Maintaining Our Stories As We Fight Injustice

Every day is an opportunity to make history — and to study it. Human existence is cyclical, and it is important as we move forward that we are aware of the behaviors we have and that of those around us. Jacob Blake’s 2020 shooting will undoubtedly be reported in detail in the news media, with the usual public personalities weighing in on what has happened.

Changing representation

Let’s look at the past for a second. Whydah was a major slave port in the kingdom of Benin, as well as the namesake of the pirate ship Whydah Galley.

According to one European, who visited in 1692–1700, Whydah exported some thousand slaves a month, mainly taken captive from villages in the interior of Africa. According to records, ten traders would round up 100 or more slaves at a time as cargo.

Currently, the Whydah is a museum found in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The site focuses more on pirate history than its deep involvement in the African Holocaust.

While it is commendable that it is a museum at all given this country’s history with maintaining African artifacts and narratives, the glaring absence of narratives concerning the slaves and their families, save for a few, is a concern.

Truthful, consistent media

In the present day, the officer who shot Blake, the city in which the incident occurred, and other specifics have all been named. For the next few weeks, pundits and politicians will offer their take, and citizens will righteously and angrily protest what happened that fateful day.

What happens in the future? Contrarians may begin their common refrain: he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Why did he take this course of action or that?

Some time may elapse, intersecting the relationship between truth and sanity — alternative theories arise, and discussions about minutiae begin to blur the lines of honest conversation. Because so few answers are provided for each incident of horrendous police brutality, every report is met with hysteria, instead of sobriety and solutions.

After the hysteria has died down, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be manipulated and told that we were just imagining things; it really wasn’t that bad, and we believe the wrong information. It is here where an alternative timeline of events is introduced, and we begin to think that maybe we were crazy, after all.

Owning our story

It is as critical to bringing swift action to injustice as it is to be outraged about it. Brainstorming actionable steps and then working them also brings radical change. We have to tell our own stories and represent ourselves, for ourselves.

Get Uncomfortable! (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 20)

Another week, another inexplicable shooting of a black person. And still it is very difficult for many White Americans in the United States to accept America’s racist foundation–as old as our country. The simple, difficult truth is that that our government invested long ago in the myths we unconsciously live by. But, like a concentric circle, our actions ripple through time and touch lives in myriad ways that we may never understand. Even so, we can begin to awaken from the stupor of willful ignorance–abandon the dark caves and step into the light of day. We don’t need to dwell in the past, to acknowledge it.

We all know it happened. Slavery happened. So did a whole bunch of other unfortunate historical events. Even if our grandparents did something, we don’t need guilt or shame–just awareness and consciousness about the legacy we’ve inherited. Denial won’t change the truth. On the other hand, Radical Acceptance can help us come to terms with the total and complete truth of our collective and personal histories. In fact, a contemporary, unapologetic approach to truthfulness allows us to recognize and reconcile our personal truth with those of our community. This can bring healing and restore lost trust and hurt where we need it most: In our hearts.

Lesson #20: Watch the documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth with your accountability, church, sangha or reading group. Discuss how the legacy of slavery has impacted all of our lives. Explore how individuals in your group confront their personal and ancestral truth in a healthy and safe manner.

The work of creating a just society requires a commitment from all of us. If we each own our own stuff, take responsibility for our words and actions and tell the truth, we’ll have a roadmap for a new dawn. We deserve that. Our children deserve that. The truth matters– no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Featured Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Contributing Writer Edissa in her home art studio, thinking of ways to connect to her neighbors with compassion and kindness.

Five Traits That Interfere with Social Awareness

As voters get ready to approach the booths this November, concerns ranging from healthcare to education to government fiscal responsibility will be on voters’ minds. With a historic election on the horizon, it is critical to remain level-headed as everyone casts their ballot. Still, there are five traits that could potentially hold citizens back from getting a wonderful government and the most out of their relationships with others.

