We must dwell more in discomfort

The student protest on Thursday was deeply uncomfortable. And while we are not short on intense experiences at Guilford, these usually have a different tone and a different ending. Even the most difficult of Guilford moments rarely sheds the usual niceties and politeness.  Apologies are always accepted, and we tend to end our difficult meetings, especially those around race, with a feeling of hard-earned camaraderie after much catharsis and a collective pat on the back for just how well we have managed to address the hard stuff.

But one thing was immediately clear to me on Thursday — that the protesting students were not playing by those Guilford rules.  There was no careful tiptoeing around feelings and there was no false appeasement of guilt or empty performances of reconciliation; indeed, there was a steady and steadfast refusal to comfort the apologizers, absolve the guilty, appease the appalled — those who were either pointedly called out on their racism or others, like myself, who should have easily recognized themselves in the microaggressions of which the students were speaking.  In my first week this semester, I called one student, a woman of color, by another student’s name, also a woman of color. That is racism. But I harbor no illusion that this is my only act of racist microaggression. If I look hard enough at myself, what else will I find, what else will I see?

At Guilford, we are also usually very eager, very quick to proceed from “we’re hurt” to “let’s heal.”  We look forward to “moving forward.” These are admirable, noble goals.  But sometimes, I think it might actually be more productive in the long run to sit still for a little while rather than charge forward, to dwell in discomfort rather than get immediately busy with healing. Because sometimes, even though we are not aware of this, moving and getting busy are just another tactic by which we distract ourselves from looking hard at ourselves.  In February, on the day when three Arab Muslim Chapel Hill students were shot, execution style, by a white man, a vigil of tearful Guilford humans gathered in the Hut. We weren’t even an hour into mourning, in anger and frustration, the victims of this heinous hate crime, when non-Arab and non-Muslim students began asking questions about “how we can begin to forgive and heal?”  But there is such a thing as healing too quickly — because usually that isn’t healing at all, but a masking, a disguising, a sweeping under the rug.

So instead of “moving forward,” let’s dwell in this place of uncomfortable discovery for a while. Let’s spend some time facing, naming, recognizing, identifying the concealed weapons and the raw exposed wounds of the racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia that exist around and within us.  It will make the charging forward all the more effective, all the more intentional when we finally get busy with the business of healing.