The process of seeing is strange and complex. Messages from the retina get transmitted along the optic nerve before diverging into pathways that help you to reflexively orient to something occuring within your environment, and also analyze information that you are taking in – movement, depth, orientation of edges, color, shapes. Our eyes take in information, our brains make sense of it. Each eye has a blind spot where nerves and vessels penetrate the retina, but they are situated in such a way that we don’t notice them when we look around.
For my entire life, I have seen the world through the lens of white supremacy; the many pathways of programming and messaging coming in through ancestral patterns, through history as taught by the public school system, through the news and social media, film, music, through family and friends and teachers. It has shaped who I am, what I have experienced, and how I understand the world. As much as I would like to point ‘out there’ – to MAGA hats, to neo-Nazis, to those who loudly spew hate, to the ‘all lives matter’ crowd… as much as I want to insist that I am a good person (and that is enough), or want to believe I have completely dismantled white supremacy within myself, or convince you that I am not racist… it lives in me, too. And it is goes much deeper than just the way I see the world. It is embedded deep in the body and nervous system. It instructs how my body reacts, what it expects, what it interprets as safe or unsafe, it’s the constriction I feel when I am confronted with my relationship to white supremacy, it is shaping my thoughts and behaviors in ways that I have yet to (and may never) fully understand.
The fires that started burning in Minneapolis, a city that sits on land stolen from the Dakota people, have rippled out in a holy and righteous rage that has been hundreds of years in the making. The conversation about good cop versus bad cop is irrelevant; the police are employed to enforce oppressive laws in a system that has had it’s knee on the neck of Black Americans for 400 years. A system we have upheld ever since we traded in our own humanity in exchange for whiteness – an identity that not only shields us from the suffering and dehumanization that the system causes, but also allows us to benefit from it. White America has been suckling on the tit of this system for so long that we can’t even taste how rancid the milk is. And the milk just keeps flowing.
The level to which this thrives in us as white people is both staggering and not surprising, as the cracks in our humanity started a long, long time ago. Way back to the Christianization of pre-European pagans and the destruction of their earth-based practices and traditions, the burning of witches, and the conversion of both land and women’s bodies to property. The abandonment of relating with ancestors, the earth, and other worlds. The birth of waged labor, human-centrism, patriarchy, and capitalism. Centuries of dehumanization, violence and trauma that made way for the genocide of Natives, and for tall ships to rip open the shores of the many lands that were named Africa, that then spilled out in brutality onto the shores of Jamestown. In the name of freedom, liberty and God, this country was built on forced labor, murder, and oppression. And now here we are, with chattel slavery disguised as the prison industrial complex, with pipelines replacing clean water and holy ground, with the police turning protests into riots, with Indigenous children in cages, with proud white supremacists deeply imbedded in our local and national governments, with corporations and money valued over human lives and the planet itself.
This moment demands the currency of our attention, deep listening, and thoughtful action. In recent weeks, there has been an abundance of resources that have generously been placed directly in front of our eyes – resources that have been available long before now, and to say at this point that you don’t know where to start would be an act of intentional complacency and continuation of violence. Listen to Black voices, listen to Indigeous voices, listen to the voices of those who do not move through the world under the cloak of whiteness. Understanding our relationship to white supremacy is not an exercise in how deeply we can shame ourselves; shame is a convenient way to avoid the immense amount of grief, humility, rage, accountability, resilience, strength, and action that this moment is asking of us. We need to take this out of our heads and away from intellectual concepts and feel this on a deeply somatic level.
Where do you feel these emotions? How do you react to the sensations? Where are you storing trauma in your body? How do you know? How do you plan to support your own healing process? How will you cultivate the skills necessary to move big and complex emotions through your system and keep going? How will you cultivate the skills necessary to sit with your discomfort and navigate difficult conversations? How will you educate yourself? What does self-care and rest look like for you?
Where in your lineage did your ancestors first adopt whiteness? What did they give up for it? Who would you be if you understood the harm that your ancestors caused? Do you feel the ways that they colonized? Who would you be if you understood the love and wisdom and that your wayback ancestors possessed? Do you feel the ways that they were colonized? If you did, would you still want to go on yoga retreats or drink Ayahuasca or sit in sweat lodges at the expense of appropriation and destruction of Indigeous lands and culture?
What stories do you still need to learn outside of mainstream history? Who and what made it possible for you to be where you are right now? Who would you be if you understood the stories of the violence that have and still afford you your privileges? Who would you be if you learned the beautiful and powerful stories of BIPOC both before and since colonization? Who would you be if your history books had taught you that Harriet Tubman wasn’t an illiterate slave but instead was a brilliant and innovative woman who was literate in ways that the white imagination could never understand?
What do you know about your own community? Who is suffering and who is benefiting from it? Who is already doing the work, and what do they need from you? Where can your time, energy, money, and gifts be of greatest service and support? How could care and protection be provided to your community in the absence of police? Who and what are you supporting when you spend your money? Who are your elected officials and what are they funding and supporting?
Both the ‘woke’ and ‘unwoke’ alike are all together in the same big compost pile now, and the whole system needs to be composted along with us. It is clear who we need to turn our ears and hearts to, to guide us forward… I feel this is also a good time to be listening to what is whispering to us beyond the edges of all that we think we know, to the more-than-human world, to the wise and well ancestors, to the elder wisdom in our youth, because we do not yet have the language for where we are going; anti-racism tells us not-that, but what is the word for what we working towards? Let’s create a reality so far outside the confines of the current one that we need to write a new language for it, so that we can be better ancestors and leave our children with brand new stories to tell.