Reactions and Responses

Hi Friends,

I have been trying to write about what has been unfolding in the Middle East for a month. I have drafted and edited and asked friends for feedback and edited some more. And during this process, most of you have heard nothing but silence from me, and for that, I apologize. I condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia, dehumanization, and oppression of any kind.

I have been grappling with the frenzy of urgency and the complicity of silence. Harm can be caused by both. The rush to “take a stand” has caused many to pick sides and to feel isolated or divided from their communities. Pain upon pain upon pain. One person I read noted the additional spiritual violence many are experiencing. I want to validate how complicated and confusing many of our feelings are right now.

I have struggled to write this post. (I acknowledge the privileges that I have that allow me space and time and distance from what is happening.) I have wanted to avoid making mistakes. I have been confused about how to talk about a situation in which two systemically impacted groups of people have been positioned against each other, resulting in mutual dehumanization and violence. I have been worried about calls for unwavering loyalty to one group over another to justify violence instead of validating the shared humanity of each and every one of us.

Many of us have been reactive and in pain and seeking unequivocal validation of our sense of threat. Most of us are not skilled in validating someone’s feelings even when we do not agree with those feelings, and so many messages and articles and posts have contributed to binary thinking and people choosing sides. Cycles of dysregulation and spirals of emotions. Division and fear compounded.

Each of us respond to perceived threats in different ways and it is important that we continue to show compassion, love, and curiosity about each other and resist pulling away or turning toward despair, hate, or violence. These moments of panic challenge us to respond rather than react, something that takes practice. I have been reading Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger and it has been very meaningful as she speaks about the aftermath of 9/11 and the reactions that followed against anyone who could be remotely associated with terrorism. I fear that we are repeating those mistakes.

Recently, public reactions are shifting. Many more people are denouncing violence and are calling for a ceasefire. Many more people are responding with compassion and love and understanding while still holding the line of human rights as a baseline.

I am so grateful for the thoughtful people who have reached out to their communities quickly and with compassion. I have so many examples now of how to hold space for grief, how to express compassion for suffering, and also how to hold the line of the value of all humanity and human rights, ideally bringing people together in the process.

We must resist the forces that seek to divide us from each other. Most of us are harmed by fights for power and dominance by governments/states/organizations that are not motivated by shared humanity. While a power imbalance exists between Israel and Gaza and should be acknowledged, the power imbalance I want to highlight is between those in positions of power who are willing to use violence to harm civilians and the rest of us who want to live our lives in peace and do not hate each other. (Credit to the last paragraphs of Robert Hubbell’s post here.)

If you have also been feeling confused or hesitant or doubtful, I recommend the following resources, action items, etc. There are many roles to play in changemaking. Consider your capacity and preferences and jump in wherever the opportunities present themselves — donating funds, mutual aid, writing to media and elected officials, marching or protesting, educating yourself about the history and context of Israel and Palestine, and amplifying voices that are not reflected in our mainstream news sources. We can hold each other and build our connections with each other because so many forces right now are trying to divide us.

If you want to learn more about how to support Palestinians in particular, here’s a resource document that several people have put together and is being updated frequently. I was given permission to share it with you.

These resources have been helpful to me; maybe they will be for you, too:
- Nicholas Kristoff’s “We Must Not Kill Gazan Children to Try to Protect Israel’s Children
- Iman Jodeh’s “Opinion: Human rights for Palestinians should not be controversial
- The Anti-Racism Daily’s “Recognize state-sanctioned violence” and “Solidarity Isn’t conditional
- Kurt Streeter’s “‘I Love You. I Am Sorry’: One Jew, One Muslim and a Friendship Tested by War” and NewGround’s website
- Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s “a lot of things are true
- Ryan Grim’s “Gaza and the Empathy Gap
- Valarie Kaur’s work, including this quote
- Solutions Not Sides “Avoiding Antisemitic and Islamophobic Hate Speech
If Not Now
Standing Together
Peace Now
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Ali Abu Awwad
The Jerusalem Youth Chorus
Jewish Voice For Peace
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
There are many more out there.

