I have been meaning to write this blog post for a long time. And by meaning, I don’t just speak to intent, I mean that I have written parts of, broken down structure of, imagined the ways to write this post and yet until now I have neglected to put it down on the page. And I did write this, I insert today, on June 11th, only posting it to the blog today. What is that about, I wonder? Reluctance to be read, to be seen?
My question or area of curiosity is about how we navigate relationships, especially the closest relationships (for me, my partner; some days my immediate family) with those who are in a different place or have a different level of interest in doing personal work around IRS. I feel as though, even since I’ve first articulated this question, I’ve found some wisdom around this – by having it in mind I’ve been more attuned to what I hear and learn that speaks to this, and also mine my own self-awareness. But I am hungry to hear about others’ experiences navigating this. It seems that differences here translate so specifically to values and ethics, and these are so specifically the areas that can make or break a relationship.
When I am experiencing hard emotions about recognizing different interest in doing this work, my IRS go-to’s manifest in a really intense way. Self-righteousness, perfectionism, and control are obvious elements- I feel compelled to tell my partner what he needs to read and listen to, what he should be thinking about, diminishing his process when he shares how he has been thinking about anti-racism, and thinking if not communicating ultimatums around his ability to “do this work” and our long-term future together. In the moment, these behaviors feel necessary and urgent, correct and authentic. Once I take a wider lens, however, it feels embarrassingly tense and controlling. And it feels as thought there is a much more available middle-ground: yes, it would be wonderful to have a partner who is thinking about and making personal changes directly in the service of anti-racism work, at exactly the same time. But when that is not, most likely, going to be the case, how do you stay in relationship (and good relationship) with a lover or loved one who you see as having an essentially different way of showing up in the world?
I feel this coming up in my neck and shoulders. Like I’m armoring up, squaring up, and getting ready for some sort of violent altercation. I detest violence, and yet I feel violence in the intensity of the emotion that comes up around judging others. I feel like, in the best moments with my partner I feel soft, open, safe, vulnerable, and silly; and how when the subject of anti-racism work comes up, I feel hard, cognitive, cold, and demeaning. It is a gross feeling, and one that I move away from as quickly as possible.
At the same time, I recognize that I give more forgiveness toward what I see as problematic behaviors the farther away from me and my inner circle they exist. For a total stranger, I empathize with the situations and conditions that only that person could know in full, in mitigating whatever behavior comes up for critique. For my partner, however, I feel the worst and heaviest version of a negative parental voice: you should have known better, I thought more of you, I am embarrassed that you didn’t sound more knowledgeable about these things. And I recognize just how deep in my bones that messaging is that I learned from family about how to keep up appearances, how to be “smart” about everything (oh, the early planted seeds of my intellectualization-addiction), how to use mean words to cut to the quick.
And yet, there are moments of loosening when I remember, and these are more frequent moments to be sure, that I am ecstatic to know this human, and that they are on their own path, on their own journey. Spirit has different questions for each one of us. And I chose this person, in part, because of the ways that he to me is gentle, kind, accommodating, loving, and unconditional. That does not negate the harm that his white body can cause in the world, and I need to be able to sit in the discomfort of that. It is not my job to direct his work around anti-racism; it is my job to reckon with and own the responsibility of choosing partnership with a person who meets so many of my needs in the most delightful of ways, and who perpetuates harm on the world in ways, and that I have a very specific lens on that, as a white woman in partnership with a white man. Specifically, a white woman engaged in this work for some time, seeing whiteness as the ever-presence that it is, trying to dialogue about this with someone who sees whiteness as a categorization, not culture. It is relatively recent for me to recognize how deeply and quietly I was heavily indoctrinated into white culture. So much so that I see the threads of white culture as characterological, and personal, as personality. That is the ultimate propaganda is it not? To make something so familiar that it feels individual, exceptional, proprietary, mine? And so I see in him now where I recognize myself several years ago: still feeling that I could put things like perfectionism, over-scheduling, urgency as traits of mine, rather than learned behaviors to keep up the status quo.