Not all Pain is the Same: Opening up about privilege and injustice
Pain isn’t a competition but there is pain that white people will never experience or be able to understand.
A while ago I wrote about how you should never compare your pain with another person’s pain. And, while I still stand by what I wrote, I think it’s important to realize that some people are afforded certain privileges in this world and being white is one of them…it’s a huge privilege.
So, while I would never minimize anyone’s feelings or the pain that an individual feels, I need to admit that I am privileged to be a white woman and as a white woman, I will never experience the same kind of pain as that of a black person.
Honestly, I, along with many others whose words I have read recently, don’t know what to say or how to say it. We fear that we will say the wrong thing. We don’t want to be part of the problem, sound tone deaf, or just come across as ignorant.
But, in reality, we are very ignorant. What we were taught in school was not the whole truth about the history of racial issues. It wasn’t even close. The lessons we were taught and text books we were required to read made it sound like slavery was overcome and, while there is racism, it’s nothing like it was prior to the institution of the civil rights act. And, of course we are against racism in America. The end.
One particularly difficult memory is from a time when I was in my early 20s. I was working in retail in the Baltimore area. As store associates, part of our job was “loss prevention.” I can’t remember if it was specifically stated but it was basically required that we keep our eyes on black girls that came into the store in a group, because it was implied that black girls in a group came into the store to shoplift.
But, what about white girls? No, it was just the black girls.
Well, I can tell you from experience that white girls shoplift too. In high school, my friends and I (all white girls) were known to shoplift anything from makeup to cassette tapes to clothing at the malls and K-mart. And, shoplifting is actually a thing that is prevalent among teenage girls – all teenage girls. So, why were we expected to keep our eyes on groups of black girls? It was racial profiling. There is no other way to put it. It was 100% wrong. I knew it then as much as I know it now. But, I didn’t vocalize that belief to anyone.
And, even though for most of my life I have felt and known in my heart that racism is rampant and that there is huge injustice in America, I also know that I have been a part of the problem.
I haven’t always stood up for my beliefs or for the rights of people of color. I haven’t always refused to laugh at seemingly innocent jokes. I haven’t always corrected people when they made excuses for unjust or prejudiced behavior. I haven’t acknowledged that I have made judgments based on stereotypes. I am not proud of these things and I fully intend to completely change that, because all of these things are part of the problem.
My words don’t always come out perfectly; I’m not the most articulate, but I am not going to let that stop me from speaking up when I know that it matters. And, it does matter. Events like the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery cannot keep happening. Events that are less publicized like racial profiling of black teenage girls cannot keep happening. There has to be an end.
With all of us working towards the same goal, the beginning of that end is now.
I know there is much work to do. I hope that all of us joined together will be a powerful force that cannot be stopped. With everyone’s individual gifts and strengths put to good use, the innumerable areas that need addressed. We can all do our own individual parts.
It starts with compassion and understanding. Compassion for the pain of others, not comparing our pain, but understanding that, as white people, we can’t understand the pain of black people, and as white mothers, we can never ever know the worries that black mothers feel every day.
So that I, and my white readers, can stand with black midlife women, readers of this blog, friends, and neighbors, and the black community as a whole, I would like to share the work of a few people of color who provide me with more understanding of the issues and have inspired me to be better:
Black Meditation Teachers
Justin Michael Williams. Insight Timer bio: Justin is an author, speaker, and top 20 recording artist. He has become a pioneering voice for diversity and inclusion in wellness. I first heard Justin speak on a podcast and was immediately impressed by how he shares about the benefits of meditation in “lay persons” terms and easy to understand language.
Dora Kamau. Insight Timer bio: Dora is a registered psychiatric nurse, self-care and wellness artist, meditation teacher and mindfulness facilitator. Dora has a calming presence and provides guided meditations that are perfect for when you feel anxious or stressed and need to take some time to just be present.
I also follow these women on Instagram, for all kinds of inspiration:
Sonya Renee Taylor is the Founder and Radical Executive Officer of The Body is Not An Apology, a digital media and education company promoting radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation. I learn so much from Sonya about compassion.
Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher, body positivity advocate, and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. Jessamyn uses high energy vinyasa flow as a way to move past mental and emotional barriers. I’m inspired by her abilities and fearlessness.
And, I’m currently reading a book, which I started about 1 ½ months ago (because it takes me forever to read a book) called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I’m STILL not done reading it, but it is a VERY informative novel about privilege and the injustices subjected to black people in this world.
So, no I don’t want to compare my pain to another person’s pain, but I can never know the ways that life is more difficult to be a black person in this world.
I hope that this post has helped in some small way – maybe it can help you understand your own feelings, actions/inactions, or pain. And, I would like to remind us all to show others compassion, but also to have compassion for ourselves. We are all learning and we can all be better.
By using our own personal gifts and strengths, together we can do our part to lesson the pain that many of us can never understand.