Recently, a friend of mine contacted me because she was getting frustrated about her journey. As a White woman, my friend had committed herself to learning about, engaging in, and being anti-racist. She's read a bunch of books, been more courageous about bringing up race in conversations, and having tough conversations with her children.
"But, I'm getting impatient, Liza. I just don't feel like this is doing much good. I don't see any changes."
She was serious.
And, I smiled. I knew all too well what she was experiencing.
As someone who has practiced race work for over 23 years (okay, really 43 years), I know how hard this is. Plus, I know that "I'm doing work that I may never seen the outcome of - the dismantling of racism completely."
But, sometimes I take for granted that I know this is the long game.
My friend, not so much.
"It's so important, Liza. I need to do more, go bigger, make these changes. As a White person, I need this hurt to stop for people of color."
I know, girl, I know. Me too.
While I've gotten comfortable with the deep discomfort of race work, I knew that she was speaking close to home in another area of my life. One that I've worked hard on, every single day, and haven't see many results. One that I have all the knowledge about, know all the right moves, and know why it's happening, and yet still, it's not getting better.
I'm talking about the fact that I'm obese. Yes, obese. For just about the past 23 years of my life (hold up, wait a minute .... is my obesity correlated with how long I've been doing f'ing race work?!? W.T.F.??!?!), I have been obese.
Now, before I become the subject of Twitter wars and nasty comments, let me be clear. I KNOW BEING WHITE AND BEING OBESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS. I'm not drawing parallels because I think they are the same. I AM drawing parallels between our expectations of change, our frustration with the slow pace of change, and the disappointment when things don't go as we know they should. Okay, you may proceed....
So, here it is:
I'm obese. I've been obese for more than half of my life. And, while I don't see myself as obese, particularly -- I have really positive body image, I like my curves and bumps and lumps, and I have people in my life who love me for me -- I do know that it causes damage to my internal organs, my life expectancy, and my overall quality of life. That's NOT to say that all obese people feel this way (#NotAllFatPeople), but it's how I'm feeling.
As I re-commit myself (again) to improving my health, I experience highs and lows. I read tons of books, blogs, and have multiple apps that remind me when to eat meals, when to drink water, and when to exercise.
But, one thing really made the difference.
I had to admit to myself that I was obese.
I had to actually use the term that, medically, describes me. I had to use a term that was loaded with stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions - none of which were positive. I had to own this identity, embrace this identity, and face this identity.
Once I finally admitted to myself that I was obese, I began to forgive myself for all the ways in which my obesity showed up. I don't think my obesity is entirely just choice, to be clear. I had met with a nutritionist about 10 years ago, and she validated that the medical charts that were used didn't tell the whole story. She hooked me up to all of these fancy gadgets and measured ME - my bones, my organs, all the fluids sloshing around in there. And, she told me that my ideal weight was 160 lbs. The chart? The chart said I needed to be closer to 114 lbs. I haven't seen 114 lbs since I was 12 years old.
So, I needed accurate information.
Similar to my friend, she was on this journey of calling herself White. Calling what she had as White privilege. Calling the vulnerability White Fragility. She had to name those things before she could face them.
But. if race work has taught me anything, it's that you need to then move past the naming. You need to own and interrupt things that come next. And, those next steps involve the 3P's: Passion, Practice, and Persistence.
PASSION. Why do you want to dismantle racism? What does this mean for you? Why should you push against something that (if you're White) affords you advantages and privileges? You need something that's motivating you to commit your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and actions to see this through. But, let me be clear - you can't just have "aw, bless your heart" kind of passion. You need to develop "unacceptable passion" - the kind of passion that gets you in trouble. The kind of passion that irritates you at night, that makes your stomach bubble when you read about injustice, that makes you angry enough to be on fire. That's the kind of passion you need in to move this forward. For years, I didn't have that kind of passion about my obesity (cough, cough,.... maybe that's why I've stayed obese for so long .. cough, cough). Now, I do. It makes me angry, it burns me, and it fires me up.
PRACTICE. How are you gonna get good at anything if you don't practice it? Yes, that first conversation about race -- or White privilege and fragility -- is probably going to be awful. If you've never done it, why WOULD you be good at it? Unless you are some sort of race-talking prodigy, you probably need some practice.
And, we know, that when you practice, you're gonna mess up. If you practice skiing, you're going to fall. If you practice cello, you're going to sound less like Yo-Yo Ma and more like nails on a chalkboard for a while. If you practice cooking, you're bound to burn a few things. Right? There's a lot at stake with race talk, yes. So, find people you can practice with (test kitchen) and then go and make some gourmet meal.
I'm practicing eating different foods, working out at different times, and trying different moves. I suck at them right now. I mean, burpees? Who the f*ck invented burpees?? What kind of sadistic mother f*cker thought, "Let me jump up, land on my g*ddamn hands, kick my legs out with the risk of slamming my face on the ground (true story), pull my legs back in, jump up, AND DO THAT FOR 10 REPS?" Who the....??!?!?!
I can't even.... burpees are rude.
PERSISTENCE. Remember that time that your practice was terrible? Well, you had two choices, right? You could quit or you could keep trying. Lots of people quit the conversations about race. It gets too hard. It gets too personal. It gets to dangerously close to a part of themselves they don't want to see. That's where the passion comes back in - because, in those moments where you're too scared, you have to believe in the why of what you are doing. Persistence means you don't quit. Even when it gets tough. Even when you mess up. Okay, especially when you mess up. Learn how to apologize. Learn how to listen. Learn how to make it better.
On my run today, I wanted to try running for 3 minutes straight. The first time, I got to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I felt like a failure. I felt weak. I felt embarrassed for my dog who looked up and me and said, "Is that all you got? Really?" I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me and when we passed other dogs he whispered, "I'm not with her..."
Once I caught my breath .... okay, keeping it 100 ... once I sat down on a bench, watched the ducks dive into the pond, checked Facebook, and texted my sister ... I decided to try it again. This time, I got to 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and I told myself to keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving.
And I did. I made it to 3 minutes. And, it felt great. Just kidding -- I felt like I was going to die. BUT I was super proud of myself. #goldstar4me
My weight loss journey is something I'm scared of. One question we coaches always ask clients when they are faced with fear is this: "Think about a time in your life when you had to face a challenge but overcame it. What about you showed up in that example?" For me, it's race work. After years of being ignorant, offensive, and downright harmful, I developed a passion for not doing that anymore. I had to practice again and again and again -- sometimes in the test kitchen, and then out in the main dining room. When I messed up, I had to learn the tools to be humble and humiliated. And, to get back up. Again and again.
I'm practicing the steps that it takes for me to lose weight. I'm messing up -- so sayeth the scale -- but I believe in this enough to keep going.
Just like my friend, I'm not there yet. I'm still so many, many, many pounds from being 160 lbs, just like she isn't at her goal of being anti-racist. I'll experience highs and lows, for sure. But, it's time.
If you are on your own journey to being anti-racist or simply on a journey to #MakeThingsBetter, then you aren't alone. I'm working through lots of challenges right along side you.
Passion, practice, and persistence.
It gets tougher before it gets easier.
But, it's worth it.
Peace and love,