Here’s to rooting for each other in all avenues of our work and building.
1. Be Vulnerable
For a long time, I struggled with being defensive when confronted with my own isms. I remember making a racist comment, nothing overt, in a literature class, and the shocked look on my professor’s face stayed with me for days. We had coffee at her request and she confronted me, gently, about what I had said. My initial reaction was to be defensive. I was ashamed and mortified. I thought myself a better person. She must have seen the struggle on my face because she took my hand and said, “Let me be heard.”
“Let me be heard,” is a powerful request and it shut down all my protests and broke through the wall of defensiveness I’d built up. Listening to her tell me about how my words hurt her made her vulnerable as well as me. In engaging in listening, I allowed my own vulnerability to hold space for her and hers was a much riskier vulnerability than mine. In the end, I got it and I learned to listen before opening my mouth. Being able to allow yourself to work through shame and defensiveness is vital in offering support.
Being vulnerable is not the same as being fragile. When you make yourself vulnerable you are not asking for people to spare your feelings. Instead you are opening yourself up to hear what they have to say to you. It’s a kind of humbleness. It is a way of allowing others to be heard without you throwing up a wall. Sometimes the words coming at you will be angry. Often they will hurt you with their truth. But sometimes those moments must happen if you’re part of any group that has privilege.
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As a quick addendum: being vulnerable is not about allowing yourself to be abused. Righteous anger is vastly different than personal anger. If someone is screaming insults at your or threatening you this is not a conversation. It’s an attack.
2. Spread your money.
As a staunchly anti-capitalist human this is a difficult one for me to add. I’d much rather live in a world where we are valued beyond our net worth. But I don’t live in this world so I have to use the tools I’ve been handed sometimes. For me this means, a conscious effort to support those in my community by shopping local, using the farmer’s market, and promoting businesses that support those causes near and dear to my heart.
An amazing example of this rose up in my community after the slew of police murders of African-American people. A local community organizer started a list of all the black owned businesses in our town. Another group created Athens Black Market which featured black vendors and gave the community an opportunity to support in one convenient location. Killer Mike’s promotion of a black owned bank in Atlanta has received national attention and spurred others around the country to find similar organizations.
And it’s not just goods that you can spend your money on. I make a conscious effort to frequent places that promote body positivity. My trapeze studio is one example of a safe place to exercise no matter your size or ability. From my daughter with Ds to the one with Autism Spectrum Disorder to me as a fat woman, we’ve all found a safe place to move our bodies. Organizations that promote size positive doctors, therapists, massage therapists, etc. are vital in not just offering safe places but telling the people who operate these spaces that we appreciate their support.
3. Sow love.
How do you do love? It’s more than just words although that’s important! Sowing/showing love is all about action. Telling the world that you love your community (and I’d argue beyond your community) is great and vital. A thing as simple as liking and sharing articles written by people and organizations that you love spreads the word and creates new seedlings to grow in others. Defending your friends from attacks when they share things speaking out against ‘isms shows your friends that you have their back.
I also find that arguing from a position of love can defuse many volatile situations as well as shift a narrative from anger to understanding. No, it’s not always going to work but suggesting to someone that they think of loving their neighbor instead of resenting them changes things up. Saying I support Black Lives Matter because I love my black friends and don’t want to see them die makes it awfully hard to come back with hate. Saying I support Body Acceptance because I love my fat body and I love my friends’ fat bodies challenges narratives that says those bodies don’t deserve love.
Remember love is the hard work that we undertake in any social justice movement.
4. Be thankful.
My first grown up job was as an English teacher at an inner city alternative school. My kids were amazing but they were usually too poor to give gifts during the holidays. But many of them would get me some candy knowing I have a sweet tooth and there was always a note attached. I still have those notes all these years later. Those notes were the best gift I could have received. Having my students recognize not just the work I did for them but also the care I showed kept me going on those hard teaching days.
Give thanks to those who do the work! Thank the writers, the workers, the organizers, the artists. From a simple thank you to a little gift, giving thanks energizes everyone even you!
5. Be woke.
After the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I made a vow to not let racism go by if I saw it. After the first day just on Facebook, I never have felt so depressed. So many racist statements on friends’ posts and so much misunderstanding. I suddenly got it. Being woke didn’t involve just knowing this stuff within myself but being aware of it in the world. It’s easy to be so turned into my own circle that I forget that there’s other stuff going on and that’s a privilege. If I was a person of color I wouldn’t have that option. Thus it’s imperative for me to remain vigilant. Exhausting? Yes, but imagine having to live with that same racism directed at you every.single.day.
Stay aware of not just what happens in you, but about what happens around you.
6. Be generous with your time and resources.
One thing I’ve learned about any social movement is that there is always something for you to do even if it’s just stuffing envelopes. But in order to do anything one has to make these things a priority. Social justice takes work and that means helping in whatever way you can within the confines of your abilities. I’m not ever going to work a phone bank because of my anxiety, but I will plant signs. I use my writing and my connections. I give a body for protests and for meetings. I might not always be the one speaking, but I’m there to make a room look full.
Community building is vital I think in a body positive movement not just in terms of the online but also in the real world. That means not being shy about your talents and using them to build support right where you are. Sometimes it might be about pushing out of your comfort zones (being a public writer is very hard for me).
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For some, giving might be monetary or service related and that’s just as vital. While I don’t like the money model, as I mentioned before, there’s no denying that it takes money to keep things running. Like a cause like The Body is Not An Apology and have some extra cash? Show some love. Same goes for any organization that you think is doing the good work.
7. Spread the word.
Hit like on Facebook and then share the articles that speak to you or that might speak to a friend. Write your own posts about your experiences with your community! Celebrate loudly all the victories big and small! Somewhere along the way someone is going to see, read, or hear these accolades and it might be just what they need.
We all joined our various communities because we found them and they spoke to a need. For me, it was listening to Sonya Renee Taylor read her poem, “The Body Is Not An Apology.” I remember crying for a long time afterwards because those were the words I needed to hear to heal. If someone hadn’t shared that link on that day I would never have found it. Would never have found a community that values me as I am, yet challenges me to be better.
Sing what you’ve learned because I guarantee someone out there needs to hear your voice!