I’m going to preface this whole article by stating the obvious: if you’re a human alive on this Earth and you care about human rights at ALL, you should care about and stand with Black Lives Matter.

Okay? 

So with that out of the way I want to say something else. 

Something that’s especially meant for my many blog readers.

Those of you who have, over the years while staying up late at night Googling “how to cope with estrangement” or “did I experience childhood abuse?”, stumbled onto my blog.

I want to say something to you, those who were the outcasts of their abusive or dysfunctional family systems, those who were and are the Black Sheep of their families: 

It’s you – it’s US – who, above so many others, should especially stand with Black Lives Matter and really GET some of the unique pains that racism and the lack of collective and active anti-racism work yields. 

It’s US, the Black Sheep of the world, that should be involved in, if not leading the charge, on anti-racism work.

Keep reading to learn why.

 

If you’re a Black Sheep, here’s why you MUST stand with Black Lives Matter.

So I want to go on the record by saying, as a privileged White woman, I am NOT the expert on articulating the experiences of Black people in America. 

I’m not the first (or even 1 millionth) voice to follow for education on how to be anti-racist. 

I defer to brilliant and powerful thought leaders like Layla F. Saad, Rachel Cargle, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Rachel Rodgers, and so many more to be the most important voices you listen to.

But I also believe that I have a responsibility as a White woman with a specific and unique audience that reads my work to add to this conversation. 

To step up, to have an opinion, and to use my small, niched platform to support anti-racism work.

AND what I have to say is informed by what these other brilliant women have shared and taught me in their work. 

So, that end, I want to share with you what happened the other night.

The other night, I was laying in bed listening to Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. 

I had wrapped up a 14-hour day of client and admin work and momming and, since my 19-month old daughter will now apparently only fall asleep if her dad puts her to bed, I had a spare, precious, and unexpected half hour to myself. 

So, with my heart and mind on the matters occupying so many of us these days, I purchased Me and White Supremacy on Audible and started listening to it.

Five minutes in, I grabbed my notebook.

I grabbed my notebook, not only to do the actual transformative journaling exercises that Layla F. Saad challenges readers to do, but also to make some notes for myself on what was standing out to me.

What stood out to me was this: so many of the experiences and pain points Layla F. Saad talks about that a Black person goes through were akin to what I, as a relational trauma therapist, know that many of my clients could relate to. 

I was seeing parallels between the shared experiences of being a Black person in a racist country and what it is to grow up as a Black Sheep in an abusive and dysfunctional family system. 

And it made me realize that Black Sheep – above all others, arguably – should be the first in line and loudest to support Black Lives Matter. 

Now, HUGE CAVEAT.

I am NOT saying that White people who have been Black Sheep in their family systems have experienced the extent of the traumatization and relentless impacts of racism that Black individuals in this country have had to endure for century upon century. 

I am not here saying, “We’ve had a hard time, too!”

And god knows I’m not trying to say, “Black Sheep Lives Matter!”

The LAST thing I want to do is to take the focus away from Black Lives Matter and the anti-racism work that needs to be done by giving anyone – myself included – a cookie and a pat on the back and a virtual permission slip to sit this one out because “we’ve had a hard time, too.” 

No. That’s NOT what I want to do. That’s 100% NOT what I’m trying to say here. 

What I DO want to do is to try and build an empathy bridge between any of you – my readers – who might still not fully understand why and how it’s important to say and embody, “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter.”

I want to cultivate compassion, and a deep sense of kindred recognition to kindle any fire inside you that hasn’t been stoked yet in order to have you join me and so many others in doing active anti-racism work.

I want to touch something inside of you to tip you off the fence of ambivalence so that you’re firmly rooted on the side that says, “Oh god yes, I GET it. This IS important. I know this now. What can I do? How can I help?”

So again, my goal here is not to equalize experiences.

My goal is to foster empathy.

Because when empathy is there, so, too may be the clarity of conviction that’s needed to bring even more White people to the work that needs to be done to undo systemic racism in this country.

So again, while I’m not trying to equalize the experiences of being Black and growing up in a racist country, I think there are some parallels that may be particularly important for you if you identify as a Black Sheep in your family to hear.

In Me and White Supremacy and in so many other conversations, podcasts, and articles I’ve read lately, it occurs to me that some (and I do mean only some) of what Black individuals experience on a deeply entrenched, systemic, and unrelenting level are similar pains that many people who grew up in abusive or dysfunctional family homes might also have experienced.

For instance, gaslighting. 

I’ve written about gaslighting before in the context of being subjected to psychological abuse inside a toxic relationship or family system. 

And Black individuals experience this constantly when their reality is denied, suppressed, diminished, or they are otherwise made to feel that their reality is not truth.

Remember how extraordinarily painful how, in your own family system, in your own abusive childhood, it felt to have you and your reality denied and rejected again, and again, and again?

If you’re a Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

Now, let’s talk about something else: Tone policing. 

I wonder how many of you, the Black Sheep in your family systems, were told, “You’re so ANGRY!” or “What’s wrong with you? Your sisters aren’t as angry as you.” or “I’m not going to engage with you because you’re speaking with anger.”

How many times have you been shut down or shut up and told that you couldn’t be listened to or dialogued with until you “calmed down” and were “less angry.” How many times did you have your anger validated versus invalidated? Likely, not often. 

THAT is tone policing. 

It’s a tactic that detracts from the validity of a statement or a person by attacking the tone and way it was presented versus listening to the message itself and honoring why that tone might be being used in the first place. 

