at the center of the forest

The first thing I want to say to anyone reading this that I hope you are well. I hope you are taking care of your heart and mind, logging off when you need to, making sure you are drinking water and getting enough sleep. We need to preserve ourselves, show ourselves some grace.

I am writing because I do not know what else to do. The past 24 hours have been an amalgam of news reels, doom scrolling, group texts and poor sleep. Every few months I remember that I can stream the news on the television in my room, so it's been an influx of tense images and information. Writing this exact sentence has taken me ten minutes because I keep picking up my phone and checking social media. The TV in front of where I sit cycles between domestic terrorists, police brutality, and the global pandemic. I want to cry but nothing is coming out. As unsurprising as the last 24 hours have been in theory, it still feels surreal.

During my 8:00 am scroll through instagram (which I do not recommend), I came across a poem by Martha Postlewaite titled "Clearing":

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

I'd never heard this poem, nor do I know anything about its author. Literary context is important but there is also merit to the experience of reading something for the first time and taking it at face value, in the context of yourself. I was immediately struck by the poignancy of these words, having unintentionally read them for the first time now, today.

Through everything that has transpired over this year, through the last 24 hours and the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and the intense polarization of this election year, I admit that I have often counted myself as "not one of them". Maybe not a good white person, but definitely not a bad one. I have happily othered myself from Trump supports and people I know that have outwardly expressed bigoted sentiments. I have started conversation about white supremacy, some of them damaging or severing the relationship I had with the person with whom I conversed. It was easy in that moment to think to myself, 'Good riddance. How were we friends to begin with? When it comes to the important issues, we are obviously nothing alike'. 

But we are alike, these people and me. We are alike because I am white, and I cannot separate myself from the ways I have benefited from white supremacy. Peering out at all the white people in the world who are wrong because of X and Y and comparing myself to them in response does not change anything. It does not enact anything real. It only enforces the notion that I, unlike these "other" white people, have somehow reckoned with my whiteness to the point of being absolved of it. But this is untrue, could never be true, and acknowledging the privilege that comes with this mindset is the only way to come even close to this so-called reckoning I seek. 

Rather than point fingers at anyone else, what needs to happen is an inward look at myself. Do not try to save the whole world. What have I done to foster this climate of complacency? In what parts of my life am I still silent or timid in the face of white supremacy? What am I doing to eradicate injustice and bigotry in my own inner circle, in my own community? Shouting into the void, while sometimes cathartic, is never as productive as I think it to be. Adding posts and videos to my instagram story about the horrors of our systemically racist country lets the world know how I feel, but it does not actually impact the horrors of said world. Or do anything grandiose. White people being actively anti-racist, in real time, is the only thing that can give us a truly more equitable world. It is the only way of life that will provide reparations, change the white-cis-hetero status quo, ensure that the destruction caused by whiteness and individualism and lack of community care can cease. We are the ones lagging behind. 

Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life.

I am responsible for clearing out the dense forest of my life. I am responsible for acknowledging the ways my whiteness continues to benefit me and harm others, however unintentionally. Because it does. If you are white, it benefits you as well. This is not an individual condemnation but it calls for individual action. The institution of whiteness is a deadly one. It is clear from the events that transpired over the summer that if these people at the Capitol were not predominantly white, if they were not fighting for a delusional white-centric cause, the outcome would have been shockingly different. The people who scaled the walls with confederate flags are not far-off distance creatures. They are humans. They are our family members and friends who have never been challenged on their hateful rhetoric, that we haven't started or pressed a conversation with because it felt daunting. White silence is what allowed this to happen. This attack was just as surprising as it was expected.

This situation is not one I would say calls for patience or waiting until our purpose falls into our hands. We must all look around at our lives and greet our reality head-on. We must not let this be a "would you look at that?" moment. Trump is scheduled to leave office this month but the hate living in these people’s hearts will not disappear. It will be quiet and tactful and ready to strike again. Leaving the year 2020 behind means nothing when the hate that surfaced over the past four years has been brewing for decades, centuries. I must look at myself critically in every situation, challenge myself while lifting others. I must look around at what is actually in front of me, what I can actually affect, and make that the priority. Lamenting about the shortcomings of others and living in comparison perpetuates the injustice. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.

Thank you, if you have read this far, for indulging me. I want to make it clear that I am in no way a moral compass or a beacon of hope. At the bare bones of it, my voice is not important right now. It is my duty to listen to those who have suffered at the hands of white people and white institutions, to donate money and time where I can, to strip myself of the inclination to call myself a "good" white person. This is not a competition. Nobody wins this battle from a white person talking about themselves - that I know for sure. But I am using this moment of expression to hold myself accountable, as a reminder of what matters when I lose myself in the void. Real equality, compassion, and justice matter. Fighting against racism, sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, suppression, and corruption matter. I hope you will join me in these pursuits. This journey of being better is one where we as individuals may never arrive at the destination. But it is a matter of collectivity, of the betterment of our future. Take care of yourselves, friends. Sending love.