When Social Media Engagements Encourage and Connect You

I’ve never done this before, but I wanted to share an excerpt from an online conversation I just had. I’ve had some great discussions on the topic of race and racism on a friends page, and this exchange was the inspiration for my first podcast episode.

After a seemingly fruitless attempt to engage dialogue with a man who had criticised this video about the historical root of the term Caucasian, I was wisely advised by a fellow Facebook commenter not to waste time on people who want to remain ignorant. After telling him about my commitment to speak into these things, I was asked to share the story about the deconstruction process that led me into anti-racism activism.  The following was my response (as read on my new podcast Ooh, She’s Speaking)

 

“On one hand, I would say my deconstruction has taken decades, but the bulk of it has really taken place over the last few years.

I’ve claimed myself as an “anti-racist” for decades, and I truly believed I was. But now that I have gone through the bulk of this deconstruction, I can look back and say that I was very mistaken. My intentions were decent, but I had zero understanding of how much I had been shaped by external narratives. I had no real knowledge of history in this nation. I grew up raised and heavily relating to my Native American ancestry, so I had a solid amount of dislike for our founding as well as a severe distrust of our government, but even that wasn’t enough.

I held firmly to the ethic of the individual and subscribed to the idea that being “colorblind” was an enlightened perspective. I became a Christian in my early 20s and felt a strong call to racial reconciliation within the church, but I had absolutely no idea how to approach it. I didn’t understand race, the creation of the concept, the deep roots of white supremacy and how it absolutely saturated medicine, academia, our justice system, and the way we live and relate to one another to this day.

I truly believed that we lived so segregated out of preference. I thought that we could just get along if our minds were open enough. I saw people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as opportunists, Malcolm X as a hateful man and I blamed them for the division. I looked up to the whitewashed view of a peaceful, docile MLK Jr. I never once questioned how or why I came to those conclusions, and if I’m honest, I probably just assumed it was by my own brilliant, enlightened thinking. But I understand now.

My most significant turning point came when I started learning about the difference between American Christianity and the Bible. As my entire concept of “church” shifted, as I came to the realization that we are so bound to tradition simply because it’s the tradition, other things started to fall away as well. Cultural norms, race… all of it. It was perfect timing really. My white family had moved and was living in a predominantly black neighborhood, I was questioning everything about what formed my perspectives and why I held the beliefs I did, I was being moved into more in-depth work on racism, and my eyes were open to injustice all around.

The icing on the cake was when I was finally given permission to get off my butt and start speaking out. Until then, I didn’t really know where I fit. I actually needed my friends of color to tell me that they were tired of taking on the fight, tired of talking to people and hearing the same old crap and that they wanted white people to start doing the heavy lifting.

Since then, I’ve been hosting dinner party/discussions, speaking openly about racism, and most importantly-reading, listening and learning from people of color.

Here’s the thing that blows my mind. It took me moving my white family into a predominantly black neighborhood, spending years listening and observing, developing deep friendships with people of color (I can’t tell you how many white people ask how to even meet people and do that), going to events and classes, and being part of a racial reconciliation group- to even begin to see what my friends of color have known all their lives!

It’s breathtaking, and I know it will be my work for the rest of my days on this earth. But I know that reconciliation is the heart of god, and I have experienced a depth of love and grace and beauty, heaven on earth, as I have pursued this work, bridged gaps, and worked toward unity. ”

 

Clearly, I am long-winded, but I was so excited that someone was curious enough to ask me to share my story, excited that they felt I would be open to doing so, and honored to share it.

 

How Anonymity Kills Empathy (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

The past few weeks have been an epic example of how the anonymity of the internet can erase the empathy that makes us human.

We saw a mom be questioned whether she was fit to raise children because her precocious preschooler got away from her at the zoo. She literally had to face the fear that she would lose her right to be a mom because the world was outraged that she lost sight of her child for a minute (and really what mom hasn’t blinked and had her kid on the other side of store wreaking havoc). Or how every post in my news feed seems to be filled with politics that have scathing comments that are so very cruel to one another for having different belief systems.

And in the midst of all of this sensationalism on social this week, I had a personal first – being in the national news in my industry. To be honest, I had always hoped that someday I could do something big enough in my career where I could make it into an industry publication. But I knew that the risk of this is also to be exposed to some of the best writers in the world (after all they create ads for a living) to comment on whether I am worthy to be written about. As you can imagine, some of the comments were tough to swallow. I learned that I am not qualified enough and that I was at a “minion” status. But the thing I struggled with the most is that the people who wrote comments have no name, face or accountability for the hurtful or even blatantly false things that they wrote. They have no remorse for damaging reputations (without any proof) or making a comment that cuts to the core and makes you doubt yourself.

I grew up fearful, always wondering if that person talking across the room was really talking about me. I cared too much about what others thought of me and I allowed anxiety and an eating disorder creep into my world as a young teenager. I can’t imagine navigating high school with social media today. I am thankful that during those formative years I had some strong role models step into my life and help me build confidence to try new things and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

So I ask myself now, what is my role in helping to step into this world of insecurity that we call social media and to stand up against the anonymous comments that tear down? How will I communicate with the same empathy from behind a screen as I do face-to-face? How will I equip my daughter to handle the haters in the digital space that will tear down her self-worth as she is trying to find herself? How will my “like” support other women when motherhood is daunting and feels impossible at times? How can my comment empower others to break through the glass ceiling and be moms, wives and working women at the same time?

My goal for the next time I feel the urge to post, comment or like, is to remember to first always be kind and ask, what would I say to this person if I was looking them in the eyes?

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My name is Kari Shimmel. I am a wife, mother, friend, traveler and ad girl. I share stories about travel, parenting and advertising adventures on my blog at upupandaways.com.