I’m an optimist by nature. Optimists see things on the bright side. They persevere, even in the face of difficulty, because of a belief that things will come out okay eventually. We like to believe in the goodness of others and forgive easily. An optimist is a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future. We tend not to see (or want to look at) the problems that may arise.
People who tend to be more pessimistic, on the other hand, are really good at seeing the things that could go wrong and sometimes even expect the worst to happen. I had to learn that there are really important viewpoints that pessimists bring to the table about any situation. My tendency to expect the best and not think about what could go wrong (because it’s not all that fun!) can be aided by a little understanding of pitfalls and complications that might arise ahead of time.
In general, optimists go into situations with high expectations, while pessimists keep low expectations to prepare for negative outcomes. You probably know which one you are without thinking about it too hard.
Then there are the realities of life which can make someone pessimistic. For instance, if you have been living with the impact of racism since you were born, you might be a little more pessimistic about what is happening right now. Not that we all haven’t been living with racism, but some of us (namely white people) have not been impacted by racism the way that black people have (gross understatement here). As a black person, I could understand if there were pessimism about what type of change is possible to the structures of racism that are embedded in our culture.
And, frankly, if you’re a white person and been living with white privilege all of your life, you could easily be lulled back into the comfort of your privilege after the protests are over. You might be thinking all of this substantive change is just a little too hard. Change is hard work. And, is it really going to get better? Are the systems in place really possible of change?
So, perhaps my optimism is going to show here but, at the moment, what’s happening feels like hope. And, hope, can help you fuel during the long haul. Changing the impact of systematic racism is not going to happen in a month, a year, or many years. It is the long game. And, I am already hearing a bit of fatigue set in.
Better yet, in the field between optimism and pessimism lies mindfulness. Mindfulness is awareness without judgment and with acceptance of situations just as they are. Even though we work for change, we don’t have to have things happen in a particular way or according to a pre-set timetable. With mindfulness, we are more free to do.the.work without conditions–knowing that things are as they are, despite our desire that they be different. This helps us from becoming disappointed or complacent. The work is tied to a deeper understanding of what creates meaning and purpose in our lives, and frankly is the right thing to do.
The mindfulness practice can help us face anti-Black racism with a commitment to become aware and alter its hold on our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Also becoming aware of our tendency to inaction and seeking instead to engage through our interactions with family and friends, in our workplaces, and in our local communities. For more, see Kamilah Majied’s piece in Lion’s Roar.
Remember that each little step you take is important. Get involved, even just a little, and know that your effort makes a difference. You can give money to organizations that need help to keep the movement alive (see my previous blog). You can listen to what your local organizations are doing and participate by writing letters to your local government about changes that need to be made to create a safer community for black people where you live. In Columbia, MO where I live, you can learn a lot about what’s going on in Facebook groups like CoMo for Progress and Race Matters Friends. Educate yourself by reading the many books that are out there about the issues of white privilege and antiracism.
I vow to do.the.work to help end systemic racism. I am committed to listening, understanding, doing, and helping. We are complicit in our silence. Please join me. And, if you want to talk about it, email me. Now is not the time to get weary. Don’t let your pessimism make you complacent and don’t let your optimism wear you down when things don’t change as quickly as you’d like. Stay hydrated. We have a long way to go.
The Buddha, in the noble eightfold path, describes Right Action as refraining from taking life, refraining from taking what is not given, and refraining from sexual misconduct. Right Action, in the context of the current circumstances, means cultivating loving care for all beings (the antidote to non-harming) and realizing the inequities of resources of all kinds between black and white people and working on balancing the playing field. These are important steps on the road to living together with love and respect.
All human beings deserve equal treatment and respect. Black lives matter.
Each week, when I blog, I will post something related to the ongoing journey to create a loving, safe place for all beings to live. It will be called “Doing the Work” and for today I’ll link white people to this article which I found helpful called Doing the Work: Unearthing Our Own White Privilege.