Author: Madeleine Keller

Uncategorized, whiteness

A Letter to My White Friends: We Fear Seeing Ourselves Clearly


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A letter to white people, from a white person, on white fragility and mustering the courage to overcome it.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this to police other white allies and anti-racists. My purpose in writing this series is to create dialogue around the white identity, in hopes of sharing what I know, and helping to further white people’s collective understanding of themselves, with the ultimate goal of promoting racial justice and prison abolition. I hope to spark discussions among/with fellow white activists so that we may better understand our place in this work. I also hope to catalyze new white allies coming to social justice in the wake of recent national events, who may feel scared, confused, or ashamed of their white identities and privilege. My goal is not to chastise whites, nor to claim that I am a “good” white person. I come to this not as an expert, but as one voice in a larger discussion. This is first and foremost a dialogue, and I welcome other perspectives, questions, and comments.

     How does it feel to be a white person in social justice work? When I first started out, I felt immensely uncomfortable with my own whiteness. I felt the need to try to hide or minimize it. I rarely spoke in my classes, most of which are focused on racial justice, and generally avoided drawing attention to myself. I felt guilty about my family’s money and wealth, and would rarely bring up that part of my life. I felt the urge to separate myself from my own whiteness, constantly saying aloud “I hate white people.”I really wanted to reject my white privilege. In situations where I was forced to look at my own privilege, I felt so much pain that I had a deep wish to ignore my whiteness, rather than to deconstruct and explore it.

In one of my classes last year, we were instructed to do a privilege walk, where everyone started at the same spot in the room, and moved backward for every symptom of oppression, such as going hungry as a child or growing up near gang activity, and forward for every sign of privilege, such as housing security or having two parents with bachelor’s degrees. Predictably, I ended up in the front, and in tears. Some of my closest friends and my partner, all of whom are people of color, were far in the back of the room. Seeing them there, and seeing myself so far ahead, broke my heart. I was extremely uncomfortable with realizing my privilege was so visible, and that I was so unfairly privileged compared to my loved ones. I felt so guilty about it, I shied away from acknowledging and confronting my privilege.

I’ve seen this type of hesitation in many other fairly liberal white people. One person I know was planning to lead a workshop on Chinese medicine. When the hosting organization approached him with their concerns that the workshop might be culturally appropriative due to his white identity and lack of accrediting sources for Chinese healing traditions, he reacted with tears, guilt, and confusion. He failed to truly confront the issues of being a white individual attempting to teach an ancient healing tradition that was not his own. He hesitated to really own up to the fact that, as a white individual, he didn’t deserve to claim that culture’s knowledge as his own, as he was not a part of it.

Similarly, someone I know recently went on a vacation to Cabo over a break from school. I heard later they were trying to keep it quiet. While this may have partially been done in an attempt to maintain a public persona as an enigma, it also seemed to me to be a strategy of hiding their class status, which is directly related to whiteness and privilege.

     This hiding behavior reflects an unwillingness to admit our privilege and acknowledge our identity as a white, upper or middle class person. In all cases, I think the unwillingness to confront whiteness here comes from the guilt and anxiety involved in owning up to privilege: “If I admit that I am privileged/that I have this much/that I benefit in some way from supremacy, what will they think of me? What will I think of myself?”This fear and the resulting pushback against situations which encourage white people to face their privilege are part of white fragility, which Dr. Robin DiAngelo writes about very eloquently when she discusses the reactions white people have to race-based stressors, which include some of the situations I’ve described above. As DiAngelo points out, we, as white people, don’t have to look at our privilege on a regular basis. When we are forced to do so, we get scared, and we get angry. 


     Facing my own privilege does feel bad sometimes – looking at the privilege whiteness gives me, I feel dirty and gross and overly powerful, even tyrannical. The thing is, for those hesitating to confront their own white privilege, it’s good to remember other people can already see it. The brilliant black writer and scholar James Baldwin, in a letter to his nephew entitled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation”writes about white people thusly:“…if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” Baldwin demonstrates how obvious white privilege is, and how racism and its related systems of oppression are ultimately perpetuated by white people and their inability – or resistance – to see themselves clearly. Though he writes this suggesting that people of color need to help white people face themselves, let us go further.

White people, especially liberal, radical, and well-educated white people like myself, must take responsibility for facing and accepting our own privilege. We must become aware and be willing and committed to exploring how our privilege affects other groups and how it so greatly benefits us. We must look at our privilege and see ourselves clearly. Only by doing this can we really see all the opportunities we have to step back and make space for people of color, whether this be through relinquishing claims on traditional knowledge belonging to cultures outside of our own, or exposing our class status and using the resources at our disposal to donate to social justice causes.


