Antiracism as Being vs. Doing

I recently received a postcard recently from a former student I worked with during my higher education career. She wrote:

“I couldn’t have imagined who I’d become, the walls of mine I’d breakdown, and much of that is a result of witnessing how you showed up for all of us in the Center.”

As an antiracist coach and educator for white people, her words reminded me of the importance of BEING versus DOING.

Now don’t get me wrong – we absolutely still need the Doing to undo the structural racism inherent in our systems and institutions. However, Doing without healing from one’s own racialized trauma usually means that we show up in ways that perpetuate oppression, rather than healing it.

White supremacy and capitalism have us believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity, that we must always be creating something that is measurable in order to have value. However, it is striking to me that 10 years later, this former student wasn’t remembering all the events I coordinated or the amount of work I produced. Instead, she talked about how I showed up for students and modeled what it meant to have humanizing relationships with others.

Antiracism, at its core, is about healing and humanization. These are processes that are not easily measured by the “objective” tools of quantitative data. As Audre Lorde famously said, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”

Being requires us to heal first. When we show up wounded, we tend to either hurt ourselves and/or lash out in pain. We can’t even hear how we might be hurting others because we are so focused on our own wounds, insecurities, and anxieties. We get easily triggered, which shuts down dialogue, and by extension, hinders the collective healing that we need for our society to truly transform.

When we show up whole, we are more able to accept others in their full humanity. When someone is lashing out, we can see it is from a place of pain, and respond from a place of compassion while still holding that person accountable. We can sit with discomfort and silence. We are able to admit and apologize for our mistakes and the harm we caused. We can forgive and heal so we do not carry pain forward and cause further harm to others.

Image credit: Alex Carabi, used with permission.

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