Overcoming fear of others recognizing that we aren’t developed in some way is a huge as a roadblock and continues to be a recurring challenge in social justice work. Individuals and institutions can go to great lengths to cover up that reality because of fear. Letting go can be liberating.

To celebrate the realization of my starting a new direction in terms of how I contribute to social justice work, I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I learned how to ride a bicycle over the summer.

Initially I struggled with taking it on because I’d developed some shame around not knowing how to do it over the years. I struggled with the societal expectation that I “should have known how to do this already” that was reinforced when talking to others who were so surprised that I didn’t know how to ride.

More than being ashamed I was afraid. I was afraid of falling. I was afraid of how others would perceive me. I was also afraid that too much time had passed for me to get it right, and that I wouldn’t be able to learn. What was true for me about my process was that, once I accepted that I would fall; that some people might think I looked silly; that I was too old to try, but that learning the skill was worth the risk, my outlook changed.

I did fall…a lot. But I learned too. It got easier after a while, and now I ride all the time.

What I didn’t know at the time, but understand now more than ever, was how relevant this experience would be not only to my new role, but in social justice work in general.

Pushing Through The Fear

Fear is a formidable opponent. In my work as a social justice educator I work with students, staff members, community members, professors, and other professionals for whom the very nature of their environments or professions demand that they be “competent”, and speak from a place of confidence and security in their areas of study, work, or expertise.

In a way, many environments as they are traditionally constructed are inherently designed to foster a climate of posturing and superficiality where folks put on a mask and pretend that they know information about individuals or groups of people under some guise of cultural competence that they don’t actually have. Social justice elitism, or the use of language as a tool to shame and exclude other people who don’t know as much is another form of posturing.

When I think of social justice education, the truth is that there are lots of people who don’t know things; who feel as if they should already know them, but are afraid of sounding ignorant, or appearing foolish in some way.

But for our privileged identities, pushing through the fear, getting over our egos, getting out of our own way, is absolutely necessary. It is less important that we appear aware, and more important that we commit to increasing our awareness. What we have to gain is worth the risk, and while we wait; while we worry about how we might appear, we sit on the sidelines, in the neutral zone, complicit.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of the mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

–Desmond Tutu

Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian: Year 6 Complete

“My experiences have shown me that in the process of working for social justice outwardly, it is also important for me to continue to critically examine myself; shedding attitudes/behaviors that are oppressive, to make room for those that are more inclusive and humanitarian.”

–From my very first note

Once we recognize that we will fall; that we will make mistakes; that we don’t have it all figured out, we can stop posturing and open ourselves up to unlearning misinformation and learning helpful information.

Embrace vulnerability.

This post marks my sixth year of sharing here at Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian. As I enter year seven I’d like to say many thanks to my consistent visitors.

If you’ve learned something, or found some value in what I’ve shared here, consider visiting my support page to learn how you can help me keep this going.

Looking forward to what year 7 will bring.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones

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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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1 Response

  1. March 3, 2019

    […] wrote a little about some of my own observations about how fear has shown up in my work over at Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian and revisited the topic of pushing through fear in an old talk on the importance of critical […]

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