The USA is pretty well known for its people having passion for the self-help and self-improvement industry. In a way, this isn’t surprising – we are country plagued by depression and anxiety. People are grasping for ways to feel better about being alive, to feel better in their lives, to feel better about who they are.
I’m not surprised – we are a country riddled with fear and loathing. People fearing and loathing other people. People fearing and loathing their lives and their selves. People grasping the tools of self-improvement/development/help because they are believing: I am not worthy. My life is worthless. I’m ugly. I’m scary. I’m undeserving of love.
In this realm, a widely recommended tool is the use of affirmations. Affirmations can take the form of positive self-talk: I am beautiful or I am worthy, for example. Affirmations are statements to affirm. To affirm means to assert as a fact, to state strongly and publicly.
Some people might think it odd or feel uncomfortable with the idea of affirmations. I don’t think, however, when people work with such affirmations, other people find offense.
Nor, at least in my experience, are people compelled to challenge other people’s affirmations. Someone you care about says to you “You know what – My life matters.” This someone has experienced a lifetime of abuse in different forms. Would you say “Yes, of course, all life matters”? I don’t think most people would, though admittedly some might. I imagine you might be inclined to instead shout it from the roof tops with that person. “Yes! Your life matters!!” You might even be thinking – this is a really important step to this person ending cycles of abuse.
Presumably – if you were standing in full awareness of what this person has been experiencing – you wouldn’t say “What are you saying that for?” or “Stop saying that!”
If in reading this, you are distracted by my making generalizations, I can put it another way. I’ve been riddled by fear and loathing in my life. I’ve turned to affirmations to help me step into a loving rather than hateful and fearful relationship with my self, with life and with others. If you heard me working with my affirmations, would you get angry with me? Would you tell me to stop?
I’ve started seeing #Blacklivesmatter as – at one level – a collective affirmation. I understand it as a form of collective positive self-talk. A collective challenge to the fear and loathing which is inside violence and abuse directed at Black people in the USA. Violence woven into our culture through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Violence rooted in a set of beliefs: Black people are not worthy of respect, love, kindness, dignity. Black people’s lives are worth less than White lives. Black people are Ugly. Black people are scary.
We’ve had (and still have) Black is Beautiful as a collective affirmation. Now we have #Blacklivesmatter. And it isn’t simply positive self talk done publicly. #Blacklivesmatter is a fact and a belief being stated strongly. And it is a fact-belief being stated to draw attention to the countervailing fact-beliefs (per previous paragraph) which perpetuate violence and abuse against Black people because they are Black.
I am wondering why is the use of affirmations in one context lauded, but in another is causing a big kerfuffle? Perhaps it is because when it comes to #Blacklivesmatter, we are all implicated. We are all being asked to look in the mirror and review our own beliefs and actions – conscious and unconscious. We are being invited to ask ourselves: In what ways are we/am I complicit in perpetuating a set of dehumanizing, oppressive and diminishing beliefs – which at their best give rise to what we now call micro-aggressions and at their worst kill?
A collective affirmation is being shouted from the rooftops and through the airwaves: #Blacklivesmatter. I hear it. I inhale deeply. I exhale deeply. I exclaim: “Yes, they do.”