post written by Michiko Bown-Kai
Note: this article was written for White folks, especially White LGBTQ+ folks, in the wake of the most recent call to address White supremacy and anti-Black racism. This article was also written with love for my fellow BIPOC Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ folks, I hope this can be a helpful resource for you to share.
I know that during COVID-19, time can feel quite loopy (or "Jeremy Beremy," as they say in The Good Place), which is why I thought it would be helpful to remind all of us that it has only been about 2 months since we saw that large swell of public momentum calling for racial justice and for the need to dismantle the systems perpetuating anti-Black racism. Key institutions called out include police and prisons, but our education systems, our immigration systems, our churches, and so many more are all part of this conversation.
This was a moment where we saw White denial and anger on full display. This was a moment of grand gestures and statements being made by individuals and corporations alike. This was a time with lots of generous information sharing and emotional intensity.
What I saw from some well-intentioned White folks was the sense that they were overwhelmed, afraid of failure, caught off-guard, and not sure how to step into the challenge and invitation in front of them. For the many White LGBTQ+ people who have experienced trauma, hearing the messages that:
White supremacy has caused massive amounts of suffering, death, and exploitation
All White people have privilege and need to figure out how to be accountable,
And White people repeatedly fail to answer this call for justice
... these can trigger a response from places of trauma (think freeze/fawn/flight instincts). The idea of being a “bad racist person” brings up feelings of shame. Or the call to share resources taps into fear around scarcity. Or the call to be accountable for one’s privilege confronts our grief of the times we felt powerless and we were denied justice. It’s messy stuff that all begs the questions: So what does it mean for White LGBTQ+ folks to engage in the work of racial justice from a trauma-informed place?
If you are reading this article, that’s a sign you are still showing up and trying to figure this out. Here are some thoughts, many are likely reminders of what you already know, but sometimes a list can help us focus our thoughts. Please keep in mind, I’m not a professional mental health provider and that if you are in crisis or needing mental health support it is important for you to get the help you need and perhaps return to this list when you feel like you have more capacity.
Figure out your boundaries and how best to articulate them. Having a clear sense of how you define your needs for safety and respect will help you be able to draw clear lines in the types of conversations and communities you connect with. Does brain fog make it hard to talk face to face? Maybe chatting through text will help you be able to return to the conversation later and better understand the important takeaways. As a White person, how are you ensuring that you are making space for BIPOC to express their full range of emotions in terms of how racism is impacting them. Boundary setting could sound like: “I’m really sorry to hear what you’re sharing - you have every right to be angry. Unfortunately, I’m noticing that I don’t feel like I can be fully present with you right now. I’m here to listen but can we make space for me to process and follow up?”
Grow in community - find people you trust, who can be patient with you, who understand you. If you are struggling with the fear of getting things wrong, start by leaning into your trusted relationships. Who is someone who is safe to talk to that you can trust to point you towards growth? Realize that different spaces and different relationships will offer different kinds of learning spaces. There are organizations dedicated to empowering White folks to confront White supremacy and making space for White folks to unlearn together. There will also be spaces where you will be expected to take initiative in terms of teaching yourself.
Find ways to engage that meet you where you are at. Having problems with dissociating and doomscrolling through your social media? Sometimes when we put pressure on ourselves to learn before making sure we are grounded, we end up missing the lessons. There are so many ways you can educate yourself about White supremacy and racial justice without inducing panic or dread. Does listening to the news make you feel overly anxious? Consider finding a podcast or YouTube channel that talks about racial justice with appropriate trigger warnings. Are you having a hard time leaving the house to attend rallies? Support BIPOC artists from home - there are plenty of ways to read, watch, and listen to BIPOC content creators and share their work.
Invest in your own healing and growth. An anti-racist therapist could be an excellent place where your own healing can intersect with the healing of the world. Your whole self shows up to the movement so don’t be afraid to take the time and energy you need to sustain yourself for the long haul. Learning how to heal the brokenness in our own lives can help us learn how to engage in healing the brokenness of the world around us. What has your healing journey taught you about care, justice, and transformation? How can that inform your racial justice work moving forward?
Michiko Bown-Kai works as a Program Assistant on the Generous Space staff team. Michiko is an ordinand with The United Church of Canada who is passionate about social justice and creative expression. Michiko studied Social Justice and Peace Studies and Political Science at the University of Western Ontario before attending Emmanuel College for their Master of Divinity program. Over the past decade Michiko has engaged in ministry in many forms: as a Sunday School coordinator, program coordination at The United Church’s General Council Office, a youth group leader, and most recently as an intern minister at East End United Regional Ministry. Michiko is always excited to learn more about cultures, languages, and nature. You can often find Michiko biking around the city, highland dancing, or befriending as many dogs as possible. Michiko currently lives in and writes from Toronto (dish with one spoon covenant, the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples).