“Learn Your Shadow”
By Ang Bey
A lot of white folx have reached out expressing condolences, exchanging kind words, venting frustrations and regrets about "the current moment" or even racism at large. Many have given me monetary reparations. All have asked me, in one way or another, "What should I do to help?".
Here's my response to all of them: I think you know, and, yes, it really is that difficult. There is no shortcut. It is a nasty, bloody untangling that will implicate every part of your existence and your memory. You will have to look it straight in the eye, name it, and actively fight against it everyday of your life.
Here is the truth: every white person is racist. Every single one. Whether you asked to or not, whether you realize it or not, you have signed the social contract allotting you a certain amount of privilege and power over every non-white person based solely on the color of your skin (and reinforced by centuries of genocide, institutionalized forces, policy, culture, language, etc., etc., etc.). Not only this, but you have grown up comfortable in this contract. You have reinforced it yourself. You have even felt shame for doing so, but continue to because you do not know another way...
So you still believe that the police can be reformed. You believe that MLK was a pacifist and forget that he was murdered by the state. You center conversations about black grief around you because, and I get it, the floodgates are opening and you don't know what to do with all this energy-- this sudden awareness that everything is tainted, this heaviness pulling you down, your shadow lagging behind you that seems to comment on every step you take with a, "Do better. People are dying. It's your fault because you didn't do better".
Here's another truth: Yes. You're right.
And here's another: A LOT of us still love you anyway.
[Also, some of us hate you. And you've GOT to be okay with that. I certainly am. And YOU must love US anyway. And if you're white and upset by the fact that the love isn't reciprocal, I'd urge you to interrogate your philosophies on love. Why does love have to be a transaction? Why must you receive in order to give? What is the nature of the resentment that you're harboring? Is it bound up in pride and self-indulgence? Is your love predicated on virtue-signaling and reward?]
And THAT is our gift to you. And YES, it really is that deep. It really, really is. And I can only speak for me, but I choose to still love you because I choose to believe in the utopia where this kind of critical thought, equity, and radical love can thrive and be standard. I choose to believe it because I HAVE to to make it through the day. And I have to remind myself of this every day. Every single day, like an incantation. And hold it close and nurture it and infuse it into every dicey interaction, but some days I fall short. And I will not apologize for that.
I will not apologize for feeling "too much". My body, my history, my very existence, whether I like it or not, has signed the contract that ties me to EVERYONE'S shadow and that simultaneously leaves my own to be swallowed up by the dark. This is a great burden but also the greatest gift, because I believe that this kind of empathy will save us. The theory that will build the utopia will be born out of this empathy. And I believe that it is my divine duty to get there by any means necessary. Any means.
So, what can you, white folx with bleeding hearts, do? Learn your shadow. Become intimate with it. Know its every move. Talk to it everyday. Know that it will always be with you. Interrogate it. Let it be soft. Do not take pictures of it and post it on your feed. Do not even let me know that you've embraced it. Because if you truly have, we will see. It will ripple through every intention you have. You will feel more pain because of this newfound, acute awareness, and your closets will be filled up to the brim with bones. They will be the bones of my ancestors, all of my fallen kin, and mine-- still attached to my flesh-- still breathing, with a shadow of its own.
And the pain will be worth it. I think you know this too. I think you've always known.
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PST is fiscally sponsored by the Culture Trust of Greater Philadelphia.