I saw a great Tweet recently. It really captured something I have been struggling with for the past year or so. The Tweet said (and I paraphrase): it’s fine to process with friends sometimes, and to listen when a friend is in need. However, a friend is not a therapist, and certainly doesn’t get paid to be one. In a nutshell, don’t dump too much emotional baggage on people- it’s not their responsibility, and it can be quite taxing.

Photo by Aaron Barnaby on Unsplash

There are of course layers to this- therapy is expensive. It isn’t accessible to everyone, to most. Therapy doesn’t work for all, and a majority of therapists are white and cisgender, which is important to note because people of color and trans folx especially experience much more difficulty accessing a good therapist if they have the resources in the first place. That is not to say therapists must share all life experiences with their patients, but it is to say therapists are people and have limits.

What I am struggling with is taking on the emotional dump for a particular group of people- cishet white men. I am struggling because it is my burden and I want to own that. At the same time, I find some of their “confidential” complaints problematic. Further, when confronting the problems, the response I receive is often one of outrage and gas lighting.  As in, “I just wanted to complain, I don’t need advice,” or “You’re not listening, you’re being condescending.” Their complaints are about a felt “oppression” because of who they are. While I can’t fight feelings, I can correct the false narratives that lead to these feelings- one of these narratives is that “white people aren’t given positions of power anymore.” So, what is the balance between listening to a fellow white person when they absolutely should not be airing these unfounded grievances on people of color, and struggling against the exhaustion of fighting this emotional labor handed off to women and non-men?

Giving up is not an option, because that would invite two different scenarios. The first is perceived agreement- allowing these bullshit complains to seem valid just solidifies their position of unchecked privilege. Ignoring them and demanding they take their problems elsewhere is also unhelpful, because then someone else is burdened. I’m working on developing more skills to confront without feeling emotionally wrecked after a thirty minute conversation, but this question interests me.

I think beyond working on stamina skills there is a fundamental point of view that needs to change. It is very related to this popular quote that has taken 1000 iterations, something like “Equality feels like oppression when you’re in a position of privilege.” The reality is, as we work toward equity and eventually liberation, privilege needs to be dismantled. It’s ok to be passed over for a job despite having the proper qualifications. It’s ok to not have the mic or be the face of an office or a movement. The reality still is that white folx will demand positions of power and more air time, and continue to espouse a narrative that allows us to claim oppression. Another reality is that white men will continue to dump these feelings on non-men unless other men learn how to listen and hold each other accountable. I think the most dangerous position is to be in one without introspection.

Horrible People (Or Not So?)

This past weekend, I traveled all the way across the bay to the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley for the American Academy of Religion Western Region Annual Meeting. That title sounds intimidating to me, but the meeting itself was great.

Pegasus Books Downtown sqr

Why was it great? Well, there WAS a bookstore around the corner. First of all, every panel I attended had more POC presenters than white people, more non-men presenters than cis-men, and the audience felt empowered to participate in deep conversation after each presenter finished their paper. The papers all mattered- they told stories from unheard actors, suggested how the way we do things in the academy and elsewhere is perpetuating harm, and offered alternatives. Keynote speaker Dr. Jane Iwamura led us through meditation in her talk on kindness. The audience members told their stories to gentlely tweak or further a presenter’s point of view. People didn’t feel afraid to put themselves in their work. Overall, I found myself at home in this space as a listener and learner (and especially an un-learner).

I also found something bugging me, that I myself need to unpack and unlearn. While the meeting was one of the least-white of any academic I have been to, whiteness still permeated the spaces. That isn’t surprising. One of my classmates developed the hashtag #maleconferencing a few weeks ago after a particularly egregious all-white, all-male panel responded to all-white, all-male audience questions. That hashtag definitely surfaced here too. Beyond the visible panel-audience relationship, I have found that white people who feel “aware” or perhaps as allies or “hopeful allies” find ways to confide in other white people to whom they feel “safe” admitting things. Better than putting the burden on a POC. The problem is when we separate ourselves and our “knowledge” from “those people.” We lift ourselves up by putting others down.

This comes in a few forms. At the meeting, I presented a paper on college chaplains and how they cross boundaries to serve students. What my research showed was a lack of real intention, in some cases, toward students’ racial, ethnic, gender, ability, and other identities. In my paper I didn’t make a value judgement on this because it is “research” and I was channeling what my subjects shared with me. But the audience rightfully didn’t buy that. They wanted to know who served students without thinking about this. “Maybe this is obvious, but mostly white men,” I told them. “White men, white women, and Christians.” The people for whom the institution of chaplaincy was built. After the panel ended, a few folx found there way to me. They started telling me about “a terrible person who did ____.” How heartbreaking and shameful. In doing this, we white people uphold white supremacy. We just do it a little differently.

I struggle with this because something I’ve been socialized and taught to do is “be an expert.” Not to mention focus on strengths and not weaknesses. Skills not growing edges. The idea has always been to further hone what I’m good at and forget what I’m not good at. Most all white people are not familiar with admitting their own harm and reflecting on it. I definitely avoided it for a very, very long time. My goal was always to prove “how much I listened.” Truly, the only thing I prove is how much privilege I hold in being able to learn from the folx who taught me. It seems so laughable now, but I write this because I hope to nudge the folx that look on disgusted at white people who perform acts of racism to self-reflect more. We all perform them, and letting go of our need to separate ourselves begins to break down supremacy in ourselves.