Put frankly, it’s a way that abusers and colluders consciously and unconsciously diminish or outright reject the experience of a person in pain. 

If you’re a Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

Now, let’s talk about centering the experience of the person in power. 

In the case of racism in this country, that centered experience is always the one of the White person. It’s centered Whiteness.

What do I mean by this? On an academic level, it’s crafting curriculum centered around White European-centric stories, ideologies, and facts and leaving out the experiences, lens, and frames of Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color so that White people arrive into their thirties without knowing about Juneteenth. On a national and tangible product level, centering Whiteness means flesh tones in a Crayola box that only pink-skinned people can see themselves in. It’s bandaids in boxes for those same pink-skinned people and not the color of the little Black boy and girl. 

That is centering Whiteness on a systemic, pervasive level.

But centering the experience of a person in power, often an abusive person, is altogether too familiar for Black sheep. 

It’s prioritizing that person’s needs, wants, dignity and personhood over the others, often to the invisibility and detriment of others.

If you’re a Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

Now let’s talk about a super obvious one: abuse.

Abuse is clearly, obviously, the state-sanctioned murders of George Floyd, Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. It’s the FACT that Black bodies will be more likely to be harmed over White bodies in singular moments like being pulled over by a cop or standing in solidarity at protests. Racial abuse is alive each and every time an act of violence – be it physical, verbal, or emotional – is directed at a Black person.

And on a family level, it may also look as egregious or it may look more subtle. 

It’s the favoring of one more “pretty and good” child over another. It’s the neglect of leaving a kid at an airport somewhere with no return ticket home. It’s the spanking, the yelling, the drinking and endangering the well-being of that child or young adult be it in subtle or obvious ways.

If you’re a Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

But let’s talk about one more thing: Collusion Versus Speaking Out Against.

Collusion within an abusive and dysfunctional family system is this: the person and people who are not the active abusers looking away, making excuses, sweeping it under the rug, downplaying, hiding, or otherwise not choosing to actively speak up and stand against the active abuser for fear of the repercussions or because, consciously or unconsciously, they benefit in some way from NOT speaking up. This is collusion in an abusive family system.

If you’re a Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

But collusion on a collective, systemic racist level is this: It’s saying All Lives Matter versus saying Black Lives Matter. It’s saying, “I’m not a racist!” or “I don’t see race!” or choosing to ignore and not participate in the conversations and change work that’s happening right now.

You may not be the murderer of George Floyd, Armaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor or anyone else. You may not be the cop bullying a Black man who did nothing more than drive through a predominantly White suburban neighborhood. You may not be visibly abusive in any way shape or form to any human, Black, White or other. But if you’re NOT speaking up against what’s happening, if you’re not doing active anti-racist work, I challenge you to understand that, at some level, you’re colluding, too. 

Collusion in a racist America looks like not actively abusing, but also not actively challenging the abusers (and in this case, the abusers are systems, structures, and frameworks as much as they are individuals). 

These are but a few of the pain points that being Black in racist America holds. To learn more, I highly, highly recommend grabbing a copy of Me and White Supremacy and reading it/listening to it!

But, for now, now let’s step back for a minute. Go into the imaginal with me.

Imagine a family system that’s rife and replete with gaslighting, with tone policing, with centering the experience of the most powerful, where active abuse takes place, and where collusion participates, complicit in the perpetuation of that abusive family system.

My fellow Black Sheep, I know you remember. I know you get this.

Now imagine you don’t get to EVER grow up and leave that family. 

Imagine that you don’t ever get to “get free” by turning 18 and getting yourself the hell away. 

Imagine that there wasn’t an end to the pain of being part of that system by aging out, moving away, estrangement, or seeking out a second-chance-family-of-choice.

What if your abusive family system was one you could NEVER escape because it was woven into every structure, organization, system and abstract frame that built the world you live in?

My fellow Black Sheep, THAT is the empathy bridge I’m trying to make. 

That thing that you and I and so many of us got a chance to finally, blessedly do – grow up, get away, heal, and hopefully thrive despite adverse early beginnings – that option ISN’T open for Black people living in a racist America. 

Racist America is a family system you can’t get away from.

That’s why you, me, and any other person who knows some of the unique pains that growing up in dysfunctional and abusive family systems can have should and MUST be the first in line to raise our hands and say, “NO, this isn’t right, I will do my work to be anti-racist and help heal this abusive, national family system.”

As a White Black Sheep (and look, I know many of you are not White and are still Black Sheep and my blog readers – but this comment is especially for my White readers), you and I do NOT know the full extent of the racial trauma that being Black in this country holds. 

But we do know in ourselves what SOME of the pain points might feel like. And so we can have empathy even while we don’t have similar lived out experiences. 

And with this empathy, we can spark our courage and conviction to do better, to be better, and to not, in any way, collude with the collective abusive family system that Racist America currently is.

And I’m going to say one more provocative thing: You also cannot stand with Black Lives Matter and do anti-racist work and IGNORE and INVALIDATE the experiences of those in your own dysfunctional family system who have tried and failed to get you to see their side, to empathize with their pain, and to stop colluding with the abuse within the system.

We cannot be just, relational, healthy, functional, and supportive in one sphere of our lives without being so in others. Micro to macro, it all needs tending to.

Black Sheep, blog readers, let any of your lived experience fuel any anti-racism work you may and should do. 

And may all of our work – on a family systems level to a national and global level – feed itself so that we undo abuse, complicity, silence, and systems at every level that keep people unsafe and under-acknowledged, hobbled and hurting. 

We all deserve better. 

Warmly, Annie

Medical Disclaimer

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