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Racism and the Collapsing Society, Barbara Love and Tim Jackins, June 7, 2020

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Getting Ready to Lead BLCD

I have been an RC leader for many years. I have been active in the RC Community, having sessions and attending workshops, for more than twenty years. I have taught classes and am a Regional Reference Person. Even with all of the sessions I have had about how racism and internalized racism affect me, it has been surprising to notice how much more work I must do as I prepare to lead a Regional BLCD in 2016.

As a mixed-heritage, middle-class person with a Black parent and a white parent, much of my work in being part of and leading Black RC has been to discharge recordings of entitlement and white privilege. I have also worked hard on connection with Black people. I mostly grew up in a white family, and I never felt like I was “Black enough” to fully claim an identity as an African-heritage person until I got into RC.

My struggles in relationships with other Black people typically show up with me either (1) feeling like I am smarter/more experienced/better than they are (and taking control of the relationship, thinking it should go a certain way that works for me); or (2) feeling so bad about myself and the recordings of privilege I carry that unless I am always being helpful, trying to “save” them, anticipating their needs, and trying to do whatever it is that will make me “indispensable” to them, they would have no reason to like me or want me around. Of course, neither of these ways of being in a relationship really works for me or the other person. In recent years, as I have had to say goodbye to some important relationships, I have had to face a lot more of my difficulties in this area.

As International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People, Barbara Love has played a key role in making space for me to use RC fully to face these difficulties. She has challenged me to play bigger and bigger roles in RC and modeled making oneself central in this project and in life. She has stayed close to me and offered me key sessions even while we were working through internalized racism and other challenges in our longtime relationship. Her work to expand and grow Black leadership in RC and to include me as part of that, have created the conditions where I can face my difficulties much more fully than I thought I could. Apprenticing and preparing for leading one of the Regional BLCDs has accelerated my work in this direction.

APPRENTICING

Apprenticing gave me a chance to look at and think about my struggles around leadership. Usually when I am in training or working with a mentor, I have to act like I know what I am doing to show that person I am capable. I am often trying to impress them. Apprenticing for BLCD was very different.

I already had a close relationship with the leader I was apprenticing with—Rudy Nickens, the Regional Reference Person in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Rudy and I loved each other and had known each other for many years. We attended many workshops together. However, I had never been in the position of directly supporting his leadership and trying to think about him. It meant that I had to face all of my hopes and my disappointments about relationships with Black men. I got so much closer to Rudy, and so hopeful, that I thought he could fill those needs I never got filled when I was young. We had a good fight about it and were able to counsel (with support) about what gets hard in our relationship as a Black man and a Black woman.

The fight scared me a lot, but thankfully, Rudy was clear that we would have many fights as we got closer, and that he was committed to me. This gave me the perspective I needed to keep discharging my early feelings of disappointment about Black men, stay close to him, and keep being myself and showing myself as a Black woman. It was interesting to notice where sexism or internalized sexism appeared—for instance, people sometimes asked me about Rudy’s travel arrangements for workshops even though we do not live in the same city.

Apprenticing also helped me learn about the variety of ways that leaders can lead. There is no right or wrong way to lead. Everyone has something to offer. No two people will lead things the same way, or on the same topics. It was sometimes hard for me to resist the urge to add things to what Rudy was saying. I sometimes wanted to talk about something he said, but in a different way. Again, it felt like people wouldn’t want me around unless I could show them I was “smart”—a very early hurt that came from getting almost no adult validation or contact outside of school. I learned a lot by staying with Rudy’s mind and seeing all of the interesting places it could lead us.

MIXED HERITAGE

It is interesting to be a mixed-heritage person who was raised primarily in a white family and grew up in a predominantly white country (the United States)—and be a leader of BLCD. It is still a struggle for me to fully believe that I am the right person to lead Black people. There is a lot I am still exploring for myself about what it means to be Black. I am still learning about what works and doesn’t work in relationships with Black people. But I also realize that if we are having sessions and discharging on our early hurts, all of us are facing these things. I am also realizing that no leader has ever had all of the experiences of the people they lead.

I suspect that as a leader of BLCD I will encourage us to work more fully on issues surrounding mixed-heritage people. It won’t be possible for me to occupy this leadership position without that work happening. Given how our society is changing (there are many, many more mixed-heritage people with each generation), it’s important that we get to be honest about our feelings about mixed-heritage people.

Over the years I have had a lot of sessions about not belonging, not being accepted by Black people, feeling like I am not legitimately Black, and being afraid of being targeted for carrying the pieces of white privilege and entitlement that still show on me. But in preparing to lead BLCD, these fears have felt very real, like I am just the wrong person to do this. I have had to rely on Barbara, Rudy, Tim Jackins, the other apprentices getting ready to lead BLCD, and other Co-Counselors I trust, to remind me that this makes sense for me and for the Community. I still can’t completely tell it makes sense, but I am willing to go with their perspective and keep discharging on it. It feels terrifying. But I can tell that I don’t want to accept limitations on my life to avoid feeling how scary this is. There is a lot happening in the world, and I don’t want any old fears to prevent me from playing a big role in making change.

GENERATIONAL ISSUES

I have also been the youngest person on the BLCD leadership team for some years (I am forty-three years old; the other leaders are sixty and older). Growing up in the post-Civil Rights, post-Jim Crow era means I have had a very different experience of being Black in the United States. Most of the messages I have heard during my lifetime are that we are “post-racial,” that racism is over and done. My generation is one of the first to move into the middle class and leave our working-class Black families behind. There was an existing group of Black leaders in RC by the time I joined RC; I didn’t have to build it from scratch. Again, it has been interesting to have sessions about how different this experience feels from what was experienced by other BLCD leaders.

It has also been pretty amazing to be part of BLCD leadership at the time of the new wave of Black activism in this country and elsewhere, through efforts such as the Black Lives Matter campaign. Many Black people, particularly young Black people, are showing their outrage about racism in ways I haven’t seen in my lifetime. I have talked with many younger Black people about the fact that older Black people are scared of them—because of the violence that many young Black people act out in Black neighborhoods— and struggle to form alliances with them.

I have had to work on the places where it feels like I haven’t struggled enough, or experienced enough hardship, to be considered legitimately Black by older Black people. I have had older Black people actually express this to me. I think a lot of people my age and younger experience this kind of internalized racism in our relationships with older Black people. It has been a privilege to be able to counsel about this with older Black people in RC and to have them welcome and support me into leadership—this has not been my experience outside of RC. This has challenged all of the places where I want to “sit back” and follow older people, or continue believing that somehow I am not ready to lead. It has also helped me form better relationships with older Black people in my life who tell me they want to “go off into the sunset”—they are facing elders’ oppression, and they believe it is time for them to exit leadership and leave it for young people to do. I try to get them laughing and let them know I will keep a rocking chair ready for them while we continue to do our work together. I express to them how much I value their minds. It has made a huge difference to have the opportunity in BLCD to lead with older Black people, side by side, as peers.

These are a few examples of how preparing to lead BLCD is moving me and my life forward. Some of the feelings I need to discharge in the process feel really awful. But I can tell that I am much better off by doing this work, and I am closer to believing that this will move the RC Community forward as well.

Alysia Tate
Regional Reference Person for Illinois, USA
Chicago, Illinois, USA


Last modified: 2017-05-10 22:26:11+00