This Is the Work

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Every chance I get now, I ask people, “What stands out the most for you, from the last three months and the last three weeks?”  Every answer is unique, just like every person is.  And I cannot really predict what anyone will say.  It’s fascinating.

In this time some of us have been blessed with a chance to really look inward and reflect, consider, reassess, recalibrate.  But what will we have to show for it?  What is our Work?

This week I had eleven conversations centered around COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.  Only two were incidental; the others were all intentional, most initiated by me.  Only three were with people of color, all women.  I have learned so much, and it motivates me to continue my query widely.

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I started following Seerut K. Chawla on Instagram, who developed these graphics that really capture what we are all witnessing around race.  Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin manifest the insidious and overt versions of weaponizing white fragility.  They and others instigated the tidal wave of activism we see today.  I feel weirdly, gravely grateful.  They kicked open, with utter impunity, the door to the profound opportunity for both individual and collective growth and advancement that we confront, right here, right now.

We are all called to face our discomfort head on, to stand up and take responsibility.  We can no longer escape the harsh reality of choice that we all must continually face:  Do what’s Right or do what’s easy.  Let’s assume for a moment that it really is that simple—all qualifications moot.  It may be unrealistic to expect ourselves to choose Right every time…because qualifications.  But aaaaarrrgh we do not do it nearly, nearly enough.  Nothing will change without a critical mass of us choosing Right, much more of the time, for a very long time to come.

performative allyship

My chief concern is that the current moment passes, and nothing meaningful will result.  I learned two new phrases this past week:  “virtue signaling” and “performative allyship”.  Basically they mean that we respond superficially to a trendy peer pressure, to appear supportive of Black Lives.  I imagine part of such words and even actions are sincere to some degree.  But they serve mostly to make us feel better about ourselves.  And the risk is high that this sudden hyper-motivation will go the way of New Year’s resolutions, once we have soothed ourselves, in order to revert to our prior, comfortable obliviousness.

My friends, we cannot let that happen.

But how?  What do we need in order to really seize this chance of a lifetime, to sustain action into meaningful policy reform?  We need one another.

Our work is to listen, self-educate, engage, and persist.

We must tolerate, even embrace the discomfort, knowing that it is nothing compared to what Black people have suffered for 400 years.

Our approach must be founded in Curiosity, Humility, and Respect.

Our goals, first and foremost, are to learn, to understand, and to connect.

authentic allyship

We can and should each start small, with our own inner work.  Actually this is not really small, is it?  Looking at these panes, I bet most of us don’t live all the time in Authentic Allyship.  This is the Work.  The activation energy for collective change requires all of us together to overcome, before we could ever hope to sustain that change.

And there is good news!  Going together synergizes our energy, lowering each of our individual thresholds for openness and learning, allowing us to advance the collective that much faster!  We can speak and act in our own small circles of influence—our tribes.  Then we reach out and merge our tribes, bonding in solidarity, common purpose, and love.  Is it not inspiring??

Stop with the ‘yes, but…’  Do the right thing, more and more and more and more and more.  Support each other doing it, show up for one another—hold each other up!  Allow for mistakes and imperfection, for continuous learning.  Seek the very next opportunity.  We can do this, Yes We Can.

The pieces below inspire me.  Take the time to read and listen.  Share in the comments what keeps the flame of change alive for you.  I see things changing already.  Let’s keep going.  We’ got this if we go together.

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The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial” by Ibram X. Kendi

Denial is fueled by the stigma associated with being a racist. Feeding the stigma is how “racist” is considered almost like an identity, a brand.

But a racist is not who a person is. A racist is what a person is, what a person is saying, what a person is doing.

Racist is not a fixed category like “not racist,” which is steeped denial. Only racists say they are not racist. Only the racist lives by the heartbeat of denial.

The antiracist lives by the opposite heartbeat, one that rarely and irregularly sounds in America — the heartbeat of confession.

How to Build an Antiracist World, TED Conversation with Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Resources from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley

Unarmed Professionals Will Now Respond to Non-Criminal Police Calls in San Francisco

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