Moderation 

This is a strategy that some individuals use to “moderate” or control social interaction. It includes censorship, defining others’ experiences for them without their permission or not accepting their narratives, and telling those you interact with that they are not allowed to choose the method and the regularity with which they communicate their concerns. Moderation is great when deployed during a roundtable discussion or some other formal circumstance to which all parties agree, but can tread dangerous territory when it harms instead of help.

Solipsism 

Solipsism is defined is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as:

a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.

The problem with solipsism is that it rarely, if ever, leaves room for new ideas and other perspectives. If one thinks their experience is the only one to be had, then it is hard to respond to social issues in a responsible manner. One of the most common results of solipsism is an inability to reach an agreement with others, resulting in a tug-of-war.

Definition

In this case, definition is the act of defining others’ identities, rights, concerns, needs, wants, and narratives on their behalf, particularly when they have not asked for assistance. It is important to hold authentic space for every voice — by due process and due diligence.

Fear

Most, if not all of these habits come from fear. Fear can manifest as the inability to introspect and see how alienating certain behaviors can be, making choices from an impoverished mindset, and questioning rights granted to deserving, otherwise unprotected groups. Fear foments hate organizations, dismantles critical thinking, and drives a wedge between factions that would otherwise interface with each other.

Intellectual laziness

In the 1970s, 60% of 12th graders read a book or a magazine every day — in 2016, the statistic was only 2%. Asking questions, reading, listening — these are all tools in your arsenal against being fearful and dogmatic. Even if you do not agree with the subject discussed, learning about other opinions and facts can help you refine your stance on certain topics. Examine your cognitive biases and steer clear of logical fallacies when listening to or making your arguments. 

Boundaries: An Important Complement to Healing

As part of our ongoing discussion of healing our own ailments, it’s time to consider the ways we invest in our well-being. As the old adage say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe it. Whether it’s PTSD, a physical injury or an emotional trigger point, the more an element of pain is activated in our bodies, minds or psyches, the more we are primed for recurring illness. That’s the law of the land. In a sense, our pain receptors, physical nerves, emotional buttons and hyper vigilance to trauma get atrophied in the “on” position.

In the same way that we cannot heal a sprained ankle by running on it, we cannot cure ourselves if we continually reactivate our pain receptors. Unfortunately, by design, our pain receptors are more easily activated than our joy and happiness and positivity receptors owing to our wiring that enables our auto-responsive defense mechanisms. In other words, we are built to feel pain quickly and easily so we can get out of the fire fast, with the least amount of damage. This generally works great most of the time. But, many of us unconsciously keep the fire burning when we don’t need it, and constantly insert a hand in it to see if it’s still hot. You may laugh even if you’ve done it yourself.

Maintaining a strong physical, mental or emotional boundary is akin to dousing the fire that threatens to consume everything in your path. So why are so many of conditioned to believe we have no right to personal boundaries? This is a rather important question to explore with a mental health practitioner if possible. And, even if counseling is not possible for you in this moment, I give you full permission to put up health barriers that protect and insulate your emotional, physical and mental health from any and all forms of disease, harm and dangers, including all of the following.

Learn to create, protect and enforce Your Personal Boundaries in all these areas:

  • Toxic people: relatives, family, friends, coworkers and strangers
  • Physical threats: aggression, micro aggression, trauma, violence, sexual assault and abuse from people or animals or other entities
  • Predation: energy vampires, financial drains, sabotage, time waste and unreciprocated/one-way investments that deplete your resources and ability to thrive
  • Personal harm: activities, foods, sounds, media, relationships or areas that trigger negative sensations, fatigue or the release of stress hormones
  • Learn to understand what are Healthy Boundaries with this worksheet

Of course, there are many ways to enforce our personal space to protect our loved ones from injury. Mindfulness, awareness and contemplation are important tools for discerning where the fires are, so that we can give them our loving attention. Just as you wouldn’t allow a child to run in front of a car, you get to erect a beautiful boundary around yourself that reduces any future harm and pain, so you can concentrate on healing past situations. Once you you are able to protect your boundaries as part of your routine self-care, you can look to remedies like tea, medication, therapy or Reiki to bring your equilibrium into a normal range.

Reiki Master Edissa is working to heal from 49 years of life as a Black Woman.

