As of today, there are demonstrations in 400 cities across the US and dozens more across the world taking a stand against violence and for acknowledging systemic racism.
We are all watching institutions being shaken, organizations re-think their policies, and companies making statements about where they stand.
...or not. This seems to speak just as loudly.
Since the demonstrations, riots, and protests began, I have personally posted or reposted a few things that were interesting, poignant, or touching to me, but I’m also aware of my urge as a white woman to post defensively or performatively; to post words and pictures that are really more about publicly showing how I could not be racists, or to assuage my guilt at being passive, rather than about the topics themselves.
Where is the line between the veneer of an empty performance and an authentic offering of integrity and connection?
The word “performative” keeps newly ringing in my ears, but “Performance” is something I’ve struggled with for years.
- I refused to “perform” music in public for years because I couldn’t figure out how to escape the feeling of being an object on a pedestal instead of feeling an authentic interaction with the audience.
- When I look at examples of speakers with my workshop participants, we talk about which ones feel connected, and which feel like a show. We all agree which ones feel like an authentic connection, even if we can’t list completely why or how they are different from an act.
- My clients often worry about if they practice their talks too many times, it will feel like a stifled presentation instead of real storytelling. Even though their content and heart are in the same place, they worry about the appearance of the shell of a “performance.”
I list these to show that we can often sense performance acts in ourselves and point them out in others when there is clear authenticity vs. disconnect, but it is difficult to name where the line is and what exactly pushes something from one side to the other.
I’m seeing organizations creating statements, posts, and articles in response to this moment focused on race: some are weak, some are strong, some have a giant backlash, some are cheered, some feel hopeful, some ring hollow, some are startlingly raw, some are saying the same things they have for years.
In trying to create my own posts/blogs/response, I’m very aware of my own urges to say the “right” thing.
If I create a social media post showing my support for African Americans, is that really a step towards acknowledging and changing systems that have harmed people for 400 years, or is it about covering my own assets and wanting to look like the good guy?
I don’t know how to answer this well.
What I do know is that I don’t have anything new to add to the conversation at this moment.
What I’m feeling instead is an urge to be quiet.
First, because it is time to look at my own patterns and assumptions. Second, because it is time for me to listen to the experiences of others. Third, because I want to make space for the stories and words of others.
As I gain clarity about how I can help, I’ll move in that direction, and perhaps post about it as well...or not.
Perhaps I'll just quietly move forward to be more certain that the actions I take are authentic and not a performance.