Monday, February 12, 2018
I have been reflecting a lot this past year about activism. At heart, I am an activist. But I have been incredibly disillusioned by present day activism. I have honestly questioned its impact. I have showed up at marches, protests, and rallies, but have left uncertain whether or not my presence had made a difference that day. It’s as if the corporate machine knows our strategy. We’ve played these moves before and they know their countermoves. They know them well. To change the outcomes we need to change the way we play the game. These are different times that call for different moves. I have also paused to look more deeply at social media activism. Social media activism is just too easy. What does it actually require of us to post or repost something? We feel good about ourselves for doing something. But what have we really done when only our friends, who already agree with us, like our posts? Or when, someone disagrees with us and we have an unconstructive conflict that doesn’t change or move anything forward? Social media dialogue just doesn’t have quite the same transformational force as a face to face conversation. So much is lost when we can hide behind screens.
The point of activism is to shift or transform the way things are, and not to grind them more firmly into existence. I have asked myself, “What is the most authentic way for me to truly be an activist?” I know myself well. I am not an Out There person. I don’t really have a desire to be in the spotlight. I am an In Here person–constantly doing the work on myself. Preferring to contemplate behind the scenes. Yet, keeping all that work and contemplating to myself isn’t going to make a difference.
I have also come up against my disenchantment with U.S. holidays. I did not grow up with them. They have no emotional pull for me. I can see that they have been hijacked by the corporate machine. Buy. Buy. Buy. And somehow, in that buying, we will find contentment. Or so, that is the story they sell us. Consuming leads to connection. Every commercial tries to tell us this. But it doesn’t.
Every experience I have had with connection has taught me that connection is the opposite of consumption. Think on it. Just reflect for a moment.
I am a person that likes to ask questions. I like to take on little experiments and see what happens. “What would happen if I were brave?” “What would that look like in my life?” “Bravery?” Then, I take these questions and try to explore the answer with a sense of curiosity. I try on new ways of being. Continually checking and rechecking in with myself to see what I have learned about myself and others. This has been one of my most powerful tools for transformation.
So…..I am going to challenge myself to take this inner work outward. I am going to use this approach that I have practiced again, and again, in a new way. I am going to do an experiment combining my personal strengths (writing & this inner work I do), activism, social media, this holiday (Valentine’s Day), and Black History Month as an inspiration to work on one social justice issue that is important to me–ending racism and hate in our country. I have no idea what will happen. But that is entirely the point.
Making it Personal
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
I can’t say I know how to honor Black History Month. What I can say is that I am grateful for the contribution black people have made to the history and culture of the U.S. Black people, who are the descendants of humans kept as slaves in the American isles and continents, who were in turn, were descendants of free African people of many diverse nations, have had to endure so much at the hands of white supremacy. But in that endurance there is a spirit, a culture, and a soul. I know that I am a better person because of being touched, moved, and inspired by the contribution of black artists, thinkers, activists, and leaders that have boldly shared themselves with us. So…I will honor the ones that stand out in my mind, knowing that there are many more that I am missing or just haven’t been introduced to yet. If you feel inspired by this list, please make it your own by reposting your own version of gratitude for black history and culture in your life. And if you can’t think of any black cultural icon or leader that inspires you, look at the lists of other people and start discovering.
Joseph Collins (aka Jai Sri) for his amazing art and for his son.
Vanessa German for her truth telling through her art and words..
Bob Marley for being a lover supreme.
Maya Angelou for her wisdom (in Hinduism we would call her an amma or mataji (mother) out of respect.)
Sojourner Truth for her raw courage in her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech.
Ta-Nehisi Coates for sharing his brilliant mind.
bell hooks for her stand for love and healing (for all of us).
Martin Luther King Jr., may I live my name half as well as he did.
Malcolm X for his force for black empowerment.
Nelson Mandela (Madiba) for living compassion.
Desmond Tutu for teaching me about forgiveness.
Otis Redding for “These Arms of Mine”.
Common for “The Light”.
2Pac for “Keep Ya Head Up”.
Jimi Hendrix for his contribution to music and playing “All Along the Watchtower” better than Bob Dylan.
Oprah for being Oprah, there really isn’t anyone else like her.
Barack Obama for inspiring hope.
Michelle Obama for being a strong woman in her own right, while fully supporting her man.
Queen Latifah for being admirable.
Will Smith for having such a cute smile (not to mention his acting skills)
Lauryn Hill for her beautiful struggle as an artist.
Ava DuVernay for such a thought provoking film.
