I just got off the phone with an amazing African American woman leader. She is in the style of Black women who keep the movement going. The reliable worker bee who always picks up the phone. You know, the women who type up the agenda, set up the registration, clean up, bring food, help transport people to the event, etc. They are amazing.
We couldn't do (fill in the blank) without them.
If you need something done, call this woman because she never says no, and she will actually get it done.
We love this woman.
But what's the cost of being this woman?
What are the secret feelings behind the "yes"?
Having flirted in and out of this role and talked with heroic and tired Black women, here's what I hear.
"I feel taken advantage of."
"I can't say no."
"I was taught that if you had something to give, you gave--no matter what."
"It's easier to just do it (all) myself."
"I feel good when I'm needed."
"I can't sit still."
"I feel guilty if I say no or do something for myself."
I want to focus on this last item.
In racial justice work we hear a lot about white guilt, but when do we address black guilt?
My question is: What do we have to feel guilty about?
So many in our community get crushed by systemic racism and poverty that those of us still standing and somewhat whole feel survivor's guilt. When I think about the brilliant Black boys in my elementary school gifted class, I get sick to my stomach. None of them got channeled into the special programs and opportunities that I experienced in junior high and high school. If I look closely at my family, I see how the systemic pumping of drugs and alcohol and the lack of other services created addiction and breakdowns that took beautiful talented people decades to sort through. Some didn't make it through. So, like the Sister on the phone today, I know that 'but for the grace of God, there go I."
But the problem with this guilt is that I can never "earn" my way to peace. I can do, do, do and still not do enough because people are dying and suffering. My people. My family.
The problem with guilt is that it cannot be assuaged. If I need to stop police brutality, the school to prison pipeline, the rape of the planet, etc before I have the right to pleasure, abundance, peace of mind and liberation, then I am stuck.
Peep this: By thinking I have to "earn" beauty, abundance or liberation, I have conceded to White Supremacy and White Christianity that I am Bad. White supremacy says that Blackness is inherently bad, unworthy, inadequate. White Christianity dictates that I can work to overcome the unworthiness, but I can never quite get there. Remember, not too long ago Christians (including converted Africans) saw themselves in a battle to attain a "white heart." Even Eubie Blake's song "Black and Blue" laments having to work hard so that the white world can see his inner whiteness.
As Fannie Lou Hamer would say--I question America!
What if pleasure, abundance, and peace of mind are our birthright?
What if we don't have to apologize for taking time to experience these things?
It's very hard to share this because in some ways I'm questioning the whole way that we've been taught Christianity. But is it surprising that this is so since Christianity and enslavement went hand in hand in the U.S.? Haven't elites used Christianity or Catholicism to subdue, create psychological anxiety and neediness amongst the very people they want to exploit, steal from and enslave?
But what if we don't have to "earn" anything? What if "earning" health, shelter, food, and belonging is a lie to keep people off balance and disconnected from the truth of the abundance this planet offers?
What if this is a set up?
What if this constant overwhelm from doing; fretting about saying no; judging folks who invest in their well being; is actually keeping the interlocking systems of oppression going?
To the same Sisters, the Girl Fridays, the movement stalwarts --let me ask you this:
Does your lack of self-care or your inability to say no harm the very people you want to serve?
Does your willingness to "just do it all myself" prevent you from teaching or empowering others?
Does your need to "earn" your goodness or avoid the crushing guilt, have you in co-dependent dysfunctional relationships or organizations?
Does your resentment at having to do it all or at being taken advantage of cause friction, negativity, or avoidance in your committee, family, etc.?
I challenge you, I challenge myself, to claim our birthright and to live generously--giving and receiving!