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Acceptance & Whiteness



: the quality or state of being accepted or acceptable

What I love about being 40 - is getting closer to knowing myself and acting according to that knowledge. I’m not saying this clarity about myself is a “pretty” picture. Actually, the picture is more complete with many flaws visible, not hidden, and borders that delineate who I am. I stare more deeply at my reflection and try to capture the stories of my wrinkles, sun spots, and silhouette and accept them as fully expressing my life.

This is my current walk of acceptance. Accepting myself, in a way that aligns with my purpose in life. As with most winters, I am doing a lot of noticing of the ways that I may repel authentic connections and relationships and working on acceptance in this area. See, I struggle with acceptance. It is complicated, and although it could be related to my personality traits, astrological sign, and unique lived experiences, it is absolutely tied up with whiteness.

I’m going to go straight to the sore spot. I’m judgemental. I’m controlling. I often have a voice in my head that says, “I can do it better” or “I can do it right”. Therefore, I can be condescending. Now let’s add severe impatience and needing to take care of my requests urgently (aka demanding AF) and top it off with a pinch of envy. These are white supremacy cultural characteristics. If you’re not familiar with them, then please read Tema Okun’s article - White Supremacy Culture: Still Here or you could book me for training on the matter.

I don’t believe that I would be this way if I was not raised in white assimilated America, in white culture, and in American schools. The human need of belonging was a motivator to quickly learn how to be accepted or be acceptable. In school, if I got the answer right, I was praised with gold star stickers, being at the top of my class chart, and the label of being smart. That meant teachers also treated me a certain way. It felt good, and with each new grade, the rewards just kept coming. They came if I could write and read a certain way, take tests, and be well-spoken and well-behaved. Stickers turned into awards and honors and a ticket into college. There were definitely times that I was questioned, belittled, and told I was stupid - which only encouraged me to overachieve and be perfect more.

In my social world, I also had something to prove. Trying to get accepted into friend groups meant positioning myself as better. I had to be better looking, better dressed, and be a better time. I had to have an attitude of confidence or be made fun of. I was taught that social standing was based on popularity which was based on so much bullshit, but hey, there were so many rewards in it.

So much of this comes down to being liked, being good, and being right. Which I think most people get. What I’m not too sure people also understand, is this was all defined by white standards. “But, Tracy,” you say, “what do you mean?” Well, was this version of myself acceptable in Africa, Indonesia, or in a Buddhist monastery? It actually sounds like a cliche “Clueless” situation, because most kids in the United States have dealt with these white standards as being THE standards that make us “better” and “successful”. This was not the teachings of my Filipino or Osage tribes. This was not a result of being raised in a village. This was the result of being raised in white suburbia.

Throughout my life, I collected meaning attached to behaviors. As do we all. For example, following the law (which is unjust and created by white men) was the “right” way and makes you “good”. Obeying your authorities, including your parents, makes you “good”. So this collection of meanings - has been designed by whiteness - and has resulted in all the things I listed earlier: being judgemental, being right, being condescending, being impatient, and being controlling. Turning to these behaviors - helped me stay on top (another connection to whiteness). They served and protected me in my adolescent years. In order to avoid the pain of not being accepted, I became controlling over my environment and my outcomes. Which, if any of you suffer from controlling and perfectionism as I do, you know the stress and anxiety that comes with it.

These behaviors have caused great divides in friendships and relationships. Especially as a parent and especially as a partner. What I hope to really impress on you, the reader, is self-acceptance doesn’t mean I embrace the parts of me that harm others under the blanket belief that I embrace all of me. Self-acceptance, and more importantly, your personal revolution, is knowing the parts of you that have developed out of dark places (white supremacy culture, trauma, surviving) that do cause harm towards others, that don’t accept others for their authentic ways of being, that brings them down in spirit and life, and with that knowing - - - learn new ways of being/behaving.

Acceptance is accepting shifts needed within me that reconnect me with humanity through love. It is not to be acceptable in an oppressive society of haves or have-nots. It is not changing myself to be acceptable. It is being the person I know my child needs to be accepted and loved - and that is not being a controlling know-it-all perfectionist!

So I invite you to consider the learned behaviors you have from wanting to be accepted. How might these behaviors be connected to whiteness? How do they keep others at a distance from you? How can you learn new ways of being/behaving?

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