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  • Writer's pictureIlsa Govan

Norms for Anti-Racism Work: Experience Discomfort

Hang up the gloves

“Is your comfort more important than someone else’s pain?” -Author Unknown

I went to a training on Generational Diversity recently. It was interesting, but I realized after the 3 hours session that there was not a single point at which I’d had to look at myself or the world in a new way that made me uncomfortable. That’s my measure of whether or not deep change work is happening. Simply talking about differences in cultural styles will not change institutionalized privilege.

It is not comfortable to admit I’ve had unearned privileges because of the color of my skin, my physical abilities, or other factors. It is not comfortable to admit that through systemic intentional and unintentional socialization I’ve come to internalize whiteness as superior. It is not comfortable for people of color to confront internalized racial oppression. But it is a part of the path to collective liberation.

Dr. Hollins and I pride ourselves on providing a safe place for people to enter into discussions about privilege and racism, but safe is not the same as comfortable. When I bring this up with friends or in an organization, it doesn’t feel comfortable or easy. It can, and has, led to the loss of relationships or jobs.

An acquaintance of mine was playing a video game one time and yelled, “This game is so gay!” At that point I felt very uncomfortable. I realized that if I spoke up, it would create tension in our relationship. Then I thought, “Why should I be the only one feeling discomfort? He made the comment. He should be experiencing a bit of this discomfort, too!” The conversation did not end with us going out dancing at a gay bar, but it did end with my feeling true to myself.

There are certainly times when it is literally not safe to confront racism, sexism, heterosexism, or other forms of oppression. However, there are many times when we remain silent in an effort to keep offenders comfortable. When I am silent in the face of oppression, that indicates agreement.

The question I continually repeat is , “Whose interests are being served?”

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