An Activating Event
So it would be one thing if we only had to deal with the fact that we just witnessed the senseless, horrific murder of George Floyd and its aftermath. But as many are realizing, this is also fucking up your relationships and sense of who you are, your placement, and how you see the world.
I want to offer that because this is an acutely racialized event, it's triggering a cycle of racial identity development. For all of us.
In grad school I studied racial identity development models, which seek to explain how and why we change how we think about our racial identity. Whenever I speak on the models, I always start out with William Cross's Nigrescence Model because it was one of the earliest developed, and many subsequent models for other races were based on his ideas. He was basically wondering how people went from self-identifying as Negro to Black in the late 1960s within the context of the civil rights movement, so I always picture him wondering how you get from this to this:
Cross developed a five stage model to understand how particular activating events pushed Black people to explore the impact of racism on their personal identity:
Pre-Encounter - lack of awareness of race and its social implications, the wider social narrative says race is no longer an issue
Encounter - an experience that reminds us that Black people live in a racialized, white supremacist society, forcing a phase of acknowledging the impact of racism and what it means to be Black
Immersion/Emersion - a reactionary phase of immersing yourself in Blackness as a protective and learning factor, divesting emotionally and sometimes physically from Whiteness
Internalization - beginning to internalize a more realistic and balanced view of one's own Blackness, and from here developing more willingness to re-engage with people of other races
Internalization/Commitment - developing a steadiness and comfort in your own Blackness, becoming more active in commitment to the health of the Black community and working toward social and racial justice
Sometimes these stages are navigated on a very personal level. For me I remember seeing Fruitvale Station was a huge activating event for me. I wrote a blog about it at the time reflecting on how it really illustrated my own deeply buried sense of denial about how structural racism impacted policing. I'll repost that in the coming weeks as I've been meaning to revisit it.
But sometimes we go through activating events as a community, a nation, a world. That's what is happening now. For all who are willing to truly examine what the murder of George Floyd set off in our collective consciousness, we have a huge opportunity for identity development. It's work that requires an incredible amount of courage and humility to be truly transformational.
For some of us, this is not optional work. We've been very quickly swept up into this uprising and will never see ourselves and each other in the same way again. This illuminates some very important questions that, like it or not, will be instrumental for assessing a person's character:
Which side of the current White supremecist system will you stand on?
Will you acknowledge the ways you have benefitted by White supremecy?
Are you willing to acknowledge your personal and community role in anti-Blackness?
And yet, beyond these serious questions it's a million times more complex, with an infinite number of decisions and choice points that will say a lot about your character in a very sensitive time. It's exhausting. And it could be the pathway into freedom, peace, integrity... as individuals and as a society.
Are you willing to step into this work?