White fragility and white tears* are complicated by some disabilities, but we disabled people are still accountable for our reactions and behavior.
Mental health issues may mean that my White Fragility Meltdown™ includes sudden and powerful panic attacks, cognitive distortions, and even suicide ideation with a specific and immediately actionable suicide plan.
None of this is the fault of the person who just called me out on a harmful behavior or social justice issue.
All of this complicates my instinctive white fragility response to being called out on my own white nonsense™.**
My disabilities may mean that I need to invest more spoons*** into learning appropriate responses and unlearning inappropriate behavior.
My disabilities DO NOT mean that I can't learn or be held accountable for harmful behavior. If that's really true, I'm a danger to myself and others.
Fortunately, Dealing gracefully with callouts is a learned skill!
In the shower and other solitary moments, I use mantras in short, regular practice sessions. Repeating the mantras builds healthier reflexes, adds tools to my toolbox for use under stress.
Many of these are rhythmic, because that helps me memorize and implement them better as I read, speak, think, or write these out.
My goals here are to honor the labor, courage, and effort of a callout; to diffuse and delay a white fragility meltdown to an appropriate time and place; to communicate understanding and acceptance and gratitude and commitment to change; and to move past the immediate event without pushing labor or stress onto the person offering me an opportunity to learn and grow.
Sharing for other anxious and disabled students of social justice for whom panic attacks and suicide ideation complicate their "white tears" emotional response to mistakes and call outs.
*I recommend Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, the article, or the full book, to learn about this topic.
**Borrowing this phrase from K Tempest Bradford!
***Disability theory jargon. Spoons are a unit of measurement, a loose measure of the energy and capacity needed to do things. Spoons full of energy can be managed or spent.
Immediate response to being called out:
- The basics are:
Thank you. (Thanks)
You're right, that sucked. (Acknowledgement)
I'm sorry. (Apology)
I'll do better. (Commitment)
- I can say:
"Thank you for telling me. I appreciate you taking the time and energy." (Thanks)
"That was awful of me, and this really matters."(Acknowledgement)
"I'm sorry I did that. I should know better." (Apology)
"I've got some work to do on this. I'll learn more and do better." (Commitment)
- I can:
Offer to buy them a drink, if they want one later.
Move on or exit stage right.
Unpack later, elsewhere. Analyse this later, including any "are they maybe wrong about this?"
AVOID MAKING THIS ABOUT ME. IT'S NOT ABOUT ME.
Follow through later. Keep promises made.
Defusing and delaying your panic attack or suicide ideation:
These are internal mantras, not to be said out loud to the person
It's not about me. It's not about me. It's not about me.
It's not the time.
Pack it up, and shut it down.
I'm okay. This will be okay. This will be okay.
Keep calm and carry on.
Impact over intent.
Moving on for now, self.
That thought's ridiculous, self.
That's a cognitive distortion, self.
This is happening, and I'm ok. This happened and I'm still ok.
Breathing in and breathing out.
Breathing in and breathing out and moving on.
No one owes me comfort, I can handle me myself.
I'll cry about this with my cat, right now is not the time .
Later, with trusted friends who are also learning this, when it's not going to derail, hijack, or harm:
Call your therapist
Cry into your cat
Have as big an emotional response as you need / want
Seek affirmation from your cat
Reread Robin DiAngelos White Fragility
Cry in the tub with Enya playing and your white tears detox candle burning
Scream into your cat-shaped pillow
Eat all the pancakes
Binge watch kitten videos
Write a long emotional letter and burn it in a cathartic release of toxic energy
Get an ill-advised tattoo of your cat
Practice what you should have done and plan to do next time.
Research and make lists
Commit to needed change
*It's taken years of therapy and research and catastrophic trial and error to learn these ideas, complicated by my difficulty reading social cues and my OCD hypervigilance to "make things right" immediately.
I will be following up in another post to recommend pedagogical resources, especially resources that may be useful for the disabled student activist and their teachers.