Volume 1, Issue 10: On Effort

Hello new friends! The majority of you reading this are new subscribers. Welcome! Most of you got here via the Absolutely Massive List of Anti-racist Resources for Black Lives Matter Allies I posted last week. While I definitely will continue to offer resources on a variety of things, this newsletter, at its heart, is about self-improvement. You can read a short overview here.

I am not a professional activist. There is still so much that I am learning. I am, however, a librarian and if there’s anything I know how to do it’s how to look shit up. That being said, the resource list from last week lists a bunch of people and organizations and books more knowledgeable about anti-racism than I am.

Here are examples of typical posts from this newsletter:

Yes, this is a self-improvement newsletter and yes, I talk about being an accomplice and anti-racism. But it’s really, really important that I share this quote from the phenomenal Rachel Cargle:

The work doesn’t end when white people FEEL better about how they’ve shown up.

The work continues until this country has made it abundantly clear through all systems and all spaces that black lives indeed matter and reparations have been made.

June 7, 2020

Friendly reminder: anti racism work is NOT a self-improvement space for white people. If protecting bodies & empowering Black lives aren’t at the center of your work then you’re not here for Black people -- you’re simply going through motions to make your white self feel better.” 

Still with me? Good. Let’s dig in.

What I want to talk about today is related to the above but is also relevant to most everything else in life. I want to talk about doing the work. Effort. Being deliberate.

Don’t be the person who reads So You Want to Talk About Race and then completely avoids talking about race because it’s uncomfortable. Don’t be the person who suddenly follows a bunch of Black people (or queer people, or indigenous people, or varieties thereof) to “diversify your timeline” when your own social circles and workplace are like a room of mirrors where everyone is just a reflection of each other. Take what you learn and apply it in the world in the ways that you are able. Not only in the ways that you are comfortable or only in the ways that you find enjoyable. But in all the ways you are able.

In addition to being deliberate in anti-racism work, I want to tell you a short story.

A few years ago, I had a family member (16 year old boy) over and we were going to play a game. Our set for the game was brand new and it had a bunch of cardboard pieces in perforated sheets that needed to be detached and slid into the plastic holder. I asked the 16 year old, “Will you please help me? I need you to poke these pieces out carefully and to do it without mutilating them.” (I’m really big on clear instructions).

He said, “I can’t do it carefully. I’m going to mess them up.”

“I disagree,” I said, and handed him a box cutter. “If you take your time and pay attention, you’ll be fine. We’re in no hurry. Just go slowly.”

And he did. And it was fine. The pieces didn’t get torn. We played the game. We had lots of laughs.

It made me think of all the things we don’t do or even try because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ll “mess things up.” And then tell ourselves that the “messing up” is the worst thing that could happen when, maybe, the worst thing that could happen is not even trying. Could be anything. Baking a cake. Applying for a job. Going on a date. Cross stitch.

I’m seeing it a lot right now as we find ourselves in a revolution and people are hurting. I’ve mysteriously not heard from a number of non-Black family members within the past few weeks. Someone close to me said, “Maybe they don’t know what to say.” Maybe that is true. But then, that just means people say nothing? Even reaching out to a loved one and saying, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I love you,” is better than nothing. But people fear messing things up, not realizing that keeping silent is its own kind of self-sabotage. Relationships, too, take deliberate work.

What if I put it another way: We’re absolutely gonna mess things up at some point. But the messing up isn’t the worst thing. Not trying at all or messing up without learning and growth, those are the worst things. The goal isn’t to arrive at a magical place of “wokeness,” like some kind of non-existent enlightenment. The goal is to be continually waking up, each experience and attempt an improvement on the last. Once we know better, we have to do better.

That’s it for this week! If you enjoy this newsletter, feel free to subscribe, forward it to a friend, and/or give me a tip!

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