I love Marianne Williamson’s statement, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
Her words speak to a hidden truth many of us intuitively believe but are unable to articulate; we are sometimes fearful of embarking on missions to accomplish great things. It’s easy to wait for the tap on the shoulder, a coronation of sorts to compel us to confront seemingly insurmountable feats. This is often true for women and people of color.
Regardless of our credentials, many of us wait for permission to do great things. I see this manifested when those who have the most to offer remain quiet in meetings, on the opinion pages of newspapers where the voices of African Americans and women are not fully represented and in an unrelenting pursuit for perfection — something that is elusive and perpetually out of reach.
Of course I am not alone in this observation. Often, women will not consider elected office unless they’re asked to do so. There are large bodies of work that attest to the fact that women — and people of color — are sometimes reluctant to show up in bold, big ways. That’s one of the reasons I found The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay so powerful. The book urges women to, “start acting and risking and failing, and stop mumbling and apologizing and prevaricating.” Scanning the book felt more like beholding myself in a mirror rather than reading. Certainly I was who they had in mind when they said “women are so keen to get everything just right that we are terrified of getting something wrong.” Separately, there are training programs, such as Katie Orenstein’s The OpEd Project, which deal with the psychological barriers that prevent otherwise capable and skilled leaders from sharing commentary via media outlets’ opinion section.
That’s why I was so proud of Bree Newsome, who in the space of just a few hours, demonstrated what it means to be, as Williamson said, “brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous.” Newsome bravely scaled a pole at the South Carolina State Capitol and removed the confederate flag from state grounds. While many of us bemoaned the display of the racist symbol of oppression and white supremacy, Newsome took action. As she was led away in cuffs, she stoically recited biblical scripture. This was not the first, and I suspect it will not be the last time, Bree took a stand for something in which she believed. In 2013, she protested North Carolina’s voter suppression law during the Moral Monday protests organized by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. Newsome exhibits the brand of bravery we should all aspire to gain ourselves.
I am not suggesting we don climbing gear and scale flag poles, but I am urging us to increasingly put action behind our words to protect that which we hold dear. It’s quite possible that Newsome’s courageous act was not what Shipman and Kay had in mind, but the broader point of not being paralyzed by fear remains.