As I’ve waded my way through the vast array of feelings that have come up over these last few weeks, the point I find myself returning to is that curiosity is a game-changer. Even just the tiniest bit of it. It softens paralysis. It makes room for growth and updated beliefs. And it makes change possible.

Feeling Powerless? An Invitation to Grow with Me…

As I’ve waded my way through the vast array of feelings that have come up over these last few weeks, the point I find myself returning to is that curiosity is a game-changer. Even just the tiniest bit of it. It softens paralysis. It makes room for growth and updated beliefs. And it makes change possible.

To my white friends: 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself horrified, enraged, overwhelmed, and saddened.  But I’ve also been filled with feelings I didn’t want to have like confusion, fear, shame, and paralysis.

Everywhere I looked, there were signs saying, “White silence is violence” or “To be silent is to be complicit.” What made this more uncomfortable is that I wholeheartedly agreed yet my fear of doing or saying the wrong thing made me feel shame for not knowing how to take action.

I found myself looking at others’ feeds on social media trying to figure out the right action to take. But instead of this moving me towards clarity, I felt more overwhelmed, more confused, more shame, and paralysis.

That’s when I realized it was time to stop looking at others’ feeds for the answers and instead turn inward and make room for the real mix of feelings I was experiencing inside. I’ve repeatedly learned that when I do this, it creates space for authentic clarity about the next steps to slip in with more ease.

And you know what?  It DID allow more clarity to slide in. But I’ll be honest. Admitting to myself that I felt confusion, fear, shame, and paralysis in the face of George Floyd’s murder and the spotlight it puts on racism by white people, I felt pretty darn awful.  I wanted to get away from those feelings. I didn’t want to have them. They didn’t make me feel like a good person.

I suspect that some of you who are white and reading this have experienced some similar feelings lately. I mean, let’s face it. Using your voice to protest injustices and inequities on social media is one thing.  But honestly wondering about the ways that you yourself may be contributing to systemic racism…well, that’s a whole different matter.

It’s such a different, uncomfortable matter that it’s often a step that we white folks choose to skip over. In fact, this is why we often avoid conversations about racism altogether because it makes it easier to believe that the issues aren’t there.

But as I allowed myself to really own all my yucky, uncomfortable feelings over these last few weeks, I was reminded of another time in my life. The subject and consequences of this previous time are incomparable to the experience of systemic racism that Black people have endured for centuries in this country. But my responses to both share a similarity.

In my early years of life with my wife, I had my own internal homophobia. There I was married to a woman, yet homophobic beliefs were woven into my experience. And you know what? I wasn’t aware of it for quite a while. It didn’t make sense to me that I could have internal homophobia and be married to a woman. But I did.

And here’s the thing. It wasn’t loud, obvious homophobia. It was subtle beliefs I’d gathered along the way or seen reflected in our culture. For example, whenever I saw two gay women or men holding hands in front of heterosexual people, I automatically thought they were trying to make others uncomfortable to push their gay agenda. My instinct was that they should keep physical affection for the privacy of their own home, which meant that I felt I was being offensive holding hands with my wife in public.

This was just one of many unconscious homophobic beliefs that I unearthed over time.

But you know what really began to change my experience with my own internal homophobia? Inviting curiosity into it. It was when I started to feel just the tiniest bit curious about WHY I felt wrong holding hands with my wife in public or WHY I felt shame when someone new learned that I had a wife. This curiosity began to soften my fight against the possible presence of homophobia in me and instead made me want to understand better how my beliefs were shaping my world.

Curiosity didn’t make it necessary for me to get rid of my own fear or shame or confusion about the possibility of having homophobic beliefs. It simply made room for me to have those feelings while also making it possible for me to explore them. And as I explored them, growth happened and many of my beliefs went through a healthy update.

Exploring it has helped me to become more aligned so that my inner and outer beliefs better match each other. And this is when using our voice for change becomes even more powerful.

I’m reminded of this same thing right now as the Black Lives Matter movement comes to a long-overdue forefront. I find a part of me not wanting to admit that I have any internal racism or that I’ve been contributing to the systemic racism in our country. I mean, one of my best friends in the world is a Black woman. How can I have this long-lasting friendship and have internal racism, right? Just like I asked myself, “How can I have a wife and have internal homophobia?”

But what I’ve learned is that our unconscious beliefs DO shape the world in which we live. Do we purposely choose to have racist beliefs? For most, the answer is a wholehearted no! But unless we become aware of the unconscious messages from society that we’ve internalized without even knowing it, these beliefs continue to promote the status quo.  And it is painfully apparent that this feeds the systemic racism against Black people that’s been present in our country for centuries.  

So if you’ve been feeling confused, distressed, ashamed, incensed, powerless, afraid to say or do the wrong thing, you are not alone. If you feel paralyzed to know how to make a difference, you are not alone. If you feel scared to even wonder if you may have your own internal racism or if you’ve been contributing to the systemic racism in our country, you’re not alone. If you feel clear that your beliefs need to be updated, but you feel clueless about how to do this, you are not alone.

As I’ve waded my way through the vast array of feelings that have come up over these last few weeks, the point I find myself returning to is that curiosity is a game-changer. Even just the tiniest bit of it. It softens paralysis. It makes room for growth and updated beliefs. And it makes change possible.

We are being asked to recognize the longstanding need for monumental change to the racial injustice towards Black people in this country. There are many ways to support and promote this change.  No matter what avenues of change you feel called to, one thing that holds profound power is when we use a lens of curiosity to unearth our own beliefs, many of which have been unconscious to us.

In the coming weeks, our clinic will be holding a virtual book study of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem. As we move our way through the book, we’ll meet in large and smaller groups to invite conversation about racism, our individual beliefs, and the ways that we may be contributing to systemic racism without intention.

The reality is that these necessary changes won’t happen in a sprint or even an ultra marathon.  This book exploration is just one small step in the direction we must head. But it’s a step. Am I an expert on this subject?  Heck no.  In fact, it’s very likely that I will come to discover that some of my wording or focus in this blog post is racially insensitive. But we have to start somewhere and starting where we are is always the most honest and powerful way.

If you are interested in participating in this virtual book study group, please email my office at info@waterleafnaturopathic.com as space will be limited. In lieu of a fee for the group, we ask that you make a donation to a Black-owned business in your city or black-led social or racial justice organizations or initiatives like Black Lives Matter.  We’d love to have you join us. ❤️

P.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell).  I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!

Warmly,

Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND

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