It’s May 11th 2021. The Prime Minister has just announced that from Monday we can visit in the homes of friends and Family without wearing masks. We can hug with discrepancy and we will also be able to dine inside cafés and bars, go to the cinema and engage in community and social entertainment and gatherings, so long as we continue to be vigilant of the risk of spreading the Covid virus. I feel blessed and give thanks. Millions of these people have died, lost love ones and and continue to be unwell because of the pandemic that we’ve been through since I arrived here over a year ago. I’ve not written anything since March and I am ready again. I am up early, in town collecting a parcel from the post office. I go to my favourite coffee station and sit outside as there are now 2 tables and four chairs on the pavement.While sipping Earl Grey tea I people watch.
I’m thinking about compassion and reflecting on one of the final meetings with my clinical supervision groups. A white therapist, L. had been using weaving with a group of Pakistani women. As a parting gift, she had sent some brightly coloured and differently textured strands of thread along with a cardboard weaving loom that she had made for everyone in the group. She carefully showed us the stages of weaving. On the small 5 x 4 x 4 Cardboard loom that we each held equally in our hands on the screen, eagerly waiting for instructions. The threads on my loom had fallen off so L. gently talked me through the stages of setting it up again. While the others in the group collected the colours and textures that they wanted to use for the auspicious weaving weaving process.
As we began i was taken back to basket weaving in primary school and needle work in secondary school. These were times I did not notice my gender or skin colour, or the feelings of loss and abandonment that had been with me since early in my life.
I felt enriched by L’s quest to raise her white children differently, as she had told me. As a result of our supervision work she had missed a meeting to attend an Anti racist parenting class. It was those moments that confirmed for me that a reflection of my own compassion, harnessed throughout the years in my work as a Therapist.
It has taken a few days to realise that being in this final group meeting has taken me back to a very important time in my life and I can remember that creativity always kept me sane even in my feelings of madness.
It’s sunny and warm and it feels like spring is here at last. The weather has been up-and-down with occasional days like this and in between days when it feels like winter is clinging for as long as it possibly can.
There were four therapist in the group. As her parting gift, D. sang to us about joy. She has this incredible way of throwing out words and music from inside of her that express how she wants to connect. D. and I have worked together for good awhile and she is one of my Master graduates, contributing from the soul and supporting facilitation of my workshops. When I listen to her singing I am moved and feel the deep connection between us. I have witnessed her anger at racism and seen her grow through it. Her voice becomes charged with the passion of her experience and sharing from her heart the sheer brilliance of her inner voice. The best way she can express herself. I feel her greatness and bear witness to her personal development and journey to becoming an icon in the profession.
DD, another group member expressed her gift of self expression and growing confidence in the training work that she is now doing in one of the major training Institutes in London.
She demonstrated how horses accelerated her personal development as a black woman. She is aware that one of my biggest challenges is a fear of large animals. And that I want to overcome this and find a way through connection with horses that will assist me to develop my sensitivities and intimacy with animals. I had made myself believe that animals wanted attention that I could not give them because I needed too much attention myself. As an emotionally undernourished child this piece of me missing, yet I have become a therapist and educator to be proud of and assisted hundreds of individuals to take pride in their heritage, love themselves more and expect to be deeply loved, respected and supported in relationships. I know DD has come into my life with wisdom and knowledge of her experience, to assist me in going to that place of fear within me and overcoming the trauma of being bullied, installed in my early life. During the meeting she shared the screen and showed us a video of the horses that she has worked with and will continue to work with as an equine therapist. She explained her own terror of large animals, before this amazing experience came into her life. This was her gift to me as we part from the roles we have shared for the past few years.
And this is the piece that A. read out as her complimentary parting gift:
My name is Anne, and I’m a racist... but I’m working on it. I’m working on it knowing that this is a lifelong process which has no finish line, and if I truly want to commit to working on it, that I have to explore the most uncomfortable parts of myself. I have to be willing to lose privilege, comfort, stability and my understanding of the way the world works. I’m not just a racist, by the way. I’m a homophobe, a transphobe, an ableist, an ageist and a sexist. How could I not be? I’m a straight, cis, white woman with a powerful passport who grew up in a world designed by people like me, for people like me. For all intents and purposes, it’s in my best interest to stop writing this essay now because succeeding in this work means that people like me have to lose out so that other people can win. Or so I thought.
My passion for anti-bigotry was largely a self-flagellating exercise fueled by guilt and shame with the intention of making things better for others while martyring myself on the altar of privilege. Looking down from the ivory tower atop my moral high ground, I could shout the truths of wokeness to all the bigots below. I, alone, would atone for millennia of injustice by laying my comfort down for the comfort of others- sacrificing myself for the greater good! I could have easily spent my entire life like this. I sought ways to do more work and to affirm my suffering which lead me to Dr. Isha Mackenzie-Mavinga who, instead of validating my guilt, offered me compassion.
Bigotry is fear. Holding onto fear only separates us from ourselves and from others; it is an unhealthy clinging that blocks self-exploration. In this way, bigotry is a sickness of the majority we’re desperately trying to cure by looking at the symptoms, not the cause. “Racism is the result of a misplaced white gaze,” Isha said to me. With that, I realized that I needed to turn inwards. Isha’s invitation to explore my relationship with my whiteness lead me to explore my need to be good, and my inherent belief that I am bad. Her compassion reminded me that my sickness is worth healing, not just to save others, but to save myself. In my desire to be a healer, I forgot that I am also worth being healed. In that respect, maybe I was right; people like me have to lose our fear so that everyone can win.
From the beginning, I knew I would do my reflective inquiry on something involving my work with minority clients, but it was this exploration of my inherent belief that I am bad that lead me to my struggle to be seen as good. It was Isha’s compassion that allowed me to ask myself, “How is my need to be good disproportionately affecting my minority clients?”