TL;DR: white, socio-economically privileged cis passing folks are allowed to be be moody, angry, “irrational” or “unstable”, whereas these qualities are dangerous and deadly for Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC).
Long version: I used to be a shy kid. I was homeschooled and once I started integrating into middle school I was suddenly under a microscope. They all wanted to know my background and personal life but it almost always ended in scrutiny and mockery. I was awkward, I was bigger than the cute girls, I didn’t know how to act or dress, and no one thought I was funny, cool or talented. I tried sooooo hard to blend in and shrink. For all of puberty. Then I got pretty and wanted to blend in so men wouldn’t notice me.
Enter the privilege drug* (well, privilege was there since the beginning but I didn’t start to develop an awareness of it until after puberty). In college I found out I was funny, cool, talented and pretty. I learned that my uniqueness and my feelings were assets and that I was allowed to express them. I started on a journey of learning how to put my thoughts into words and a lot of it was affirmed or tolerated. I learned more about feminism, philosophy, politics, sexuality and gender. I learned how to tell mansplainers when they had ideologically stepped in some ripe dog sh*t. I became a proud “angry” feminist.
I learned more about myself and my needs. I learned how to speak up for my needs. I learned through trial and error that I’m better off without people who deny, minimize or erase my needs. I learned that I particularly enjoy being around people who are honest about their feelings and needs. In my friends and family I saw the damage caused by burying one’s needs and feelings. I learned that colonial femininity didn’t fit me. I embraced masculinity. I rejected the idea that anyone is entitled to my energy. I rejected the idea that I should provide comfort and pleasure to everyone I meet. I set boundaries. I got more vocal, more confident.
Then customer service ruined me. I learned that people take too much, that men take basic politeness as flirting, that I will always only be an object to people with more privileges than I have. I experienced first hand that empathic people need to protect their energy to protect their health and sanity. I learned that I am tender and not everyone can be trusted with my exposed core. I learned to maintain my boundaries and give less f*cks. I learned to be cold. I learned that moodiness was my passive aggressive cloak of protection.
What I’ve been realizing since then is that my emotional freedom could get me killed if I was born with more melanin. That my neurodivergence could get me killed if I was born with more melanin. That a single wrong decision, or poor choice of words, or a facial expression could get me killed if I was born with more melanin. If I had never been able to access the mental healthcare I needed. If I didn’t have a car or specific friends and family I could talk to. If I wasn’t born into a system that values me for things outside of my control. If I had been born otherwise, my parents might have had to bury me in grief and outrage spanning decades and centuries. Only to have their mourning met with gaslighting and violence.
This world is full of pain, grief, anger, frustration. I inherited some anger issues and I am learning how to distinguish between justified anger and entitlement. I am learning how this entitlement fueled rage is a product of white supremacy, as well as a weapon of white supremacy (think of Amy Cooper, Permit Patty, Cookout Karen, etc.). I am also learning where and how to channel my anger, because feeling anger is natural but acting out of anger is harmful.
The #1 goal is to act with kindness and love. I will feel my feelings but choose my reactions. I’m going to breathe through my emotions and filter my thoughts more. I’m going to be acutely aware of the energy I give off and my words around folks who are more marginalized than myself. I’m going to try to become more aware of how my tone and facial expressions are received.
I’m going to speak less. I’m going to pause more. I’m going to listen more. I will bring more softness and light into the world. For me and my privileges, these are choices. I am going to listen hardest to those with less freedom to choose. I am going to be softest to those who cannot be otherwise. I am going to provide safe spaces for marginalized folks, especially BIPOC, to express their unfiltered feelings around me. When my ego gets hurt, I’m going to grow with the discomfort.
I am not sharing this because I think anything about this is revolutionary or even original, to be honest. I’m just hoping that this will be drop in the bucket that helps someone else analyze their feelings, actions and privileges. I hope this is an unlearning experience for those of us working on dislodging our learned behaviors. For those of us working on stepping outside of our egos to see how we contribute to these systems of oppression. For those of us learning about what it’s like to be on the outside of white supremacy. For those of us learning how we can dismantle the system from the inside. For those of us cleaning up the mess of internalized white supremacy. We did not make this mess but it is absolutely our responsibility to clean it up. We are late and people are dying while we catch up.
*I credit Ijeoma Oluo for the analogy that privilege acts like a drug. I have not been able to find the quote but I recommend reading her work so let me know if you find it before I do.