8 June 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not

 

Dear Diary,

Thursday was Demonstration Day.

Because black lives matter.

Friday was working through feelings with my middle baby who’s not a baby.

Because she’s ANGRY, and she’s SAD, and she doesn’t understand why precious people like her aren’t treated fairly. And I don’t have answers for her other than It’s OK to be furious — THIS IS RIGHTEOUS ANGER, BABY — and it’s OK to be distressed — THIS IS HEARTBREAKING — and it’s OK not to understand inequity and injustice and the horrific treatment of our fellow humans — BECAUSE RACISM AND OPPRESSION AND ABUSE AND MURDER SHOULD NEVER MAKE SENSE — and I am WITH YOU in all these feelings. Me, too, baby girl. Me, too, with the rage and the grief and the confusion.

On Saturday, she graduated high school in the middle of a global pandemic…

…at an alternative, drive-through style, individualized graduation ceremony which I was worried would feel lackluster and less-than, but which, instead, was marvelous and beautiful and thoughtfully personalized…

…an obvious labor of love from teachers and staff and administrators who bent over backwards to make the day special.

And we even managed to take Graduating Sister Pics before the sky opened and heaped a celebratory deluge of water and hail upon us.

On Sunday, the little church where we’ve raised our kids assembled a graduate slideshow and special message particularly apropos for Such a Time as This as our students reel from being upended, as our nation protests, as we wait to curb the pandemic, as their futures are uncertain. She felt honored and loved, and, to be honest, I was pretty into Zoom Church from my couch with a warm dog on my lap and my baby girl next to me and a smile on her face after a cacophonous weekend.

It was a respite.

A relief.

A sprinkling of calm. 

Until it wasn’t.

Because at the end of church, in the prayerful silence Quakers reserve for congregants to share any leading or messages they feel are from God for the whole group, a white man shared at length his angst that he’s being asked to apologize for or be ashamed of his whiteness and how hard this national situation has been on him.

And listen closely, please, Diary, because I want to be SUPER CLEAR. This man did not mean to hurt anyone. He did not intend harm. He is not evil. He is not “bad.” He was sharing his feelings and sadness.

AND ALSO, he hurt people, and he caused harm.

Not just to my daughter who stiffened beside me and then buried her head in her hands and started to cry. Also to the other people of color who were witnessing the centering of white fragility over centering violence being perpetuated on black, indigenous, people of color. In short, “but my feelings are hurt” shouldn’t be part of a conversation about people being murdered. And it especially shouldn’t be shared as a “message from God.”

Of course, we’ve been trained from infancy in white, evangelical culture to be polite. Not to interrupt. Not to confront. And we’ve been trained in white, Quaker, evangelical culture to be silent after someone speaks so we can digest the message. Contemplate it. “Sit with it.” 

I’ve known for some time I’m not a good evangelical. I’m no longer polite.

I’ve known for some time I’m not a good Quaker. I’m tired of prolonged discernment meetings which allow vulnerable people to continue to be marginalized and harmed in favor of giving the powerful “time” (years) to “come to consensus” about fully welcoming vulnerable people into the church. I’m no longer willing to be patient. I’m no longer willing to pat Quakers on the back for their historical work on the Underground Railroad and Abolition and Women’s Suffrage without the acknowledgement that the Quaker church actually split over those issues with a HUGE number of Quakers opposing those efforts and dragging their feet (for years) the same way Quakers today are splitting over or prolonging fully welcoming LGBTQ+ humans into their midst or ending their silence over racial injustice.

I just… NOPE. I’m very nope about the whole thing. 

I can’t participate in it.

I can’t stay silent about it.

I’m frustrated.

Also, angry, sad, and confused.

AND I love my Quaker friends and family. 

AND my Quaker pastors are doing critically important work for justice and community.

AND I’ve been slowly returning to Zoom Church and finding succor and solace there.

It’s ALL OF THE ABOVE. Anger, hurt, frustration, confusion, separation, love, admiration, and connection.

So perhaps you can imagine, Diary, as I listed to that man — that well-meaning, hurting man who was trying to share vulnerably and openly inside a safe community — the way I was experiencing spiritual whiplash. On the one hand, I wanted to be kind and gentle to him. On the other hand, my daughter and other people of color needed that shit shut down. On the other-other hand, I wanted to honor the silent space Quakers are supposed to reserve after someone speaks. On the other-other-other hand, I wondered who was going to say This Isn’t OK. 

Eventually, I realized that last one was gonna be me.

So I ruined Zoom Church.

