Last week I had a vivid and visceral dream. I woke from it feeling body sensations as if I had just had the experience I dreamt about.
In my dream I am pregnant—or I am supposed to be pregnant. But I look down at my belly and there is no movement. Nothing. And my belly isn’t very big. I think the baby must have died. Then I feel movement—the feelings of a baby turning over and moving inside me. And I can see right through my skin, like an ultrasound image.
I can see the baby positioning herself to engage the birth canal. She actually uses her hands to click her head into engagement. I realize she is face up and that this will be a painful delivery. I know that she is a girl. Then I see a reflection of myself in the mirror and see that my belly is still high and that the baby has decided to wait. She is not ready to be born.
When I woke up from the dream, I felt sadness. I didn’t want to leave that expectant moment. I didn’t want to leave her unborn.
Pregnancy dreams can mean a lot of things—a gestating burst of creativity, a time of transition, a new beginning, transformation. The baby is some part of me—some part of my femininity, my womanhood, waiting to be born, but not quite ready. And if she came now, even though she seemed to think she wanted to for a brief moment, it could be very painful and even dangerous. The birth will wait. The possibilities are still gestating.
I had this dream the night before the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. And I spent that whole day feeling some layer of sadness over all the proceedings. Even with the beauty of so much of it, even with all the strong women who spoke and sang and stood sentry and stood strong. Even with the relief that a more hopeful vision of America was being cast. There was something about it all, coupled with that dream, that made my heart feel heavy.
I am still sorting through the feelings and am still letting the dream speak to me.
I am a 51-year-old white woman who has immersed herself in the work of dismantling white supremacy within myself and in the communities and systems I inhabit for most of my life. The tools have multiplied. The language and naming of the work have shifted. The communities I am a part of have changed. And the common thread remains that I move through the work with the whiteness I carry continuing to impact the quality of my relationships—all of them.
From my relationship with myself, to my relationships with my family, to my relationships with other white women and with Black and Brown and Indigenous women, to my relationships with people of all different racial and sexual identities, all relationships are impacted by whiteness. I can’t completely shed my whiteness, even as I work to dismantle it, even as I work to disrupt it. And I am not always sure how to understand where that leaves me and where that is leading me.
My intuition is that some of my sadness after the baby in my dream wasn’t born and then watching the inauguration is that there is something I can’t give birth to, or at least I can’t give birth to it yet. I can’t quite embody or imagine being transformed into something really new. I still walk in the room as a white feminist carrying with me all the harm white feminism and white feminists have done to Black, Indigenous, People of Color. I still bring up that history for Black and Brown and Indigenous women when they work with me, when they call me friend, and even when they call me sister.
And while I am open to hearing about my missteps and the harm that I sometimes do, I still am a person who brings all that history and potential harm into spaces with me.
I realize that part of what made my heart heavy during the inauguration is the performance of whiteness that was such a huge part of it. I am grateful that President Biden named white supremacy as a scourge that must be acknowledged and eradicated. And I also heard so much of the rhetoric of whiteness that disguises itself as the virtues of unity, civility, and respect.
I know how white people and white systems like to get back to some kind of perceived equilibrium and normalcy when there is tension and discomfort. Those performances of what I will call “virtuous whiteness” are not menacing and violent in the same way white terror is, but they are part of how white terror is perpetuated. And white women, particularly white feminists, have been a part of how these cycles of violence and virtue play out and co-conspire again and again. White feminists are a part of how whiteness apologizes for itself and then keeps being itself, instead of things really changing.
I think I am ready to be that new woman within me waiting to be born, and who isn’t quite ready for some reason. I want to be someone who can move around the world in a way that doesn’t replicate the harm that whiteness inflicts. And something isn’t yet fully formed. Or maybe something has to die more completely.
I confess my need to surrender again and again to the dangerous and deep work of gestating and laboring. There is pain and pushing and promise there, even as there are no guarantees. I am most grateful for the midwives, the sisters, the siblings, and the supporting angels who believe we share this expectant dream in common. And they remind me that giving birth to a liberated world is something that we need to do together.
Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014). Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com