The Political is Personal
The other night, I listened to Michelle Obama’s speech for the DNC, and I had a curious reaction. I felt so glad to see her, and at the same time, resentment. Everything she said made me cheer on one level; but on another level, feel invisible. The next morning, I woke with a question. Is that how some angry, disenfranchised, White Trump supporters feel when confronted with Black Lives Matter?
Like, “what am I, chopped liver?”
I also read Michelle’s memoir and loved it. I love her. And yet . . . a little part of me resented her ivy league education and supportive parents. Reading her story, I could really how her parents were for her and with her: something I craved. Mine meant well, but they didn’t know me. They knew the expected course of my White Christian girl life, but none of my inner strengths or desires.
In a corner of my brain, a question arose: Does a White girl’s life matter when she is raised in a fundamentalist cult where women have to be silent and told she has to go to Christian school and get married? What if she’s sexually harassed by White Christian men her whole life because it’s not even a thing that anybody cares about? Or if she never asks if she can go to a more fitting college because she knows better? What if she’s depressed and gets terrible grades her first two years and then has to borrow tons of money for graduate school? Does her life matter if she’s emotionally and economically “behind” from years of patriarchal quicksand, worried she’ll have to work ‘til she’s 80?
Do Former Fundamentalist Lives Matter?
Yes, of course. And the White privilege (and hard-core racism) in my story involves those very generations of Christian college-goers. To be fair, abundance and privilege cushion my existence. I have everything from Peggy McIntosh’s knapsack of White privileges. And yet, listening to Michelle unpacks my pockets of perceived lack in a way that also feels shameful.
I wonder if this is what people feel when they say, “All Lives Matter!” Like, “Oh, because there was this thing called slavery (that was before I was even born), I’m supposed to cheer for these people and their fancy Harvard degrees and book deals while I can barely send my kids to state college?”
The Personal is Political . . . and it Matters
What do we do with White resentment? Can we own it? What if we stop blaming our emotions on people of color? And why would we want to?
Here’s why I believe we should own our White resentment. Jealous anger blinds us to a bigger picture. Generations of White resentment drive so much of this country’s racist policies and voting patterns; it creates suffering for innocents that, in our hearts, we never intended. And even though this jealous anger misses a larger point, it feels personal, like I’ve fallen through the cracks and nobody notices or cares. This means we have old hurts that deserve care.
Homework: If you’re White, see if there’s a part of you that feels unheard and unseen. Can you hold a space for that part? Even if it seems petty or shameful? What aspects of you (dreams, goals, wants) got left behind years ago? What do those parts of you need now? What kind of world does your inner being want to inhabit?