The calling to do more personal racism work came with all the events of 2020, as it did for many white people. Inside WMFDP | FDP Global, some of you remember we held three different calls with our consultants: The topics were around walking the talk, social justice and assimilating to a white male-owned and lead organization. I still remember the raw moments of those calls and the truths shared in the summer of 2020.
In the year and a half since then, here are the top three things I have had to face in myself that directly affect my ability to address racism:
- I have had to build my capacity to hold much deeper levels of discomfort in my body, to be willing to feel angst in myself as part of the territory.
- I am slowly letting the part of me die that wants approval of others, which can drive my performative behavior and rob me of the power to intervene, disrupt and change norms.
- I am growing my ability to STAY connected to myself when challenged by difference. This includes my own lifelong habit to focus more on others and underfocus on my will and desire, including interrupting my own disassociating and numbness.
Read on if you want details about my path.
I first enrolled in a course for white men by the organization White Awake called Deflecting Supremacy in the fall of 2020.
I was struck by how nurturing and “trauma-informed” the White Awake course leaders were in their facilitation. Their curriculum was not just aimed at the brain but plenty of exercises for the body and for strengthening emotional intelligence.
In contrast, most of my other trainings years ago from social justice organizations were quite confrontive. This shift in style inspired me to learn more about trauma-informed spaces.
The Deflecting Supremacy course was very history-based, some into new areas for me. This course was also one of the places which pointed me to Tema Okun’s important and recently updated paper on white supremacy culture. Her descriptions of the characteristics and their antidotes is a powerful tool to see beyond our own six characteristics of white male culture.
Another important event in my racial equity journey was Peggy’s departure. I had co-facilitated often with Peggy and was heartbroken when she left WMFDP a year ago. My deep knowing was that some of why she left had to do with race and the tiredness of being a woman of color senior leader in our organization. I took some of that emotional energy and started brainstorming a list of ways I reinforce white male supremacy at WMFDP. That list got expanded and examined in the WM in WMFDP caucus group last year.
I also began reading Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmothers Hands. He examines racism from a somatic perspective. I completed his nine-month program for “white bodies” on embodied anti-racism in late 2021, including monthly meetings and ongoing triad work with two other students. A huge part of Resmaa’s work for white folks is conditioning the body to hold the charge of race and building a culture and community able to support the ongoing work. It’s a long-term process and plants seeds for future generations.
I love the simple definitions that Resmaa uses:
- White supremacy = White is the standard for humanness.
- Patriarchy = Men are the standard for humanness.
I feel like a beginner with the somatic anti-racism work. I have gotten more used to the discomfort of the charge of race and being with it. There are many layers and ways to still be with and track what Resmaa calls the VIMBAS: vibes, images, meaning, behavior, affect and sensations.
My twin sister Marty has studied white somatic anti-racism capacity-building work since 2015 under mentors of color. Marty introduced me to Daniel, a somatic experience practitioner who also works with white bodies around race. In 2021, I did 40 sessions with him, getting me into my body to tune in or heal from old trauma or attachment wounds or to unnumb myself or reconnect to my anger. Ultimately, the point is to access more of me to be resourced around the work of DEI and be more whole as a leader and a person.
What does all this distill down to? Letting parts of me die. The part of me that performed and was addicted to being liked and approved of. The part of me that learned to survive through old attachment wounds by numbness in myself and paying more attention to others and what they are feeling and wanting than to myself. The part of me that abandoned myself in the face of others who push or violate boundaries. The enneagram nine part of me that can lead to “self-forgetting.” These patterns have also kept me from holding capacities to intervene in some situations where some of you wished I would have. I regret missing opportunities to accelerate our DEI journey and know better now what critical role I play.
My journey in this life has been to find and use my voice. To own my power. To stay connected to myself while honoring difference in others. To manifest my will to interrupt or disrupt inequity. To bring forth my own passion on these topics when it’s real for me even if it’s not perfect timing for everybody. I hold clear intent and I will continue to make my way.
I know I am making progress. After giving challenging feedback to another person last year — uncharacteristic of me until that point — my acupuncturist of 18 years was shocked by how my body had changed. She had been tracking a weak liver pulse for 17 years, indicative of limited access to anger. , For just as many years, my weekly men’s group would sometimes sit on me until I got angry just so I could find that part of me.
Last year, I finally blew that liver meridian open. My acupuncturist has never found that pulse weak since. I am slowly building the capacity to disrupt: First, to disrupt in myself patterns that block my effectiveness. Second, to disrupt barriers to inclusion and equity.
I want to see us at WMFDP | FDP Global (especially us white folks) collectively build our capacity to hold the anxiety and strong discomfort that comes from the charge of race. To be able to lean into it when it arises, planned or not. To also create time for race conversations. To welcome those who seek to speak, to appreciate disruption and challenge for the learning and as opportunities for more racial equity it creates.