These days, I keep thinking about the day I knew my next right step would be to learn about anti-racism. I had then been studying and practicing feminist activism for a couple of years.
I’m a white passing Eurasian. Both racism and colorism are present in my family in subtle and not so subtle ways depending on the looking eye. I was raised in an imperialist country actually thinking they’re over racism, while perpetuating in a way that is just not overt enough to be considered illegal (hate speech is illegal in France). I always were 50 kinds of confused about racism.
I was getting barely okay with how feminism made my life that much more complicated and painful in the previous two years.
That day, I was coming home walking, grateful for one rare sunny day we had in London, when I saw 5 young Black men in line, facing me. Something felt wrong. They had their hands held behind their back. Behind them, two White policemen, looking busy, important, and way too happy about the power they had, in a way that immediately made me sick to my stomach and gave me nausea. I can still feel the metallic taste in my mouth.
The worst part was when I tried to make eye contact with those young men, as I would have done with anyone in an ambivalent situation. I was throwing them that look that means “Are you okay? Is what is happening okay or is it as bad as it looks?”. Only they didn’t want to look at me. They were all standing there, looking very noble, patient, obviously trying to not make it worse. I realized how ashamed they must feel, and powerless. It felt so obvious to me I wasn’t looking at guilty men.
My heart broke. I was completely powerless, unable to know what to do, terrified to believe what my guts were telling me without any confirmation.
The annoyed and aggressive injonction from the hurried white man in a suit who pushed me got me out of my paralyzed state. Reluctantly, I started walking again. I looked behind me a few times on my way, hesitating to go back so many times, but unable to know what I could actually do.
I arrived home a few minutes later, still confused. I stayed confused, my mind foggy for a while. When I stopped feeling numb, I was attacked mentally by so many images and phrases from my past life. All the times I heard something racist and didn’t say anything. All the times I reacted angrily and was met with denial, contempt, and aggressiveness, where I was made to be the issue to avoid the real issue. In this process, incredible anger and sadness rose up and lasted for days.
This event is still imprinted in my mind, so is the outrage, the powerlessness, and the sadness. Those painful feelings, and many others, still feed my activism.
Social activism always takes quite an emotional toll on us, especially when it has to do with our own oppression.
We tend to overestimate this, often in order to avoid it.
Or underestimate it, usually in order to disconnect from the painful emotions it brings up.
I was raised and socialized to avoid getting into any kind of activism. You have no idea how many times I heard that social issues were either overestimated, or that when they weren’t, as individuals we don’t have any power over them. Those are very common denial strategies. For the longest time, I believed them.
But I also worked for years on connecting to my emotions. And I am very highly sensitive and equally introverted. That means that now, I feel ALL the things ALL the time. That's why I know I can't just dive into things as if they won't impact me, I HAVE to respect my humanity and tenderness.
Radical self-love and self-acceptance has a way of making us care about the world. When we really love ourselves, it is getting really hard to not love others. Because to learn how to love ourselves, we have to connect to that intuitive part of us that knows deeply how we are all in the same boat. That we all suffer and all want to be happy. That we all deserve to be treated well, especially when we never did anything robbing other humans of their humanity, when all we did wrong was to be born the “wrong” colour, sex, class, in the “wrong” country or suffer from a disability.
And we really know this from the bottom of our heart, our unjust world naturally tend to anger, outrage us.
For me, it all really started with feminism. When I learned how to love myself more and got more confident, I noticed how much harder it became to work or even interact with men. All my life, I felt more inclined to forgive men for their short comings than women, to find more ways to feel empathetic for them, I even bought into the idea for years that it was simpler to interact with them, simply because I didn't have to face my feelings when I was just "one of the guys".
Until I appreciated and connected with myself more. Naturally, I expressed myself more, and started to set firmer boundaries that respected my needs more. This immediately didn’t suit most men in my life, it was devastating. I realized then that I spent my whole life accommodating to people and their wants, especially to my male fellow humans.
Most people knowing me found me quite confident already and would have never guessed how much my life was designed to please others at the expense of respecting my needs. Heck, I didn’t even realize it at the time, how could they?
That’s the thing about being in an oppressed population.
You spend a lot of time accommodating to the oppression and the oppressors, mostly without realizing how damaging it is yourself, because you don’t even know you’re doing it.
As an oppressor, we tend to be unaware by design of how much live in a parallel world, and therefore have mostly no idea how bad it is for the oppressed.
We unconsciously keep intellectualising and distancing ourselves from the issue at hand so we don't feel it.
We’re also part of a massive system requiring from us to disconnect from who we are in order to comply with the rules of the world we’re stuck in and not get robbed of our ‘privilege’, feeding a lot of intricate denial and avoiding tactics to avoid seeing how dehumanizing we can be to do so. Tricky sh*t.
You know, all those people saying things like “We live in a cold, harsh and cruel world, deal with it”, or “We live in a dog-eat-dog world, you have to step on others in order to survive” as if it’s normal, as if humans are designed like this (spoiler : they’re really not)?
That’s intellectualisation, it’s designed to protect us from realizing and feeling how painful it is to live around those sh*tty rules.
If tomorrow, defense mechanisms didn’t exist anymore, our world would collapse under all the extreme pain, fear, shame and anger humans would feel.
Feminism was hard enough to handle as a woman. One that never understood the way the world saw women because she didn’t identify at all with that view. Accepting my victim status never sit well with my traumatized self either. And still, the pain and confusion that were brought up by diving into antiracism were incredibly harder for me. The mixed feelings from how I both suffered and inflicted it was unbearable at times.
Of course, activism is also fueled by the hope of making the world a better place, the love of our fellow human beings and others wonderful feelings, including the sense of belonging to a community of warriors making the world a better place. But the suffering is woven into this, unavoidable, at least not without an incredible amount of extra pain numbing ourselves and disconnecting from who we are.
On top of the pain from the awareness of the issues we are standing up for, activism also understandably brings up all of our defense mechanisms and hidden unresolved pain, like all the things that truly matter to us.
We therefore need to enter it very carefully, ready to take extra-care of ourselves, and make sure we have a strong social support to help us navigate those troubled waters.
We need to be extra-gentle with our imperfect selves, accept we will mess it up, again and again.
Accept it will be very painful at times, and we will need to take the time to process and digest all that pain.
We will need to rest, and not over inform ourselves, because we’re not machines.
True liberation starts with loving ourselves, healing our wounds from trauma and honoring our pace.
We cannot change the world like we want if we don’t.
So take extra-good care of you, dear warrior, the whole world needs you to.