How Dare I Get Tired of Fighting Racism?

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Claire Colvin -Fighting Racism3

Here’s the truth: I am tired of fighting racism and even as I type that I can hear my own privilege. I am tired of that too.

I spent most of the first half of my life in exclusively white spaces. Everyone in my neighborhood was white, so was everyone at my church, and everyone at the mall. I went to a high school with 1,500 students and there were maybe 50 anything-other-than-white kids in the entire school. We were all the same and we didn’t even notice.

I came to BC to go to university and that’s when I first realized just how white my hometown had been. A few years after I graduated I went back to Sarnia for Christmas. The whole time I was there, something felt weird. I couldn’t figure out what it was until we were driving back to Toronto to take me to the airport. We stopped at a Tim Hortons and I saw an Indo-Canadian family sitting at a table and suddenly I knew. They were the first people of color I had seen in almost two weeks. The whiteness was what had felt so strange, and thank goodness that it finally did.

In the past months I have become more and more convinced that I am not allowed to ignore the issues surrounding race both in the world at large and right here at home. I’d like to. It would be easier. But I do not believe that you can be a Jesus follower and not be actively engaged in the work of anti-racism.

There have been many brilliant things written recently about race—Idelette McVicker’s piece on seeing and naming the racism in our own hearts. That article is a great place to start. What I find I’m struggling with the most these days is weariness. I want the fight to be over and the more I learn about how far and how deep racism goes, the more ashamed I am to have to little stamina for the battle. Women and men of colour have been fighting this fight for generation upon generation and I’m tired two years in? Yeah, I have work to do.

I saw a photograph the other day of women in New York City protesting the statue to J. Marion Simms in Central Park. Simms, a surgeon, is often named as the father of modern gynecology for his work in developing a surgical cure for vesicovaginal fistulas. In the late 1800s these fistulae were a common and devastating complication of childbirth. At first glance it appears to be a good statue, maybe even a feminist one. But Simms did his experimental surgeries on 12 enslaved black women, without anesthesia, because of a belief at the time that African Americans did not feel pain the same way white people did. I cannot imagine what they went through.

It would be easier not to know their story, but finding the easier things does not develop maturity. Staying in the racial conversation feels exhausting but maybe that’s only because it’s new for me. I hope, I pray, that in time I gain some stamina. I saw a comment on Facebook recently where someone mentioned that it was all too much and they were stepping back from the conversation for a while. Another woman quietly commented that she had no choice but to stay in it, she couldn’t take off her own skin. Her words keep echoing in my head.

It’s hard to know what to say about race. For the most part, I think I need to say less and listen more. I need to seek out the stories that are not like my own and learn a new vocabulary for this fight that has always been there. I need to name the weariness, to see it and then keep going anyway.

I watched a documentary the other day called The Fear of 13. It’s an interview with a man who has spent 20 years on death row. As he told his story I was struck, over and over again, at how slowly the wheels of justice move and how many times things that could have helped him went undone. It feels like a metaphor for this long walk toward racial justice. It is slow and heartbreaking (and I am only on the fringes of it) but I cannot turn my back to it.

In The Fear of 13 there are a couple of turning points in the man’s life, and in each case it was a moment of kindness that made an enormous change. I am looking for those moments in my own neighborhood. I cannot solve systemic racism but I can keep chipping away at my own biases, and my own assumptions. I can, and must, refuse to let weariness be an excuse to stop paying attention.

If I am tired, I can only imagine the fatigue—and trauma—of those who do not only fight racism, but LIVE it.

Resources:

Be the Bridge to Racial Unity

The People’s Supper 

What resources are you turning to?

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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Claire Colvin
  • The resource I have loved this year is Deidra Riggs’s new book: ONE: Unity in a Divided World. Her voice is sweet and reasonable, but clear and insistent.

  • Oh golly, thank you for your honesty here. I’m struggling with the stamina, and know how much of my own privilege I hear in my head and that tempts me each day. The wheels of justice indeed are so, so slow, and I am wearied here on the fringes. May we have the stamina to keep standing, and to keep acknowledging our own privilege so we can keep fighting against racism. Thank you for your words.

    • “May we have the stamina to keep standing, and to keep acknowledging our own privilege so we can keep fighting against racism.” <– AMEN to that!

  • I’m right there with you – tired but recognizing my privilege in that tiredness. Thank you for your honesty and practicality. Learning along with you…

    • It’s complicated isn’t it? I’m so glad we can learn together.

  • Stamina. Thank you for putting wise, practical language to something I also need and have been struggling to put language too. I am also new to this conversation and space of learning how to be a better ally and a better neighbor, particularly on issues of race, so finding voices who show me a practical way forward have been a beacon of light in the darkness. Too often I get bogged down in my own head struggling with shame and guilt and feeling powerless to do anything that really matters or that would make an actual difference. It’s paralyzing. So this helps. Have you ever heard of the author/blogger Diedra Riggs? She is someone I just came across in shauna Niequists podcast this morning. I’m going to be looking into her work more deeply, because just that interview alone gave me some incredibly valuable practical steps forward. So much grace and wisdom there. I highly recommend it. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-shauna-niequist-podcast/id1230800323?mt=2&i=1000385690194

    • It is so hard to find that balance between being engaged and educating ourselves and not putting ourselves right back in the middle of the narrative. Thanks for the recommendation of Dieddra Riggs, I’ll check her out!

  • pastordt

    Oh, well done, Claire. I hear you, I feel your fatigue, I share your commitment to ignore it and keep listening, speaking kind words, trying to understand the pain of this long, horrific part of our western culture here in the upper 2/3 of the North American continent. We have work to do.