Maybe You Could Stop Silencing Yourself

It’s Women’s History Month and I don’t want to get to the end of it without mentioning that and highlighting a woman’s story that you might not know about.  

It’s interesting for me to notice, though, that I felt as if it would be okay for me to miss highlighting women’s history this month in a way that it would not be okay for me to miss noting Black History month in February.

My logic was that because I am a woman I can choose to disrespect/silence/ignore myself and my people if I want to.  

But because I am not Black it would be wrong for me to disrespect/ignore/silence Black people.

The latter is certainly something that I believe to be true.  I believe that it is necessary, “right” and “good” for me to be intentional, and ever-growing in my awareness and intentionality, in demonstrating respect for people of color in my local, national and global communities who are so often silenced, ignored, neglected and attacked.  

I believe it is my responsibility to be intentional in noticing and highlighting the stories and challenges of people whose struggles are not “mine.” “Not mine” in that I don’t experience them because of my privileged position – as a European American a.k.a. White person, as a heterosexual, as one with a Christian background, as a middle-class, college-educated professional.  

Working for equity, justice and healing of destruction caused by racism requires conscious intentionality on my part because, as Beverly Daniel Tatum says so well in Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria  we’re all on the metaphorical moving walkway of racism heading in the direction of supporting it – unless we intentionally walk in the other direction.

As a European American who has breathed in whiteness (my identity) as the norm, I need to choose to increase my awareness of my biases and of the ways that I participate in unjust systems if I am going to be someone who works to bring racial healing.  And I very much want to be a part of healing the festering wounds of racial oppression in my family, my community, my country, my religion – the world.

But there’s also a problem with my logic.

There’s a problem with assuming that when I am PART of an oppressed group, I have less (or no) responsibility to work on behalf of myself and my people – in this case, women.

There are many problems with this logic, actually, but for today I just want to note one: as an adult human being I am responsible to care for myself as best I can.  It’s no one else’s job to do so before it is mine.

Sure, there are occasions when we might choose to sacrifice our own needs or desires out of love for someone else, but most of the time if we look hard enough we can find a way to meet the needs of ourselves AND others.  

And, I’d argue that sometimes we may have an even greater obligation to meet our own needs first if we are going to have any capacity for meeting the needs of others.

Burnt out teachers regularly do more harm than good.

Depressed parents don’t provide children with safe, joyful homes.

And White women living in shame and silence aren’t particularly effective advocates for racial justice.

Internalized oppression is PART of how oppression maintains its hold.  And I’m learning that it’s just as much of my responsibility to work to uproot and heal my own – which is largely around being a woman, but there are some other areas too — as it is for me to partner with others around what is “theirs.”  

Every single one of us has some identity that is not deemed acceptable or normal or valuable by our community or society.  We are responsible to others. Absolutely. And we are responsible to ourselves to. It’s not either/or.

I wonder if you too sometimes prioritize hearing the voices of others and meeting their needs at times when really, if you paused and were honest with yourself, you know that it is essential that you listen to your own voice right now?

Not at the EXCLUSION of others, but as one of the human voices that matters.  As one of the voices that deserves respect.

I’d even go so far as to argue that honoring our own voices is part of how we begin to break apart this “either/or” mindset that is so destructive – this idea that either you win or I win, there is no win/win.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired enough of the results of that mindset to try a new way.

On Saturday, my husband and I went to an odd little event where you pay 10 bucks, go to someone’s house for an hour on a Saturday afternoon and hear really amazing classical music by Átomos String Quartet.  We went because we were invited by a friend of a good friend, not because we were particularly interested in hearing a string quartet.

But an amazing thing happened at this event – amazing for me anyway.  The first piece they played was composed by a woman. Surprise! Then the second piece they played was one composed by an African American woman, Florence Price Robinson, from Arkansas (where my husband has some family roots)…and based on an old Irish tune (part of my ethnic heritage.)  THAT didn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

THAT seemed like magic.  Like Spirit. Like the Universe winking at me and showing me that there are new ways forward that integrate all my parts.  And they already exist – even in classical music. People have gone ahead of us on this path of integration and healing or ourselves and our communities. Florence Price Robinson is one of them.

Most of you are probably way ahead of me here.  You knew this already. But just in case you’re a little bit like me…

My hope is that in this story you find some hope and permission for yourself – to listen to and give some respect to the part of you that you think isn’t worthy, or interesting enough, or oppressed enough, to be heard.

Maybe it’s the part of you that has internalized the messages of racism or sexism or another “ism.”

Maybe it’s the part of you that you have deemed to be too emotional, too sensitive or too irrational.

Maybe it’s the part of you that you turned off when you became a mom or the part you think doesn’t deserve any more care because you already have more money than most of the people in your community.

My hope is that you will question the idea that you can’t offer respect and care to that part of yourself AND ALSO offer respect and care to other people in the world who aren’t getting much of it.

Because I absolutely believe that you can – and, if you want to be a part of the big work of healing the world we live in – you really must.  

It’s just human to have needs that need to be met AND it’s human to be amazingly powerful and deeply compassionate too.

Here’s to thriving... and equity… and this month especially to women’s stories and women’s wisdom.

Deb