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anxiety-perfectionism-white supremacy

Something I wrote a couple months ago


This week I was placed in a breakout room with a fellow attendee of LISTEN IN to discuss Audre Lorde’s Transformation of Silence into Language and Action. While discussing, the two of us connected over similar experiences with silence/inaction, realizing that we both struggle with anxiety. We noted that for both of us, anxiety and white silence/inaction have very similar physiological effects in the body: the rumbling/turning of the gut; the clenching/clogging of the throat; the bracing/stiffening of the shoulders; the deep inner desire to bolt, run, disappear, become invisible…

As we were speaking, layers were peeling back for me: 

Underneath my physiological experience of anxiety, I have a fear of falling short; 

Underneath that fear is an expectation that I’ve placed on myself to be perfect; 

Underneath that expectation is an assumption that perfection is possible; 

Underneath that assumption is a belief that there is a perfect way of being; 

and within that perfect way of being are all the values of white supremacy culture.

The debilitating anxiety that brings me into a frozen state, that brings me to silence, that keeps me in a state of inaction, has white supremacy culture at its core. Acknowledging these links: anxiety—perfectionism—white supremacy, is both terrifying and empowering. (What a motivator to help me push through moments of anxiety—not to simply push through so that anxiety has less power over my relationship with the world, but also pushing through as a conscious act of interrupting my socialization within white supremacy culture).

This week I am preparing for a presentation with ARWG about white silence and white fragility. While re-reading some writing from Sara Ahmed & George Yancy with white silence in mind, I found myself writing this down in my notebook:

Silence is currency for whiteness. The more the white body lives into the normative, anonymous, silent sea; the more it reinforces the world view of white as norm, and all other bodies as deviant. White silence is not simply silence, it is complicit with white supremacy.

I re-read this today, wrestling with the ways that my anxiety justifies inaction—yes, within anti-racism work, and also within all of my relations with the world.

Question for self: can I allow these considerations to be motivators to process, manage, and let go of anxiety rather than allowing the considerations themselves to fuel an anxiety response? (This question will only make sense for people who have been caught in the loop of how having anxiety, noticing anxiety, and acknowledging the affects of anxiety produces more anxiety)…

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