By: Iyabo Onipede – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
Dear Lovely White Women of Love and Light,
May I please gently step into your world of calm and serenity? Sorry, I just really need to point something out to you. I am deeply invested in you having real calm and serenity, and this open letter is to help you achieve that. You see, I also want “calm and serenity” and I have been thinking about this very deeply and I would love to share my thoughts with you.
Come. Come to this deep listening moment.
I am an immigrant. I have lived in this country for over 37 years and I have had the opportunity to study Americans, and the various subgroups, and marvel at our cultural differences. O yes, there are cultural differences.
Here is the first one I noticed. I was considered “too loud” when I first came to this country. I speak confidently, clearly and when I laugh, you can hear joy about five blocks away. I am also very direct. I call a “spade,” a spade. Yes, I am naturally a blunt truth teller and I also enjoy multiple loud deep belly laughs daily. And many consider that inappropriate. I get looks and stares and sighs. Long time ago, I quickly discovered how unacceptable that was. For many years, I tried to either stay in circles where I was comfortable to be myself, or I would really try and keep my finger on my “mute” button, a near impossibility. Shutting up is really hard work for me. But these days, I just do it. It is who I am.
I discovered that Americans value “niceness” a lot. I did get confused though because I did not understand why “niceness” actually translated into “quietness.”
Then I found kindred American spirits who also valued directness. Many of my African American siblings will tell you the truth in a minute. However, I noticed that they did not have the same opportunities as “others.” Very quickly, I noticed that the default setting in this country was “White American” sensibilities. I saw how White culture ruled everything. Yes, White culture. There is such a thing you know.
So, here is a very, very, very minor example. Did you know that just this week, there was a post on the BBC website, that brown and bronze shades of ballet shoes are being made in the United Kingdom to blend with the skin tones of dancers of non-White races? And that is in the UK, not the US. That means, this is not available to the US population in 2018. Yup. 2018.
What that means is that “White” skin tone has been the default since the beginning of ballet. And we are now in 2018 and it is still the default.
Let that sit there and sink in.
My intention with this information about is to disrupt your feelings of “Love and Light” and switch into the awareness of your mental blindness. I want you to notice that blank space in your brain that says, “And what is wrong with that? I am not getting it” – that is the brain blindness produced only because you are a White person. And I want you to realize that your “niceness” is just a Schlack covering up the truth.
The reality is that the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre is Misty Copeland, a Black woman, but she must wear pink shoes that were designed with white women in mind and not a woman of her own complexion.
How would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot, metaphorically speaking, that is?
It’s not your fault. Don’t get upset. Just sit with it and observe how it makes you feel.
You see, my precious friend, your entire world is just like that. The entire world that you live in has been designed to coddle you in that default setting that makes you the center of your world, your state, your country (the greatest country in the world) and the entire universe, as well as my world and my universe.
Now, here is where I get to really disrupt your world. Hold on to your britches!
Because you are the default setting, because everyone around you that looks like you has created a world where you get to be the center of the entire Universe, you get to sit and focus on “Love and Light” and not be unduly concerned about everything that is going to hell in a handbasket all around you.
This is called “privilege.”
Privilege is what gives you the ability to pick and choose when and where to be blind. Privilege does not mean you are better than anyone else. It merely means you are floating in a pool of lull and haze that is blinding. And this thing of “Love and Light,” and let us just focus only on what is good? Yeah, that? It is your privilege at its peak.
I am hoping at this point that you recognize that “Love and Light” does not give ballerinas shoes that match their skin tone, right?
And that is only ballet shoes. Unfortunately, for someone like me, ballet shoes are the least of my problems.
You see, I don’t get to switch to “Love and Light,” right now, because my life is in danger. Real actual danger that I might be deported or killed just because I have a name with a difficult spelling. Or, I might be killed just going to church because I go to a predominantly Black church. And if the cops stop me on the way home from church, I could be killed because of the color of my skin.
Immigrants are in danger. Jews are in danger. Black lives are in danger. Muslims are in danger. Transgender people are in danger. Hell, democrats are in danger. Our kids are in danger with school shootings too. Any human body that does not fit into the constraints of white supremacy is in danger.
And yes, even this week, people in yoga studios joined the list of those in danger.
Precious sisters, your world is getting smaller. O, your kid is in private school? Well, yeah. It will hit you soon enough. Not your yoga studio? O yeah, well, soon it will be. Not your house of worship? Soon that ashram, sweat lodgey place, it will be hit. It is inevitable.
You know why?
Your “Love and Light” ain’t workin!
Why isn’t it working?
Because it is bullshit.
See, real light illuminates. Just like a good torchlight will show you where the cobwebs are in the closet and help you see to clean it out, that is what your light is supposed to do. If ain’t no cleaning going on, there ain’t no light!!!
Light is fire. It alchemizes. It shifts things. It changes the molecular structure of what it touches. Love? O my, Love is the most powerful force in the Universe. It changes things. It alters the very fabric and foundation of what it comes across.
So, if your “Love and Light” is not creating betterment for everyone, it is not Love and it is not Light. Not at all.
Do you know what “Love in Community” is called? It is called, “Justice.” Where there is no justice, there is no Love and there is certainly no Light.
This affluent American concept of “Love and Light” is code for “Can we please just hold on to the core White cultural value of being ‘nice’ right now? Please!!!! It is all I know, and I am not sure who I am without it!”
So please, call it what it is and be real with yourself. You are escaping. ANDDDDDD…… the only reason you even have a choice to escape is because you are privileged.
Folks like me? We can’t escape. Never. Not for one nanosecond. We live, breathe and think all day long, about how the ground is moving beneath our very feet.
At the end of the day, you are going to come around and come back to me, and folks like me, for solace and comfort because you will not know how to handle stuff when the crap hits the fan in your orbit. As much as the drama of the world creates resilience in us and helps us live, you are not cultivating this same skill and so you will need me.
But there is one thing you can do so it does not get to that point. You can take the Schlack off your “Love and Light” and vote. Vote for candidates with values that are not obscured by “Love and Light” thinking. Vote for candidates that actually want to bring Love and Light to the world by protecting the human rights of as many people as possible. Please don’t vote for those that want to keep things exclusive for those who have been exclusive. That is not Love and Light!
In Diversity and Inclusion work, we talk about folks who are in denial – denial that differences in human experiences exist. It is always those of the majority and controlling race/gender/nationality that deny the lived experiences of others. They just do not see that there are human differences that they have not experienced. You see, human difference is not a thing to be feared. But it is a thing to accept.
This open letter serves to say a few things in advance of that moment when you find yourself with the ground moving under your own feet:
- Wake up. Open your eyes. Get rid of the blindness.
- Stop lying to yourself. You are escaping, not “Loving and Lighting.”
- Ask yourself, “Why am I escaping? What am I afraid of?” – That is truly being “Love and Light” to your own self first.
- Get familiar with your privilege.
- Really embrace the fact that for you to have true peace and serenity in your life, folks like me must also have real peace and serenity alongside you. And it costs you nothing. There is enough “Love and Light” for all of us.
- Now start “Loving and Lighting” me. Use your privilege with intention to stop the madness that has taken over the world. You do have power. This is “Love and Light” to others.
- Freaking Vote. And vote for true “Love and Light” and not those that endorse escapism.
Sigh. I am here if you need me. Just reach out.
Peace and Justice (and maybe “Love and Light” but only after Peace and Justice is the reality of both you and me and all of us),
More by Iyabo:
Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).
Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).
Iyabo’s home on the web is at http://www.coachiyabo.com
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