A disclaimer before you read…
As much as I appreciate your readership (more than you could ever know), please ask yourself if your time may be better spent absorbing more diverse content. The following post was written with the intent to sort out my thoughts. I am a writer and putting the proverbial pen to paper is my way to work things out. I am in full support of quieting White voices so that Black and other POC may be heard during this time and again, I stress that this is just my way of processing what is going on. I didn’t have to post this and some of you may think I shouldn’t have; the intent behind posting this during this time, when we would all do well to expand the content we are taking in to include Black and other writer’s of color, was to share my thought process in case someone else might relate to my own personal experience. I will repeat this many times in this post. If you do continue on to read, I thank you for your interest and support, but regardless of whether you read my words or not, here are some other great voices you can check out!
And soooo many more if you take the time to look!
For those of you who are still with me, here goes nothing…
Lately, I’ve been having a little bit of anxiety about where my place in the world will be in the future. I fully comprehend the self-centeredness, and thus white privilege, behind that single statement alone, but (as I said in the intro) putting such thoughts into words helps me to sort through them.
I admit that I’ve been channeling optimism lately; how the pandemic is teaching us to be more self-sustaining, how we’ve had to slow down and have had more time for self-reflection, how we (as humanity) are experiencing a massive and powerful transition that could lead to something great, and, as with any transition, it takes time, error, and intention to learn how to transit safely and effectively. I am not blind to the massive struggle that this virus has created for many peoples’ physical and mental health (my own family affected as well), nor to the centuries-long struggle through this country’s racist patterns. I am, however, excited to see the leap that has been made (at least as it has been portrayed on social media) from sharing our banana bread recipes to calling for an end to white supremacy and systematic racism in just a couple of months.
Some truly awe-inspiring and horrifying moments have occurred during this time; the pandemic itself, the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery (the list tragically goes on), the protests, the shift in collective awareness, etc. I find myself challenged daily in accepting and learning about new roles in this brave new world.
I will refrain from talking about what I may or may not have done, contributed to, donated, posted about, or voiced aloud. I will say that I have been happy to learn how to hold space for Black and other POC voices. Coming to terms with the fact that I hadn’t consciously been doing so for most of my life has been a hurdle for sure, but one that I am honored to jump, however naive I may be; this challenge is nothing compared to the struggle that Black and other POC have had to face and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to even compare this at all.
Coming back now to my first sentence, selfishly referring to my own anxiety. I do not need validation in my feelings here, I am already aware of them and even, to an extent, of where and how they originated; I think that I am just seeking guidance from speaking these thoughts aloud.
I am a youngish (early 30s) person with a small business teaching yoga and aspirations to, not only expand in this field, but also to blossom my creative energies through other outlets, having some of my written work published being one example. I am white and am from a vastly white and conservative region in upstate NY. In my own limited experience, I have found ease and some hardship alike when it has come to developing and growing my business, though none of which I’ve had to worry about in regard to or attribute to the color of my skin. Mostly I just have to worry about finances, PR, and becoming a better yoga teacher. As for my other creativity-fueled dreams, such as becoming a published (poet) author, I now cannot help but find myself a little disheartened. This may sound a little confusing, so let me explain as best I can…
My poetry is, in all probability, relatable to a mostly White audience, and to White women in particular (this is, of course, a generalization and not to say that no one else could enjoy it). My poems touch on themes of yoga and wellness, witchcraft, and spirituality within nature. In poems where I may be describing a person, I never talk about skin color, but I can see how my words could infer “whiteness” all the same. This was something I never once thought about before. I did have concerns about how my work could relate to a larger audience, but I knew I was working within a certain niche and decided to go for it anyway. I’m sure that anyone could read my poems and find something to relate to, but the burning question has become (and maybe should always have been) whether or not it touches a diverse audience of readers at a soul-level.
Since George Floyd’s death and the intense surge of BLM protests, I have been deeply struck by the amazing and powerful poetry, art, writing, music, speeches, herbalism (I can go on and on) from Black and other POC. The inspiration has been endless and I am happily looking forward to this becoming part of my (and hopefully everyone’s) life; more Black ideas, thoughts, and visions. I recognize my naiveté and ignorance of Black culture because of where I come from and the education I have received.
