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WHITE FRIENDS

22 October 2022:


Yesterday I attended my first Officer Professional Development session since I returned back to work. It was hosted in the O'Club and had members from our career field represented from across the base. The panel consisted of five O-6 Col's/O-5 Lt Col's and probably had at least 50 junior and field grade officer guests in the room. It was well organized. The host did an exceptional job relaying the questions, the responses were insightful, and it was a great mentorship session. I thought to myself, "this is awesome. What a great way to meet new people at the base and meet our senior leaders. This is SO helpful and NEEDED." I was really impressed with the event and proud of myself for being at a place where I can participate in work functions like this again.


About halfway through our event I started to get a headache. It was the familiar headache I would often get when I was in distress. This was very frequent during my convalescent leave and leading up to my hospitalization and treatments. I thought to myself, where is this coming from? I'm not doing or thinking anything stressful just being present in the moment receiving the mentorship information. I tried to identify the source. Was it some kind of trigger from my therapy session from earlier this morning? We covered some heavy topics today. But I left feeling better, not in pain. Could it be from the flu shot I got earlier? Maybe? I've never gotten any symptoms from it before aside from a sore arm. Could it be that?


I looked around the room and saw the majority (not all) of the people in attendance appeared to be white. All of the 0-6/0-5 panel members, my fellow junior and field grade officer peers, with a sparse few of us black, brown, and Asian O's spread out around the room. I thought to myself, “SERIOUSLY KRISTIN?!?!?! I thought we had moved PAST this! Your therapist just shared with you how you are on a path to recovery! Your depression and anxiety are trending DOWNWARD. You JUST went to military ball with folks and had a GREAT time! What is going on with you??? I quickly scanned the room and started looking at all the faces I knew and recognized as friendly's. You have coffee with this person: FRIENDLY. You share similar life experiences as this person: FRIENDLY. You danced at the Air Force ball last week with this person: FRIENDLY. These two people took you to the hospital, visited you, got you into a healthier work environment and job that was commiserate to your new rank: ULTRA FRIENDLY's! Why are you experiencing pain right now??? I located the source of my stress. I was being triggered from an event that happened this past march which triggered more past events in my life around the subject, and that I haven't fully healed from.


After the mentorship session I stuck around for about 20 more minutes to meet new people and socialize but left as my headache wouldn’t cease. By the time I got home my head was POUNDING, hard. I went into my "safe space" room and lied on my "safe fluffy rug" lit a candle that smells sweet like redwood trees and makes the firewood cackle noise to try and relax and soothe myself. It helped. But each time I got up, my headache seized AGAIN. Michael brought dinner, we chatted about our day, I went back to my "safe space" grabbed a blanket and pillow, reflected on the emotional and physical pain I was experiencing and went to sleep. I woke up this morning feeling better. I was proud of myself for safely working through my emotions and physical pain. I listened to my body and adjusted safely to its needs. However, it was very clear to me that I still have more therapy work to do. Thankfully I have a meeting with my therapist on Monday.

This morning I started thinking about the physical pain I experienced from this trigger. I thought to myself, “Am I REALLY going to experience pain every time I'm around a lot of White people? How am I going to do my job? Where am I going to live? You KNOW they are not all the same, why is your body feeling the opposite?” I thought about my mom, and despite her growing up in "progressive CA" during the late 70's and early 80's, the school district required her to get a permit each year in order to attend Inglewood High School; despite it being less than a mile away from her home as it was considered a "White" school. The district wanted to bus her out 40 mins away to the "Black" school. As her school became more Black, the White teachers would read the newspaper during class, provide them with old books to teach themselves and made comments to her such as, "There's no point in teaching you all. None of you will ever be anything." Or "There will never be a Black President. He wouldn’t be able to get anything done because no one would respect or listen to him."


