If our minds are like a vast and varied landscape, our boundaries are the fences we put up to keep our thoughts, and the people we choose to to share them with, from straying into dangerous territory. Some fences keep us from falling into the pits and traps we all have by the time we reach adulthood. These boundaries are defined by our traumas and triggers. They are essential for our safety, and can give us the space we need to fill holes, build bridges, and heal.
Our minds, however, are not entirely natural landscapes. As humans, we tend to build things or, more dangerously for our psyches, let other people build things for us. Some of the structures we have in our minds are necessary and can be absolutely beautiful. These can be supportive, loving families, passions, beliefs, and values. These can be huge, socially defined constructs like organized religions. They can be more trivial things too… shrines to Jane Austen and temples of Florence Welch. We put up fences around these structures too; we invite people we trust inside and form bonds with people who feel at home in our little worlds. For better or worse, we also defend these structures against those who would try to change our minds. We put up boundaries to keep our darlings safe.
Now here’s where things get dicey… For us white folks, some of these structures, especially the ones that others built for us as children and adolescents, have hidden rooms where lurk things like racism, sexism, elitism, or blatant disregard for other humans/creatures when acting with empathy and compassion is inconvenient. Within ourselves, we can break out the heavy duty cleaning supplies (or the sledge-hammer, as required) to dismantle these harmful patterns, beliefs, and behaviours. That is the hard work white people who are committed to acknowledging and addressing systemic racism have to do within themselves every day. It’s painful work, and sometimes it means gutting structures that we’ve viewed as monolithic, unchanging, comforting. And, if we want to avoid shredding our identities and/or replacing one inherently flawed monolith with another, it’s careful work we can only do ourselves.
I want to live in a world where healthy boundaries and individual autonomy are held in the highest regard, but I don’t know how that can happen until folks stop putting up boundaries around thoughts and beliefs that are hazards to themselves and to other people, fences around dilapidated structures that should have long ago been condemned.