     Facing, exploring, and continually dismantling your white privilege is a doorway to opportunity and an awesome way to deepen your social justice work or practice! Although it is scary, awkward, and embarrassing at times, it can also be very exciting. Courtney E. Martin describes the process by calling it a transformation of “white fragility into courageous imperfection”. She writes:

“If white people want to belong to the beloved community, if we want to be part of the tide that is turning thanks to people of color-led movements like#BlackLivesMatter, then we have to show up as bold and genuine and imperfect. We have to be weary of our fragility. We have to be intolerant of our own forgetfulness.”

Martin’s suggestion of courageous imperfection means that we have to be open to the fact that we and our identities are, and will always be, very privileged and problematic. We will never be comfortable with our racial identities once we accept them for what they truly are. But Martin also writes that engaging in this process “is the beginning of a lot more joy. It’s the beginning of a lot more connection. It’s the beginning of the end of racism.”

As someone actively trying to beat back my own white fragility, I can agree. In my next letter to my white friends and other white anti-racists, I’ll discuss ways of actually going about this process by exploring our white privilege and smashing our fragility. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more on this concept, check out the articles linked above, “The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility” by Anna Kegler, and WhiteAccomplices.org. 

If you found this helpful, interesting, problematic, or what have you, let me know! Comment or send me a message. I am happy to take feedback, make suggested edits if I see fit, and discuss ideas with you. This writing is coming out of a year-long research investigation into whiteness, among other things, so I’m down to talk about whiteness, racism, and the like any time.

In solidarity and support,

Madeleine

If you enjoy what I’ve written here today, and you want to support my future writing, I would really, really, be extremely stoked and appreciative. There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your white friends!! Please support the dismantlement of racism 🙂


photos: 1, 2

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How to Get Things Done, Part Two: Planning, Action, and Reflection


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     Hello there, I’m back with part 2 to my getting things done guide, as promised. Part One, Ideas and Focus, is here. Here’s steps 4-7, plus a few additional notes and some further reading. I hope y’all will find these helpful and assistive to your productivity, sanity, and balance. I have especially emphasized rest and breaks because I think it’s a very important aspect of productivity that does not get discussed as regularly as the format of your to-do lists. So, without further ado: 

4. plan and timeline 

     Now that you’ve got a narrowed-down list of your most important/urgent, time-efficient tasks or goals, you need to plan out how you will accomplish them. Here are a few ways to do that: 

  • Break the task or goal down into smaller steps. If it can be broken down, do it! This will give you a better idea of how long it will take to complete the whole task. For some things, like a weekly braindump to pull daily to-do lists from, it’s good to do this step while doing your braindump. For other things, like goals, this more naturally comes after narrowing your list.
  • Schedule it. Plan by when something should be done and give yourself a deadline. If you want to do all the laundry by the end of the day, there’s your deadline. If you want to learn to ride a motorcycle by end of 2016, there’s your deadline. Write it in your calendar, planner, or whatever you use (bullet journals are my fave), and stick to that deadline. Don’t make it unreasonable. Only you know what you have room for in your schedule. Give yourself more than enough time to accomplish something, because chances are, you’ll need it. 
  • Timeline. If a task or goal is multi-layered or involves multiple steps, make a “backwards timeline” starting from the day the task is to be completed and going backwards in time towards the present, figuring out by when the individual smaller steps need to be accomplished. For example, if I want to host a party on Halloween, I need to send out invites two weeks before, and have ingredients purchased for food by the day of the party. This is an example of backwards timelining. 

     It may also be helpful to use a daily timeline to understand where the time in a day is going. Here are some great examples of a daily timeline used in a bullet journal. I use one on very full days, but not all the time. You can expand this idea to a monthly or yearly scale, designating weeks or months to accomplishing specific tasks. In any case, make sure you allot yourself enough time to get the tasks done! Doing so will ensure that you accomplish them, have time to do them well, and feel good about your productivity, meaning you are more likely to keep being productive rather than getting frustrated if you don’t get everything done. 

5. schedule breaks and rest

     Yes, this gets its own step because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT. Resist the urge to assign yourself 10 tasks for the day and instead balance your productive time with restful time. This balance will ensure that your level of productivity is sustainable for you and suitable to your lifestyle. It will ensure better mental health, which means a better, more enjoyable life overall! 