Oh, not in the sense that it’s a wasteland of destruction. I wasn’t Godzilla in Tokyo. But I did unmute as soon as he was done and NOPED it hard. That’s not a message from Christ, I said. And white people aren’t being asked to be ashamed. We’re being asked to acknowledge historical, systemic ways we’ve benefited from privilege that hurts people of color. 

I was blunt. I was not focused on being kind. I feel I can say with certainty I hurt his feelings because I can’t imagine my feelings not be hurt if I was on the receiving end of what I said. I can’t say with certainty that I made any point with clarity other than the NOPE. 

And I feel now, after processing it for a day, that it was necessary AND I may have done it poorly.

I did the Most Important Thing which was to center people being harmed over people “intending” not to harm. I did the Most Important Thing which was to stand up against injustice while it was happening. BUT I also called the man out when I could have possibly accomplished the Most Important Things by calling him inAnd I’m not going to sit here at my kitchen table and suggest that I don’t have some reflecting *I* need to do about my own words, too. Or my demeanor. Or my adrenaline fueled justice complex.

I’m just saying, Diary, this is a messy time, and we humans are messy beings, and in order to navigate it well we’re going to need to evaluate and then reevaluate and then reevaluate where we’ve caused harm — even if we didn’t mean to, and even if we were trying to do the Most Important Things, and even if we did the Best We Knew How at the Time. 

We’re going to need to make the perpetual choice to listen and learn and know better and do better. Me, too, Diary. Especially me, too.

Zoom Church ended quickly after that. The pastors had a meeting. There’s going to be follow-up, which is right. And my baby girl left her celebration service from our living room in tears. Followed that evening by socially distanced strawberry shortcake with the neighbors to celebrate. There were cards and cash. There were words of congrats. There was camaraderie and sitting in the street and talking about Life and Justice and Sorrow and What’s Next. And we finished the weekend with heavy hearts and also with smiling. Which is, in the end, its own kind of blessing — this real, true, complex life of Both/And.

With love after a loooonnnng weekend,

 

 

 

P.S. Friends, it’s SUPER tempting when people write things like this to weigh in on who you feel was right or wrong, but I’m going to ask you not to do that. PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE refrain from telling me I did a good job or that the man didn’t. I don’t need reassurance here. I need, instead, to be able to sit with my thoughts and evaluate my words and behavior like a big girl. I don’t want votes on my behalf or against the man. I feel like I can say with confidence we’re both complex people trying hard to be better. And I feel like any comments about me or him centers US in this story — two white people — over the community who’s being hurt. INSTEAD, please feel free to share RESOURCES, ARTICLE LINKS, BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS, etc. — especially those written by people of color — that you’re finding helpful or meaningful as you’re learning how to navigate racism and/or privilege. 

THANK YOU. ❤️ 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
16 comments
  1. Reconciliation is a thing.
    Calling the one up who you called out and having a conversation… that is also a thing.
    Maybe you don’t do all things perfectly, but you do things well. And maybe God can use even the most broken among us for his own glory.

    I feel for him. My own husband has expressed similar feelings and we’ve talked about them and processed them together, because he is having to learn new things. He is of a generation in which everything was Right with the World, because the way things were are the way things are meant to be… that’s what we have been taught, and now we’re learning that what we were taught was wrong and he’s confused. And sometimes does feel shamed and hurt, even though he also felt absolute outrage at the video and the injustice. He thought, all these years that we were all in this together… and he is learning that our together hasn’t been equal and he needs to learn a new way.

    Hopefully this man will be able to start processing that learning as well. *hugs* Beth you are amazing. And loved.

  2. “Silence is violence” is a phrase I’m not terribly fond of, but staying silent is being complicit. Speaking up is important. I’m off to check out your link about calling someone in.

    Congrats to Aden on her graduation!

  3. I like the Silk Ring Theory applied to allyship. https://medium.com/@namira.islam/modifying-silk-ring-theory-for-allyship-c7ae4963912d

    Essentially, those closest to the center of a crisis (in this case, BIPOCs) get supported. Everyone in the concentric rings radiating outward from those closest to those in the center gets to dump their own feelings outward from the center, not inward. Case in point: man who is feeling his own feels gets to feel them in his own ring, and process them with those he trusts and can support him–Not process them with people who are suffering more than he is.

    Like if I have a broken toe, I don’t complain about the pain or inconvenience to my friend with brain cancer. My feelings are legit. But context matters.

  4. I appreciate that you said something even if you knew it wouldn’t be flawless. AND that you are willing to examine yourself and check out those flaws afterwards. Your example of not being silent and also not making the man a villain is what we need more of. As a mother of a 14 yr old boy, 17 yr old girl, and 3 adult boys, I am particularly moved by how this affected your daughter sitting next to you. I could not imagine keeping my mouth shut, but I also don’t know if I could have made any sense talking through angry tears.