Please, do not lose hope and do not turn from each other. There are so many examples of people working together for peace and standing in the name of humanity. Find something that you can commit to and keep going. You are not alone.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Freezing, Silence, and Shame

Hi Friends,

Happy Fall! I hope your school years have started well (for those of you caring for school-aged children) and that things are settling into a new routine.

I have been reading a lot and remembering some experiences and wrestling with the fact that there have been several times when a White person has acted in a racist way towards a Black person and I have been silent/frozen in the moment. I have not been walking the walk of my anti-racist talk. In response, I have been educating myself about bystander interventions and other strategies I can use to show up differently in public.

I’m finding that silence is really common, especially among White women. From my own experience, I have been socialized to avoid making anyone else uncomfortable (read, other White people) and I often feel socially disempowered in public spaces even though I’m not. My socialization can cause me to question what I’m observing and to make excuses or explain away someone else’s harmful behavior (read, if they are White). My/our tendencies to not get involved, to freeze or stay silent, need to be unlearned.

One of the books I read recently that really focuses on “nice White silence” is White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How To Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. I recommend this book with a caveat: If you are a White woman, this book will challenge and disrupt you. You need to have people or resources in place so that you do not get stuck in a disrupted state of shame or guilt. Before you read it, make plans to move through those feelings (advice heavily informed by Shelly Tochluk).

In my own processing of White Women, I turned to BrenĂ© Brown and her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.” Brown focuses on the role of shame in our lives, particularly for women, although also for men, and I have found her insights to be absolutely essential for understanding my own journey of self-work in anti-racism and in understanding other White people’s barriers when doing this work (or to starting it in the first place).

For example, when White people start to learn more about their complicity in upholding White supremacy structures, they often respond with denial, bargaining, guilt, and shame. Brown says, “When we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed. We are afraid that we’ve exposed or revealed a part of us that jeopardizes our connection and our worthiness of acceptance.” (p. 20) Fear of being branded as racist is very strong.

One of the things I have encouraged my readers to do is to always continue with our self-work, our own growth and healing. Brown says, “Empathy and connection require us to know and accept ourselves before we can know and accept others.” (p. 49) If we truly want to be in relationship with people in our communities, we need to be kind to ourselves and work on our own barriers to empathy and connection. And, it turns out that being afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone is a barrier to empathy and connection (p. 56).

Brown has struggled with the same things we do: “I’ve learned that it is better for me to accept the fact that I struggle with many of the same learned biases that other people do. This has allowed me to spend my energy unlearning and changing my prejudices rather than proving that I don’t have any.” (p. 59)

Beyond looking at how we treat ourselves when we are experiencing shame, we must also look at how we are treating others. Do we use shame to try to change someone else’s behavior? It won’t work. Brown says, “Are we using shame as a punishment because we think it will foster real change in people? Or are we shaming others because it feels good to make people suffer when we are in fear, anger or judgment?” (p. 66)

This past weekend, I participated in a “Depolarizing Within” workshop through Braver Angels. I’m still learning about this organization, and I found a lot of meaningful tips for rethinking a lot of my own polarization and how I can address that. One of the things I learned is how, even though I have diversified my media intake and authors I read from a racial/cultural perspective, I still mostly read people who I agree with. This reinforces my ability to “other” entire groups of people and is something I can and must address.

This is not a “both sides” argument. It simply means that if my goal is to encourage White people to engage in anti-racist/anti-oppression work in themselves and in their communities that I need to ensure that I approach those connections with respect and accuracy. If you want to learn more about the workshop, you can access the handout here (this is shared with their permission).