Here, I will again come back to my own selfish troubles… I am worried now that there may not be a place for my words or my voice in the world. Not just because melanated voices have been amplified, but because my work may just be too much like work that has come before. In amplifying Black/POC art, the standards of success now seem incredibly high, way higher than they appeared (to me, in my own unique experience) before this movement really took off at the end of May.
Again, I want to say that I am aware that I am worrying about something that is in no way helpful or even contributing to this movement, but as it is my own worry about where my own path in life may go, I’m going to say it all the same. I certainly do not want racism to persist in this world and hope that I can effectively contribute to its eradication as best as I can, even if that means that my words/work may not find a platform.
I don’t feel comfortable in asking where to go from here and I should absolutely be challenged in this way. Cutting one’s own path in life is a challenge for sure, let alone having to worry about the physical safety of oneself or one’s family or community because of one’s skin color. I have not had to experience that at all. I will never be able to relate. Even in comparing any patriarchal oppression against myself as woman is not really a fair parallel. I guess what I’m getting to now is that White people will, and absolutely should, have to work a little harder to make themselves valid; to passionately and fairly work for their successes, rather than simply be “deserving” of them (I want to stress that not all White people don’t work hard or earn their way, but frankly, we’ve had a significantly easier time).
In truth, I am frightened that I will be unable to live up to the level of intense creative vision that is about to bloom. This is not anyone’s problem but mine and I am not looking for sympathy or words of support. I am not frightened by the celebration of Black content, but I worry that my work will not be strong enough or that I may not be able to produce creative content that will harmoniously compete in this evolution. In the simplest terms, this means that I need to bust my ass at what I do so that what I’m putting out there can induce admiration and interest through itself and not because of who or what color I am. This may sound like common sense; shouldn’t all art be created through hard work, the aesthetics of which (be they literary, visual, etc) fuel the reaction to it? The simple answer is yes, but it is naive (IMO) to think that industries as “open-minded” as the creative or yoga worlds haven’t favored white-produced content. Creating art of any kind is always going to have a bit of competition attached to it and as we continue to elevate and celebrate Black and POC creators, the competitive field will naturally and reasonably broaden. I’ve never thought of myself as competing again Black creators before because I have always felt as though I were just competing against other creators in general, as well as against my own improvement standards. However, in the creative communities I have been involved with, this has included mostly White people. And not just in my own local community, but the communities I’ve followed on social media also, be it yoga and other movement-based wellness, visual arts, or poetry. My feed predominately featured White women doing things that were invariably similar to what I was doing. I have recently discovered so many new pages, artists, speakers, writers, business owners, etc. who are Black or POC and have already learned quite a bit about what I need to change within myself. A recurring theme seems to be that I need to work harder; at my business, in my creative practices, in my personal relationship to white privilege, and in my support of Black or POC art/businesses/voices. I don’t expect to find mastery in all of this, nor perhaps should I want to; the ability to continue to learn, change (myself and my my actions), and support (the global community, especially Black and POC locally) is the best way to put my privilege to use right now. Once again, I am speaking on behalf of myself only. This will look and feel different for everyone.
I know that I am right now taking up space that could be better used to amplify a melanated voice (see intro), and of that, I mean no disrespect to the movement, as this amplification is so important right now. This post was written with the intent to explore my own thoughts and feelings, but also that others (likely other White women, as many of my readers, followers, and students are) will resonate with these thoughts and may offer any insight to peaceable conversation (this applies to everyone, not just the demographic of my usual readers).
As I conclude this essay, I vow to work harder and not just for myself, although that is where I can most effectively begin real change. I vow to work harder to promote diversity in my community, to recognize that I will never understand the trauma that most Black and POC live through, and to support and make space for their voices, creations, and presence in this world. I know these words are not enough and that many times my actions will not be enough, that I will fail in some of these attempts, and that I may still ignorantly and selfishly get caught up in my own self-promotion (though, this is not always a bad thing when done in fairness and moderation). I truly appreciate you, Reader, and hope that you will feel compelled to work harder and to take a closer look at those I have included in this post.