  5. Just this quote, which is from the article you linked to about calling in: “When it comes to supporting marginalized groups, the impact of our actions is more important than our intentions.”

  6. I’ve been telling myself for a month that I’m just about to start reading Stamped, but my brain is not cooperating. In the meantime I’ve read three debut YA novels by Black women. You Should See Me in a Crown is a joyful rom-com about a queer Black girl. A Song Below Water is about two Black girls in Portland, one of whom is a siren and one who can’t figure out what she is. And I’m actually still reading Song of Wraith and Ruin, which is a high fantasy written by a woman from Ghana. So if you want to read about Black people having adventures and falling in love and not getting murdered by cops, I recommend all of them.

  7. Hi Beth! I’m a sociologist and I’ve studied race/class/gender inequality for over 20 years. Books I like: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, and Reclaiming our Space by Feminista Jones. Of course, White Fragility and How to be Less Stupid About Race as well.

    This website is great too:
    https://www.goodgoodgood.co/anti-racism-resources

    I can answer questions that your readers have as well, if you want to put something like that together. 🙂

    Hugs to you!

  8. Currently reading “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness “ by Austin Channing Brown. Good accompaniment to your post. Hard discussions will make for a better world.

  9. You did right. Bravely. And I’m not so certain it was unkind. Just raw. But it’s a raw time now for anyone vaguely aware of what’s transpiring. I’m old enough to remember to ‘60s, and this time feels more electric than then.

    Oh, and every last one of us is made in the image of God Himself. We certainly need Him to relax us into actually showing it.

  10. Congrats to the grad!! YAY!!! So happy she had celebrating and it looks fabulous!
    And sometimes being a person is hard. Sending you love as you figure this out. ♥

  11. I completely understand this! I’m working super hard to not let my fear of messing up stop me from speaking up. I spoke up loudly & bluntly in an online professional setting this week. It was NOT received well (which is fine with me). I’ve been thinking about my word choice & will do better next time. But I will continue to speak up when I see white privilege & systemic racism cuz I’m way more concerned about the safety & security of Black people than hurting a white person’s feelings.

    I’ve been working through Layla Saad’s book – Me & White Supremacy. I highly recommend it.

    Signed- A reformed & a bit rebellious people pleaser.

  12. Thanks, Beth, for putting words to this struggle, and for your vulnerability in sharing it.

    A few pieces I’ve found helpful and powerful this week:

    Protest and Pentecost in a Pandemic:
    https://corwinmalcolm.com/writing/protest-and-pentecost-in-a-pandemic?fbclid=IwAR2hHTKE6ymBpGK7CPdZTXiqzj8jWMgoRg3C1nomP3Sw4WhxPCJ_RXoaDEs

    Message to White Allies from a Black Anti-Racism Expert:
    https://medium.com/progressively-speaking/message-to-white-allies-from-a-black-racial-dialogue-expert-youre-doing-it-wrong-39c09b3908a5

    I was reflecting last week with my therapist about how much training was involved in, say, the Poor People’s Campaign during the 60s, and the critical role the church played. Particularly the Black church. I’m talking with my congregational leaders about what our (predominately white) church’s role should and can be in this. It’s going to be a long road, and a hard one. I anticipate lots of mistakes and hurt feelings.

    So: solidarity, sister. I’m grateful for you.

  13. “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.” –Prince Caspian (CS Lewis)

    May we be gracious to each other and ourselves as we wrestle with being made in God’s image and being broken, fallen, imperfect creations–all at the same time.

    Congrats on the graduation! Grief and joy, sorrow and delight—yet more paradoxes.

  14. Ugh – what a HARD situation. On so many levels. I just wanted to thank you for the link to calling someone ‘in’, which I had never heard of before but will try to take on board. I’m from New Zealand and am proud of our prime minister advocating kindness, which we could all do with some more of.
    Thank you also for sharing your struggle about privilege. I too am trying to do ‘more’ regarding owning my privilege and speaking up and out and also knowing when to just shut up because this isn’t about me. It’s a work in progress but I’m willing to do the work because I believe that it’s only fair that I work to counterbalance the easier life I have simply because of an accident of my birth that lead to white skin.
    Reaching out from the other side of the world and sending Aden a great big Congratulations! for graduating.

  15. As a middle-aged white woman with a lot to learn about racism in America, I have found the following books helpful, with still lots more on my “to read” list:

    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
    Anything and everything by Toni Morrison

    I have also found it helpful to seek out and follow black activists to follow on social media. Yes, I have friends who are BIPOC, but I don’t want to burden them with my ignorance and force them to educate me when there are lots of good resources available for me to read and explore on my own.

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