Written by: Lynne-Marie Shea
As a therapist working with youth who have challenges regulating their emotions and impulses, I often hear youth tell me that they “want to be good.” This has become one of my sticking points as a therapist. I always stop the person here and remind them that they’re already good, that they’re always good. I point out that our work together isn’t designed to create goodness within them but rather to develop strategies that allow them to more effectively live in line with the goodness that is inherent to who they are.
I insist on the truth of inherent goodness to any kid who frames goodness as something they have to work toward, because I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. As I do my work for racial justice, though, I find that one of my most limiting factors is my lingering desire to use this work as a way to “be good.” I stall my work and drift into allyship that is more performative than productive because I am framing the work in my head as something that I need to do to “be good” instead of as something that is my responsibility because of my inherent goodness. I often question my “success” in my allyship and reduce this dynamic, lifelong process to something that can simply be achieved-- a box that can be checked off and looked to in affirmation of my goodness. In reality, though, allyship is the manifestation of my goodness: a process of ongoing personal transformation made possible by challenging the ways in which I have been socialized to think and to act that happens when no one is looking.
Of course I am good, just like everyone else is. The difference, though, is that my skin color and able body (among other things) make it so that the only person regularly questioning my value is me. The systems that have asked me to constantly question my own worth benefit from my doing so because the more I focus on myself, on being good enough, the less energy I have to question and dismantle these systems. The more I worry that I might not be meeting some kind of standard of goodness, the less willing I am to give up the advantages these systems afford me for fear that I might fall even shorter of the mark they have taught me to believe I am never really meeting. Racial justice work cannot make me good, because I already am. This work, however, can and should remind me that my goodness is no better than anyone else’s and that it is my responsibility to work for a society in which that truth is understood and lived out.
For more thoughts on using experiences of being called out to enhance anti-racism work check out (and support the amazing work of) @mariebeech and for some ideas on steps to non-optical allyship check out @mireillecharper