I am ugly sometimes when it comes to conversations about race.

This morning I was mean to two white people who didn’t deserve it. The first was a friend who wanted to have an honest dialogue about how white people on the left have alienated allies of color.

The second was a white woman who didn’t understand that “petty” has a new definition in the urban dictionary. She was trying to be witty. But she just didn’t get it and I was so over it and her.

This is the part where I would usually say something positive like “remember the three questions before saying something – is it true, kind or necessary?”

But I can’t. Sometimes we must own our ugly.

“Owning our ugly” doesn’t mean justifying being a jackass. It means fessing up to the fact that we all say and do things that are mean-spirited, unkind and well…ugly.

This is especially difficult for activists. We are good people who do good things because we believe a better world is possible. However, our desire and sometimes our nearly pathological need as women to “be good,” to please others, gets in the way of creating lasting change.

For example, a black farmer recently posted on social media about the hypocrisy of white liberals in his community who protested against President Trump and then routinely racially profile him.

The response to the black farmer’s post was, unfortunately, predictable with lots of #notallwhitepeople comments. But if #notwhitepeople didn’t do what some white people do, then institutional racism wouldn’t exist.

For my part, I have consistently engaged in race conversations with a white man, A.J. Hartley, for nearly a year. I have said some ugly, hateful things. A.J. has patiently made me face my hypocrisy, anger, and desire to hold onto a story that no longer serves me because it makes me feel righteous. Owning my ugly is difficult because I really enjoy being right…about everything…all the time. But life doesn’t work that way.

So here’s how to “own your ugly.”

  1. Face the shadow parts of yourself. Before saying the knee-jerk reaction of “not all…” or “I would never…,” ask yourself “is that true?” Have I never, ever behaved the way, believed or said that? Chances are, you have.
  2. Give the ugly a name. Call it “Lucinda” or “Rocky” or “Boo Boo” or whatever. But giving it a name divorces yourself from the notion that in order to “do good” you need to “be perfect.”
  3. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. We all say and do things we wish we hadn’t said or done. You are also an incredible and flawed human being who is doing her best to understand the world in which we live and make it better.

In a world of fake news, fake tans and fake reality, truth is needed now more than ever. Own your ugly because, to paraphrase RuPaul, if you can’t be truthful with yourself how the hell are you going to be truthful with anybody else? And to take it one step further, we can’t have reconciliation without truth. The whole truth. The ugly truth. Own your ugly and it will set you free. #ownyourugly

Kerra Bolton is a writer and filmmaker based in the Mexican Caribbean. In a former life, she was a political columnist; Director of Communications, Outreach, and Oppositional Research for the North Carolina Democratic Party; and founder of a boutique strategic communications firm.


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