• Sarah Ratermann Beahan

Showing up imperfectly

I’ve wanted to write something for weeks and been unsure of how or what.

I’ve wanted to write what I feel and think, but how do I do so without centering myself? I can’t, literally I’m using the first person pronoun, I’m centered.

I want to do something; to say I hear you, I stand by you, I will have your back ... but I want more to amplify BIPOC voices that haven’t been heard enough.

I’ve wanted to put my stake in the ground and proclaim my allyship, all the while understanding that my very need to share my status as an ally is performative and counterproductive, and frankly, the opposite of being an ally.

And yet, silence is violence.

I want to read, watch, examine, cross-examine and consume everything I can, as though all the reading and watching will somehow baptize me free of racism. And I am aware of my instinct to consume is not unlike the need to colonize, and I sit with that. I look for the line between colonization and appreciation, and I can’t find a clear one, and I don’t know where to land.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus surges ahead while the public turns a blind eye again and again. The furor around personal freedoms is the exact thing that pulls us down like dead weight. I wish I could plan a trip like a normal person. I’m tired of feeling anxious in public places. I suspect everyone I encounter of risky behavior, I trust no one.

Somedays I feel like my skin is too tight, like it’s choking me and I just want to unzip it, crawl out of it and stretch, free.

2020, the year of reckoning. The year that we are forced to sit in dis-ease. To face our need for control. To recognize our addiction to instant gratification.

As we approach this July 4th holiday, Independence Day, I’ve been giving thought to patriotism. I asked myself, are you proud to be an American?

The hard, honest answer is no. I’m not.

I love my country. I love the sweeping prairies and deep lakes of Minnesota, the towering evergreens and rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. I love the hills nestled beside the rolling brown water of the Missouri River. Driving across the Midwest and Western states is some of the most heart-opening traveling I’ve done in the world.

But I also know the history. And I’m not proud that this country was built on the backs of slaves, on stolen land. How can I be proud of that? Its cognitive dissonance, to be proud of constructing a system that was so devastating to so many people. I don’t think this is the greatest country in the world. But when I hear expats rail on how embarrassing or shameful the US is, I want to spit in their faces. You took the easy route, I think. You exercised so much privilege. You left.

My patriotism is like a relationship: it is complicated and it’s hard work. There’s so much baggage, and we’ll never really unpack it all, not in my lifetime. There are times I wonder if it’s worth it, all this back-breaking, soul crushing conflict. The inner conflict, the interpersonal conflict, the systemic conflict.

Recently I heard and elementary school teacher on a Facebook Live video talking about how she talks to her students about conflict. Conflict isn’t bad, she tells them. Conflict leads to growth and new understanding. AND! IT’S NECESSARY.

You know what I keep thinking? If we (I) am going to weather these two paired viruses, the coronavirus and white supremacy, I am going to have to redefine my relationship with success and failure, right and wrong, and completion.

I am pretty good with gray areas, but I’ve also historically been an achiever. Meaning, I know how to give people what they want to get the gold star. Those ways of being won’t work. There’s no negotiating with the coronavirus. And there’s no way to cleanse myself of being complicit in a white supremacist system. There’s no point at which I get to declare myself “not racist.” Nope, I’m just a work in progress, I’m working toward antiracism.

I hate the term woke. It always makes me cringe. It seems to implicitly suggests a binary: you either are or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground. When you’re “woke” you’re done, you get the gold star, you’ve crossed the finish line. And the more I examine myself, my work, my profession, the organizations I’ve been employed by and otherwise connected to, the ways I engage socially, my lifestyle choices, EVERYTHING, the more I realize that there is no finish line. There is no “woke.” There is learning. There is seeing more clearly. There is realizing that the work is long and hard and there’s not a roadmap, but give up, to accept defeat is to be complicit.

I’ve been collecting my musings on life during the pandemic and calling it the COVID-19 Chronicles. But this year feels so much bigger than grappling with the uncertainties of a global pandemic, it’s about systems toppling, global inequities and uprising. I can’t think about one without thinking about, much less write about these things without considering the intersections and so this topic grows.

I am learning and growing and I hope people will keep challenging me: my language, my actions or inactions, my intentions, the ways I benefit from the white supremacist system. No matter how it feels (and I don’t always like the way this learning feels), this is the healing, this is the work we all must do. And to not try, to not take the risk is to say disengage in the learning and the change that is necessary. This is the way that we cultivate our resilience so we can do the big work of rejecting and rebuilding the systems that uphold white supremacy. Show up humbly and imperfectly, just show up.

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