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Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable [Part 2]

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

By Kristen Elde, who lives in Leeds, MA, with her husband and preschooler

From the introductory handout at Act for Social Justice’s racial justice workshop series: In this workshop series we will look at our own understanding of race & racism and how that impacts the way we talk with our children about race. … Our main goals are for participants to: Gain a deeper understanding of race/racism/white supremacy/racial justice; Build relationships that allow for better communication about the above concepts; Set the foundation to work together for racial justice; and, Establish goals for personal next steps at multiple levels—personal, family, school, community.

Since the conclusion of the three-part racial justice workshop facilitated by Act for Social Justice, I’ve thought a lot about my experience. I’ve thought about how finely tuned and effective Angela’s and Shela’s approach as facilitators had been. They’d created an environment that felt safe and inviting, nonjudgmental—accommodating of everyone, no matter where we were at on our path. They’d kept us in the racial justice space, steering us back when topics of gender got too much play. And although warm, the two hadn’t jumped in to respond to participants’ observations with nods and other affirmative gestures intended to make a speaker feel more comfortable in talking about difficult topics, which I’ve realized is something I see (and do). Neither were they quick to challenge directly what people shared, even when a more nuanced perspective might aid growth. They listened—really well. That’s not to say they didn’t contribute substantially, they did. They just did so in a way that gave us participants room to stretch our thinking and perhaps arrive at a different conclusion more organically, on our own.

For example, they emphasized throughout the workshop that no matter how challenging and uncomfortable racial justice work may feel at times for white allies, people of color always have it harder. The emphasis took root. To paraphrase one participant toward the end of the last session: I think back to my 20s, to before I had kids. It felt like such a wide open stretch—I had more time and space and less stress and fatigue compared to today. And now, it occurs to me that people of color don’t generally get a stretch like that at all. They’ve had to fight through every period of their lives.

I’ve since thought about my comment on how race conversations likely aren’t easy for white teachers—and I now see clearly that something far less easy is being a person of color in a world in which white supremacy continues to reign. And while that doesn’t mean white people’s difficulties can’t be acknowledged, reminding myself of the relative ease that white privilege affords is helping and will continue to help me push past anxiety brought about by not so fun exchanges like the “why should I?” one with my neighbor earlier this year.

Speaking of white privilege/precedence, I recently realized that, in talking about race, I don’t yet think to share my own racial identity. For instance, the other week I emailed an Asian American acquaintance, racial equity advocate, and successful children’s book writer/illustrator. I was asking for her insight into my potentially representing kids of color in a story I’d written. While I’d felt good about reaching out, it didn’t occur to me until after hitting send that I’d failed to note (because there was a good chance she wouldn’t remember me) that I was inquiring as a white woman. But it did occur, and I followed up.

I’ve also kept in touch with my accountability buddy from the workshop—we became fast friends and are working together, along with other likeminded parents, to drive the change we want to see at our kids’ schools. And on recognizing that it’s time, I’m deepening conversations with my kid about racial inequity, who the other day asked about jail. I took the opportunity to introduce the concept of mass incarceration, encouraged by a fellow workshop participant who recently raised another “advanced” topic with her kid: the fact that police officers often treat people of color differently, and far worse, than they do white people.

Prompted by the assigned reading Stages of Racial Identity Development, I’m thinking about my place on the continuum. I want to better understand and work through my own blocks that hinder my capacity to serve as a white ally to people of color. I want to listen more.

And: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’m working on it.

Kristen’s family at the recent Pride parade!

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