Me, too has been flooding my newsfeed.
And me, too. I could list off a number of times I have been merely harassed (I believe harassment and assault can be close cousins and the former can fairly be received as the latter) from growing up female.
It led to a lifetime of protecting myself, to allowing weight to pad my frame so that I wouldn’t be looked at or have to deal with unwanted attention I didn’t feel equipped to turn down. It led to always trying to be “one of the boys” and not ever addressing how I really felt about it.
I have been struck incredulous and sometimes speechless by the instances that I recall from my own past, and that they still hold such a trigger for me tells me that they weren’t small things, as much as I try to brush them off and move on as a conscious, contributing woman.
But I am not here to talk about the wading-through of comments I have endured, the hurtful words flung at me when I did not return the “flirting” being sent my way, or even the touches, to various parts of my body, I have experienced without my permission.
I am here to talk about shame and my own actions in the light of these times we live in.
As we post our stories of “Me, too” and ask that the men in our lives examine their roles in this, I am buoyed to see a brave standing-up going on. I saw an apology for a poorly-ended relationship that was still hurting someone years later, I saw the owning-up of watching these behaviours carried out and doing nothing to stop them, and as I did, I started to feel a familiar lump in my chest, the one that holds my own shame.
You see, I find myself in many conversations about race, and privilege in my various communities. I like to think I am listening and learning in new ways, conscious of my colleagues of colour who step out and are asked to educate us (for free and over and over again) as we stand in various shades of defensiveness, fragility and ignorance. I admit that I am standing at the edge of many of these conversations while I carefully observe a new way of behaving that is respectful and inclusive, and it’s hard. I feel like a coward as I learn, but I promise that I am trying.
And I have my own story that I want to share, and this has been writing itself, in my head, for over a month. After listening to this podcast featuring the leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, and then reading post after post on social media by women of colour I admire who prompted me to take a very honest look at my own behaviour. I came to see that as a part of a system and a society of supremacy, I have been party to it all. No, I have never marched around with a tiki torch or in a rally with a white pointy hat, but I feel like I may as well have.
It was about ten years ago and I was volunteering as a Big Sister. I adored my “Little” as she was called; we got up to adventures and we giggled; it was all that the volunteer orientation had promised. She was a pre-teen from a First Nations family and was one of four kids with both parents present and from what I could tell, loving. Her mom was who saw the need for her to have a mentor of some sort, and had begun the process of having her matched with a “Big.”
At some point, after we had been seeing each other on a weekly basis for about a year, I received a phone call from her mom, asking me for a sizeable loan. After much deliberation with my then-husband, we decided to go ahead with it. My Little was important to me, and it felt right to do it because it would benefit her.
We devised a repayment plan and off it went.
And then she stopped making payments on the loan and so began a lesson I stubbornly refused to learn, in an email she sent with the subject line, “About White Privilege.” She explained that at times, she chose to pawn something to send her daughter on outings with me, and that working her three jobs had the optics of success and forward motion, but that years of abuse and what felt like a boot stepping on her rising head had taken a toll. She described her journey of healing and I am ashamed to say that it all fell on our deaf ears.
I remember staunchly and ignorantly holding our ground, insisting that she was wrong.
She finally repaid the money, in a large chunk, which may have come from another loan. It doesn’t really matter, though, does it? There was vindication, I suppose, but it felt like shit.
I know now so many things that I wish I had known then. I know to never loan, but give, so I am free and it’s not a transaction of reciprocation.
I know to hold radical compassion.
I know to not stand in my privilege that doesn’t understand things like generations of residential schools and unspeakable struggle.
I know to be a more expanded human than I was ten years ago.
I grew up with parents who are still married now and held me in a little cup of love and possibility and support. I am white. I am intelligent. While we certainly weren’t well off when I was growing up, I wanted for nothing. I reek of the privilege I didn’t have to ask for and readily took for granted.
Today, I have the benefit of so much perspective; nine years of coaching and discovering myself, a lot of peeking around corners knowing my demons were waiting, and standing on my own feminist legs.
None of these things, of course, eradicated my white supremacy (or would have back then.) It’s been a conscious choice to examine who I am in relation to the people I share this earth with and to place under a microscope my blanket, sunshiney wish of all being equal. We are, in a perfect world, but many people of colour have not seen of or lived with that in action and it’s no longer okay with me.
I share my shame so that you have permission to look at yours and allow for new conversations in your life. I think we all have a story, no matter how fair-minded and equal we think we are, of treating someone unfairly. I am no longer a Big Sister – the experience was so hurtful that through I tears I explained what had gone on to my “Little” and took what has amounted to a forever break from that volunteer role. Even that, brings me some shame; my fragility meant I was no longer able to support that young woman, and I withdrew myself from our relationship. Ouch.
I have no way of making amends, and so I try to here.
I live in a lot of discomfort right now as I read about the struggles of people of colour, and notice when I want them to tell me it’s okay (I fully accept that they have zero responsibility to do so) and when I feel defensive for my actions. I understand that it is my problem and my issue and I am choosing to not have my story be repeated, with different characters and a similar ending, in another ten years.