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Reflections on accompaniment and cultivating beginner's mind by Lucy Duncan

The process of developing the session for tonight was a journey for me. I’ve been leading an accompaniment workshop for several years and as we were preparing for this, I’m like, “I got this.” But when we were reviewing the agenda with Shanene and Sharon, their feedback was that we needed to challenge you all more, that the workshop I’ve done all this time starts from a frame that folks can look at their own experiences of being supported and then adjust that for accompanying across racial lines. That while our individual experiences of being supported can give us a bodily sense of what that feels like, that it is not enough. It is not enough to think we know what support feels like and can apply that to walking with BIPOC, we have to grapple with our disconnection first in order to be able to be in true relationship. 

 What Sharon and Shanene said, was white folks need first to listen to Black folks in the way they choose to speak, not all prettied up for white folks, with the rage and the authentic truth. They need to notice their resistance to hearing these truths and work to push through that resistance. White folks need to be vulnerable themselves and show up in real relationship, not a relationship that is about performing allyship or “doing good,” but foundationally about having a human, authentic connection. In many of the stories that you all wrote about supporting across differences in social location, you told stories about “helping,” rather than leaning into relationship. These relationships starts with listening, that starts with knowing oneself, that starts with understanding all the ways whiteness keeps us as white people from connecting bodily with our own selves and each other. 

 It starts with seeing where our resistance lies, and working through that.  And, I went through a process to get clear on what we would do tonight. I felt like what I knew I did not know, that I’m a bit of an impostor, that I need to look more deeply at what I am up to and why. I wanted to defend the workshop I’ve been leading and assert that I know what I’m saying, teaching. In these interactions with Shanene and Sharon, I’ve thought, wow, I really am a beginner. And this is the truth: while the accompaniment workshop I’ve been leading might have some real moments of insight in it, I have been leading it in such a way that it is more palatable to white folks, have not been willing to challenge folks to look more deeply, to grapple with how whiteness screws up our ability to authentically connect. And in that way it does not serve its purpose: to challenge white folks to show up in a way that truly disrupts the systems of white body supremacy. 

 The truth is we as white people are beginners and the difference lies in being willing to let oneself learn, to be vulnerable and not know, to lean in to growth over a sense of being competent. We will lose our sense of being competent as we walk more deeply into this work, we will be destabilized and need to sit deeply with discomfort in order to grow. And we don’t arrive. I’ve been working on this stuff with intention for 15 years. I have been learning and leaning in to showing up imperfectly and in human ways. I am still beginning. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grown.  And being willing to lean into all the ways I do not know is the beginning of shifting into the kind of orientation that could be helpful for BIPoC. You will make mistakes, big ones. You will lose people because your mistake is the 80th one they have experienced from a white person. You will need to take a breath and commit to not make that mistake again. And it is incredibly important to stay in it and show up the next time. To keep learning and growing and deepening our commitment. Because this is how we undo the shit white people have built, the structures that cage black and brown bodies, but also enclose white hearts. This is not work for the faint, but it is how we learn to be human again. And what you think you know at any moment you may need to discard tomorrow. 

 It is really critical to comprehend the depth of the importance of this shift in me, in you, in us. The consequence of not doing this work are the continued deaths and massive oppression of BIPOC. Our work together is consequential and understanding the role of continued resistance to showing up in empathetic and undefended ways plays in continued oppression is as well. Recognizing that defending our identity as good white people is collusion in and of itself. 

 What if in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman the same number of white folks were in the streets then, showing up with humility and in real relationship? What if in 2014 when Mike Brown was murdered white folks showed up? What if there were as many white people opposing Clinton and Biden’s 1994 crime bill that escalated mass incarceration? What if this group of 700 people showed up in principled, empathetic ways supporting the goals of Black Lives Matter right now? What might change? What could change? Now is the time to do the inner and outer work to really show up for this work, all of us.