Taking Pride in Humility
In the time of coronavirus, and as the nationwide wave of protests has rightly turned our attention toward systemic racism and police violence here in the US, I’ve held my commemoration of Pride with more humility than in years past - honoring the bravery of all who stand for change.
As a member of the LGBTQI+ community, I know what it is to be part of a marginalized population. But as a white person, I also know what it’s like to be a member of the dominant culture. Owning the significance of my social locations, in relation to the dominant culture, supports me in a deepening awareness of how I relate to my various identities and the respective powers they hold in the world.
My mindfulness practice has played a central role in this journey.
At this point in my journey, my acceptance of self is motivated by my love for others; I can’t advocate for change in a world in which I am too scared to be myself. I am strengthened in knowing that by living and sharing my truth I am not conceding to pressures to conform to a norm that limits all of us in expressing ourselves. There is a reciprocal relation to me living my truth while simultaneously advocating for others to live theirs.
My gender expression is fluid - meaning I don’t feel fixed in how I express myself. In one moment, I may appear to many as being more masculine, or boyish, though my sex is female, yet in another moment I may appear more feminine. My sexual orientation is queered - for me this means that I am attracted to people of multiple genders.
I grew up thinking that I needed to adapt myself to fit into the greater heteronormative culture. (Heteronormativity implies that heterosexuality is the “preferred” or “normal” sexual orientation.) I picked up on the pervasive signals expressed in my family, in school, and through advertisements, movies, television shows and books that informed me of the parameters within which it was acceptable to live, norms which did not reflect my truth. And I so badly wanted to fit in and to be accepted.
I realize now that what I was experiencing then was marginalization.
When I’ve tried to adapt my truth so that I fit into more culturally acceptable norms I’ve felt disconnected - like I’m a shell of a person, trying to live an idea. But because I internalized the messages of marginalization, the process of discerning my truth from what was valued by the greater culture has taken a fair amount of work. Living into that truth has required a willingness to turn toward it with acceptance and reclaim it.
The work that I have had to do to move toward a more true expression of myself with regard to my sexuality and my gender has offered me a foundation for the work that I must do as a white person.
In my young adulthood, I was aware of racial differences and I understood that racism was a prevalent force in our culture. I considered myself to be a good white person. Still, I had a difficult time seeing beyond my own marginalization to recognize my place in the dominant culture of whiteness.
It was a very painful moment of awakening to see that my own marginalization did not, in itself, prevent me from participating in the marginalization of others. I realized that I was using my identification with one non-dominant culture (i.e. queerness) as a means of defending myself from having to feel the pain of being white in a racialized world - a world in which whites benefit from the oppression of other races.
And I realized that unless I was actively engaging in practices which supported me in recognizing and dismantling the white supremacist conditioning in my own mind, I was complicit into the harms of the racialized systems from which I was benefitting.
During this journey, meditation has been an invaluable tool. Here are three examples of how my practice aids my engagement with anti-racist work.
First, I’ve found it essential to turn toward my experience with curiosity and interest, just as I do in meditation when a difficult emotion or sensation is present. Curiosity is an attitude of mind -- an inclination to engage with my experience, without a fixed idea of what I know or don’t know. When I am curious, there is a willingness to learn.
I’m incredibly grateful that the practice of meditation has helped me relate to my struggles with curiosity and interest, as opposed to solely feeling burdened by them. These days, when I notice I’m struggling, I know to ask questions, like, “What am I not accepting here?”
Second, I am willing to confront the truth. In order to uphold and perpetuate “otherness”, there must be somewhere within myself in which I am experiencing disconnect – and that can be seen in the clear light of meditation. I may feel disconnected from the greater society. Or I may feel disconnected from the experience of others who do not identify with the dominant culture.
This leads me to the third essential tenet of this work that meditation has helped me to do: I am willing to feel discomfort. It’s the avoidance of discomfort that creates disconnection, therefore discomfort lives in the gaps we must bridge. To feel discomfort is to be open to and aware of what I am feeling in the body, which is inherently vulnerable. Vulnerability puts me in contact with a tenderness I can’t access if I am trying to find a means to stay comfortable.
My willingness to sit in meditation with that discomfort, and allow it to bring tenderness to my heart, holds real power for change. If I approach my experience with only intellectual curiosity then I am not fully engaging with this process and I can evade the discomfort of feeling vulnerable. This is a defensive posturing of the heart as it is trying to protect against having to feel tender. Defensiveness is the seed of all brutality that exists in humanity.
To be an ally in dismantling systems of oppression, we must ourselves be willing to feel tender, to feel vulnerable and to bring this understanding into the world, in our day to day lives. That doesn’t happen one month or one week out of the year; this tenderness and humility is the kind of “pride” that we’re invited to live every day of the year.
Rae Houseman is a dedicated meditation practitioner who currently serves as the Guiding Teacher of Vermont Insight Meditation Center. Rae is a graduate of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leadership Program and holds a Master's degree in Somatic Psychology.