Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can I do this?

After years of circling around what I want to be when I grow up, I read Rob Corcoran's "Trustbuilding" and felt I had found my calling. I had been a psych major and sociology minor in pursuit of a career in cross-cultural psychology. I immediately shifted my college focus to mental health counseling (already a passion and a way to pay the bills) and race relations in the U.S. (a heretofore solitary endeavor). While this did not call for a change in my major, it meant dropping my minor in favor of classes in peace studies and learning more about people of different ethnicities right here at home. Further, I joined an intergroup dialogue, sponsored by the City of Portland, between people of color and white people.

This has been a very emotionally draining experience. The dialogue takes place in six weekly four-hour sessions. Yesterday was the third. We watched the first part of "The Color of Fear," the recording of a dialogue between eight U.S. men: two African-American, two Hispanic, two Asian-American, two white. What a difficult film to watch! It brought up all kinds of issues for me in terms of how I unwittingly express my own racism, how difficult it is to reach other white people concerning race relations, and the responsibility I have not to give up.

I left the session more emotionally-drained than usual (it's never an easy four hours). Then I came home to people who absolutely do not understand what the group is, why it is painful for me, or why it is necessary. No support, no constructive debriefing. I even showed them a clip from the film, in hopes they might understand a little. I must have chosen a poor clip. My son's response sounded more like the most vocal of the white men than it did a person of color. (My son is of mixed heritage, but identifies as a black man.)

Now, after a decent night's sleep, I still feel drained. The other ongoing discussions in my life - which take place online - only added to my distress. When checking my e-mail this morning, I was greeted with a video of Islamophobic and racial epithets being hurled at a peaceful gathering of Muslims and a video interview of a young man who identifies as both black and white discussing the challenges he's faced. My heart is hurting so badly right now.

Do I have the mental/emotional strength to do the work I so deeply desire to do? Will I ever reach a point where I can take in all of the ignorance and hatred without letting it depress me AND without getting jaded? I have asked myself these and related questions several times during the past 15 hours. The answer which I keep coming back to is "Yes, Dana. You can." Not only that, but "Dana, you must."

So I will endure the pain. I will learn to accept that most people will not understand my passion and my need to make a difference, no matter how slight. And I will find a way to do the work without becoming an emotional basket case. Because I must. Because I can.

For more on the dialogue in which I'm participating, go to http://www.portlandonline.com/humanrelations/index.cfm?c=54183. For a peek at the film, "The Color of Fear," check out the trailer.

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