Struggling to be Comfortable with Uncomfortable Conversations

meIn the Gospel of Matthew 26:33-35, at the Last Supper Jesus predicts that one of his closest disciples, Peter, will deny knowing him three times before sunrise. In verses 69- 75, when learn that Peter does indeed deny him and weeps bitterly. I think I know how Peter felt that morning.

When it comes to conversations about race and equity, I find it much easier to write about than to speak about. I know without a doubt what my core beliefs are and that I am a firm believer in equity, kindness and love for all – no matter the color of their skin, sexual orientation, gender preferences, religion or country of origin. Yes, your life and my life matters and blue lives matters that is without question. All lives do matter, but in our society we do not treat all lives as mattering.  So, all lives matter is not a true statement until the lives of black, brown and indigenous people as well as LBGSQT lives do too. I recognize my own privelege as a cisgender straight, white woman. Not that I don’t have struggles in my life – I do, but they are not related to the color of my skin,  who I choose to love or how I feel in my own body.  I am called to be an advocate. I feel this in my soul and especially when I am quiet with myself. I can write these words without hesitation. I am able to reflect on and explain what privelge and freedom means through written words. I am even able to speak about this subject with like-minded people. However, when it comes to speaking with someone that has differing views I freeze.

In the past couple of weeks, I have found myself in a postion to point out racists ideas to people I was directly speaking to and help replace them with anti-racist ideas, but I failed to do so.  For example, I was catching up with somone I hadn’t seen since quartantine begain in March. I asked how she was doing with everything. We started talking about COVID-19 and the social unrest. She explained to me how she thought it was stupid for young people to protest in small towns like ours, especially when very few black people live here and those that do probably aren’t being profiled. She went on to say if people were respectful and followed the rules they wouldn’t be arrested. Her focus was on the rioters and looters, whom she felt should be removed with force as a deterrent to others from doing the same. She said she knew that COVID-19 is real, but that she felt it was a conspiracy to take our livlihoods away and make us completely dependent on the government. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t agree with her, but I also didn’t tell her I thought she was wrong. There is hate in our community (I see it in the Confederate flag flying from the flag pole of a house down the street from me), there is validity in protesting in supporting those without freedoms even if we don’t see these injustices in our own towns, and while their is rioting and looting most have been peaceful.  But I didn’t say that. Instead, I clammed up and changed the subject. After I left, I felt terrible I hadn’t said something. She is entitled to her opinions. My responding to her most likely would not have changed her opinions. Yet, I was not my authentic self in my interaction with her.

In another incident, I overheard some family members talking about the neighborhood my grandmother’s house is in Cleveland as a “bad neighborhood.”  As an observer of the houses and lawns the lined the streets, I did not see anything to indicate to me that the neighborhood was bad. In fact, just the opposite appeared to be true in my eyes. The lawns were mowed and nicely landscaped, I didn’t see any trash piled up or gangs of kids walking up and down the street nor did I see a heavy police presence. The neighbors on both sides of my grandma’s/uncle’s house were friendly, conveyed their condolances and offered help. The neighborhood is now predominately, African American. It dawned on me in that moment, that may be that was the cause for concern and labelling it a “bad neighborhood.” I don’t know one way or the other if that was their intent, as again I didn’t speak up and ask. I pretended like I hadn’t heard their conversation. Afterwards, I wished I had. At the time, I didn’t know what the actual crime statistics for the neighborhood were. Afterwards I did a little research and found that Neighborhood Scout gave the town where my grandma’s house is and the town were I live now the same crime index of 15 while the city I grew up in an idex of 39 (with 100 being the safest). I don’t know how accurate this data is (I am still doing some research into this). I was surprised by these statistics though as I’ve never thought of the town where I live as “bad” nor I doubt would any of my relatives.

I want to be that courageous person that is comfortable having uncomfortable conversations in real life (not just in the online world). In the Pivot and Rise Mastermind course I am currently taking, I learned about the Identity Gap. This is the gap between how I appear to others and what I project to others versus how I feel on the inside and who I really am. Ideally this gap should be 0%. I am working on narrowing my gap more and more. I am getting better at doing this and making my voice heard in writing, but not as much in person conversations. I think the reason is because in writing I can reflect and choose my words carefully. In real-life conversations, I don’t want to embarass someone or make them uncomfortable. The words and statistics fly out of my head. This leaves me feeling like Peter. I know I can do better. I struggle and I’m not there yet. But, I forgive myself. I’m not giving up.