Metaphorically speaking, I agree with the lyrics of The Indigo Girls’ song when they sing “we’re better off for all that we let in.” The song reminds me to be open to challenges and growth, but of course sometimes “all” the suffering of the world is too much and needs to be balanced by celebration and laughter. It is a never-ending calibration of the self.
I have been thinking about these lyrics in terms of whiteness and racism, prompted by a small reading and discussion group that I attended this past week. I am always struck by how complicated racism is, because systems and people are so complex, obviously. But what is not as obvious is how the complexity can offer a dodge for dealing with real oppressions. How tempting it is to throw up my hands and say, “it is so complicated!” Conversations among us shift quickly from race to issues of class, academic hierarchies, gender, ableism, and sexual orientation. What is avoidance, what is recognition of multidimensional exclusions? I come back to the idea of an imperfect balance: sometimes I fall, committing a microaggression or even a major aggression in some thoughtless way; other times I sway, righting myself at the last minute and reflecting on a “near miss;” perhaps I occasionally get it. I assiduously avoid confrontation, failing to call out others’ behaviors that are offensive or problematic. I can rationalize my behavior as that of a “nice girl” who doesn’t want to publicly shame others, but in the end, I am ducking the job I need to do.
I believe that I am racist because I live in a racist society, full of injustices to so many people, and that we are all hobbled and seriously out of whack by the way the systems in which we live scar all of us, killing so many, too soon. Perhaps by blaming “the system” I am also ducking the challenge to heal myself. So, let me (re)commit to trying to love my imperfect self, which includes healing the fear of anger and the stuckness of habit. Also in the song by the Indigo Girls quoted above is the line: “The greatest gift of life is to know love.” It’s a powerful, but difficult, gift.