re here. And for me to deviate from your writing expectations might be a little blind-siding.

First of all, I don’t want to have to convince you to do this work if you are like me. I trust that you know and understand why you should do this work.

However, why should you do this work relating to your writing?

To understand yourself is the first step to understanding the world around you. If you have looked at the events from the last week and the multitudes of other events over the last year, two years, four years, ten years, etc., and wondered how the hell the world got this way, you first need to understand yourself.

Understanding yourself will help you understand what makes you upset, why it makes you upset, and how you got to that point. When you can understand and have compassion because you see how events, words, messaging, and situations contributed to the current composition of you, then you can start doing the same research on the world around you to better understand. When you understand how something was put together, then you can begin to understand how to constructively be a part of the solution to the problems the world is having.

One of the biggest things I hear over and over when it comes to being a good co-conspirator, as Rebecca has coined, is to listen to what marginalized and struggling voices have to say and make room for them to say it. How can you do that if you don’t even know how to listen to yourself and make room for your own self.

What does making room for yourself look like? It means hearing what every part of you has to say, even the ugly parts that you may not want to acknowledge or hear about yourself. How can you help to transform those parts if you can’t hear them? This is part of the discomfort you need to sit with. Sit with it, makes space for it.

That, at least, is my interpretation of what it means to sit with your discomfort.

That’s the first part of why the work is important.

The second part of why the work is important, which is most specific to writing, has to do with how you understand your characters and the world you’re building every time you write a new story.

When you understand yourself, and how you make up you, and you learn to put that toward understanding the world, imagine what you can do with your stories.

A favorite writer of mine is Toni Morrison. I wish so much that I had learned about her work when I was younger. She reaches for the how when it comes to towns and characters, which is something I’ll go into in the next post. Many of her characters have a whole history not just of their lives, but back to their grandparents, and their great grandparents. I’ll reference her again and again, but for now, I strongly recommend that you read Song of Solomon, and keep in mind the importance of stories and how they’re passed down.

Morrison’s understanding of the world not only created deep and important messages in her novels, short stories, children’s books, essays and lectures, but created rich characters and towns that were so real you felt as though you’d personally experienced them.

I can’t say how she got in touch with that depth other than paying attention to what she say. But I can say that I personally believe that the first step is get in touch with the self.

Do, do this work for the betterment of the world. Do this work for the betterment of yourself. And do this work for your writing. And listen, listen, listen.

Side Note

I want to say, too, that I am not an authority on any of this work other than on the aspect of writing in general. I am not an authority on writing the other (there is a wonderful link in the Resources section for that), and I’m not an authority on race or other cultures outside my own.

What I do know are my own experiences and the work I am doing for myself regarding this particular topic. Ar-tic inspired this blog topic, and I do strongly urge you to watch the videos listed, but the interpretation I’ve given may differ from what was meant, and the journal prompts that will be provided during the week are mine.

If you have questions regarding this topic specifically, I suggest checking out the resources listed below, and especially checking out the online trainings listed as well.

Your Homework

Your homework is to watch the above mentioned videos. I’ll put links below for convenience.

The second part of your homework is to examine your library and media. Whose voice are you hearing from the most? What are their backgrounds? What is a narrative that carries forth with them?

Finally, your third piece of homework is to look up the resources listed below. Some are websites, some are accounts, some are books. There is a lot for you to check it out, but all of it is very worth it.

Resources

Ar-tic

Ar-tic Instagram: @ar_tic_org

Ar-tic website: www.ar-tic.org

Websites/Trainings

Ar-tic trainingss:

WritingTheOther

Articles

Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge
7 Casually Racist Things That White Authors Do” by Mya Nunnally
White as the Default” by Marissa Rei Sebastian
“Definition of Cultural Appropriation: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Avoid it,” by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

Non-Fiction Books:

Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
I Know Why the Caged Bird Singsby Maya Angelou
Writing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison
Race by Toni Morrison
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward
Killing Rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks
Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba

Fiction

Recitatif by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Writing Excuses Related Episodes

15:12 Writing the Other—Being an Ally
14:31 Cultural Setting as Conflict
14:21 Writing the Other—Yes You Can!
14:12 Writing the Other—Latinx Representation
7.4 Writing the Other
6.15 Writing Other Cultures

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