     If you are using a daily timeline, leave time for meals and breaks in the day. Do something like giving yourself an unscheduled hour in the morning and another in the evening, for warming up and winding down. When practicing this on a monthly and yearly scale, leave at least a few days every month (if not at least once a week) that are at least mostly unscheduled, and allow yourself the space to just be, and engage in unplanned, relaxing activities. Also cut out some vacation time for yourself every year, whether you actually travel, or just relax around your town for a week. Use your breaks to be social if you wish, but also to recharge and have some alone time, as both are important for your well-being! 

     If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this! Setting aside time for breaks, rest, and relaxation will refresh your mind and creative thinking abilities, alleviate stress, help you avoid burnout, and inspire you and have you looking forward to your productive “work time” rather than dreading it. 

6. take action 

     Phew! Ok, you’ve gotten this far, you’ve planned and timelined and everything else out the wazoo. Now you just need to DO IT! The only tip I have for this part is to use the pomodoro method (which you can learn about here). It gives your brain a little break to look forward to and keeps it focused on one specific thing rather than attempting to multi-task. I use this all the time, especially when I’m having trouble focusing or doing something less-than-exciting. I use an online timer when on the computer and one on my phone when doing other types of work. 

     If you are doing something that might not fit into that 25 minute window but needs to be done all at once (like mopping the floor), use a similar principal by just promising yourself a break after you complete the task, and before going on to the next one. 

7. reflect and learn 

     Yay! Look at you, you got something done! Congratulate yourself and soak in the sweet feeling of checking something off the list. 

      Now it’s time to reflect on the process you just engaged in. Answer this list of questions about what worked, and what didn’t work: Did you get everything done that you set out to do? Were you rushed, or did you have enough time, or maybe too much? Was the setting you were completing the task in suitable, or distracting? How do you feel? Rested, balanced, or overwhelmed and stressed? Did you plan well enough, or too well? (Yes, you can plan too well – there’s a reason I only use daily timelines occasionally. Sometimes they stress me out!). Answering these questions, plus anymore you can think of that might be pertinent, is an important part of the process. It might help to jot some of these notes down on paper, or discuss them with a friend. 

     Once you have reflected, implement what you have learned from your reflection. If you were rushed or bored and had too much time, timeline more in accordance with your time needs. If you feel stressed and have figured out why that is, eliminate that stressor from the process as best you can. Keep doing this, and you will come to a pretty good place of balance, sustaining the cycle of productivity in a way that works for you and your life! 

a few final notes: 

  • You may have noticed that this whole process is designed with people who have time to take breaks in mind, but I recognize this is a privilege that not everyone has. If there is a way you can eliminate some of your responsibilities and commitments, do it. Use Step 3 to root out those things in your life which are not urgent, important, and time-efficient.
  • Guard your time and do not take on too much. As someone who has made pursuing social justice and sustainability their life’s work, sometimes it seems to me that everything is important and urgent and I MUST GO TO ALL THE PROTESTS AND DO ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. By using this process, I understand that I will ultimately be more effective at promoting justice if I only take on a few select responsibilities, focus on them, and do them well.
  • In a culture where we are all trained to think of “time as money”, an ever-dwindling hourglass in the rat-race to our grave, I want to suggest a different idea. Time is our friend! Ultimately, when you are trying to get something done, time is what allows it to unfold and happen. Time is what allows us to move forward with plans and goals. You may feel an urgent need to do a hundred different things, and feel disappointed you haven’t gotten to them all yet. Remember that time is what will allow you to do those things, and that, because time is your friend, if you focus on what you want, eventually it will come to pass. Letting go of your sense of urgency in order to allow yourself to rest and be balanced, while recognizing that the things you want to accomplish will unfold over time, is probably going to feel better than trying to do them all right now.
  • Lastly, remember that the utmost important thing about this process is that it’s meant to help you feel good! Accomplishing things this way is about feeling good, resting is about feeling good. Of course, life is about balance, including emotional balance – you’ll never feel good all the time, and that’s ok, that’s what allows you to feel good sometimes. But the goal of the way this is designed is to make being productive a positive, sustainable cycle. If you don’t feel good, try something new. Keep adjusting until you find what works for you.

Alright, that’s all folks. Go forth, and kick ass. 

Love, 

Madeleine

further reading: 

I definitely cannot take credit for creating all these concepts on my own! Here are some things that I have either based my own ideas on, or are very related good reads.

Thomas Frank on beating student burnout, Erin from Gingerous on Crafting Your Best Day Ever Part One and Two, Tim Ferriss on why you need a “deloading phase” (read: rest and breaks!!!), and because I mentioned bullet journalling a few times and it’s one of my favorite tools for getting things done, here’s an intro video to the bullet journal and the official bullet journal website.

