The Not Knowing of This Moment of Confronting Racism

By Leo Babauta

Last week, I spent some time trying to write an article both celebrating Juneteenth, and inviting all of us to examine the root of our own racism.

I struggled. I didn’t know exactly what to say, didn’t have any good solutions to offer, didn’t feel I had a grasp of the situation we’re in. I realized that’s because I don’t know – and it took me awhile to realize that maybe that not knowing is OK.

Many of us want a simple solution to the systemic racism we’ve allowed to happen – but there isn’t one. When we don’t have a simple solution, our first reaction is to get discouraged and frustrated and give up.

But we can’t just give up. We have to let ourselves stay in the place of not knowing. We have to stay with the questions, and explore with curiosity.

We have to listen. Listen to those who are most impacted, listen to their stories, listen to their anger and exhaustion and pain. Listen as if we don’t know anything, because we really don’t.

Examining the Roots

In the article I tried to write last week, I wanted to look at the root of our racism. We all have this racism in us, inherited from parents and teachers and textbooks and society, and unexamined and allowed to continue.

I wanted to write about how we view people as Other. There’s me, and there’s Other. Not the same, not connected, not unified as one. Other.

Then I realized I don’t know much about this. If you’re interested in examining this, I recommend reading Radical Dharma and Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

When I let myself not know, I leave room for people who know so much more than I do.

I don’t really know where my own racism comes from, or how to start breaking it up. I know I want to, and I’m committed to owning it and working with it. Making myself whole again.

Remaining in the Not Knowing

Most of us really don’t like to not know. We seek out certainty, looking for books and articles and systems and tools to give us the certainty we want. That’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with this instinct to get solid ground under our shaky feet.

But there’s so much more possibility when we let ourselves stay in the not knowing.

Let ourselves wonder how things came to be, without needing a definite answer.

Let ourselves wonder how to work with all of this, without needing a definitely plan or path.

Let ourselves be open to the stories of other people, to discovering our own story, without needing to know all of that already.

Let ourselves stay in the uncertainty that is fundamental to this moment, without needing to run.

This is where I find myself, in the not knowing. It’s a place at the center of pain and outrage, and I am trying to let myself be more open to moving closer to that center, rather than moving away.

I’ll leave you with some words from Rev. angel Kyodo williams that impacted me:

love letter to beloved black bodies + heart instructions for those who choose to receive them.

let the folks that can’t know how this lands in and on our bodies do the work of reclaiming their humanity until they realize this pain lays violence on our bodies, but ignored and unchecked, whiteness consumes their spirit, their wholeness, and integrity as human beings.
until white folks feel their guts wrench them out of pervasive confusion and into their bodies to show up beyond the obsession with personal safety and getting it right that is whiteness personified, they are the bulwark to white supremacy that got this man and every black brown indigenous devalued body killed.
white folks, you might not know what to “do” about it, but you can start by feeling which is where all wisdom of what to do when you don’t know what to do comes from.
if you don’t have access to that, now you have a place to start your work from. get comfortable with that discomfort.
in the meantime, give a shit.
feel helpless outrage.
take a risk.
get it wrong.
offend someone.
make beloved all black bodies.
-Rev. angel Kyodo williams