when passion trumps perfectionism (and stereotype threat and racial anxiety)

As many of you may have noticed, or probably not since you have a whole life outside of the blogosphere, I have not written a post in about 7 months. Many factors have contributed to my digital silence, but among the most prevalent is  my perfectionism. I have refused to post because I have not had the time (or dedication) to spend hours and hours perfecting a post. However, to attribute this solely to a personal psychological struggle with perfectionism would ignore the integral sociological phenomenon at play. 

After returning from one of the most impactful conference experiences of my life, I now understand and have the vocabulary to describe what occurs as I’m attempting and failing to craft a post about issues of social and racial justice. Although I have dedicated myself to this work, I find myself unable to speak out as effectively and as often as I would like. Alongside my perfectionism, are two important phenomenon, Stereotype Threat and Racial Anxiety, as defined by the Perception Institute. 

Stereotype Threat occurs when a person is concerned that she will confirm a negative stereotype about her group. 

Racial Anxiety is when people are concerned before or during an inter-racial/inter-ethnic encounter that they will experience discrimination (if they are a person of color) or be perceived as biased. 

So, if you’re unable to put the puzzle pieces together, I’ll provide a clear connection to my own experiences.

I am a 25 year old white heterosexual  woman. I was raised in a middle-class home by Christian parents, and private school educated. I went to a four year university, spent a semester abroad, and traveled internationally during childhood. During undergrad, I shifted my political, spiritual and social beliefs to the left, and shortly after joined Teach for America. Each time I sit down to write a blog post about an injustice in our country (be it racial, LGBTQ, class or immigration related), I am faced with the reality that any screw up can and probably will reinforce the stereotypes associated with young white liberals in our country. I may be perceived as out of touch, with a savior complex, biased, or God forbid, flat out racist. (This final fear more closely tied to Racial Anxiety.) 

Even as I write this I question whether I should post it, as I’m wondering if I’ll be perceived as saying, “I’m a poor white girl.” Ding ding! There it is, still alive and at work- stereotype threat.

I write this, not as an excuse for my silence or as a plea for understanding of my fears, but as a way to call myself and others IN to this work. It is not possible for us to compose perfectly thought out essays with every perspective considered and acknowledged. It is okay for us to make mistakes and be perceived as biased or short-sighted in our arguments. Because at some point, we are all both of those things. We are all biased, we are all limited by our own perspective, we are all indoctrinated by the messages of our culture and our society. But we are all also responsible for acknowledging this reality and fighting to combat it within ourselves and within our society. If I continue to allow my own fears and insecurities to influence my actions, not only am I shirking my personal responsibility as a citizen, but I am cashing in on a privilege. As a woman fitting the above description, I can check out at any time and live my life seemingly free of the inequities others experience daily. (But that’s probably best saved for another post.)

It will not be until we are willing to screw up, that we will make progress. So here is my declaration and commitment- I commit to being vulnerable and calling myself in to this work. I commit to taking chances and receiving feedback when I say something stupid. I commit to calling others IN to the work instead of calling them OUT for their mistakes. (Thanks, Rosetta Lee for this metaphor.) 

I hope that you will commit to joining, or continuing down, this journey with me. I hope that you will call me IN to the work when I need it. I hope you will question me and question along with me. More to come! 

Thanks for reading, 

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