These are some ideas from my senior capstone paper on vulnerability, the imposter phenomenon and activism. If you’re interested in learning more, let me know!
Vulnerability is when we make the decision to share something of ourselves, or engage in work that might put us at risk for criticism, ostracization or other types of harm. Deciding to do activist work despite the possibility of putting oneself in some kind of jeopardy is a marker of courage. Being able to continue your work and your existence despite being attacked or wounded or rejected, is a marker of strength.
When I first began doing some social justice work, I always felt like I was doing the wrong thing, like I did not belong, I over analyzed every thought and action to the point where I didn’t really let myself do anything. Now, Instead of letting this shame guilt me into disengaging, I am learning to use it as a reminder of the importance of my work. Because if I feel this isolation, guilt, smallness, other people must feel it, too. While it may feel safer to live under this shame, go with the flow, keep my head down we have to leave home. This is the lie of oppressive structures: that if you keep your head down, you will be protected: this makes activist work feel dangerous, vulnerable, avoidable, when in actuality certain people are always vulnerable to manipulation and marginalization under these structures, making activism necessary. Gloria Anzaldua writes:“there are no safe spaces.”
So while I maybe cannot silence these fears or find a place where no one ever shames me for being a bad activist, I can find ways to live with them. I can go back to the places that inspired me to do this work, spend time figuring out what fears are born or empathy and what fears are born of shame, and letting empathy guide my work without letting shame quelch it. I’ve only started to come to this place because I’ve been really lucky to be involved in communities that encourage me, support me, and provide great models of community care for me.
Because people have taken the time to do some of these things for me, my world has changed. I owe a lot to the people who have been courageous enough to venture out from underneath the shame that society places on them to point out injustices that other people were not seeing. Even though I am afraid that the shame and fear that tells me not to engage is right, I do the things that give me courage to be vulnerable, to take the risk that others took for me, and that in itself is continuing a legacy of activism. Activist work is courageous not out of the absence of fear and vulnerability, but because of that vulnerability.
As Brene Brown writes, “In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive.”