What are you feeling?

"What are you feeling?"

I received an e-mail on Friday afternoon with this subject line.

Two days later, I feel like I am just now taking a deep breath and some time to try to answer this for myself.

Busy, busy, busy. I am constantly busy. I am busying with my lesson plans or actually teaching. I am busy connecting with friends through texts and social media. I am busy making phone calls or sending e-mails trying to organize with people fighting for justice. I am busy writing, reading, playing guitar, or watching Netflix.

This busy-ness makes me feel productive. Productivity feels good. It makes me feel useful and valuable. This busy-ness also serves as a distraction. As long as I am active, I am mostly detached from my feelings.

Now let me take a deep breath again, and try to answer this question.

What am I feeling?

The overwhelming feeling in my mind and heart is sadness. The sadness is sitting in my chest, and it feels tight.

Meanwhile there is anxiety and nervousness. This feels like static electricity on my arms, my legs, and also in my chest.

We are two and a half months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and I feel a great sense of loss. I feel a loss for my social connectedness, but also a sadness for the loss of life and the economic despair that is only beginning to unfold.

I feel so sad and angry when I think about the New York City mayor's plan to balance the budget by decimating education, healthcare, jobs trainings, and other human services, while leaving the NYPD practically untouched. When I think about the idea of slashing the organizations that actually work to create whole and healthy communities, while protecting an entity causing so much harm, my heart beats faster and my breathing heavier.
Then the story of Ahmaud Arbery came out. Then Breona Taylor. Now George Floyd. I'm so tired from this endless pattern. I'm tired of seeing event after event racist violence spread through my social media feeds.

Underneath this exhaustion and sadness sits shame.

Do I have a right to feel sad and tired? Who do I think I am? I'm sitting clothed and sheltered and employed on my couch. I live my life enveloped in a cocoon of white privilege. As much as I try to act in service of racial justice, I can never fully divest myself from my whiteness. It follows me into every room I go, and affects every relationship I have. It causes me to hurt people I love through acts of self-centeredness and obliviousness.

I see Black people in my life hurting. They are sad and scared and angry. And I can't fully get out of my head enough. I can't totally quiet the voice that asks, "Am I doing this right? Will I upset them if I say this or do this?" And this constant message of self-doubt keeps my desire to show care and concern focused on myself rather than the needs of Black people I love.

To type these words, and to think about them makes me feel a burning sensation in my chest, and my cheeks feel hot.
HD wallpaper: burnout, man, face, bullying, stress, shame, arrows ...
Source: wallpaperflare.com
Intellectually I have learned that I need to accept my fallibility. Nobody expects me to be perfect, especially not Black people in my life. The only person I was ever fooling into thinking I could transcend my whiteness was myself. All I can do is be human. Be real. Be ready to fuck up, and ready to accept responsibility to do.

I "know" this, but I can't seem to fully accept it and act on it. I feel caught in a sort of mental tug of war.

After another couple of deep breaths I can feel my body relax. I am able to give myself some grace. This tug of war is part of my growth as well. And feeling another layer of shame for it on top of everything else isn't helping.

In grad school a professor liked to say, "We learn by doing the work." That phrase has always stuck with me. It sums up the way I like learning to look in my classroom - hands on and authentic - and it sums up my life learning as an activist and a human too. The only way to learn to let go of shame and fear and anxiety is by doing it. I can and will keep pushing into the discomfort. And each time I will be reminded, "You're okay! This will not kill you!" It is helpful to remember that while I struggle with these scary internalized and abstract feelings, white supremacy takes lives in terrifying external and real ways.

I have read a lot of articles and books about white supremacy. I've participated in lots of trainings, and even led a handful. Books like The New Jim Crow and White Rage and talks from Dr. Bettina Love and Dr. Jeffrey Duncan Andrade changed my life. But eventually I learned the hard way that I couldn't learn my way out of my whiteness.

When I think about this, and I remember the moments where I really let loved ones down, and I ponder the inevitability of future hurt, it makes my eyes well up and my chest tightens.

Somewhere in all of this I'm also trying to feel hope and gratitude. I'm not sure I feel it viscerally like I feel the sadness, anger, and shame, but I know it's there.

I feel hopeful and grateful, because I know I'm so much less alone in this work than I used to be. Over the past few years I have been able to connect with more and more white people who are struggling with these same experiences. We are learning together and supporting one another.

I have a community that includes Jewish white people from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and white men from Organizing White Men for Collective Liberation and friends and family from throughout my life. And this week it feels like dozens, maybe hundreds, more white people joined the conversation about racial justice and white supremacy. I have no idea what's going to happen as a result. I can only hope that we can harness this collective will to change and start to repair what white supremacy has broken in our communities.

Somewhere I feel hope for myself and all of us. I believe in the inherent goodness of human beings. I believe we are all endowed with the spark of the divine. I believe that we all have the capacity to fix our mistakes and to fix what's broken in this world. Sometimes it's so hard to believe in this, but I do. When I focus on this, it makes me feel a little more at peace, even if only for a little while.


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