Acknowledging a Mistake, Finishing a Race.

Many of my fellow writers (and others) have shared that they feel lost for words- what do we add to the conversation this week, especially as we still feel a sense of shock? I really want to sit with that tension, especially to state that I don’t feel like I can give any wisdom or say anything inspiring like, “it’s going to be ok.” What does that mean, “it’s going to be ok”? I decided that sharing two things I learnedM specifically as a white person this week may be helpful. This post isn’t well-written or even logically in order, which reflects the sentiment.

PC: Annie Spratt

Tuesday of course was a day of fatigue for me and pretty much everyone at work, most especially the students. My colleague did an amazing job of creating a space for the community to come dialogue and for many, this was the first space they could do that. I listened to my students, my beloved Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, unaffiliated students, share their emotions as well as they could. There were certainly tears. And there was love. There was an unabashed, boundless, courageous love that filled the room. I felt it in every hug, every handshake, even the way we looked at each other. As one of the dialogue facilitators, much of what was said echoed my emotions and fears, but I didn’t share.

That evening, I got a call from a really good friend who led the USC Interfaith Council with me. We threw out suggestions for what we could do on our campuses and how we knew folks were mobilizing already. It felt really good to talk to him. After we finished our call I went on a run and listened to Valarie Kaur speak dazzling beautiful and powerful words on our Revolutionary Love Conference Call. She echoed much of what I and many were feeling and told us to think about this moment as birth: first, there is darkness. Then, there is beginning, and creating, and building. One of the Revolutionary Love Fellows shared a heartbreaking reflection on feeling like a failure to our country, and I sobbed as I ran the last few steps to my door. The rest of my evening was pretty quiet- I tried to write something for National Novel Writing Month, to keep up my word count.

On Thursday at our Spiritual Advisors’ Meeting, I realized too late that I hadn’t processed my own feelings fully, especially not out loud. The idea that a man with a track record of normalizing sexual harassment and assault will control decisions and moreover, messages to people in our nation that say “women’s bodies are up for grabs” elicits a significant level of panic for me. I mention this for personal reasons, but also cannot forgive the messaging that has normalized homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, the fact that Black Lives don’t really Matter. Further, to lose my friends who are undocumented, DACA-mented, and/or are immigrants in the blink of an eye feels shattering- it’s as if what I wrote about in college, the rounding up of Japanese Americans and immigrants and physically removing them is coming back to haunt us. So, in a group of 20 people from different faith traditions, I sobbed. I told them that I was scared. That I had been ignorant for being critical of interfaith communities who practice a “basic” understanding of what interfaith is because clearly- we need to encourage any positive interfaith action in full force. I told them the students were my heroes this week. They fricking SHOWED UP for each other, despite their fear and anger. And I made it about me, which I shouldn’t have done. I cried white tears, and learned the necessity of self-care this week. It was an important lesson to learn.

This weekend I flew home to LA to run a 10K and half marathon at Disneyland. The theme of the weekend was Superheroes, which felt all too necessary. Home is strange for me right now- my family did not vote for the candidate I wanted to see in the Oval Office, and have been vocal about their dismissal of people who feel afraid and angry. I’ve worked on asking open questions about why they made their choice, and tried to push back with some counter ideas to their analysis. They are my family and I love them, and we don’t agree. I’m going to sit with that discomfort for some time.

This morning I finished my second half marathon race. This weekend was dedicated to self-care because, as noted above, I learned an important lesson. You ran 13.1 miles for self-care? Indeed, while excruciating at points and not what I love doing at 5:30 am every Sunday, the race was something to which I looked forward and for which I trained over the past 12 weeks. Running is a practice for me, it helps me stay focused and motivated. The race started in the dark and just before we sang the National Anthem, I thought: this is what an intentional community looks like.

Around me, there were people who looked like me and people who didn’t. There was a man next to me who told me he came from Japan for this race and donned a full Minnie Mouse dress and ears to run. “You look so great!” people told him. Four runners in wheelchairs started the entire race. There were people over the age of 70, people from Kansas and Oregon and Australia, people of size and people who were very slender, people who had never run a half marathon before. There was a man who had made the US Olympic Marathon Trials. The course was tough- not hilly, but all asphalt, and as the sun rose it got warmer. For the hour and forty five minutes I struggled through that darn course, people encouraged me unflaggingly. Even in the last 2 miles, we gave each other thumbs up and simple, “you got this!” greetings. It felt like a community. Not perfect, not all the same, just people sharing a goal.

I’m going to focus on simple relationship building in the next few weeks. Finishing this race and thinking about the necessity of building bridges, the dire, urgent necessity, is where I want to start. I’m going to keep reading, keep asking my friends and students how they are feeling, keep supporting. And I will make mistakes, and try my best to write about them in a way that encourages learning.