The Privilege of Belonging
How important is belonging to me? VERY! I have spent my whole life up until this point trying to earn my belonging. When I am criticized or left out, I don't feel as though I belong. When I stick out as being "special" or "different", I don't belong. If my earrings are too flashy or my outfit too loud, I may not be asked to belong. If I speak my mind and disagree with the majority, I may not belong. If I shine too brightly, I may be cast out of belonging. If I just am... will I belong? I never before thought of belonging as a by product of white privilege until I read this provocative piece by franciscan monk Richard Rohr:
" Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. All this we take for granted as normal. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us." - Richard Rohr
The notion that belonging is something that others feel they have by nature of waking in the morning. By nature of being born. By nature of being white. I look back at all of the times that I laughed when an uncomfortable moment came up or didn't speak up because none of the white people in the room even noticed. When I smiled through an uncomfortable moment as not to be cast out. Like the other day when I was at a photoshoot and the song playing on the playlist said nigger at least twenty times and no one else in the room even batted an eyelash. Was it because I was the only person of color or because their privilege had allowed them a pass on this one? How I would laugh at their jokes a little bit more, or listen to their stories go on a little to long so that they could be seen and feel heard. My healing comes in the death of those things and the acknowledgment that by nature of being on this planet, I belong. I am not there yet. I still find myself at times catering to others belonging over my own. In doing so no one wins. There is no honor in that. Many people of color can related when I say that the more I "be", the more I get the eyes from well intentioned white people who see their demise in my growth. I see the fear of them having to surrender their privilege that they don't have a name for (let alone a recognition of) because it has been hand picked, gift wrapped, protected and carefully placed in their laps from generation to generation. What they fail to recognize is that this privilege is an honor. Sacred even. Instead of being filled with shame, what will you choose to do with this gift?
If this is truly the age of the great white awakening, the beginning of what some like to call "race consciousness" (which is mostly about white people owning their privilege), the only way for them to see themselves and their invisible (but no so invisible) privilege is for me to fully embody my belonging. When I do they see themselves fully. The tricky part of this is that there is no way through it but to sit with it, feel it, suffer through it and experience what is perceived as a loss until there is no longer an "other". I must move through the uncomfortable. I must honor their journey without sacrificing my own while continuing to stand in my own authentic light. I must continue to stand in these moments of having friends and loved ones have to see me for the first time. I will choose to heal and not choose my success or my politeness or my smallness (which many white friends lovingly mistake as strength) as my gateway to belonging. At the end of the day this is about honor. Having the privilege to see another for who they truly are. Having the honor to show compassion when others are learning and growing into an understanding of themselves and honoring the journey to a home that has yet to be discovered. We all belong because we are children of God and that by nature is an honor.
Read the full article on "The Invisible Character of White Privilege" by Richard Rohr