The Art of Healing: Failure is key 

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The idea of success is encoded with colonial mindsets and whiteness so much so that failure is often a key to feeling through what paths are best to take.

Although this might feel counterintuitive, I want to encourage the idea that failure is OK, normal, and sometimes the only way to go. 

Muntaha MohamedWhen there already isn’t a clear path, finding where the road turns in the dark takes fumbling, falling, and bumping against the curves. For people of the global majority, and for immigrant children like me, there are not representational figures that cover the wide spectrum of interests, passions, and thoughts that are held.

So the choices of representational figures that are seen as successful are unfortunately very limited compared to the depth and complexity that is alive, real, and present for people like me. 

As I begin a totally new transition and life journey by starting grad school, I’m wondering about how I have lived more than 20 years of my life in school (for reference, I am 25) and what the idea of success is for me outside of institutional school structures. Although this is the beginning of a two-year master’s program, the class content has already been encouraging decolonizing ways of thinking, researching, and more, which is why my mind is on failure at the very start of the year. 

I also am understanding the role of the audience. I have started such a huge new life transition that the heart I have intended to pour into my writing has felt watered down. My energy was focused on other things. When I would finally commit to sitting down to write, I thought of the title first, the deadline, or how to explain things for the white people of Portland first instead of just jumping in with my voice and whatever message was bubbling up. 

Throughout the process of writing this column, I have already encountered mistakes. Late submissions, for one, but most of all a disingenuousness in my own voice. I have sometimes been on autopilot from stress in my own life that I feel like I would end up relying on the audience that is most advertised in society: whiteness.

How I have maneuvered expression in this project while feeling stress makes me think of the language that depicts people like me as “minority,” “marginalized,” or in other words, “less than.” The preoccupation with making sure that white people, the employees of the newspaper, or even the editors, can understand my feelings before my community continues to engrain that the perspective worth time, effort, energy, and investment is a white perspective.

To cut myself some slack, learning how to express thoughts, ideas, and reflections to any new audience takes some framing and introduction. Learning how to balance the fullness and authenticity of my messages with also creating an accessible entry for people who may be unfamiliar with some of my ideas is valuable and also takes time to learn.

Yet, in the effort of decolonizing, questions like, “Who is my audience?,” “Who am I creating accessibility for in my writing?,” and “What stories are for me to tell?” are inherently valuable. Taking time to untangle imposed ways of thinking, interacting, and maneuvering through society is necessary. 

From all of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about messiness.

Community healing is messy. Accountability processes are messy. Deconstructing colonial stories, while using the colonizers’ language, is messy. Yet this muddiness is a natural part of moving forward.

In this way, I view failure and mistakes as tools that keep me bumping toward the full expression of my soul’s joy.

Muntaha Mohamed is an artist and activist who works for Portland Empowered, volunteers with Black POWER, and sits on the board of Mindbridge.

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