That the culture and society you grew up in is underpinned and shaped by racism and white supremacy. That you, yourself, participate and benefit from racism and white supremacy — in many visible and invisible ways.
That you can be a wonderful person and still have prejudice and racism that heretofore has been mostly invisible to you.
That you have probably perpetrated microaggressions on people of color.
That you have been ignorant.
That you have been wrong.
2. Grief and horror.
With the grief and horror you feel, comes a willingness to be broken open. You may feel an intense need to ask forgiveness of every person of color you know or see or come into contact with in any way.
Here is the stage to be reminded that being stuck in this place is not useful or helpful to anyone, let alone people of color. Once you are able to feel the grief and horror fully, release it. Don’t worry, it’s not truly gong anywhere — life itself will bring it back up again and again.
Here is the stage where you may begin to realize that you cannot shoulder the weight of hundreds of years of oppressive policies, violence, persecution, and bigotry. All you can do is start from where you are, and put one foot in front of the other.
3. Anger, rage, disbelief, and back to anger.
You may experience a feeling of commonality with people of color in this one particular way — the anger at the injustice of how they are treated every moment of their lives.
You will see and hear things from a new perspective, and that perspective will horrify you all over again. Not only will you become angry, you will become more compassionate: for those who feel this anger are justified, and the myriad reasons it is justified are a litany of human rights violations. How can anyone expect those who are so oppressed not to feel anger?
And so you will know that anger and compassion sometimes go hand in hand.
4. Reading and sharing.
The best thing you can arm yourself with is information: read and research and begin to share what you’re learning. Talk to your family and your friends about what you’re learning. If you have children, talk with them about it.
Find people of color to listen to, and take a long time to listen without interacting at first. I highly recommend Twitter for this, as well Google (look it up yourself: do the work). Notice how it makes you feel while you read things and hear things that you may have never encountered before.
As you share what you are learning, you will likely begin to experience a small measure of prejudice, vitriol, misunderstanding, and outright hatred because your eyes are now open and you can no longer unsee what you have seen, or be silent about it.
Occasionally, you will read or hear something that you want to share, but your own feelings of shame or anger will keep you from sharing it. White fragility, wherein white people become so horrified and offended by the insinuation or flat-out statement that something they regularly do, think, feel, or say is in fact racist, may crop up for you a lot as you navigate this work.
Many people who disagree with what you have to say or share will probably come from this place of fragility. Remember compassion, and remember clear firm boundaries.
Find ways to do something in the local and global community that you belong to — ways that are lifting up and supporting voices and actions of people of color. Be intentional about not needing to lead, and not needing to be the loud voice in the front.
Look up Facebook events and local chapters of the NAACP. Visit the Showing Up For Racial Justice page and website. If you are affiliated with a church that has ties to community organizations that do good work on behalf of people of color, investigate those further and see if you can become involved. Google your location and see what kind of volunteer opportunities there are for you. Take stock of your skill set and see where you can offer your personal ability to help, in whatever ways you’re able.
While you’re in the thick of it, you will need to take breaks. Find ways to take care of yourself so that you don’t get so exhausted that you can’t be an effective activist any more.
You will move through these stages again and again.
You will be shocked at the daily aggression against people of color that you see and hear about. You will go through many days in a haze of tears and anger.
You will learn how to be open to it without letting it slay you. You will learn and re-learn how to take care of yourself in the process. You will learn to be there for your friends who are all shades of color, without making them responsible for making you feel better.
It is hard. This work is hard, and it does feel like work a lot of the time. There is immense power in bearing witness to injustice, in being silent when it is not your turn to speak, and in speaking up when it IS your turn to speak. There is a clarity that is occasionally attained, like a runner’s high, when everything snaps into focus for a moment and your reasons for doing this work are crystallized and become part of your soul.
But more than that, it feels like love.
It’s putting your body and your reputation and your willingness to be wrong on the line for what is just. It’s love.
This post originally published at rhiannoncahours.com. It has been lightly edited.