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This new year, I resolve to step out of my comfort zone

CharlotteFive archives / Revelers during Crown Town Festival at Romare Bearden Park in 2015.
CharlotteFive archives / Revelers during Crown Town Festival at Romare Bearden Park in 2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

“Get out of your comfort zone. It will be good for you!”

Does anyone else freeze up in fear when they hear this?

This is why I’m not a huge fan of the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Essentially, you’re supposed to step out of your comfort zone and stay there not for one hour, or one day, but 365 days. And if you’re doing it right, the next year and the year after that.

running-routes south charlotte

It’s healthy and productive for our comfort zones to expand, but it’s crucial to push those boundaries strategically. So after many years of failed resolutions and several of not bothering to make a resolution I knew I’d break, I’m trying something new.

My New Year’s resolution

Part 1: Continue reading books.
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Part 2: Read books that will educate me about the history and current state of race and class discrimination in America.

This is the hard part. Well, not hard, exactly, but uncomfortable. I’m a white, upper-middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied woman.

I was able to live the first three quarters of my life almost oblivious to the systems of disadvantage and discrimination that function in America, resting comfortably and indifferently in my cozy comfort zone.

What I could see from looking out beyond the safety of my comfort zone wasn’t pleasant, but I couldn’t look away. Sophomore year of college, I begrudgingly took a class about South Africa to fulfill my school’s “communities and identities” requirement. My South African professor was young, growing up during apartheid and turning 18 years old just before the country’s 1994 democratic election.

He is white and learned throughout his childhood from parents, schoolteachers and the news on TV to fear and stay away from black South Africans. He has spent most of his adult life re-examining everything he grew up believing.

Learning from this professor that racism isn’t an intrinsic, evil quality in a person, but rather that it is a systemic, structural force shaping the way we perceive and act in the world brought me steps closer to the edge of my comfort zone so I could see more of what lay beyond it.

I saw my fellow undergraduate students stage a sit-in to push our school to fight harder against the racism poisoning our campus climate. I saw a non-stop stream of videos on the internet documenting what people of color in America have known for decades — systemic racism does indeed extend to law enforcement and has deadly consequences.

I turned around to see what lay within my comfort zone, and I saw my sorority’s group photo showing only one or two dots of brown among a sea of white faces. Lastly, I saw my bookshelf, filled with many more novels written by and about white Americans than any other groups of people.

I asked another professor for guidance: What should I do? “Educate yourself,” he replied. “There’s no way to help solve a problem before you even know what the problem is.”

So that’s what I’m doing. The typical New Year’s resolutions — lose weight and eat healthy, save money, stress less, “go green,” volunteer — are aimed either towards self-improvement or contributing positively to society. I’m hoping to achieve both.

My New Year’s resolution is basically one big experiment. Will using one source of comfort make my transition into discomfort easier? Or will I have to return to the intimidating old method of just diving in? I’ll let you know next year.

My reading list:

– “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

– “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

– “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

– “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.

– “Welcome to Braggsville” by T. Geronimo Johnson.

– “Negroland” by Margo Jefferson.

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Books I’ve read (and would recommend):

– “Native Son” by Richard Wright.

– “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison.

– “The Book of Night Women” by Marlon James.

– “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.

– “Random Family” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

– “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. DuBois.

– “The Ways of White Folks” by Langston Hughes.

Photo: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer; 

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