I’m not going to link to the post* because I’m still embarrassed at messing up so badly, but despite all my “practice” in mixed-race setting, I got myself in an emotional knot and made a posturing inappropriate comment in a blog thread in which Black women were talking in really deep and important ways about their experiences. Even though I really wanted to connect human to human with the tread, my comment was more focused on trying to present myself as experienced and liberal than on connecting with the experiences people were writing about. When called on it, I apologized, and I tried to behave myself thereafter, but I know the people over there think I’m a jerk, and I feel bad about it. So I’m just sitting with the bad feeling, because I think it is good for me. This is not the first time I’ve realized I’ve been a jerk, and I’m afraid it won’t the last. It’s too darn easy to be smug about racial issues when you spend a lot of time with White folks who are more clueless than you are, so as painful as this is, I’m accepting it as an important reminder that there is an objective reason why humility is the best stance.
I knew when I was writing my comment what the ground rules were, and I know that the reason I screwed up was that I got myself in an emotional tizzy that left me more worried about my own feelings than about the needs and feelings of other people. One thing that drives people of color crazy is having to deal with the emotional needs of White folks confronting their own internalized racism and discomfort in charged interactions. If you are White and paying attention to what is really happening and what people of color are saying about their experiences, it can feel just awful, and you feel like you need to be DOING SOMETHING to help, or to distance yourself from all that awfulness. These are legitimate feelings and we White folks need to deal with those feelings, but we need to do it with other White people, I think, because people of color have their hands full already dealing with being the targets of racism.
This ties in with the theme in church yesterday, Hearts Breaking Open. It was done in music and song and was a lot more poetic than I am, but the general point was that we have to let our hearts break, let ourselves be open to the suffering in the world. We cannot fix the world, but we can respond to the world by letting it into our hearts. One of the lines (someone was being quoted, but I don’t know who) was: philosophy is safer than love. When we are confronted with the suffering of others, it is too easy to shut the heart down. It is safer to intellectualize or to be cynical than to feel all that pain. Or to focus on our own pain and not other people’s needs, like not visiting a loved one with a terminal illness because we “just can’t bear to see him that way.” We were reminded that the world is both very beautiful and very broken, and we live amidst that beauty and that pain. When we open our hearts to both the beauty and the pain, we have the possibility of responding to others’ needs.
* OK, I realize this is more stupid impression management. Of course I should link to the really WONDERFUL post and discussion thread over at stuff white people do in which Black women talked in honest detail about their experiences, where the discussion really evolved and they explored commonalities and differences. One line of discussion, for example, involved their common experiences in programs for the gifted. Another was about not being treated as feminine. The main theme was the “Strong Black Woman” who can take anything, whose feelings don’t matter. It is painful, wrenching, but also very thoughtful and insightful and truly beautiful. My heart was broken open by reading what they wrote, even as it was also broken open by recognizing my own brokenness.