I would love to hear your thoughts about any of this. If you want to learn more about shame and the Black experience, I’m currently reading You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience by Tarana Burke and BrenĂ© Brown and it is such an important collection of work. And if you’re ready to move “away from individual learning and practice and into collective action that builds power,” check out this article from SURJ and/or find ways to support the UAW strike.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

I Still Have Hope

Hi Friends,

I hope you’re all having a good summer so far. I’m sorry I’ve been quieter than usual since I wrote last. Some really impactful things have been happening for me lately.

I have been engaging with some really wonderful growth and healing work since December and that has included some restorative justice training in the last month or so (shout out to the DC Peace Team, and thanks to Leah for sharing their info with the group!).

I have continued exploring my ancestral roots and the strong connection of that work to anti-oppression work, wrestling with harm caused and harm experienced, and gaining a greater understanding of my own identity and opportunities to shift the trajectory of my lineage.

I was a witness to a family experiencing a life-changing, life-ending time in their lives, watching people who could help refuse to do so. I am still processing my role in seeking justice for this family, finding my way along the path of next right things.

I have accumulated so many amazing resources to share with all of you that I’m feeling a bit buried and I don’t want to dig out by blasting all of you with an overwhelming amount of information (we get enough of that from the daily news cycle). I’m also feeling sensitive to the constant bombardment of the challenges our world faces — climate change, oppressive and dehumanizing systems, significant power in the hands of the few, threats to democracy, intense polarization and so much anger.

While the truths about what we are facing feel insurmountable sometimes, I still feel hope. I want my updates to you to reinforce the sense of community that you are part of as a changemaker in this world. I want you to feel connected and resourced and encouraged. I want you to know that you are enough, that you do not have to do this work to make you a “good” person, or to deserve humanity.

We do anti-oppression work because we know that our own well-being is tied up in the well-being of everyone, not because we feel guilty or ashamed. We have chosen to incorporate justice and solidarity work into our lifestyles because that is who we are. We understand that this is lifelong work and that our own individual growth and healing contributes to our abilities to effect change in our communities.

We believe that how we take care of each other in this world is one of the most important things.

Nicole Cardoza of Anti-Racism Daily said recently, “I can’t wait for motivation to make a difference. And quite frankly, our world can’t wait for that either. I’ve made this work part of my daily practice, just like brushing my teeth and walking my dog. I’ve set routines and habits that ensure it’ll get done, regardless of how motivated I feel. … Part of that practice is the reminder that nothing will change unless we try. Mariame Kaba famously said that “hope is a discipline,” and that resonates with me. If we only believe in change when we see progress, we’ll lose our way.”

Michele Chang and Lisa Cohen from Kitchen Table Conversations about Race & Belonging shared this in one of their recent newsletters: “Something that I found particularly helpful is the idea that the “window of opportunity” for advances in equity and inclusion is not closed; it is merely not as wide open as it was in the summer of 2020. This perspective allows us to realize that our efforts are still needed, that we can still get through the window to minimize the harm of the “fire” inside the house (representing racism and other oppressions). Michele pointed out that as we consider how to show up now, we may want to lean into the ways in which we can be more agile and creative. We may need to “limbo” our way through the window or look for alternative ways into the house around the side or back. Also, we don’t only need firefighters for this effort; we also need architects, engineers, water carriers, and those who can help us to rest and recharge, among others.” (They gave me permission to share this and their contact info, asking me to invite you to join the Table!)

Raising our children (or interacting with children in general since I know not everyone here is currently in this stage of life) can be an essential form of changemaking. Here’s encouragement from Anti-Racism Daily about talking to kids about race.

Community Safety Agenda was created recently by a whole bunch of human rights/justice organizations that provides a clear model of what our communities need and how to get there. Let this guide you in your work.

Did you know that July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? Learn more here.

At the risk of seeming too optimistic, the National Governors Association announced a new project called Disagree Better: Healthy Conflict for Better Policy. Tell your governor that this is the kind of politics and discourse that you want to see.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.