Directly following a TEDxMileHigh Event, most of us discover a new-found dedication to taking on the world’s problems. At TEDxMileHigh: Rise, we uncovered the hidden racism of pseudoarchaeology and the power of art in times of tyranny, among other pertinent realities. We learned from people like R. Alan Brooks, who took substantial personal risks in order to share his voice. You might have wondered for a moment, “Am I doing enough?” “Am I at my edge?” “Am I rising?” Learn from social justice experts on how to know if you’re rising with these four questions to ask yourself every day.
Four Questions to Ask Yourself Every Day
1. Am I Being a Good Ancestor?
In Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, an anti-racist workbook, Saad explains that her desire to become a good ancestor drives her social justice work. She writes, “I know that my soul work is to help create change, facilitate healing, and seed new possibilities for those who will come after I am gone. This workbook is a contribution to that purpose.”
What does being a good ancestor mean? Laad explains that a good ancestor is someone who left this world better than they found it. She writes, “The system of white supremacy was not created by anyone who is alive today. But it is maintained and upheld by everyone holding white privilege today—whether or not you agree with it. It is my desire that this workbook will help you to question, challenge, and dismantle this system that has harmed and killed so many BIPOC.”
If you are not a BIPOC, perhaps becoming a good ancestor begins by reading and completing her anti-racist workbook. If you are a BIPOC, becoming a good ancestor looks different. Either way, thinking about the ways you are either upholding or challenging systems of oppression every day in order to improve upon the world now and for future generations is a place to start.
2. Am I Getting Ahead or Getting Together?
In Paul Kivel’s guide to mentoring for social justice, he warns about the difference between the ways that people succeed. The narrative of getting ahead can be harmful. He writes, “Many of us have been told throughout our lives that we need to study and work hard to get ahead, that anyone who studies and works hard will get ahead.” This narrative, the American dream if you will, comes with its fallacies. Working hard, getting ahead, is not going to lead to the same outcome for people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Perhaps instead of focusing on getting ahead of others, we should focus on “getting together.” Kivel defines this as becoming “Effective participants in an inter-generational web of people working to rebuild our communities based on values of respect, inclusion, healing, equity, love, and social justice.” Instead of trying to win the race, what if we stop to help a competitor get up after a fall?
3. What Did I Learn Today That I Didn’t Already Know?
As we’ve explored before, most of us do not receive equal education or balanced histories in schools. There is a lot of hidden history none of us know about. When learning and re-learning history, it is imperative to ask, who wrote this book? What biases might they have that are not immediately evident in the text? What other perspectives can I read instead?
Continuing to push yourself to learn every day can help you become a better citizen of the world. Walking around thinking you know everything, does not. As I write this, I too know that I have a lot to learn and the truths that I take for granted will be proven wrong again and again.
4. What Did I Do to Nurture Myself Today?
Rising is also about taking care of yourself. Especially if you’re in a marginalized group.
In Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Adrienne Maree Brown encourages BIPOC to not settle for anything less than a fulfilling life. She argues that part of social justice work is pleasure, self-care, and happiness. This can be very difficult depending on someone’s life circumstances. Rachel Ricketts, a queer Black woman, international thought leader, speaker, healer, and author, put together resources for Healing for BIPOC here.
Are You Rising?
Whether or not you are in the process of rising to the occasion might be difficult to fully assess. But maybe, it’s not the right question to start with. Depending on your background, centering yourself in social justice work can be harmful. Instead of asking, am I rising?, perhaps you can ask, what am I doing for others? What communities am I a part of? Who am I when I am not an individual with individual self-interest?