This is the last day of the Sitting with Discomfort series. This week has been spent focusing on white privilege and learning to be discomfort in order to learn about yourself. This series was inspired by the wonderful women from ar-tic. If you are just arriving to this series, I highly suggest that you start by checking them out. This series is my own interpretation of their words and suggestions, and using their lessons as a starting point.
Likewise, at the end of this post, I list several resources for you to use as your own jumping off point if you need. I also suggest you go through those before you see what I have to say.
During this week, I personally have found myself in a lot of challenging conversations. As an American living in North Yorkshire, I’ve found that most of the people around me tend to have more conservative viewpoints regarding the protests in the US, the protests that have spread to the UK, and even on the Corona Virus. Thus, I’ve had to attempt to stop some harmful language, get in discussions about the depth of the problem in the US and even in the UK.
When I began engaging in these conversations, I realized how little I knew. I knew from an emotional standpoint that racism is bad. I knew that there is a difference between prejudice and bias, and I knew the tip of the iceberg of why it’s all problematic in the US. I also knew that racism was a problem in the UK, despite what everyone here in the north was telling me.
Without specifically looking for racism in the UK, but just wanting to learn in general, I picked up several books via Audible (because, let’s face it, I’m obsessed with listening to books). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala were my two randomly selected books that focused mostly on Briton than in the US. I learned a lot from these two books, and I highly recommend them.
I went on to Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch, which was particularly enlightening as well. This string of books was just the beginning. My entire world began to open up to things I was mildly aware of, though didn’t realize the complete depth of the issue.
Thus is my privilege. I didn’t “need” to understand it, because it wasn’t my problem.
Fiction-wise, I’ve studied Toni Morrison extensively (which is why I reference her so much). Her stories were an introduction to the deeply ingrained problematic attitudes of the American White world and the problems that Black Americans face in many areas.
The difference between reading fiction by BIPOC authors or non-fiction by BIPOC authors who are explicitly laying out the problems of the world depends in part how you take in information, but also how explicit an author is. It’s the difference between showing and telling. Personally, I can be told the facts, but I absorb information better when I “experience” it through story.
I began to look at the content I was consuming. I never really thought about it. In general, I had been consciously trying to make sure my book-reading was more diverse, but ultimately, that was all I was doing. It wasn’t until many, many voices on Blackout Tuesday called for BIPOC voices to be uplifted that I realized just how few BIPOC people I followed on Instagram, or that I listen to virtually no podcasts by BIPOC individuals.
So, keeping in mind the theme for this week’s posts, I began looking into it. Had I consciously done this? Did I have reasons (but really, excuses)?
I spent time challenging myself to really get to the heart of why it was that there weren’t enough diverse voices in my media consumption.
Earlier I mentioned my privilege that I didn’t “need” to learn about the depth of systematic/institutional racism. Part of this is because I have been able to live in my own little bubble because of the non-diverse media I consume. The result of this is that when atrocities like George Floyd’s death, like Eric Garner’s death, Tryvon Martin’s death, Tamir Rice’s death, and all the many, many others’ deaths are flashed across the headlines, I can be shocked. Because it’s “not my world.” But it is. I’m a citizen of this planet and of the Western world. It is my world, I just have had the privilege to not take it on as a personal problem because it’s not a part of the daily content consumption that I take in.
This is what I’ve learned, and it isn’t a comfortable feeling or realization that I’ve been able to turn my back on injustices. Especially when I consider myself to be on the side of social justice. This is the discomfort I’m learning to sit with so I can grow from it and be a better person and hopefully one day be considered an ally.
Spend some time considering the books you read. Make a list if you need to. Look at all of it. Do you find a common theme in them all? I don’t mean books that are specifically written by BIPOC authors, or books about race. I just men, in general, what are the commonalities you find between the books you read as a whole, looking deeper than the genre.
Now, what about your social media? This includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Medium, Snapchat, etc. Who do you follow on which accounts, and why? What is the overall message you’re feeding to yourself when you choose to follow these accounts?
Finally, who do you follow in terms of blogs? Whose blogs are you reading and why? Is there a common theme?
It might be tempting to say, “Of course there’s a theme. I follow authors and content that has to do with writing,” for example. I challenge you to look deeper than that.
I’m a tarot reader and enthusiast. I read a lot of tarot-related content, and have done for years. But why? Surely you can only read the definition of the cards so many times. I’m not actually surrounding myself with tarot content for the definition of the tarot. The theme of my tarot-consuming content is to deepen my understanding and use of the tarot as a therapeutic tool both spiritually and psychologically. Thus, that is the deeper theme of my content consumption. I didn’t realize this until I took a step back and considered what I followed and why.
Now that you’ve looked at your content, ask yourself what you can do to go deeper with it, to delve into the realm of your discomfort that you’ve been working on over the last few days (hopefully), sit with it, and use it to grow into a better citizen and human being.
There is no judgement here, this isn’t about what I think of you. We are all on different points of our journey, and the purpose of this series is to promote self-examination of the self in order to grow. We have to grow if we want to be at the level we need to be in order to be supporters and of productive assistance to those who are struggling against injustice. Right now, those folx are BIPOC individuals, and folx in the LGBTQ+ community.
By looking at whose words and ideas we consume, we can better understand how much or little we let ourselves be involved in the problems outside our own personal bubbles. After you understand where you’re starting from, look at how you can do more, consume more of people who are “other” than you. Below I’ve given a list of resources, but I’ve expanded the fiction section to some books that I simply enjoyed who were by BIPOC authors. I read them for the pleasure of it, not for a purpose. Check them out, too.
The next and most important step, when you bring “other” voices into your realm, is to listen. Listen, listen, listen. Those who are struggling right now, those who are directly telling the world the problems they are facing are also directly telling white people what they need from them. At the end of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge explicitely says what she suggests white people do to be helpful.I’m not going to share what it is because I want you to explore the book, read it, and listen. Listen to what BIPOC folx are asking for. Do what they are asking you to do.
After watching Rebecca Davis MA, MSW’s video on Instagram (linked in the resources), which inspired this series, I asked her if she minded if I used her words to write this series. She was direct in saying exactly what she wanted and needed from me if I was to do this series.
I am not saying to go to your BIPOC friend, or to someone you don’t know on the internet and ask them what they want you to do, but instead just listen to what they say in general. Do your research, look at what BIPOC content creators are saying and asking for, and listen.
Finally, after listening, check in with yourself. How does what you heard make you feel? Is it uncomfortable? As ar-tic says, sit with it, feel it, know what it’s like, then delve deep into it. Why is it uncomfortable? Journal it out.
Ar-tic Instagram: @ar_tic_org
Ar-tic website: www.ar-tic.org
“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.
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
Specifically Related Fiction
Fiction Included for Enjoyment
Please note, just because this is listed under “enjoyment” doesn’t mean there is nothing to be learned from it. There is always a message to be learned from fiction. However, I’m saying that when I read them it was because I was simply picking up a piece of fiction to read, not with any specific purpose in mind.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
American War by Omar El Akkad
Secret Odyssey by C. T. Rwizi
Escape to Candyland by Yong Takahashi
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
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