Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really enjoy feeling uncomfortable. Some of you may be up for the challenge, but uncomfortable to me feels icky. Icky feels like that physical “shudder” I feel when something just isn’t right.
You may notice the title of this blog post has “v.2” in it. That’s because writing v.1 was uncomfortable, so I set it down for a week. Here I am in v.2 and yep, you guessed it, I’m still uncomfortable writing it. This time, though, I get it. I need to feel uncomfortable. Way too many people feel uncomfortable every day of their life, and have for 400+ years. I thought COVID-19 quarantine was uncomfortable. My daily routine got obliterated, I couldn’t see my friends, my favorite restaurants closed.
Then, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. All of a sudden, the discomfort of COVID-19 lost a little luster. Soon after, Breonna Taylor was murdered. Followed by George Floyd.
V.1 of this blog had a lot of COVID-19 references in it. After some deep self-reflection and others’ input, I realized, the pandemic had become comfortable to me!
Because the subsequent murders of three Black people was far more uncomfortable to talk about, let alone think about.
I sat with this new level of discomfort – the awareness that I was doing what I had always done – what we have always done – ignore, avoid, shy away from, claim I “don’t know what to say,” give money anonymously, the list goes on and on. Until one day, I couldn’t avoid myself any longer. No more waiting to know what the “right thing” to do is. “Just do the next, right thing, Lauren.”
There is a set of lyrics from Frozen 2 I have not been able to get out of my head. And as I write these words, I realize even my saying them are me speaking from my place of privilege. I am a White woman with a Master’s Degree, living in a comfortable midwest home, who buys popcorn and soda at a movie theater to watch a Disney movie with my husband and three daughters on a Friday evening. And to be honest, I didn’t know what “privilege” even meant until two years ago. Not kidding. Back then, I wouldn’t have even dared put my thoughts on paper for fear that someone would find them and think I was the most arrogant, spoiled-rotten, middle-class woman thinking she was trying to sound like she understood people of color. I didn’t. I don’t. And I’m trying.
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
Black people have been saying – screaming – this first verse of lyrics for hundreds of years. Was I hearing them? Maybe if the media was loud enough. Was I listening? Maybe for a day. Sadly, when Ahmaud’s murder hit the television screen, it’s like I heard the message of darkness in a new way. The next, right thing meant to not shut the tv off too early, yet again.
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing
I found myself grieving what I did not know or understand. It is a heavy feeling – trying to unwind a lifetime of beliefs and values and words and actions – in order to find a better way. And then, as I continued to listen, I heard that my grief is nothing in comparison to Ahmaud’s family’s grief. Or Breonna’s. Or George’s. Or my Black neighbor, classmate, pastor, or friend’s wife. No, my grief is heavy and theirs is heavier. My grief may feel new to me, yet, the grief felt by people of color has been felt day after day, year after year, for hundreds of years. We have to recognize this. It’s too big of a burden to be an I thing. Systemic racism is a we thing. Always has been, always will be. There’s no use debating if it’s true, false, right, wrong, past, present, or future. It’s reality. And it’s grief.
When I started learning about my privilege a few years ago, I didn’t want to recognize it because I didn’t want to grieve it. I knew what grieving entailed – lots of layers that have to be felt in order to be grieved. Talk about ultimate discomfort! I am ashamed, not of my privilege, but of my ignorance. I’m even more ashamed that I ignored my ignorance until enough people were treated unfairly to shake me. I feel lost. But, do you know what Brene Brown says? She says to meet shame with vulnerability. (If you haven’t heard of Brene Brown, keep reading). So, finishing this v.2 blog post is my next, right thing toward erasing my own shame.
Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor?
But it’s not you I’m rising for
Just do the next right thing…
I’m not sure what direction to go. I think a lot of White people would agree with me. We just.don’t.know. And I am pretty sure we’re all saying, “Can there be a day beyond this night?” Whereas before, this verse would have been the perfect excuse for me to just turn my head, smile, and move along, I’m now challenged to acknowledge the system of which I am a part and to do my part.
In her book, Everybody’s Got Something, Robin Roberts writes, “When you are down and you don’t know how to pick yourself up, start where you are.” There are a lot of stars guiding us, but we have to follow them. It is not their job to pull us along. They are already pulling too big a load.
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
About the time I started hearing and listening to my Black friends, I was also resolving to live one day at a time. I have been a longtime fan and participant of 12-step recovery programs, and ODAT is a common slogan heard in those rooms. Now, I am fairly certain, adopting ODAT as a personal mantra was the next, right thing I could do to prepare myself for this journey I’m on to learn about racial tragedy, trauma, and inequality. “But break it down to this next breath, this next step…” I can read an article, watch a documentary, listen to a podcast, invite a Black colleague to tell me her story. I’m definitely stumbling blindly. As I tell my clients, though, stumbling is still moving.
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing
What’s “done,” right? I’m sure people of color thought, hoped, and prayed “done” would have come a long time ago. And here we are, it’s 2020, and it feels like the beginning. I am part of that problem. Systemic racism includes me. I was born into it, and I participate in it every day, without trying, without knowing. “Everything will never be the same again.” We have to make the choice to hear and to listen. And to do whatever the next, right thing means for you. For us.
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Written by Lauren Eisleben