June 1, 2016

Some Sins Are Not Like Stealing Plums

Some sins are more comfortable than others.

(More comfortable to confess, at least.)

William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This Is Just to Say,” is a quintessentially endearing confession:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It’s not that hard to confess eating the plums. We sheepishly shrug our shoulders, offer a hug or a kiss, buy a few more plums for tomorrow, and move on.

But it’s harder to confess the sins on my heart this week. Sins that are not only my own, but make others culpable too. Sins rooted in arrogance and self-centredness (okay, all sins are rooted there), sins that categorically look down on other people simply because they are not like me.

I need to confess these sins because I don’t entirely know what to do with them.

I need to confess these sins because they are almost ever-present in my life.

I need to confess these sins because even though they seem “mild” and “not such a big deal,” I am contributing to systemic, large-scale sin. And the only way systemic, large-scale sins are stopped is when individuals own their sins and change their behaviours and then make noise about those changes.

--

So here is my confession:

I am racist.

Many of you will remember that a little more than five years ago (!), I held an art exhibit for my birthday. My 26th birthday, and it was called 26 Secrets. I’d been thinking recently about the poems and photos I shared that night, and decided that it was high time I make a little photo book to remember and share the important milestone that it was for me. I was excited to create a permanent memento of work I was proud of, images and words that had been a revealing and opening of my heart.

As I was uploading the images to my photo-book-maker-of-choice, I went through and read the corresponding poem. And one of them stopped me in my tracks.

Woah! I thought, I can’t put that poem in! 

I remember writing it. I remember the feeling I was trying to capture. I wasn't trying to be oppressive. But five years later, what’s clear to me is that the sentiment of the poem is at best, racially na├»ve. At worst, it is straight-up racist.

It's a poem that lessens the experience of black women and elevates my experiences of sexual objectification as a white woman as somehow worse or more exaggerated than those of women of colour. This is categorically untrue; historically, women of colour have experienced much more extreme (and violent) sexual objectification and abuse than white women - which is not in any way to minimize the real suffering of white women, myself included, but I can't make sweeping and untrue statements about the experience of a people to whom I do not belong.

I sat staring at the computer screen, and then I started thinking about this tweet, which totally convicted me about how we white people (especially white Christians) like to pretend we are above racism. Even though we know we aren’t above any of the other sins, like greed, or gluttony, or lust.

I was racist five years ago, and I can’t claim I’ve reached perfection since. I am part of the problem that has a stranglehold on much of North America. I assume falsehoods about people because of their skin colour. I project value on lives based on cultural history. I come out on top when it comes to privilege.

I cannot ignore this truth.

--

My other sin is not so different.

It started with a draft of a blog post, one about body image and how I’ve started seeing my body change since I hit 30, and how I feel like I’m getting a mom bod but without the baby to make up for it.

It was going to be an ‘honest’ post, and I was almost ready to publish it.

Then I went to my local mom-and-pop grocery store, and the woman behind the counter Oohed and Aahed over my choice of brussel sprouts, and asked how I cooked them, and said I must eat so healthy, because I was “so skinny!”

And I left grouchy and annoyed, thinking, Why do people say s@#* like that? I wish people would stop telling me I’m skinny...

I’ve spent most of my life pushing back when people tell me I’m skinny.

“I have child-bearing hips!”
“Oh, I’ve got stretch-marks and cellulite where you can’t see…”
“Actually, that won’t fit. I’m a size __.”
“It’s not that I’m skinny, I just know how to dress to hide my flaws.”

But here’s the thing. I am skinny.

I am skinny enough to buy clothes in almost any store I want (except Gap Kids, but that’s only fair…).
I am skinny enough that people don’t ask me if I’m pregnant.
I am skinny enough to not be judged or mocked by strangers simply for being.
I am skinny enough that the health problems I encounter are not assumed to be my own fault.
I am skinny enough that my eating habits are not dissected by those with whom I share a meal.
I am skinny enough that people don’t doubt my self-control.
I am skinny enough that people assume I respect myself.
I am skinny enough that no one is predicting I’ll die young.
I am skinny enough that I never have to worry if I’ll fit in a chair at church, or an office, or any sort of space outside my home.
I am skinny enough that I’m not embarrassed to get on a plane.

Not only am I “skinny enough” to experience life in this privileged way, I have participated in the shaming, the mocking, the judging, the pitying, and the despising of those who are not “skinny enough.”

I have friends who are big (or fat, or curvy, or whichever term they choose for themselves), and I’ve somehow thought that put me more or less above size-ism. I don’t care about size! We’re friends! But size-ism the same as racism; having a black friend doesn’t mean I’m not racist. It probably just means my POC (person of colour)/fat friends are exceedingly gracious towards me. If I’m truly honest with myself (and with all of you), I have had size-ist thoughts towards women I love:

If they can run a 10k, surely I can too?
I don’t understand why they don’t just eat a little less.
It’s kind of annoying we can’t go shopping together.
Don’t they need to lose weight? Heart disease and all that…
It’s probably rooted in childhood trauma, so it’s not really their fault.

These things are not okay to say, and they’re not okay to think, and I want to change.

Many of my friends who weigh more than I do are also healthier, more active, stronger, and eat better than I do. Yet no one shames me. This is unfair and unacceptable.

I've come to believe that Health at Every Size is possible, and to be celebrated.

--


In the Anglican Church, where I currently make my spiritual home, the act of confession is built in to our weekly church service. The standard confession begins like this:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.


I need to say that every week. Because it is true every week.

I believe that racism and size-ism are sins against God. Against what God has made and called good.

They are also sins against people. Real people with real feelings, with struggles I cannot deny, facing prejudice and needless obstacles because of me and people like me.

I have not loved my neighbor as myself.

I am truly sorry.
And I humbly repent.

--

I don’t really know how to make amends.

But here’s where I want to start:

  1. I will face my racism/sizeism*. I can’t pretend it doesn’t lurk in me, and I can’t pretend it’s ok. I want to address it at its stem, in my thoughts and in my heart.
  2. I will speak up when others say or do things that are discriminatory or oppressive. I’m not willing to hide behind my own privilege anymore. It’s not right.
  3. I will be willing to learn. I will be willing to be told I’m being racist/size-ist, to hear and receive correction. Because I’m not perfect. I’m not above it.
  4. If you are a person of colour, or a person of size/fat/big/curvy, I would really like to hear how I (and others like me) can help fight against these sins on both an individual and societal level.


*also, related sins of which I am also culpable: ableism, sexism, oppression/judgment against LGBTQ individuals, and probably all the other –isms I’m currently forgetting.