Love Poems for Black People
Wednesday, Valentine’s Day 2018
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I sat down to make Black History Month even more personal than cultural leaders and icons, I had to bring it back to the black people in my personal life. The everyday people that I am in or have been in relationship with. I started to make a list (without naming individual people, because it’s not my place to include other people in my experiment). The list, of its own accord, became a poem. Then I thought, what if for every hate post we see, we write a love poem for a black person or black people in our life? Especially today. On this so called day of love. What a way to combine Black History Month and Valentine’s Day–by reclaiming both as something more meaningful. I challenge you to write a love poem for black people and post it as a counter post to a hate message. I challenge you to do that today. If you cannot invoke enough emotion to write a love poem for a black person or people in your life, I ask you take a moment to reflect on how you can learn to love more black people or make space for more black people in your life. Anyone can participate, but this is especially a call to white people.
Black LOVE, in my Life
On this day of LOVE,
coinciding with Black History Month
I want to honor
ALL the black people
in my life
To the woman who loved me,
as if I was her own
Who was in my life
for such a short time,
I don’t even remember her name,
but I remember her LOVE
She was my mamma,
if only for a time
To her son,
who was pesky
–as brothers can be
and yet gracious enough
to share his mamma with me
To her husband,
who carried me on his shoulders,
when my little child legs tired
I don’t remember much,
but I remember
that act of LOVE
To my Kuli brothers and sisters
YOU know who you are
To my doula sisters
And those of you,
I secretly admire
To that man at the gas station,
who saved my day
And the woman who worked at Chipotle,
who fed my children,
when I could not
YOU showed ME
We are a beloved
To all my doula clients
who so graciously
allowed me to serve them
and who so bravely
Most especially to,
one 14 year old girl,
You were BRAVE
when you allowed me
to be your mamma,
If only for a time
I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOU!!
I am better for having known you!
This is OUR Work,
We Are All in This Together
Thursday, February 15, 2018
“”Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”
“Redemption Song”, Bob Marley
Diversity is uncomfortable. It always will be. When we brush up against something that is different or unknown in another, or something we don’t understand in another, or even deeper, something we disagree with in another, how can we still, in that moment, be more present to the that other person’s humanity, or our shared human experience, than our differences? How can we embrace our differences as an asset, not a hindrance to our connection. We must be willing to get it wrong to learn how to get it right.
While each individual is responsible for their own healing and empowerment, it is us white people who are responsible for repairing the legacy of slavery. It is our own survival and humanity that is at stake. We can’t undo slavery or go back and undo a past that we weren’t personally a part of. But nobody is asking us to. What we need to ask is, “How can we create a future that OUR children will not have to look back on with guilt and shame?”
The answer lies in every single one of us. When we choose to wake up from “The Dream”, to acknowledge the lies, and expose the myth we have been living in, we can then choose to opt out of The Corporate Machine–that has us all losing anyway. Every step towards consciousness moves us towards freedom–for ourselves and others. We often live believing that one of us cannot make a difference, but the truth is that it is precisely when every one of us chooses to make a difference and truly believes that we can, that transformation begins.
Dismantling white supremacy and racism is The Work of white people. Personal empowerment is The Work of black people. How have I come to this conclusion? I have drawn upon my own personal experiences with healing and empowerment. The closest analogy that I can come up with deals with healing my sexual abuse. I did not choose to be sexually abused. It is not my fault. But because it happened to me, I am the only one who can go on the healing journey within myself to break free from the oppression this trauma has caused me. My healing and empowerment is my responsibility. But I am not responsible for healing my abusers, being gracious towards them, absolving them of responsibility, healing them, taking responsibility for their actions, or repairing the pain or consequences that their actions have caused other people in the family or community. It is the work of the abusers to be responsible for and heal the pain that they have caused to me and/or other people. It is the work of the abusers to heal themselves and make amends.
Likewise, every adult black person is responsible for their own empowerment and healing journey. This is their work. Every white person is responsible for dismantling white supremacy and racism. This is our work. Let me clarify. The average white person is not going around trying to actively harm the average black person. But as white people we are inadvertently causing harm when we continually choose to remain unconscious and blindly accept the benefits of white supremacy and racism while being complicit to and a beneficiary of both. Most of us don’t want to be a part of this, but at the same time, we are not doing the work to dismantle white supremacy and racism either. I believe this is because most of us do not know how or where to start.
How do we dismantle white supremacy and racism?
