Your Invitation: Three Gifts The Anti-Racist Uprising Brought Me | Joshua Freedman | 7 Min Read

My strategy was to avoid the topic. 

I considered myself “not racist,” but when issues of racism came up, I’d demur, “it’s not my area of expertise.” In other words: I didn’t want to do that work. When I’d see the videos of brutality against BIPOC community members, I’d scroll quickly past. I didn’t want to think those thoughts. I didn’t want to feel those feelings.

Yet in the last six months, something’s begun to change for me. I want to share my thanks for the gifts of learning and support I’ve received in this space — and to attempt to share three of those gifts back out. 

Perhaps the sense of helplessness I experienced with the pandemic helped me shift from my position of apathy. The grief and uncertainty of March-June 2020 left me raw. So, with the Black Lives Matter uprising in June of 2020, I’ll be honest and say that my first reaction was: “Really? This too… now?” Then I remembered Hillel-the-Elder’s questions of: If not now, then when? If not me, then who?

“Emotions have fueled racism, but emotions can also fuel liberation.” [email protected]

1. The Gift of Allyship

In June 2020, I thought, “I can be an ally.” Now, I see it differently.

On June 2, we had planned a livestream panel about social emotional learning and the brutal effects that the pandemic was having on student and teacher wellbeing — starting at 8 a.m. At 7:50 a.m. the panelists and I checked in, and it was clear we needed to pivot the conversation. Looking at the video now, I can see how stunned and lost I was that morning.

That panel taught me something I never knew before. I experienced something I’d never felt before: Emotions have fueled racism, but emotions can also fuel liberation.

The next day, we continued the conversation about emotional intelligence and racism in another livestream, and it was not easy, but this work isn’t supposed to be. These discussions are the beginning of what is critical to ensure our survival, to regain, and ensure our humanity: Listen to these words.

This conversation is ongoing. It’s still hard to be honest, to engage with the emotions woven into these issues. It’s still scary to ask and actually listen to someone’s experience of oppression, especially with an awareness that I act in ways that perpetuate this system. I know that I have a lot more to learn. But there’s something I’ve found in this journey that feels incredibly precious to me:

I’ve found allies.

When I thought it was my service to be an ally to Black & Brown people, I was still saying, “this isn’t my problem.” Now, I’ve come to feel a mutuality. To see that inequity is my problem and responsibility too and that I can be in community with people of all races, genders, ages, orientations, cultures, beliefs… and we can partner in working on this lifelong challenge. I feel supported to grow and challenge my own racism. I feel loved and accepted to grow as a human being. To be perfect in imperfection, to be a learner in solidarity with people who have been living through the struggle of inequity their whole lives.

What if we (white people) could be learners in solidarity against racism, in mutual alliance with people who have been living through the struggle of inequity their whole lives?

I know myself to be a stumbling beginner.

In that space of not knowing, I feel a tremendous liberation

2. The gift of learning

I’ve been blessed by having children with strong opinions. In the process of their awakening passion for equity, I’ve been a collateral-learner. Over the years, we’ve had some challenging conversations. Sometimes I’ve felt pushed, sometimes inspired, but often just “felt old.” So it’s been remarkable to share the video from the last four months with my older child, Em, who is the editor of the new film: Beyond Allyship — EQ for Collective Liberation. We also created a free discussion guide to go with the film.

I didn’t know what Em would create with this footage. In the end, they focused on the idea of “allyship” and the work we need to do to liberate ourselves from racism. It’s about the role of emotional intelligence in building a deeper level of connection to reclaim humanity. It’s about the way systems of oppression harm all of us.

And, among the many stories Em drew out from the livestreams, looking at the film, I can see myself in a process of learning. This is an incredible gift. I’m a “world expert” on emotions, yet in issues of inequity, I know myself to be a stumbling beginner. In that space of not knowing, I feel a tremendous liberation — but as Princess Ayers-Stewart discusses in the film, that liberation of being a learner can only happen when we feel safe enough to risk not-knowing. So from the gift of allyship, I find this second gift emerging.

Grappling with racism and inequity, big, difficult feelings arise. But what if that’s not bad? What if a feeling is your message. Your invitation?

3. The gift of voice

Every calendar quarter at Six Seconds, volunteer Network Leaders around the world hold EQ Cafés to bring people together in practicing emotional intelligence (I highly recommend joining these — they’re insightful, supportive and free!). In Q3 2020, our Café was called Disrupting Bias, and also had over 300 of our staff & volunteers participating internally before they shared the program with 1000s of people around the world. In that process I heard a resounding message:

“I want to have dialogue around equity — I want to get better at this — and it feels deeply rewarding to have a compassionate space in which to engage in this topic.”

I agree, and I’m profoundly grateful for the spaces we’ve cocreated to hear one another. In these conversations, I am finding ways to voice my own learning — and more importantly to listen to voices who’ve been pushed aside.

In the marathon of tumult of the last 18 months, for many of us, it’s become extraordinarily difficult to find space. Sometimes I find myself missing the relative quiet of March 2020 (despite how scary that was). 

David Adams, a powerful voice in SEL+Equity+Citizenship, asked in a call, “Who is the ‘we’ in ‘we the people’?” The early days of this nation were fraught with systemic oppression — including pandemics — as settlers waged genocide against the Indigenous peoples of this land, Turtle Island. So for me, disrupting bias means grappling with this nation’s history. In that context, there are things I love about my country, and people in its history I feel deep gratitude for, for so many who’ve pursued ideals of inclusive community. And this comes with a big range of mixed feelings from shame, to rage, to tiredness, to disgust, to grief.

I can go back to the old pattern of avoiding the topic; that’s the comfortable option. Or, I can take the risk to feel — and to talk; that’s the scary option, and it’s also the powerful option.

One of the key messages I take from the Beyond Allyship film is that fear isn’t bad. Big feelings about inequity are — far from being negative — a sign of us regaining our humanity. As Dr. Karen Craddock shared in one of our later livestreams:

When fear and shame are hidden, they emerge “in violence, but when they can surface, I think that’s a space of vulnerability… vulnerability is at the heart of being human. For me I believe that’s where empathy and compassion can bloom… [which] is going to be critical, for action… and transformation”

A feeling is a message. An invitation.

If you’d like to accept the invitation, then please watch the film above, identify the feelings that arise, and engage in a conversation about the questions it raises. There’s a free discussion guide to download if you want to use this with a group. As Princess Ayers-Stewart says in the Beyond Allyship film:

“It starts with a conversation. It starts with some self reflection, and some self awareness — and starting with you.” ~Princess Ayers-Stewart

A version of this article first appeared here

Joshua Freedman

Joshua Freedman, CEO, Six Seconds, is one of the pioneers in the field of emotional intelligence; he cofounded Six Seconds in 1997, is the bestselling author of At the Heart of Leadership and five other books and six validated psychometric assessments on EQ, and contributor to many EQ programs including Coaching Equity Essentials. He’s also an instructor at Columbia Teachers College SPA administrative credential program; he is cocreator of the world’s largest social emotional learning program, POP-UP Festival ­— in partnership with UNICEF World Children’s Day, bringing skills for emotional wellbeing to millions of children & adults in 200+ countries.

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