The white noise of shame
I think it was Brené Brown who I heard say something along the lines of it not being the pain that causes the suffering, it is the shame about the pain.
These last two weeks I have been feeling a lot of shame. The shame comes up and I sit with it. I examine it. I analyse it. I forgive myself for it.
Brené Brown says that the antidote to shame is empathy. So I am practicing that.
I am reading ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Layla Saad and it is cracking me open and getting me to take a good look inside. There are so many different things I could share that have arisen for me as a result of reading her book and listening to her podcast as I begin my journey of exploring my own white privilege and white fragility, here I will share a couple of examples.
Last week I recalled a moment about 8 months ago while reading Remmy nursery rhymes from a book that I loved as a child. I remember seeing a particular image of a black person, an image that I considered to be racist. I am trying to remember exactly what it was now and I can’t picture it, I just know it was instantly uncomfortable, reminiscent of slavery and made me close the book immediately so he wouldn’t see it.
I then hid the book so well that I still can’t find it now. I hid it, I forgot about it and did not tell my husband about it until a couple of months later.
Hiding the book that I considered to be racist, didn’t make it go away.
Hiding thoughts that might be considered to be racist doesn’t make them go away.
And it is from this place of hidden away shameful thoughts or beliefs that I believe white fragility comes from. I see it in myself, I have an awareness of it now, though often this awareness appears retrospectively. Having powerful conversations with my husband about race is definitely helping as he is now calling me out on stuff and noticing when I feel uncomfortable, when my ‘fragility’ pops up and when I try and check out of the conversation. I am now practicing staying in it.
This week I also recalled an instance from long ago when an ex once told me that he often got stopped by the police at the train station near where we lived. He told me he was being racially profiled. I remember initially being dismissive of this. When his friend immediately agreed and said he also got stopped too and then asked if I ever did, it dawned on me. Oh. Maybe they are right. Not maybe. They are DEFINITELY being racially profiled. But the thing is my awareness stopped there, I thought it was wrong and yet not once did I see my part in it. In fact, shamefully, I am only seeing that now almost two decades later.
As I reflect back on that scenario I ask myself, what on earth made me think that they weren’t being racially profiled?
Innocence. No. I don’t think I can argue that.
Blindness. Not that either.
Instead an unwillingness to acknowledge how this world is set up to favour whiteness, and therefore to favour me, and I am a white cog in this white system perpetuating this notion that whiteness is ‘rightness.’
Shit. I don’t want to admit that. And yet what feels true to me is that by ignoring this, by hiding thoughts and beliefs away, I continue to feed into a system that favours whiteness above all else.
When it comes to conversations about race, the deafening white noise of shame has prevented me from hearing the voices of black people, indigenous people and people of colour. Now, it is time for me to turn off the white noise, sit in the shame long enough to feel it’s discomfort, to practice empathy, to examine the subliminal and the not-so-subliminal messages I have assimilated these 37 years, to unlearn the stuff that needs to be unlearned, to do the work necessary to examine these thoughts and challenge them and upgrade them. To take action in the creation of a fairer and more just world and above all to truly and deeply listen.
Oh and to find that book and get rid of it.