Images: fillthemwithgold, 2

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How to Get Things Done Part I: Ideas and Focus


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    As somebody who has spent quite a bit of time already getting things done, while also being a little bit of a productivity/wellbeing junkie, I’m surprised I haven’t written something like this already. I have mixed feelings about the idea of productivity and dedicating your life to getting things done (which you can read about here), but I also am a pretty ambitious person, driven by a sense of urgency informed by my awareness of the need for justice in this world. Because of these converging viewpoints, I am coming to a place in my life where I am very aware of how to efficiently get things done, but equally aware of the importance of rest, breaks, and valuing being over doing at certain times. 

     From this point in my understanding comes this handy-dandy guide I have constructed on how to get things done! Below are steps 1-3. Part Two, Planning, Action, and Reflection, contains steps 4-7. Rather than a linear step-by-step with an end point, I recommend looking at this more as a cycle that you will continually engage in throughout your life. While I think it’s helpful for me if I have the cycle go in this order, the order (and even the steps!) might look different for you. Plus, life is crazy and things rarely work out in their exact order. Just take this guide and run with it and use what helps you 🙂

1. gather ideas

     The first step to getting things done is knowing what it is exactly that you want to accomplish. For example, maybe you are feeling bored and want to find a way to spice up your life. Maybe your issue is more specific, like you want to figure out how to organize your closet. Or perhaps you have a million things you feel like you could be doing and need to pick out a few (if this is you, skip to the next step). 

     This step is kind of the “research” or “inspiration” phase. Look around for ideas on what you need to do, whether you do this on Pinterest or by looking at an issue and figuring out what needs to be done about it. So, for example, I work in a co-op marketplace, which is currently very messy (although less messy than it was). Sometimes I am very overwhelmed by the mess, but if I start writing down all my ideas and actionable tasks to solve the mess, I get closer to solving the problem just by identifying ways to do that. Another example is, sometimes on the internet I come across lots of really cool, inspiring ideas. In this phase, it’s important to record these ideas and write them down!! 

2. braindump

     So, now you’ve got ideas. Great! The next thing to do, if you haven’t already done so in Step 1, is to write them all down and conduct what some call a braindump. Erin of Gingerous conducts braindumps on a weekly basis to create a to-do list for the week. I like to do braindumps on various categories or in response to certain issues, like for my work or when writing New Years’ Resolutions or goals. All you have to do to conduct a braindump is just get a piece of paper and write down all your ideas on a topic, whether it’s just a giant to-do list or something more focused. 

3. focus

After you’ve done this, pick out a few tasks on the list to focus in on.

  • If you’re doing a braindump for the week and writing a daily to-do list based on that, pick out just a few of those tasks. My magic number for to-do list items is 3. It may not seem like a lot, but you need to give yourself leeway for rest, breaks, meals, unexpected interruptions, LIFE. Plus, you are more likely to get all the things on your daily list done if you put fewer items on there, and that feels really good!
  • If you’re doing a braindump for a list of goals to set, or a plan to solve an issue, pick out the most important ones to you, and again, only pick out a few! Make your list manageable so that you’re able to accomplish what you assign yourself, rather than overwhelming yourself and feeling discouraged. 

     When narrowing down lists of either type, I find it’s important to consider these two ideas. The first is a rule of permaculture design called “stacking functions”. When looking at a goal or task, ask yourself how many functions it serves. For example, cleaning your house might serve the practical function of cleaning your space, while also increasing your mental clarity and decreasing stress. The act of cleaning might also be a meditative task, or (if you are mopping or sweeping really vigorously) provide some physical activity. Right there are four functions that the task “clean house” serves- seems like it’s an efficient use of time! Conversely, exercise that is done purely for exercise’s sake alone, and not also for mental or spiritual wellbeing, serves fewer functions and is a less efficient use of time. That’s why you won’t catch me doing sit-ups very often, but I love going running and doing yoga because both aid my mental and spiritual health, along with my physical health. I also do a lot of biking because on top of providing exercise, fresh air, and mental clarity, it also is a method of transportation that gets me places – a very efficient use of time. Tasks or goals you identify as serving larger numbers of functions (in some permaculture circles, the goal is for anything to serve 3 functions or more!), are more worthy of your focus when you are narrowing down your list. 

     The other idea is something referenced often in productivity circles: the Eisenhower Matrix. Here’s a picture: 

You can assign any task or goal a place on this graph. Based on the quadrant it lands in, you can decide whether you want to do a task right now, later, or just discard it. Tasks that are urgent, and urgent and important are the most favorable things to focus on when narrowing your list. 


That’s all for now! Check back on Wednesday for steps 4-7, and in the meantime, try these out if you like 🙂

Love,

Madeleine


Images: Cheyenne Barton, Josh Medeski