Photo by Ashton Huntsman for Living Artist Project

Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault

You’re on the other side, now what? Methods of healing sexual trauma can include art, music, spoken word, or any other creative outlet. You may already have creative training — but if you do not, don’t fret. Some resources may be free or low cost to get started.

Create your own space

If you can not find a venue that allows you to share your creative gifts in the world, you can create your own website or start a YouTube channel for free. Creating your own website gives you the freedom to speak frankly about the issues important to you without being censored by a third party, a la Facebook.

Talk therapy

If you can afford talk therapy and would like to try it, give it a go! Psychotherapy can be highly transformative when approached thoughtfully and consistently. One thing to keep in mind when searching for a therapist is seeking someone who is familiar with or empathetic to your unique story while challenging your thought patterns with compassion. 

Some questions to think about are:

  • Does this therapist have extensive experience with sexual assault survivors?
  • How spiritually inclined is this therapist? What are some ideological deal breakers for me?
  • Does he or she start appointments on time and engage, or are they simply “phoning it in?”
  • How comfortable am I with taking psychotropic medication, if recommended?
  • Do I feel centered and connected to the work, or do I feel misunderstood?

Books as refuge

Perhaps you are gifted with words or like to doodle. A composition book or a Moleskine may be the tool you need to unlock your deeply hidden emotions. Some creatives report that the movement in their wrists helps them not focus on the pain. 

Readers have plenty of books to choose from as they sort their feelings out. Here is a small list of books to get you started.

Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Survivors Speak Out, edited by Erin Moulton

The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole by Dr. Arielle Schwartz

How to be Safe in An Unsafe World by Dr. Harold Bloomfield and Dr. Robert Cooper

The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk

A great podcast to listen to while you clean or drive:

The Left Ear, with Dakota Johnson

This Happened, by a survivor

Honor yourself at all times

Go to therapy at whatever price point you can afford. Get your pain out. You deserve to heal from your sexual assault.

Communicate with Intention (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 18)

Recently, I received a beautifully written “Out-of-Office automatic reply” that opened my heart with compassion and awareness. Without delving into too many details about the message, the author outlined her circumstances and the nature of her personal challenges; explained how her situation was impacting her work and her ability to respond to the needs of others; and requested the readers’ understanding and patience. Her message caused me to pause, breathe and re-read her note. It was obvious to me that while her message wasn’t longer than the usual content, the care and self-awareness required to write such a missive were unique.

She showed that she cares not only for herself and her immediate family, but that she also respects anyone who may try to communicate with her through her work email. Her impressive mindfulness is important aspect of communication. That she outlined a course of action and that her relationship to the reader is clearly important and worth her careful consideration were additional dimensions of her active good will. With deliberate thoughtfulness and kindness, she coveyed the boundaries she needs to thrive. For the reader there is no mystery, no loss of focus or confusion. She effectively eliminated any misunderstandings that may arise owing to lack of skillful communication.

“Pathway”

Lesson 18: This week, before you pick up the phone, answer an email or leave a voicemail, take a breath to make sure you are calm and able to respond with good intention, so that you can communicate your message with love and kindness. Rely on your Accountability Group if you feel challenged by any emotional aspects of the communication

While not sufficient in itself, it is commonly accepted that the “Tool of Intention,” often utilized in prayer, meditation and contemplation, has the transformative capacity to improve outcomes. Whether intention is used for physical, mental or spiritual healing, intention sets a pathway to communication that relies of love and spirit to transmit good faith and harmony. During these trying times, we could all use intentional communication to ask for what we need, reduce harm and show good will.

Contributing Writer Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman at home, healing and working toward Social Justice

It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 8: Home Preschool Curriculum

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

Early childhood education at home in the time of social distancing can be restricting and confining, however it does not close off opportunities to provide your students with enriching and vital educational opportunities. There are many resources available to parents looking for academic activities for their preschool age children to engage in. Though some are more time consuming for the parent in terms of setup and materials, there are many activities that can get your student to work quickly and require little of the parent’s time. The key to a solid activity is one that engages the student’s motor skills and hand eye coordination while also laying the foundation for future academic lessons. For example, drawing letters or numbers, coloring shapes, and cutting and pasting, when combined these activities activate the most important elements in the education of a preschool age child.

