How to Process this Process
Like most, I’ve taken pause to absorb the reckoning taking place in the US and world. It’s incredible for the momentum of Covid to lead into this, like a wave swelling onto shore and bursting an old fortress open. A fortress sealed through complacency and harm. There’s a lot of energy and emotion sloshing around. A lot of perspectives to take in. A lot of reflecting to do.
You’ve already read a thousand takes on this, and I don’t really want to add to the pile. I just want to use my writing practice to offer a few thoughts about how to process this situation, engaging with people about it, and what it means– as much for myself as anyone.
I hope this is helpful.
Questions for critical thinking
What are we letting change us? What are we rejecting?
This is a time where critical thinking is incredibly important yet really f*%#ing hard. Black Lives Matter. The words are simple, the cultural shifts, the reforms, not so much. Resentment from our failure to meaningfully atone for historic crimes is exposed, raw and ugly. And while this flood of emotion is absolutely justified, untangling the actual problems and solutions requires a clearheaded process of critical thought.
I’m asking myself the following questions:
What does a citizen of this country deserve?
What contracts are we party to in this society?
How do we define ourselves? How do we define each other?
First, I just want to acknowledge that these are difficult questions during an intense time. Our minds don’t operate at max capacity when we’re stressed. It’s really important to give ourselves a break from the endless stream of social media and news to ponder, to rest, discuss, critique and then take sustained action. There is plenty to do when we are ready.
What is the role and state of race?
Race, like all other classifications, shows up in real life as a wildly rich spectrum of experience. What should the racial dynamic be? We’re watching a lot of people wrestle with this theme in public view.
The hot takes are so tempting, sometimes hilarious and insightful. But really understanding a problem requires context and nuance and empathy. To take a hot button one: If we abolish police, what do we do with the cops currently employed in every city and state in this country? They are not just going away. They’re angry and in many ways are also victims to this system. Where do people like Derek Chauvin go when they commit a senseless murder? Who decides? I’m not asking “gotcha” questions, but they’re important concerns we need to plan for. And many brilliant people have! But it takes time to read the arguments and digest them. This is not a problem that is solved overnight.
I also think it’s important to consider the goal is not to be “right”. A lot of opinion pieces demonize anyone who disagrees, however thoughtfully. There’s a gleeful self-righteousness in a lot of these takes that makes it impossible for a connection to be made. And connections need to be made. We can’t make progress on these problems divided, bitter and insular.
I had already been grappling with the fact that those we share beliefs with and those we care about are not perfectly overlaying diagrams. Human connection doesn’t work like that, for better or worse. My mom cares about my well-being and believes in me more than anyone in the world. She also has some beliefs that are intolerable to me, and vice versa. If either of us succumb to the very real pressure to reject people who disagree with us, we would lose a rare relationship and become more enclosed in our echo chambers. We really have to figure out for ourselves how to navigate this. And it’s messy, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.
What should we be doing?
The sheer volume of white people processing visibly has been overwhelming. Okay, you are complicit… now what? The self-flagellation is super cringey to me. But also, it’s confusing to hear mixed messages about all of our roles in this. White silence is violence. Don’t burden the black folks in your social spheres with more work or your processing. Educate yourself. Listen to marginalized voices. But “marginalized voices” are not a monolith. Often these voices are not in agreement. What’s the right move? Here I think you do need to check in with yourself and just do your best while being open to feedback and open to changing your mind.
I’ve tried to prioritize engaging with people around me, black friends, activists or work colleagues who are inundated by this, in ways consistent with our existing relationships. Maybe that means exchanging pictures of house plants. Or asking them sincere questions and just listening. Maybe that means making them dinner, or showing up for something they invited me to. Maybe it means giving them space. Things that show I am paying attention to their needs and well-being. Knowing I made this one person feel cared for is meaningful to me.
While our various identities (black! New Yorker! woman! bisexual!) can be great and empowering and useful, it’s good to remember that they are shorthand for something much more multifaceted. We are more than just our identities. Everyone is having a profoundly unique lived experience. I haven’t met a human yet who doesn’t flourish when they feel liked for the strange concoction of who they are. Don’t let the court of public opinion override the actual relationships in your life. You don’t have to deal with a hashtag once you turn off your laptop, but you do see your neighbors and friends. Pay attention to them!
Finding our own way forward
There are as many ways to contribute to a more equitable future as there are people on this planet. Finding the ways that genuinely resonate with you is going to give us the best chance at bringing forth lasting change. Habits are much easier to create if we are lit up by the outcomes we seek and make the new behavior work for our lives. It takes a little creativity, but we’re human… we’re built for creativity and problem-solving. And consider whether your actions are aimed at bringing about an outcome vs. trying to show that you’re on the right side. Performative activism is not helping anyone. And neither is doing nothing. So dig deep, dumplin’.
This is definitely bringing about poignant conversations in my life. It continues the pandemic’s themes of discussing what really matters, reflecting on the state of our lives and communities, and thinking about the kind of future we want. I’ve enjoyed thinking about these things my whole life, but it often was theoretical in the past. This feels new. I’m talking about this shit with almost everyone. Long, weird, substantial conversations. And I think having these conversations is the practice that will make the future different from the past. It really helps to work through a perspective with a friend. It improves our thinking and helps our ideas gain some heft.
We were in a superficial phase, in a culture that prized celebrity and convenience and cheapness over all else. Whether that’s exploiting labor of others (still happening), tax loopholes and increasingly cheap commodities (Amazon), or our staggering opioid and mental health problems. We’ve seen how vulnerable this leaves our communities when a crisis hits, disrupting the supply chains and stressing the safety net. We’ve seen that our colonial history of slavery has not yet been healed and our institutions are keeping us from evolving. We’ve seen that ignoring deeply rooted problems doesn’t make them go away.
Together we have the opportunity to dive in with reality in a very potent moment. And we have unprecedented access to hear other people’s stories and experiences and perspectives. But don’t miss the chance to inquire within. We don’t grow unless we integrate ourselves in the transformation.
Keep talking and thinking, sharing and reflecting, listening and dreaming. Keep trying. Then doing. The process doesn’t ever stop.