Get Uncomfortable! (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 20)

Another week, another inexplicable shooting of a black person. And still it is very difficult for many White Americans in the United States to accept America’s racist foundation–as old as our country. The simple, difficult truth is that that our government invested long ago in the myths we unconsciously live by. But, like a concentric circle, our actions ripple through time and touch lives in myriad ways that we may never understand. Even so, we can begin to awaken from the stupor of willful ignorance–abandon the dark caves and step into the light of day. We don’t need to dwell in the past, to acknowledge it.

We all know it happened. Slavery happened. So did a whole bunch of other unfortunate historical events. Even if our grandparents did something, we don’t need guilt or shame–just awareness and consciousness about the legacy we’ve inherited. Denial won’t change the truth. On the other hand, Radical Acceptance can help us come to terms with the total and complete truth of our collective and personal histories. In fact, a contemporary, unapologetic approach to truthfulness allows us to recognize and reconcile our personal truth with those of our community. This can bring healing and restore lost trust and hurt where we need it most: In our hearts.

Lesson #20: Watch the documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth with your accountability, church, sangha or reading group. Discuss how the legacy of slavery has impacted all of our lives. Explore how individuals in your group confront their personal and ancestral truth in a healthy and safe manner.

The work of creating a just society requires a commitment from all of us. If we each own our own stuff, take responsibility for our words and actions and tell the truth, we’ll have a roadmap for a new dawn. We deserve that. Our children deserve that. The truth matters– no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Featured Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Contributing Writer Edissa in her home art studio, thinking of ways to connect to her neighbors with compassion and kindness.

It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

The Intersection Between Racism and Ableism

Racism causes and exacerbates anxiety and other mental health concerns. One in four Black Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, aggravated by racism. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges that racism also complicates challenges in receiving help for other ailments. This relationship creates an intersection between ableism and racism, two challenges that need solutions. 

Racism and Psychological Ableism

Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.

This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.

Checking Ableism

It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:

  1. Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
  2. Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  3. Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations. 
  4. Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
  5. Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.

Racism is Bad for White People, Too

Events in the last month or so have helped a whole new bunch of white folks understand the systemic and structural nature of racism in our society. I hear this in the conversations I’m having with other white folks, like me. I also see it in social media and op-eds and commentaries. Less and less do white folks attribute racism to “a few bad apples”; more and more we recognize the ways we benefit and black people and other people of color are penalized by the policies, practices, and procedures in all our institutions. All our systems — justice, education, health care, politics, just to name a few – were set up to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

This understanding is an important step in dismantling these structures, but it is not enough. Another crucial step is for white people to recognize the often unacknowledged ways that we, too, suffer from the disease of racism.

Here’s an example:

You may have seen lists of ways that white people benefit from white privilege and by contrast the ways that people of color do not. One of the most famous was written by Peggy McIntosh. I want to call attention to #25 in her list: “If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.”

This is something I’ve heard many people of color talk about. For example, if they don’t get a job, they ask themselves, “Did I not get it because I’m a person of color?” If a cop pulls them over, or if a store security guard asks to see the contents of their bag, or if a host at a restaurant seats them at an undesirable table, or if a person on the street doesn’t greet them, or if someone gives them the side-eye, or if people in a waiting room who appear to have arrived after them get called before them – the list goes on and on for insults large and small. Some of these actions profoundly affect people’s lives and livelihoods, while others are microaggressions that contribute to an overall environment of hostility. Each leaves a question in their minds about whether or not racism played a role.

This constant questioning constitutes an undermining of people’s confidence. It adds stress to their lives, a continuous undertone of ambiguity and uncertainty about why negative interactions occur – was it random or was it intentional or was it unintended, but still ultimately motivated by implicit racism?

White people do not have to ask this question in the same way. Instead of the uncertainty of a negative episode or situation, white people suffer the uncertainty of a positive episode or situation.

This means that, as a white person, I have to now turn the question on myself in positive situations. Every time I was hired or not pulled over or smiled at or greeted or given a prime table at a restaurant or anything else positive, I have to ask, “Did I earn that, or was that just because I am white?”

For white people this question pulls at the mythology of American meritocracy, which says we are a nation of boot strap pullers and hard workers who deserve everything we get because we earned every bit. Racism calls all that into question. Maybe I have my job and house and reputation and everything else, not because I worked for them, but because I was simply born white.

In this way, racism insidiously causes a similar insecurity in all of us. None of us know if we are treated the way we are because of our character and qualities, or because of our skin tone. The difference, of course, is that white people with that insecurity have the option of putting people of color “in their place” as a way of saying, “Even if deep down I’m not sure why I have what I have, at least I’m better than them.” In other words, racism reinforces itself in a cycle of oppression that gives white people a false sense of our superiority – and we have to prove and protect it, again and again, in a fight with our own psyche that we can never win.

Racism is a societal and structural disease that we all suffer from, and we are all less for it. When white people recognize the ways that racism hurts us, too, we can begin to let go of the power and the privilege in the knowledge that we, and everyone else, will be better off. We can find the will and the ways to stop the cycle and end racism.

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Art by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 8): Unpack White Privilege

Obviously, people with white skin and White Americans have a huge part to play in how our country operates. The laws, the systems of our economy, the governance is largely controlled by White Americans. Our national institutional systems were created by White Americans to protect their economic privileges as they benefited from the oppression of Indigenous Americans and later, imported free labor from Africa. After Emancipation of Enslaved Black people, brutal efforts were been taken by White Americans to protect the legacy of power and privilege afforded by their tyranny. White Americans discriminated, lynched and unfairly incarcerated Black Americans in order to ensure their privilege and status was handed down to subsequent generations.

And so we arrive at the present moment. Death, destruction, lynching and unemployment of Black American are the systemic practices of a Racist foundation. The imposed condition of Indigenous, Black and non-white immigrant people in America is nearly invisible to White Americans. What is plainly visible to us collectively, is dismissed as an acceptable inheritance. To dismantle this oppressive system, White Americans must see there part in protecting, purveying and trafficking in White Privilege for personal gain.

Lesson 8: Read Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” with your family, Bible Study group, co-workers or reading group. Make a list of ways that you either participate in or witness White Privilege in your daily life. Work to eliminate these enactments of oppression and racism that hurt our society.

Consider how you can share this work to begin the healing of our society, and to make reparations to Indigenous people and Black descendants of American Slavery.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project