In recent months, I have been writing about various characteristics of white supremacy culture in order to help white folks understand what white supremacy culture is and how we are harmed by it. My hope in writing these posts is to motivate white people to start doing the work of uprooting white supremacy culture from our own hearts and minds. This week’s post is about white supremacy culture and the constant sense of urgency we live with every day.
I’m getting married in less than a week and I am not ready. At least that’s what the voice in my head has been telling me since I can’t remember when. It doesn’t matter what the “deadline” is, this voice in my head is absolutely convinced that I have way more to do than I’m capable of doing in the time that I have.
I still remember the first time I noticed how absurd this feeling was. It was 11 years ago when I was living in San Francisco and didn’t have much going on except for a constant feeling of not enoughness. I didn’t own a car and would often get around by bus. One day I was walking to the bus stop and noticed that the bus was just arriving and that if I didn’t run, I would miss it. So I started running. But then I stopped. “Why am I running? I’m not late for anything, and I’m just going to make myself unnecessarily sweaty and tired.” It was then that I started realizing that whenever I wasn’t doing something, I felt anxious, as if I was wasting time. Wasting time waiting for the bus. Wasting time trying to understand myself in therapy. Wasting time being here and now, as if it were possible to escape the present moment.
This sense of urgency, this sense of not going fast enough, not doing enough, is related to perfectionism, because it depends on an unspoken standard that we never agreed to and yet are imposing on ourselves and each other as a culture. It’s related to quantity over quality because speed lends itself to quantity while patience and mindfulness lend themselves to quality. It’s related to fear because the only explanation for our urgency is that we are treating life like an emergency where the stakes are high and our options are limited. It’s related to individualism, because cooperating with others is a slower process than just going it alone. The reason that the sense of urgency fits so well with these characteristics of white supremacy culture is because it is one of them. Tema Okun describes it as “our cultural habit of applying a sense of urgency to our every-day lives in ways that perpetuate power imbalance while disconnecting us from our need to breathe and pause and reflect.”
The voice in my head tells me that I’m not financially stable enough. It tells me that I’m not healthy enough. It tells me that I’m not confident enough, that I’m not enough of a man, whatever that means. It tells me that I haven’t made my mark on the world yet. It tells me that I’m not going to be able to provide for myself and my family, and even if I am, that it will be at the expense of marginalized communities whose oppression I am responsible for (there’s all-or-nothing thinking). It tells me that just as soon as I learn how to make a living in a trauma-based culture that teaches us that we are not good enough and that the world is a dangerous place full of selfish and violent people, all of civilization is going to collapse into mayhem and chaos, and I’M NOT READY FOR ANY OF IT.
But then I remind myself that it’s all an illusion. The voice in my head is real, make no mistake. But the world that it’s telling me that I live in is not. Most of the things that I’m afraid of never happen, and yet my fear of them plays a huge influence on how I live my life. Then I remind myself that my traumatized mindset is but one atom in the larger framework of white supremacy culture, and that my work in dismantling that culture starts with toppling its puppet government in my own head. For that mission, I use tools and strategies from the following sources:
By keeping a thought tracker in my pocket, I am beginning to recognize my thoughts as thoughts, which helps me build distance and independence from them. Through this process, I am beginning to notice how often the “I’m not ready” thought pops into my mind when I’m preparing to do something that matters to me but that goes against my traumatized programming.
Reminding myself that my past does not predetermine my future, that I have a say in the life that I create, and that the work will be worth it. I am under no obligation to create my life according to anyone else’s standards but my own, and as soon as I truly believe that I’m in charge of my own life, the speed that I move with will be coming from excitement and desire rather than urgency and fear.
For the sense of urgency, my go-to mantra comes from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation: “God is not asking you to do more than you can do. God is only asking you to do what you can do. And you do not know what you can do.” Sometimes the only thing that can keep us sane is a little bit of seemingly irrational faith that no matter how convinced we are that life is happening to us, in actuality life is a gift that is happening for us. This faith has helped me stay committed to the work when everything inside me was telling me to bail.
And right now, my work is to enjoy my wedding. My work is to show my nervous system that focusing on joy and connection and love is safe and rewarding and a valuable way to live my life. Ready or not.
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Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California (LMFT#123099; licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Jon Reynolds) and a coach for HELPAs (Healers, Educators, Leaders, Parents, Activists & Artists) wanting to build a life of sustainable selfless service. To work with Nauser, send an email to nauserbeartherapy at gmail dot com, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.