From JT's blog...
Fall is a wonderful season of change and transition. Incidentally, those same topics have been on my mind for well over a month now. This comes as no surprise to me, as I’m currently going through a lot of different transitory periods in my life—graduating from Presbyterian College, beginning a YAV year, living openly as a trans woman, moving to Asheville. Many of these transitions I was able to anticipate and prepare for. I cannot say the same for the transition I went through during my orientation to the Young Adult Volunteer program.
When I hear the word “orientation”, I think of three things. The first is becoming acquainted with a new area. The second is becoming acquainted with new people. The third is becoming acquainted with new and useful skills. These expectations come from having participated in numerous orientations, as well as having to prepare and lead training sessions for my staff this past summer when I was working at the Calvin Center as their Interim Summer Camp Director.
So, as I was riding the Greyhound to Stony Point, NY, I was anticipating an orientation where I would meet a lot of new people and possibly pick up a new skill (New York and North Carolina are too far apart to expect any sort of proper orientation to Asheville—how long it took for the bus to travel up the coast only emphasized this point to me). And certainly, I did meet a lot of new people and I did learn new skills. Technically speaking, I was correct in my assumptions of what orientation would be like. However, I was correct only in the broadest of strokes.
I never anticipated that the entirety of the first day and a half would be spent discussing racial inequity and white privilege. That we discussed this topic at all did not surprise me. That we spent an entire day on any one topic, let alone this one, mildly surprised me. That we talked about racial justice with such open emotion and passion completely surprised me.
Anytime I have discussed the concept of white privilege prior to my YAV orientation, it has always been a very rational, very orderly, very clean conversation. Sterilized would be a fitting term. I knew what white privilege was; I knew it was not just a historical issue, but a modern one; I knew white skin held advantages that were encoded into present day systems. I’m from the South, how could these things not be apparent?
I understand, intellectually speaking, many of the ways that racism has been systemized. Yet, I talk about the topic with less emotion, with less urgency, with less attachment than I would if I was discussing physics or geometry. Until recently, I lacked any sort of emotional connection to a topic that is significantly more important to me than either physics or geometry.
During orientation, I wrote this journal entry as I began to feel an emotional connection to the topic:
“I am feeling something at once familiar and foreign. That old feeling of needing to run is back. But it's not just a feeling, it’s a want. A want to hide from the true evils this world possesses. A want to go back to where I am safe. A want to strip away my newfound knowledge and just return to ignorant peace. And I know that’s wrong."
“But that’s not all how it feels different. This time its not my mind that’s racing. My legs feel no urgency. No, this need to run is solely in my gut. I’m scared and I fear this growing emotion is going to shut me down. I [am] so frightened by my own ignorance of the world and my place in it that I am uncertain as to how to proceed."
“Except, that uncertainty is embedded in fear. And this is where my body and my brain are working alongside my emotions to temper them appropriately for the first time (at least, I currently believe to be correct). My mind is saying ‘stay, learn more, it’s the right thing to do.’ And my legs are worn by what is being told by my brain and my gut, and are just concrete slabs weighted with metal straps.”
I have never previously felt such intense emotion regarding racial inequities as I tried to describe in that journal entry. I pray that experience will not be a one-time occurrence. I worry that if I never feel that way again, then I have unintentionally given into my fear and returned to the privileged places where I can safely exist.
I did not expect my orientation to the Young Adult Volunteer program to be such an intense emotional journey. I did not expect that I would need to change how I approach racial justice. I expected this program to change how I see the world I live in, though I did not expect that to happen on day one.
And now I find myself looking forward to simple things that I am expecting to come. A colorful Appalachian fall. The onset of colder weather. The approaching season of endless holidays. And I’m wondering what changes will occur that I won’t be expecting, because unexpected transitions seem to be the most memorable ones.