As a white woman I always try to work towards remembering my privilege – after realizing the harm I caused in tears that I was conditioned to use as weapons examining my emotions means that I am responsible for the impact of what I do/say/type even if my intent isn’t malicious or even something I’m aware of. I’m going to write around the perspective on being called out/in with a relationship of accountability from my perspective as a white woman.
The process of learning is not a straight line, checked off list, once and done, much like being an ally, being in a relationship, weeding, sweeping the floor, or any other work it is a constant, daily practice.
Complicated in this practice is the work of unpacking – our racism, sexism, classism, and other ways we are oppressive or marginalized. For example with white womens tears – I would constantly find myself crying when I didn’t want to cry (and to be clear crying can be healthy and necessary) what helped me change that behavior was to get angry that as a girl child I was was taught that my tears were more important that my words, that adults and men only would see ME if I cried but not before then. The internalized sexism impacted how my tears took on a life outside of my conscious decisions, the racism of being a white woman connected me to the historic and current violence of white toxicity. I had to do the work of both confronting my role in a racist system and how I was both harmed (personally) and used to caused harm (directly & systemically) by a sexist patriarchal system. Finding a healthy expression of my emotions also means unraveling the abuse as a child – so many different areas that are rife with big feelings close to personally understanding of self. It’s no wonder so many white folks shut down when we are confronted with the harm we cause. But understanding doesn’t excuse, understanding means we move closer to changing our behavior and growing – learning.
A recent online exchange brought me deeper into learning – providing lessons I’m still working through that felt helpful to share with others both in what I learned and in what I can learn from their feedback.
My immediate responses were impacted by the expectations of friendship and communicating information I was assumed to have but didn’t so that my first responses were explanation. Thinking more about the comments helped me realize “Fuck I’m being held accountable now what” thoughts. Because honestly I’m still in the place of defensiveness around accountability (it’s a really hard habit to break, like white lies around things like if I have eaten or not) recognizing where that defensiveness comes from helps us open up to the experience of learning.
It is ok to realize that sometimes the best response is simple and to take time to think, versus fast typing to protect our rep or ego. Remembering that online conversations, like in person conversations, can complicate the process of learning/accountability when things move too fast for us to reflect and respond within the conversation (we all have had the best responses to conversations in the shower the next morning, laying in bed falling asleep, driving). This is also something helpful to remember when we are holding others accountable.
While I sat in my deeply uncomfortable feelings there was a process I went though to keep myself grounded in learning and not reacting in a defensive/dismissive way.
“Well they were mean/didn’t know/are just as bad/etc” Trying to deflect the accountability away from myself when I get checked I always find mentally defend myself with but this person does xyz/isnt perfect/causes harm. It’s not about them it’s about me – I cannot control them but I can decide how I move in the world and take the lesson presented to me.
Even if I don’t agree with (or am ready to learn) everything they are saying, asking myself “Is there truth in what I’m being told” helps move me closes to the lesson in the exchange. Sometimes it means a strengthening of my understanding of my perspective, sometimes it means changing my thought process – but at least for now for me neither of those feel great.
If I have already responded or am working on a response asking myself “Am I being defensive or explaining myself” helps me approach the exchange in a way that offers more growth. If I feel like I have to explain myself it tells me I didnt do a good job to begin with and the people it out are showing me space to grow. Figuring out why/where I am being defensive also highlights areas of where I can learn.
It helps me to recognize that it does not feel good – its tension and feeling not liked and feeling like saving face and feeling like the worst and all the negative feelings rolled into this one thing. It’s not that the exchange itself isn’t good but that we have again been conditioned to think of things in a binary of right/wrong good/bad without room to make mistakes and grow in learning. Learning isn’t a binary but an organic process like the branches of a root system or tree branches, the flow of lava building over what we knew to move us towards where we are going.
Because of that binary thinking (which is a big part of white toxicity) a lot of us immediately want to hide our mistakes because we must be perfect or we are vulnerable. The truth is we are vulnerable and in community with each other. We cannot undo what we have done/said – don’t delete unless asked to or hide or avoid but also recognize how to help yourself think through it in the future. It helps ourselves and it helps those around us who can learn from our mistakes.
Yes folks can hold you accountable and be mean/rude/harsh – and it is ok to have feelings about it or need to set boundaries around it. Be mindful of your privilege – if you can ignore it or not be impacted by it the harshness especially if coming from the marginalized is a part of the lesson. Sometimes it means they trust you as a person to grow and share and sometimes it just means they are tired and need help. Having identities addressed especially when you are a part of an oppressive group is not the same as being name called/personally attacked, if that is a place you struggle reflect on how that identity is something you benefit from.
And sometimes it is ok to realize you are not in a place to learn the lesson – that you personally have work to do to be able to navigate all the pieces, but don’t discredit the exchange. It can be something that you look back on as a turning point in your understanding.
Often even people calling us out or calling us in and holding us accountable also grew up with conditioning of the binary right/wrong – its why and how we isolate and ignore those we don’t agree with, holding them more accountable than we do with ourselves. Remembering our shared humanity is vital to growing together. When we dehumanize each other the first step to finding shared humanity must come from the person who systematically has power – asking someone who is marginalized to see you more humanely than you see them is dehumanizing and harmful. Accountability must be grounded and rooted in our shared humanity – outside of that the work first must be done to recognize the humanity and that work needs to be done by those aligned with those denying humanity.
The transformative power of change has been conditioned as scary and terrifying unknowns instead of the enriching process of growth and learning where we will stumble and make mistakes. Accountability is a step towards that, embracing it and settling into it changes us.
I look forward to responses, feedback, and learning opportunities in the comments here. Please share with your thoughts – I’m excited about conversations around this.