“We Will Not Go Back to Normal.” - Sonya Renee Taylor
Updated: Apr 30
A quote by Sonya Renee Taylor was recently circulated all over social media as being attributed to Brene Brown. It matters because what Sonya Renee Taylor set out as a possibility for our postpandemic world is beautiful and urgent. It also matters because, as Rachel Cargle and Channing Tatum Brown have poignantly pointed out, the failure to cite Black women is a symptom of the violence and erasure inherent in white supremacy. By taking a Black woman’s words, vision, and leadership and selling it as belonging to a white woman, you (we) perpetuate the false collective story that whiteness will get us out of the mess that whiteness got us into it. It won’t. Instead, the new world we are being invited to step into requires us to heal the old wounds, even and especially the most festering and ugly, and imagine a new way of being together.
As Sonya Renee Taylor put it in this instagram check-in that all of you should watch, whatever particular changes we are experiencing in the midst of COVID-19 heartbreak and whatever urge we might feel to “return to normal,”
“There is no going back . . . . It’s never going to look the same. Whatever this is that is manifesting in the form of a global virus but is something far larger, it is demanding a total revamp of our existence. An entirely new way of being than what we have historically known. I believe that is true around our economic systems, our relationships, our social engagements, our political systems. And given that there is no going back, that whatever it was is dead behind us, it is gone, that there is an opportunity, one, to grieve that, to grieve what we’ve lost, to grieve the illusion we had that made us think that that was worth settling for. And what we’re being asked to create is made out of completely different fabric. A completely different tapestry of possibility. And the only way that we can access that is to be willing to let go of the illusion that what we had was better.”
She acknowledged that it might be scary, but she offered that we might be grateful instead. Because let’s face it, friends, for all its beauty and resilience, the world we’ve built is also terribly sick, in many senses of the word. I’m so inspired by Sonya Renee Taylor’s invitation to use this time to heal.
Here’s her homework:
“Make a list of things that are keeping you here.”
That means the real, whole, true you in there. How are you sustaining, how are you keeping the light on, what has emerged as mattering most of all, inside this mandatory pause? Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to dedicate ourselves to those things, because those are the things that we will use to rebuild the world as new. Though ease and comfort (for the few, at the expense of the many) are tempting, we don’t actually want to go back to what we were doing before — living out a world that “normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack” (and allowed for words as powerful as those to be stolen and rebranded as belonging to someone else). We can proceed differently, and we can do better.
Sonya Renee Taylor’s homework feels to me like an invitation to hold ourselves and our world as if we were seeds. We get to crack apart now the lie we’ve been telling for so many generations: that whiteness, patriarchy, heterosexuality, and capitalism are supreme, that there is not enough for everyone, that human life is disposable, that the earth exists solely for our short term gain, that patience is unproductive, that what we do and produce matters more than how we be and who we are, that there is any such thing as control. And we get to wiggle free. Isn’t it funny how this time in isolation is ushering us into the opportunity to deeply connect and belong to each other? How the thing that is unearthing the very worst in us is also digging up the possibility of a new way forward?
I see this possibility in the ways I choose to interact lately with myself, my environment, my dog, my partner, my community (even while socially distant), my routines, and my vocation. I feel it beckoning for the whole world. There is no choice but to change.
So make your list, dear hearts. Mine includes authentic connection and vulnerability, ritual, slowing down, and being forgiving— as in “giving away” (my excess, my expectations, my resentments), in advance. It also includes getting uncomfortably present to all the places that hurt, all the sore spots in me that also reflect the sorest spots of our world, the ones that desperately need to see the light of day. And putting my face in the sun. Because of course we all need to see the light of day too.
I’m also really looking forward to attending Sonya Renee Taylor’s 2020 video commencement address on May 14, because I believe she’s right that we’re all “graduating into a new way of being” and even more, that “if you want to find the path to freedom, [you should] follow a black woman.” Get your lists together and let’s throw a continuation party. I can’t wait to see who we want to be when we grow up.