There are a few examples here that are great activities for students of this age. There are other less academic activities that are in some cases more important and engaging while also providing vital foundational life skills for the student. Allow daily tasks around the house to become learning opportunities for everyday life skills. Children have a tendency to mimic the routines performed everyday by adults. Utilize this need in your student for learning from watching to learning by doing. Turn daily chores into a fun way of taking care of the house and students will not only learn how to complete these tasks, they will also associate these tasks with positive memories and experiences. Though it may take more time, allow the student the extra time for sweeping the floor, or for meal prep, or making the bed. Though these seem like small tasks and the time needed for a preschool aged student to accomplish them may seem wasted, these learning moments are invaluable to the growth and development of the student.

When cooking allow the student to use cleaning and cooking utensils that fit into a child’s hand. This provides an opportunity for the student to accomplish real work on a smaller scale and will boost the student’s confidence and give them real experience and solid groundwork for advancement in the skill. Working with food that is healthy and fresh provides an opportunity to teach the student about diet and the process and place for food in the health cycle. Through their experience in the cooking process students are working with numbers and math whenever they are using a measuring cup or getting the right number of ingredients. During a cooking activity students are introduced to science and chemistry in the form of the transformational process between ingredients to meal, as well as the chemical change that takes place when cooking.

There are natural ways in which the student learns and explores their world that facilitate the development of mental faculties that are incredibly important but can be difficult to access from the position of teacher or parent. These imaginative capabilities are utilized and sharpened whenever the student is at play with their imagination. When they are in the play zone, for example playing with a bucket of toys and talking or singing, the student is working through problems or scenarios that the adult mind does not consider, but with which the mind of the child must engage in order to make sense of the world in relation to their perception and experiences up to this point. Though the problem or scenario be imagined, the work that the mind of the child is doing to solve the imaginary problem is concrete and necessary for the healthy development of the mind.

Sexual Predation in the Workplace

Recently, we have been talking about surviving sexual predation. Because prevention is quite crucial, it is critical for not only the target but the would-be assailant to monitor their behaviors.

In the post #MeToo era, reports show that more men have become afraid of working women, especially alone or in close quarters. However, certain men can take this opportunity to get creative with their ways of relating to women, instead of feeling indicted for being a man.

Creativity is how you combat rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is “an environment where sexual assault is normalized and excused in media and popular culture.”  An example of this could be one individual telling another person that they wouldn’t engage with or do a favor for a person unless there was sex involved. Another is pressuring partygoers to drink to release inhibitions, or only promoting employees that you deem sexually attractive while demeaning everyone else. 

One of the more tragic aspects of rape culture is the silence and shaming that both men and women perpetrate against victims who dare to speak up. You may hear things like, “What took her so long?” or “She’s just trying to ruin his life,” or “He just couldn’t handle her, that’s all.” 

Mothers may look away from the children who are being assaulted by a family member. This behavior is a bid to save herself. Employees are often forced to quit because of a hostile environment. This lack of support increases the likelihood of revictimization of the target later on. 

So how do we get creative in our interactions with others? Women often find that there is a premium placed on their level of attractiveness, as perceived by hiring managers, friends, potential suitors, and even the guy who can help her in aisle 5. Her beauty or lack thereof can be a boon or a bane, and it seems there is nothing she can do about it.

Some tips for a healthy workplace

  • If you are a hiring manager, be sure to look at all candidates’ qualifications. 
  • Understand that no one is “asking for it.
  • Look them in the eye. 
  • Ask what their hobbies are and listen actively. 
  • When your new hire begins, do not request that he or she change their style of dress just because you are not attracted to or “agree” with it. If the new hire is doing their job and conforming to the dress code, there is no need for further discussion.
  • Do not make comments about sexual trysts, preferences, or expectations.
  • Honor others’ personal space — this includes personal effects and time spent at the office.
  • Promotions should be meritorious and can triangulate employees when sex is involved.