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  • Writer's picturekalidc

Reducing your Oppression Footprint



Please no more lukewarm displays of allyship.

I have always low-key hated MLK Day. My social media is flooded with gratuitous praise of MLK, snippets from the “I have a dream” speech, or, for the sophisticated ally---maybe a quote from one of MLK’s more obscure speeches.

Then, we transition to Black History Month --- where this behavior ratchets up; including but not limited to last minute, financially underwhelming requests asking me to speak to companies about DEI.


In truth, my suspicion of MLK Day began relatively early in life, when my mom forced me to participate in Palm Beach County’s annual oratorical contest which required me to write some flowerly, Black preacher-esque speech as a 5th, 6th, and 12th grader (how fucking embarrassing but what a great skill I gained!).


My disdain for this time of the year intensified after November 2016. I’ve droned on publicly about the terrible life events that happened to me during this time in other outlets so I’ll spare you the details but, the TLDR is that I abandoned my dream job (on paper) at Yale after a series of macro and micro betrayals, gaslighting, and the like.


This week, I’m sharing a deeper layer for the first time in hopes of pushing us past superficial celebrations of Blackness or MLK and towards what I want this time to be used for: having open conversations that truly move non-Black folks towards DOING SOMETHING. Like actual behaviors, not words.


Since 2016, I’ve been in what my partner calls “the dark Batman years.” To know me before then was to know a wonderfully upbeat, super extroverted human who LOVED connecting with EVERYONE (oddly, a lot of straight white dudes). I truly enjoyed brainstorming creative ways to discuss and teach about racism because I believed everyone could do better. The results of the 2016 election did not surprise me (as a Black kid raised in the South, I am quite familiar with how rural voters think). Instead, it was surprising to see how naive all my white, liberal friends and colleagues were to the entrenched white supremacy. And worse, it was earth shattering to see how they continued the same, tired, performative social justice work when it was clearly red alert, danger, stop-drop-and-roll time.


Since then, the stakes of my efforts to use my privilege and power as an educated Black person to make the world safer for other Black people have felt immeasurable. Instead of a focus on making an impact in academia, my radius widened to medicine, politics, and rich/educated circles where I have access.


I’ve always been someone who recognized injustice, but now it is harder to turn off since I’m continually reminded of it with the experiences of my patients, my family, and folks on social media. The result is that I now must deliberately choose how, when, and with whom I socialize if they are non-Black or on the other side of the spectrum in their understanding (and embracing) of the radical action needed to combat oppression. I’m not saying this is healthy, but it is where I am right now. (And, maybe this helps provide some context about why my writing for this Substack leans to the more fatalistic side of things lol.)


I’m not sharing this to depress you. I am sharing to convey the sense of urgency with which collective action is needed to move the needle.

Your Therapy Takeaway

In honor of MLK’s birthday yesterday, today we are focused on critical self-reflection about oppression. I come from the point of view that these conversations (about race, identity, gender, intersectionality, privilege and white supremacy) belong in the therapy room.


How wide is your oppressive footprint?


How much space do you take up and how do you inhabit a space?

For example, when you step into line at a coffee shop, are you conscious of whether you skipped anyone, whether your purse is smacking the person behind you, or how your side conversation complaining about privileged problems impacts those around you? When you walk into a restaurant, airport, or public building do you look around and see how many people look like you? Some of us have had to be hypervigilent about the racial composition of a space, of how close we stand to others, and of how we speak to avoid micro-aggressions, accusations, or, much worse.


In the workplace, do you greet everyone in the room when you walk into a meeting? Are you asking most of the questions or making the most of the comments in meetings, or DEI focused spaces? Are your comments/questions to clarify information that pertains mostly to people who look like you? Are there people who do not look like you in these spaces?


Take time to reflect on these answers, and think about how you would like to show up differently. And — here’s the hard part — do something different. For example, at the next PTA meeting, center the voices of Black folks and people of color. Ask others to center those voices, too. If those voices are not in the room or if there is only one, ask yourself why and if it aligns with your values.


Do you have any friends who do not look like you? If you don’t have any Black friends (or, only 1 Black friend), and you are posting about MLK on social media, commit to making a change in your social group.


For the Black folks in the community (I see you!), and the folks of color and the Queer folks (I see you too!)— if you inhabit spaces where little is left for you, please give yourself permission to take up more space. I recognize this is easier said than done, and it’s a lifelong process that is filled with it’s own trauma. Perhaps look to the modeling I am providing here, in writing this letter. We can voice our truth (that MLK day often feels like a letdown) even when we know that people might be disappointed to hear that truth. A healthy, intact community will allow for that.


You got this,

Kali


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