I didn't learn stories like this until 2020. I guess my parents were trying to protect and shield me from truth and the experiences they lived. I started to remember so much of what came to light in 2020. The disparity in medical care across the U.S., education, heightened incarceration for Black people, the disparity in promotion and judicial punishment of Black people in the USAF, the list goes on. I thought of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old kid, unarmed walking home was somehow considered a "threat" and murdered by someone who was armed, not a cop, just another citizen who decided to take the law into his own hands as HE perceived Trayvon as a "threat." I remember how for months and months I watched Trayvon's memory be dragged in the news, accused of being a “thug,” “criminal,” “grown man,” all for living a life as a child who simply existed as the child he was while being Black. I remember watching the trial and the disappointing but not surprising outcome. What I remember that shocked me the most was not the decision of the jury, but the comments by people I called a "friend" or "coworkers." Some said things like, "he was a thug and deserved what he got" or "17, that’s not a child he was a Grown Man, who knew what he was doing." All I could think of was, did we watch the same thing? Aren't we on a path to commission together?

What saddens me is that I have many white friends. People who have mentored me, showed up for me, cried with, laughed with, studied with, brunched with, done nails with, celebrated with, whom I trust, and we trust each other with some of the most shameful or deepest insecurities we possess. So, when I see or experience these racist things, I KNOW to bracket all white people as "racist" or "harmful" is a distorted thought. I KNOW that is NOT the truth. What is becoming more and more apparent to me is that while there has been some progress and change from the time my mom went to school, the more and more aware I am becoming of myself and my environment, the more I discover it's not much. And in many ways, still the same. This breaks my heart because I have spent most of my life believing and trying to become someone who could make a difference. That I could inspire others and lift others up. To bring people together. To help people see the worth in themselves and the equal worth of others. I keep trying to do what I can to reach different kinds of people to be able to connect with them and help them see their own light, or their own power but I'm running out of energy and my body is starting to shut down. My mind is fatigued and realizing more and more that I can only influence myself.

So many of my White friends or acquaintances have confided things in me that could fit in the "diversity and inclusion" bucket. I listen understand and empathize. I know that they feel safety in me and I in them. I just wish White people would be more open or public with their vulnerabilities. More visible in their actions. I've been a part of so many of these conversations regarding diversity and "White male" perspectives and experiences are consistently the missing link. People have shared how these conversations can be difficult to sit in as some of the content shared can make one feel as if they are being "attacked" "silenced" "put down" "witch-hunted" "inaccurate" "villainized" "devastated" "overwhelmed" "ashamed" "the one to blame" "scared" "angry" "feel doubt" "feel unaware" and so much more. The one that stands out the most to me is "uncomfortable". I listen. I render compassion.


The older, more tired sick, and conscious I am becoming, my compassion is evolving into frustration and significant disappointment. ESPECIALLY since the majority of people in the mental health therapies with me are Enlisted People of Color.

I understand not wanting to share and open up until one feels safe. I TOTALLY believe it and relate to the feeling. The challenge I am experiencing is all of those feelings that make White people choose to disengage from these types of conversations, refuse to actively participate in an honest way, lead these types of conversations or educate themselves on the topics, are some of the very feelings I experience every day. Just in gaining the courage to walk outside of my home and go to work. A LOT of black, brown, and Asian people are, regardless of whether they are conscious of it or not. I think I've been able to last as long as I have by burying my feelings into my subconscious, suppressing it, and blocking it out. I’ve been experiencing these things my entire life and unfortunately my mind and body are saying to me that, "we can’t take this anymore and we want to die." But my heart keeps holding on.


My theory is that if we all were vulnerable with each other, stand up for one another, if we all kept showing up, took it seriously and were committed to learning despite the discomfort and hard truths, then together we all could help each other heal. Healing could build connection, competency, and strengthen trust. Learning, acknowledging, and sharing the varied layers of our truthful experiences could help us repair and move forward together and not alone.


One of the things about privilege is not knowing that you have it. There are lots of different types of privilege in a patriarchal, white supremacy, heterosexual, capitalist, Christian dominant, able body, ageist society. I think its important to see which one or ones you possess and decide in what way you want to use it. I am learning more and more that there is SO MUCH power in self-awareness. The responsibility is on ONESELF to learn and fill their blind spots-not someone else. Some of us don't have the choice and are dying because of it.


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