White and Afraid to Write
It is very hard to write when you are afraid. In the last 3 years, I have discovered how trauma plays a very central role in my life. It opened my eyes to the suffering of those whose gender was not male and those who are not white. It opened my eyes to those who have mental health issues, who grow up in poverty, who don’t have a chance from the beginning. It opened up my eyes to the fear of white men, poor and well off, to the fear we are all facing around the current state of the world.
I love to write and create art. It is a place that I feel my heart, my mind, and my spirit can come together and truly express themselves. I am a middle aged white male who trained for many years to be a spiritual teacher. This has been complex journey for me. Walking away from the teacher role was the first step in my liberation as a creative. Now, it is examining how my privilege is an obstacle to connection.
For many years, I listened to women, people of color, different sexual orientation, to the poor, the mentally ill, the disabled, to all those who are underrepresented and often oppressed. That listening was often a choice, a luxury of my privilege. Some was necessary, being married to a woman, living in a poor, rural area and working in the mental health field. That listening must never stop, however just listening now doesn’t feel like enough.
Given what I know about the history of this country, of the world, and how people treat each other, I didn’t feel like I had the right to add to the conversation. My ignorance, perhaps even my very existence could be part of the problem. There is no way to fix any of the racial, gender, and economic disparities in an essay or painting. And I feel that is what many people of privilege want, to have their kumbaya moment and move on with the status quo, the very status quo that allows them to take advantage of those who they claim they want peace and harmony with.
What I am discovering is that while listening to those who suffer for their identity opens my eyes to their world, it might be equally important to share my reflections on my own experience with those who share my privilege, to begin a dialogue that seems to be developing in those who truly want to make a change inside themselves. Artists and writers have their role to play and I want to be a part of that discussion. I want to learn more about what it means to be a human being, to bring to light the traumas that lead to a world where sandbox debates and violence are considered normal ways of relating. It is not acceptable to me that this is normal.
I am scared of what might happen if I open up and share personal stories. I am fearful of having to face how my history, personal and sociological, and my fumbling through it caused pain in others. I am fearful that I will be attacked. Knowing my own sensitivities, I am not sure I can emotionally handle that. It is part of my privilege that I have a choice, all the while knowing that it isn’t another’s responsibility to make me comfortable in this kind of discussion.
This is why so many of privilege don’t want to speak out. It is a conversation that will not likely end in our lifetimes, a conversation that will always be uncomfortable, that will not tied together in a bow and set aside.
So, I have laid out the crux of what probably is the issue for most in my position: Why should I open myself up to a conversation about things for which it is very hard to take responsibility. Especially when I can barely keep my own head above water, and/or because it might mean I am attacked and have to give up what little I have as a result of my privilege.
When I face this crux, I feel it is exactly why we need to have this conversation. I feel if I am to grow and learn how to be a more conscious and compassionate person in this world, I must face this long lived trauma that appears like a ghost, but colors every aspect of our lives, from television and movies, books, sports, role models, career choices, family and friendships. We are already having this conversation, and it is dominated by those who don’t have the skills to have it in a loving and compassionate way. Perhaps I am more afraid of the dominance of this kind of argument than I am of what will happen if I chose a different path of communication. Maybe that is why I was finally able to open up today.
Geo Freeom is a writer and artist who attempting to enter into a conversation about what it means to be privileged, masculine and white for his own betterment. Through memoir and art, he hopes to open his own heart and mind to new ways of being compassionate with himself and others.