PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS
“I know that your work is not for me.”
“As a white person, am I allowed to read this book?”
“I’ve heard you say that this book isn’t for white people, but I still really liked it. Hopefully that’s ok.”
For the last year, I’ve gotten to work alongside Austin closely as she has launched her beautiful and brave book into the world. And I’ve sat next to her at book signings where I heard comments like this over and over again. And usually there is some reassurance, that yes, when Austin was writing this book it was for and with black women in mind, that they would feel seen and be centered, but that doesn’t mean no one else can and should be challenged by its message or engaged by its words. And I watched in real time as the first line of her book was slightly reinforced: “White people can be exhausting.”
We really can be, can’t we?
So when Austin invited me to co-host her new video web-series, The Next Question, while I was so excited to bring to people what I believe are new types of conversations on race than they might be used to, where we “YES, and…” a lot more than we “no, but”, I felt a surprising amount of pressure at being the only consistent white person in the show. I wanted to model how to not be so exhausting in these conversations, show how not to take the topic back to areas where maybe I felt more comfortable or confident, how to not constantly be at the center. I had a very strong sense of how I didn’t want to show up, and a less clear idea of how I did. As a white woman in the work of anti-racism, I find there aren’t a lot of white role models for how to actually do this well.*
But I knew how important it was to show up, to probably not do it perfectly, and to just share what I know now from the last 17 years of being in conversations similar to these (except this time with MacArthur Genius winners and New York Times best-selling authors - eek!). So I did. And I might look back on some of what I said later and realize I’ve grown or learned (or in some cases unlearned) more than I said then, but that’s all part of learning and evolving, right?
If you are committed to racial justice, and my guess is you are since you are reading this, maybe this is something you deal with too. Might I suggest that we aren’t going to move the needle towards full equality by waiting until we know the perfect thing to say, or by fully understanding the complexity and history of racism before we actually start, or knowing that we are in a fully “safe”** space to start to fully engage. Maybe we need the reminder that perfect is not the goal; progress is. And I believe we don’t make progress without practice. We need to practice having conversations*** where there is risk at discovering a challenging idea or belief or where we recognize the best course of action is to simply listen for a bit, to sit in our discomfort and let that transform us, so we are better equipped at doing this work for the long haul.
Because as Brene Brown**** says, “we can have courage or comfort; we can’t have both.” These times demand some courage, friends. Let’s be brave and practice, together.
**Because’s here’s what - this was actually a very low stakes risk (I might argue it’s zero stakes) arrangement. My body was in no harm, the worst thing someone could say was that something I said sounded racist. If that occurred, I would have learned something and changed my behavior (and like my friends of color say, if someone is calling you out for something it might mean they have hope for you still, so that’s pretty reassuring!)
***Our first episode releases 10/6. Grab some friends, download our discussion questions at tnqshow.com, and let’s get to practicing!
****Brene joins us on episode 6! Be sure to check it out!!!