Discussions about race equity are challenging. Very often, they create tension and discomfort among the participants. At our 2022 National Fund Site Director Meeting, we considered the importance of getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. That idea may seem counterintuitive, but it is critical that we do so if we are to create an equitable and just society.
Discomfort is something to be embraced. It is a sign of personal development and self-growth. Discomfort guides us to emotionally grow so we can engage with the things that make us feel uncomfortable. It’s empowering to own your guilt, sadness, fear, or awkwardness so you can begin taking action.
The Characteristics of White Supremacy framework shows us how comfort and discomfort work to reinforce or break down racist systems. Holding up the “right to comfort” looks like:
- Believing that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort
- Scapegoating those who cause discomfort
- Equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism that targets people of color
While these habits prevent us from identifying and addressing racism or inequities, we can take the “antidote”: “Understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; don’t take everything personally.” In other words, opting into discomfort can turn you into a force for breaking down mental, emotional, cultural, and institutional structures that hold systemic racism and inequity in place.
Avoiding discomfort is natural. But it also leaves inequitable and racist systems in place. In order to change and grow, you need to be uncomfortable first.