It was just a stupid teamwork exercise.
I told myself that as I stood on the patchwork meeting room carpet, listening to the instructions. I didn’t have to be in charge here. I’d only just met most of the colleagues in the room, but I already knew I wasn’t the most experienced or smartest or most clever or best leader in this room by far. I knew there would be an assessment at the end of the exercise and I didn’t want to be on the negative side of that assessment in this room. I had so much respect for these folks, I didn’t want to mess up in the stupid teamwork exercise and let them all know I was a loser. Plus, this was an intentionally diverse gathering. I didn’t want to be the white girl who thought she knew better than everyone. So, as we looked down at the tape and paper on the floor and were being told we had to cross the rocket, I told myself to stay back. To be quiet. To wait. To follow.
But then the facilitator said there was a time limit. And then time started. And no one moved. And no one mad a plan. And my nice-white girl anxiety about finishing on time, getting the job done, having my team win, accomplishing the task as asked, kicked in, and before I was aware of it I had pushed passed people to be near the front. I didn’t come up with that first plan, but when someone, anyone started trying something, I jumped into the water with them. And I yelled for others to follow us. I yelled directions at strangers. I didn’t have a plan. I was trying someone else’s, and without any assessment of its workability, I insisted others join us. I later learned that someone else had another plan. And was trying to tell us about it. But I was already at work and didn’t listen. Her plan was better. And so I jumped on board that plan. Abandoning the one I was working on and joined in the new plan. Again, I yelled at everyone to join us and hurry. Once we all got going, And we knew we were going to finish, I kept yelling for everyone to finish faster.
It was less than 5 minutes.
It was a stupid teamwork exercise.
But I’d completely abandoned my plan, my training. I knew I wanted to follow. I knew I wanted to listen. I knew I didn’t want to be a white supremacist jerk. But when time and competition started, I lost all that, and my conditioning kicked in.
I was the white ally who refused to listen to people of color in the heat of the moment. I was the white woman who assumed her instructions would be followed if only she were louder about sharing them. I was the white supremacist who thought success was more important that listening or planning or working together or making sure everyone was okay. Sure, I wanted the team to win, but winning became more important than how we won.
It was a stupid teamwork exercise.
And I knew it going in.
And I knew better going in.
And still, it brought out all my white supremacist instincts. The ones I have confessed and tried to train out of me. The ones I challenge others to confess and try to train out of themselves.
My colleagues were gracious in naming these traits and actions in the post-exercise debrief. I still have felt gross about them for days. But now it’s time to get over my feelings and work on those instincts of mine again and some more. Because those instincts are violent. My white supremacist instincts are violent.
It wasn’t a stupid teamwork exercise.
It was a reminder that the work is constant.
It was a moment of personal darkness and sin, that I now name and confess.
It was a trigger that hurt others.
It was a sign that I have so much more work to do on myself.