Throughout the infinite process of holding myself accountable, I have come across separate instances where “de-centering one’s self” is crucial.
You’ve heard the old adage, “the world doesn’t revolve around you”. Except when we are doing inner work, it’s hard to keep this in mind since it feels like it does. How do we not make things about us when we are doing inner work?
Karen is a Four Letter Word
Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of the Karen memes going around, which are essentially white women being held accountable for violent acts of entitlement. Whether it’s refusing to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic, purposefully coughing on someone, pulling a gun on a mother and her teen daughter, harassing people in their own lawn, or lying to the police, these acts all essentially stem from a deep sense of entitlement and white women making themselves the victims of situations they are causing.
Decentering ourselves takes emotional intelligence that understands that the world does not function within the narrative we tell ourselves.
In the instance of the White woman breaking down crying telling a cop that a calm Black man was harassing her (when the video clearly showed him kindly telling her to put a leash on her dog), she was using her place in society to have cops come and potentially kill this man who was thinking of everyone’s safety in the park. She had centered her comfort above the park rules, and the safety of other dogs and human beings. Not only that, but she placed this Black man in immediate danger given the history of police brutality in the United States.
Recently I was watching Grown*ish with my partner and it was an episode about the creation of safe spaces. There was a scene where the college kids got into a decent match of Oppression Olympics.
““Oppression Olympics” refers to arguments in which inequalities faced by a group are dismissed for being considered less important than those faced by another group. While it was originally used inside feminist circles to address race-related grievances within the feminist movement, the term has been used online to mock those who seek approval or praise for being more disadvantaged than others.” – From website Knowyourmeme.com
It started with a young Black man talking to a young White Latina who wanted a safe space for being conservative. Eventually, the Jewish White young woman stepped in to talk about how bad the Jews had it during the Holocaust, to which the Black twins replied with “slavery.”
Trying to center ourselves as a victim when being held accountable for an act against another person, is furthering the damage we initially caused. It’s sprinkling salt on the wound.
When someone is held accountable for their action, it essentially is about curating a space where people feel heard. If we continue to make everything about us, however, believing that we are the victims, then we will ignore the many ways in which we are actually being the oppressor.
In my own community of Latinx people, White Latinxs many times want to talk about how we are all mixed, and how we “can’t be white” because we’re all mixed with Brown, while simultaneously ignoring our Afro-Latinx siblings. White Latinxs are known to deny we have White Privilege, culturally appropriating Afro-Latinx culture, and often shy away from conversations regarding the classism and colorism that it rampant in our culture. Latinxs have a lot to deal with as a culture, but denying our White privilege helps no one.
I follow Jewish pages to further expand my perspective, and the comment section is often filled with White passing Jewish folk engaging in oppression Olympics. Sometimes there will be the White Jews who gets it and steps in to explain how recognizing White Privilege doesn’t somehow eradicate the fact that Jews still have to deal with antisemitism. Of course Jewish people experience a disgusting form of oppression, but trying to constantly be placed in a role of “I, too, am a victim” rejects the fact that there is a way that “White-Passing” Jews are still benefiting from a system that oppresses Black folk which includes Black and Brown Jews.
Poor or disabled White people often want to say “I haven’t experienced White privilege” because they do not understand what White Privilege actually means, and believe it means hand outs for simply being White. (Which, let’s be real, sometimes it does.)
People with mental illnesses or trauma often blame their toxic form of being on their mental illness. They blame hurtful behavior on their trauma expecting this to excuse them from having to do any of the work, ignoring the fact that having trauma doesn’t automatically erase accountability. By constantly looking to place ourselves as the victim, we allow ourselves to inevitably also oppress others by taking up space that we don’t actually need.
Other religions and other classes and other people of all types all have their form of wanting to push away from privilege, replacing the blame with victimhood in a manipulative tactic to avoid accountability.
Being A White Savior
On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes we want to over-correct this form of self-accountability, and instead strive to become a savior. This is my own personal weak spot in how I center myself in other peoples’ lives.
One way this has shown up is that I have centered myself in the lives of people of color as someone who somehow needs to (and can) “save” them. It’s very hard to see this within ourselves especially when it’s combined with genuinely wanting to do good. Just like humans are (most of the time) not simply bad or good but rather nuanced layers of problematic behaviors and successfully helpful attitudes, I have gotten into moments in relationships with friends or strangers where I’m bordering on savior mentality while trying to be genuinely helpful. Just because we know the lesson, doesn’t mean we are always applying it. It takes actively checking in and unlearning. Unfortunately, I still slip up and center myself as the savior of other people which is grounds for codependency but when done in a relationship with a person of color, is also a form of racism.
On the flipside of the same coin, I also can come off being Saviory with my white friends and family, wanting to correct their own problematic behavior and sometimes coming off as arrogant. This results in the person feeling like I am virtue signaling, or putting them in some kind of purity test situation where I get to sit on a soap box looking down at them. Due to my own flawed behavior, I am continuously training myself to identify logical fallacies and cognitive biases while maintaining the message and who my audience is. It is not about me, it is not about them, it is about the greater good and both of us being catalysts to each other for greater good. This does not make me a better person.
Despite my best intentions, however, I sometimes still slip up. And even if I don’t, people are still prone to getting defensive. This is when it is especially important to understand when it is about me, and when it is not. I must learn to humbly accept when I have interfered with the message, and when I am not transmitting the message despite every curated attempt.
The Heart Of The Matter
What it comes down to is our purpose and if we intend on actively being compassionate and unlearning hurtful behavior. If our truest intention is to allow ourselves the room for error out of self-love and compassion, then we should keep ourselves surrounded by people who take the time and mental energy to call us in. We should realize that while the change is about us, the bigger picture isn’t. It’s about what role we personally play in a society, and how it all engages together. We can’t just say we’re willing to do it, we have to actively see ourselves being held accountable, either by a trusted professional, by our friends and chosen family, or by the media of our choice. There’s many ways in which to see how we are proven wrong and how even though our choices are about us, thinking of others creates an abundance of space and safety for everyone. It’s all about all of us together.
Read more about decentering yourself here.
A meditation to help you decenter the “Self”.
Read more about what Oppression Olympics are here and here.
Check out Rachel Cargle and Layla Saad to learn more on racism and being a good human being.
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