• Liz Fehlman

On emotional eating and white privilege.

I generally write about things I consider myself qualified to write about.

  1. Failed attempts at breastfeeding? Check.

  2. Settling for parenting with Kraft Mac 'n Cheese in a Pinterest-perfect world? Check.

  3. Finding peace during a pandemic? Check(ish).

  4. Navigating my thoughts on systemic racism and my role in being part of the solution and not the problem? Uhhh...

I've re-written this several times. Stopped, started, and stopped again. And truthfully, I'd do it again and again if I didn't feel this internal nagging to get my thoughts out in the open during this pivotal time in our country's history. This is not me making a statement, a declaration, or passing judgement. Instead, like most of what I've written for Hops&Hairballs - it's an attempt at bringing people together through honest storytelling.


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Last Monday, I arrived at work (I rolled out of bed and into the adjacent room) to find an inbox full of emails and unread DMs. Aside from directing a team of talent acquisition professionals, I am the owner of Diversity for Bluetree. Not once had I considered what that responsibility meant aside from strategizing on how to diversify our candidate pool, which seemed like something I could figure out. Suddenly, the title I had casually held and casually acknowledged over the last few years felt like a massive ton of bricks had been dumped at my doorstep and so the only thing I knew to do was cry about it. And so I did. For a few days, actually. I'm just now understanding why:


I was overwhelmed. Since March, I've stopped reading and listening to the news. Some call it ignorant - I call it protecting my mental health. The media's sensationalism around COVID-19 became too much for me to handle on a daily basis. So while I was aware of the horrifically sequential deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd - I was not aware. I hadn't allowed myself to read their stories and process the injustice unfolding. I just scrolled a little quicker on social media and buried my head when my husband would turn on Nightly News in bed. On Monday morning, I was forced to recognize the world around me was figuratively and literally on fire, and my denial wasn't going to change that. It was overwhelming.


I was confused. Let's face it - 2020 hasn't exactly been the poster year. My work, my family, my social life, my home, and pretty much every other facet of my life came to a screeching halt while simultaneously intertwining in ways that I'm still not comfortable with yet. Prior to Dumpster Fire 2020, I had done a decent job drawing the line between life and work. Enter COVID-19 in mid-March and that line suddenly became gray, if there at all. Monday morning brought all the confusion regarding my role in the Black Lives Matter movement - as an employee, as a mom, and as a human being. Is this something I talk about at work? What about home? With my kids? GUESS WHAT. ALL OF THOSE ARE ONE THING NOW. So, I was confused.


I was uncomfortable. I grew up in an affluent town dripping with white privilege. I spent the last two years at a new high school just 8.7 miles away that was severely underfunded and where I was statistically the minority (and still managed to bring every ounce of white privilege with me). I went to a marginally-diverse college and moved to a sort-of diverse city afterwards. I've never had to confront the idea of white privilege despite the fact that it has been a part of my life for 34 years. On Monday, I started to. This is how it went:


Me: White privilege. Kind of sounds like 'white asshole' to me. I'm offended. I’m not an asshole! I’m a nice person. I mean, I can certainly be an asshole. But not a white asshole. Even though I’m definitely white. Oh, this is confusing. I’ll stop thinking about this now. {end scene}


So, I'd try again.


Me: White privilege. Now, I'm mad. It’s not my fault I was born white! It’s not my fault I grew up where I grew up, or had the opportunities I did. I worked hard to get into college, to earn my first job. Don’t tell me I got here because of white privilege! I'm going to go eat my feelings now. {end scene}


Imagine a couple of other internal dialogues like that, along with a lot of emotional eating, and that's how Monday and Tuesday wrapped up for me. I was uncomfortable.


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It's been 8 days since that Monday, the random crying has subsided (can't say the same for the emotional eating, but I'll pick my battles), and I've learned a few things along the way.

I have learned to be gentle with the processing process. Not everyone can spring into action, no matter the cause. Some people need time to dig, understand, and learn. And while I agree that in context of Black Lives Matter that silence equals inaction, I'd also urge you to consider that one's temporary silence can also equal thoughtful self-reflection. We all need time - some longer than others.


the most honest IG post I've seen to date


I am learning what white privilege means to me (note: to me. I'm not going to tell you what this means to you...you should do that work). It doesn't mean I'm an asshole, or that I haven't worked hard for the life I've built. It means I've benefited (in small ways and in big ways) because of the color of my skin. If you read that and feel defensive, you have work to do. Defensive behavior stems from a perceived threat - but no one is threatening you. It is not about you. It is about recognizing the ways that others are marginalized because of the color of their skin, and working to help change the systems.


I am learning about my own biases. My team talks a fair amount (not enough) about unconscious bias in hiring. Hiring is just one of many industries where this runs rampant and many aren't even aware it's happening (hence the unconscious part). For many, their biases stem from personal experiences. I spoke with a former Chief of Diversity from a major health system last week and he told me that growing up, he was jumped by a group of gang members going through initiation. They were covered in gang tattoos. For decades after, whenever he saw someone with a tattoo, he assumed that person was inherently bad. He'd unconsciously judge their character and worth by the interaction he had 30 years prior. We all have these experiences. We all can re-adjust.


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I don't know how to end this. It's late, I'm tired, and I'm probably going to start eating again. If this made you uncomfortable, good. If it helped you feel better about where you're at in your own journey, good. If you're like me - white, overwhelmed, confused, and uncomfortable, good. Let's talk about it and let's do something. You can protest, sign a petition, call a black friend to check in, buy a racially-diverse book for your kiddo, read a book yourself, re-post resources, write about it, cry about it, make a donation, or start to unpack your own privilege and biases. You can do all of those things, or you can do one.


Just don't do none.

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