See black people as powerful and capable of doing the work of empowering themselves. Listen. Listen. And listen some more to the lived experiences of black people. Until you get it. Hold space for black people to heal, but only hold space if you are really able to. It is hard to hold space if we haven’t done the work on ourselves. We can only assist healing in others, for that which we have healed within ourselves. Understand the stages of healing. Accept that we are all at different stages of this process and we must be forgiving and understanding of honest mistakes along the way and know that learning involves making mistakes. Learn to distinguish intent behind actions and respond to the intent. Give constructive feedback. Do the work on yourself first and then share what you have learned on your journey with other people not as far along on their journey. Be in relationship with black people who are ready to be in relationship with you–this is on their terms, not yours. Relationships our one of our most powerful tools for transformation. Let Black people guide us–but only if they want to. Hold each other accountable. Be radically responsible for who you are being. Practice integrity and make amends when you fall out of it. Apologize when you are wrong. As you can see these are the tools for all healthy relationships. When you are ready, and in a way that is authentic to you, give back what you are learning. Ask, is there a way I can give back to the black community? Remember this is not about handing out table scraps, but about giving people a seat at the table right next to us, so that we are all receiving the benefits of our society, equitably. Charity is not equitable, but a relationship of giving and receiving is.
The reward of everyone taking responsibility for their part is the power to choose and create new relationships with one another. Anything is possible when we get to the space of creation in our lives. Anything! Perhaps we can create a beloved community of black and white brothers and sisters. Perhaps even more is possible.
The people who are afraid to let go of power are going to fight to maintain control. We are seeing this right now in our culture. Yet if we fight back, we are grinding in the already always ways of being. We are being no different than them. When we refuse to engage in a fight, but instead make a stand for what we want, we become more powerful. Our actions are not reactionary, but creative. They cause transformation. As the lyrics to Solomon Burke’s song say:
If you just look around you,
Your gonna see what I say.
Cause the world is getting smaller each passing day.
Now it’s time to start making changes,
And it’s time for us all to realize,
That the truth is shining real bright right before our eyes.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
One Human Tribe:
Friday, February 16, 2018
At the end of “Between the World and Me” Ta-Nehisi Coates says something incredibly profound. When I read it, I thought, “I would love for him to expound upon that idea.”
“The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves to understand that the field for their dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”
Ta-Nehisi’s writing has revealed brilliantly that the story of our nation is a myth. He has examined how our nation was built upon the exploitation of the free labor of captured and enslaved people from Africa, and not, as we love to believe, on a foundation of freedom for all. So I won’t say what he has already said much more eloquently than I ever could. What I will do is see if I can get at what he was saying in that statement above. Because I am convinced that the truth of that statement has the power to transform.
The very nature of the culture we live in exists on exploitation. The more powerful exploit the less powerful and we mostly accept this as just the way it is. Slavery rests on the back of colonialism, which rests on the back of civilization. The very nature of civilization is hierarchical, exploitative, patriarchal, and misogynistic. Civilization is based on the structure of someone (usually a king or patriarch) being at the top to protect and hoard the wealth, an elite class of warriors and nobles to serve and protect the king, a middle class to work and cultivate, and minions, slaves, or lower class people to do the hard labor for the wealth hoarders. The bodies and freedom of women are shackled to the pleasure and procreation of the elite and rulings classes. Women are not seen as full and whole human beings of their own accord. In our current world civilization people with dark skin have been exploited as the slaves or lower class people. Their humanness has been relegated to something less than fully human. White or light skinned has been deemed the attribute associated with the masters and rulers–the rightful and privileged group of people. And whether or not we agree with these statements, to a certain extent we are all racist and misogynistic because we all exist within this underlying paradigm. Very few people have fully liberated their minds from this foundational narrative to our current civilization.
The problem with civilizations is that all civilizations collapse. Without exception. Civilizations expand and expand, consuming and consuming until all available resources are expended. This has always been so. If you don’t believe me, go study civilizations. In the past, civilizations only expanded so far, before collapsing, but our current civilization has expanded to the edges of our world. The resources of our entire planet are being consumed much faster than they can be replenished. The result is that we have a global civilization that threatens to collapse and annihilate the human race. Really. Let that one sink in. Deeply. Denial is no longer a price we can afford to pay.
The answer to this current paradigm is to dismantle it and create a new paradigm, or more aptly return to an old paradigm. The paradigm of the human tribe. The paradigm of the human tribe is less about returning to a more “primitive” way of living, and much more about a shift in consciousness in the way we relate to each other and the world we live in. The consciousness of the human tribe is that all the humans and creatures of this planet are connected. It is a consciousness that says that our freedom and survival is related to your freedom and survival. In a tribal paradigm Black salvation and White salvation are intricately connected. Because the very survival of life on this planet, as we know it, is at stake. We can no longer survive in a civilization where exploitation and white supremacy is the underlying narrative. Let’s start dismantling racism, misogyny, colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy within ourselves, so we can create a new story, with a better ending for all of us. Start doing The Work. And, support others to do the same. As we begin to do The Work, and one by one we each wake up, we add to the critical mass of consciousness needed to shift our global story from one of civilization and exploitation to one of a tribe or collective working together to save us all. One human tribe.