This is a story of molting. A story of deep, radical change. The alchemy of transformation.
A year ago (today, actually, which brings a whole other level of magic), I released my first book, the birthing process long and protracted and then quick and intense. It came out a week before I stood in front of a group of philanthropic advisors and development directors and outlined our complicity in a philanthropic system that was not built to change things after all. These two events last September served as both a culmination of years of thought and were meant to be a launching pad.
And at that same moment in time, I began meeting with a small group of women to reflect together on our collusion in the systems and ideology of white supremacy, using Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy. We took her 28 prompts over weeks rather than days, so that we could journal for a week before meeting up online each Friday morning. I immediately noticed how my journaling language carried the coded message of racism embedded within the philanthropic field, particularly saviorism, perfectionism and my need-to-know. While my exploration of a better philanthropy over the years was authentic and aligned with what I’d been reading by Edgar Villanueva, Anand Giridharadas and Robin Wall Kimmerer, I was a white woman who had yet to examine my embedded complicity in racism and the benefits I received from participating in white supremacy. This veiled language is what philanthropy uses to keep those of us that have apart from those of us who need, without addressing the system that makes it so. I no longer wanted to be part of that system or support the piecemeal efforts to ‘make it better’.
Let me just say, I knew enough at the start of joining the Me and White Supremacy group to know it was going to be heavy and hard. But I had no idea the size of the mountains and valleys that lay inside of me.
I was reminded of the creature in Stranger Things, that infiltrates its victims to take human form, devouring them from the inside so that they’re shells walking around unaware that they’re spreading the virus. And the virus grows stronger until it cannot be contained. The tentacles of this racist virus were so entwined with my DNA that it was hard to know where I left off and It began. It was hard to differentiate between the complacency I was trained to uphold as a ‘nice girl’ and the racism this masked. I saw how much of a foot solider I had been, and how much vigilance it would take to ensure I didn’t fall back to this position when things got hard.
Can you kill the virus without killing the human it lives within? That’s the question the kids in Stranger Things ask, and it was the worry I had as I dove deeper into my essence: Am I in here? Who am I? This was not mere navel gazing, it was deep identity reflection laying the groundwork of being better in order to do better. It was the natural extension of my work with philanthroBE, grounding people in being philanthropists rather than doing philanthropy. I felt as if my exterior was revolving around to be replaced by my raw and glistening insides, soft pink skin emerging to face the sunlight for the first time. It was an excavation of my true self.
It’s almost an impossible feat to describe the significant emotional restructuring that has taken place inside of me. Certainly, it can’t be done in a simple essay summary. I hope it will be apparent in my writing and work going forward, but the form of this work is yet to be known. It’s called me to drop the façade, to find my people, to get back to what is mine to do … and, it gave me the gift of the urgency of time. I was reminded of my friend Andrea, who, in the battle for her life over cancer, once stretched her arms out comically in front of her toward an imaginary bull, thrust her hip forward into the air, cocked her head back defiantly and exclaimed, ‘bullshitador!’
She was in that liminal space between life and death, the known and unknown, making peace with her lack of time here, spending it on only the most important of activities. She did not have time for bullshit anymore. She started to call us out, just with a soft and simple sigh, when the conversation would veer toward gossipy or punitive or overwrought. Life is too short, sighs the bullshitador, do what is yours to do and do it with intention and joy and authenticity.
This past year has brought me to the doors of my deepest demons and the threshold of unspeakable redemption. Because, while it has been hard, it has also been one of my greatest joys. What I thought was an endeavor of intellectual has turned into a Persephone journey, leading me not to a satisfactory end but a quiet field surrounded by a circle of trees: liminal space. In this new space I want to lie down. I want to close my eyes and daydream about what’s possible. I don’t want to think about doing for others, performing successfully in this activity or that, or about healing the world. I want to fail; I want to heal myself; I want to empty everything out in the middle of this field, assorted trinkets acquired over a lifetime, and pick over them as a crow might discern shiny baubles. The place I’m headed doesn’t need all of this. I can only travel there if I am much, much lighter. What’s important, what is necessary, as I rifle this stash of treasures, finding that not much serves me any longer.
I shared Andrea’s rallying cry at one of our Me and White Supremacy weekly meetups and it quickly caught fire in all our imaginations. I felt a warming across my chest and down my arms, a calling from her across time and space. I sat at my desk after we hung up from our call that morning, sobbing in the way I did for the weeks after her death, the image of her in my mind bald and smiling so serenely, confidently, full of the life she was losing. Bullshitador. My generous heart, the one I was cultivating while transitioning from a full time working single girl, to a full time working married mother of two, was being forged into something more pliant and stronger. I write about this in my book, but what I didn’t realize is that the process wasn’t coming to a conclusion, it was just beginning.
A generous heart is raw with intensity, and soft with humility. A radical heart, pumping out truth, bringing in the riches of community, thrives on solidarity, reciprocity and agency. It is the heart of the bullshitador. This is the work I’m exploring now, with no clear roadmap – but in liminal space, the roadmap is not important. The important thing is to be still and listen. The important thing is not to know. And in the quiet of the past year, I’ve distilled what I feel are some guide markers for a bullshitador, as I’ve come to understand them through my relationship with the circle of women who rode that descent to the underworld with(in) me.
- We allow ourselves to be unfinished and vulnerable. We accept that we don’t have the answers. And in the not knowing, we embrace the suffering of the world and mend the brokenness that is in front of us. We do this with courage, humility, curiosity, and humor.
- We call bullshit. We do not waste time. If something needs doing, we get to it. We respect time, and there is no time to waste. We work toward something rather than against it. Our need to call bullshit is motivated by a love for things greater than any one of us alone. (see Katy Porter)
- We belong to each other. We do not work solo. We build community and relationship. We share power and we respect each other. We know we are one and that only together do we hold the answers. We belong to each other, and each of us belongs to the earth.
- We work on personal transformation. We examine our relationship to power and privilege. We ask, what is mine to do? We do not fix things or heal people as an extension of the ignorance of the needs within us. We heal ourselves, in order to heal the past of our ancestors and the future for our children.
- We give thanks. We belong to a cycle of reciprocity. We give thanks and are joyful. We appreciate what we have, and we don’t take more than we need.
There is nothing official about this list; it is my attempt to pin down what I lived and learned, in order to continue the journey deeper and to remember who I am and what I’m doing. There are many bullshitadors out here, working diligently on what is ours to do, sometimes quietly, sometimes with powerful voice. Each one of us holds a piece of the answer, and it’s imperative that we find each other. We need each other now more than ever.
If you are a white philanthropist, I encourage you to gather a group of people and work through Me and White Supremacy. Shifting your internal perceptions and understanding your role in upholding and benefiting from status quo is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Make.it.personal. Until you make it personal you will always be in the position of ‘doing for another’.
#feministphilanthropy #philanthropist #sharethepower #bullshitador