“Excuse me, but you have a bit of toilet tissue stuck to your shoe.”
“Pardon me, I think you have a bit of spinach in your teeth.”
I never like hearing — or saying — these things. SO. AWKWARD. And yet, after the momentary awkwardness, I’m always very appreciative of the one who chose to alert me to what I’d failed to notice on my own. How much more awkward would it be if I’d walked into worship trailing toilet paper from my foot, or smiling at strangers in the supermarket with a big glob of food in my teeth?
In these moments, we sometimes feel as if we are judging, or being judged, when we know that’s not the case. The person didn’t put the tissue on their own shoe and leave it dangling on purpose. They didn’t intend to leave part of their lunch between their teeth. And the observer isn’t trying to hurt feelings. And yet somehow we tend to get all weird about it, anyway.
In my own journey to understand the impact of my words and actions in the world, especially as a person who holds white privilege, I have grown deeply grateful for trusted companions who are willing to alert me to the proverbial spinach in my teeth or tissue on my shoe.
“There are countless different cultures on the continent of Africa. So, it’s probably better if you didn’t say ‘African culture’ in your sermon at the second service.”
“Paige, I thought you’d want to know that his name is pronounced KAEpernick, not KaePERnick.”
“Let’s practice saying ‘persons who were enslaved’ instead of ‘slaves’.”
These may seem like small examples, but they are real things that have been said to me at UUCC and for which I am truly grateful. These microagressions are the kind of thing that feel like piling-on for those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color). Unchecked, I’m at risk of causing harm over and over again. It matters not whether I intend to cause harm.
I’m determined to continuing growing more mindful and aware of my own impact, and I appreciate those around me who know that I’d rather not walk around with the figurative spinach of prejudice and racism in my teeth.
Just in the past week I’ve been introduced to new resources that are helping and challenging me. I have procured Layla F. Saad‘s Me and White Supremacy Workbook, and I’m committed to completing it (as opposed to promoting it to you so that you assume I completed it, but without my doing the real work of examining my relationship with and complicity in white supremacy).
And yesterday I participated in her #LearnWithLayla class on “3 Signs Your Allyship Is Helpful vs Harmful”. (Harmful = adding to (rather than alleviating) the emotional labor of BIPOC; centering whiteness or the experience of the person who holds white privilege; expecting public/external reward for one’s actions instead of the internal reward of knowing that one simply has done the right thing.)
Also, I viewed Jay Smooth’s TED Talk — How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race — in which he encourages us to think about conversations about race like we do dental hygiene, which requires daily attention to stay healthy. And sometimes still we benefit from from friendly intervention: “Excuse me, you have a bit of spinach in your teeth.” I encourage you to invest 12 minutes of your time watching the video yourself.
Finally, a reminder about upcoming opportunities for you to engage in meaningful dialogue about race and bias:
- Tuesday, March 5 — I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough? Walking the Talk of Racial Diversity and Inclusion. An afternoon event and an evening event at Howard Community College with Lisa Gray, Associate Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion within Campus Life at UMBC, and Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White.
- Monday, March 11 — Courageous Conversations Kick-Off event at St John Baptist Church (no registration required for kick-off event). Register on the Courageous Conversations website to participate in the 4-week series of conversation circles beginning March 19.
I’m going to keep eating spinach, and it will surely show. So keep those gentle reminders coming, will you?
Imperfectly and lovingly yours,