Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 16): See’s Parable

One day, a rich and powerful White Woman invited a Black Woman from her church to work at her Famous Nonproffiting Feminarchy because she had demonstrated her character. During the Black Woman’s interview she was asked questions that did not pertain to the job, and most of the interviewers appeared to be angry or unhappy. She smiled and answered all the questions politely and with a bit of humor. Perservering through the Institutional Gatekeepers, she became a loyal and hardworking employee. Generous with her time, resources and support, she got to know the eight women where she worked four days a week, (not five). After two years, they seldom included her in conversations and sometimes snickered as she approached their groupings. When she left a meeting briefly, she returned to inexplicable hostility, which she valliantly attempted to ignore in order to participate. That summer, at their annual Professional Development Training, the White Facilitator attributed all the negative personality traits of the type to this Black Woman, while reserving all the positive traits of the same type to a White Woman across the room. The Black woman ran out on the second day of training, weeping. No one followed her out. No one checked in with her. A week later, this Black Woman believed she would eventually win over every woman in their small team, so she stopped at See’s Candies during her lunch break to buy dark-chocolate balls and mints, a favorite combination of the women in her office, but which she herself didn’t eat. In a sweet email, the Black Woman explained that she had left a special treat for everyone in the kitchen. At five o’clock, the Black Woman stopped in the kitchen to wash her mug and noticed that all the mints and all the chocolates were gone, but no one had thanked her or mentioned her contribution. The End.

Lesson 16: Learn how to identify and interrupt Microaggressions when they are enacted near you. Use the resources below and your accountability group to unlearn microaggressions and reduce instances of their harmful effects on Black, Indigenous and Latina women in your workplace.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 15): Form a Personal Accountability Group

Radical times, demand radical measures. Too many people live and work in isolated bubbles. In good times, our social circles insulate us from danger, change and uncomfortable truths. When closed social networks work best, they protect children, elders and the most vulnerable among us. When they breakdown, they lead to cycles of violence, insulation from external influences, prevent accountability and foster the sheltering of vile habits that can be toxic to our society. The social circle can be a beautiful family, or an impenetrable fortress of misdeed and dysfunction.

What would it have looked like if R. Kelly’s team of enablers challenged him by saying “no,” and setting limits to their involvement in abusing, trafficking and abducting girls and women for decades? Similarly, would an accountability team for Harvey Weinstein prevented numerous rapes and abuses? It’s time we stop looking backwards, and move toward remedying the accountability fissures in our society that lead to great harm. We have the power to hold each other to high standards well before harm is inflicted.

Creating a better, more just society, requires us to move beyond our primary circle of influence into spaces where community members, coworkers, friends and teachers play an important part in our choices. Accountability groups are particularly important to many Americans when they’re part of professional networks, like real-estate agents and tech innovators, who rely on each other to meet monetary and performance quotas. These worker remain in constant dialogue in order to expand services, develop working programs and promote healthy communication that apply directly to their financial bottom line. Unfortunately, most of the accountability is limited to projects with profits and not enough energy is invested to accountability for behavior and action.

Lesson 15: Seek out and form a formal a committed accountability group. Include people outside your family and immediate social circle, which is often not strong enough to counter social norms. Look to your church, sangha and professional networks, especially including people from different areas of your life, and if possible, of varied identity, ethnic or cultural background. Check in regularly about your agreements.

John Brown’s accountability network consisted of abolitionists in several states, who helped organize slave escapes, advocated for the abolition slavery and fought racism in the US.

These days, it’s simply not enough to move in the world without getting feedback from a group of conscious peers. We can all stray, misinterpret or fall short of our own best practices. We need good people who will not flinch at truthfulness. In the near future, all children will learn about preventing oppression in primary school. Until then, adults must invest the time and energy necessary to unlearn bad habits while remaining accountable for our words, deeds and actions. Accountability isn’t easy, but we’re definitely capable.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 14): July 4th Peace Action

It is a known fact that Indigenous Women experience a disproportional percentage of the violence in American society. The consistent predation on Indigenous women in the United States is an example of Violent Racism in action; the sustained, documented and permitted murders is Government-sanctioned lynching of our courageous Earth defenders. Indigenous Women and girls’ disappearances go unnoticed, uninvestigated unprosecuted and unquestioned by those in authority. Their murders are equivalent to the ongoing lynching of black men and women. This has to stop.

Let Indigenous Women and Girls Thrive!

Your Radical Solidarity is required to bring renewed and continued attention to the plight and condition of Indigenous communities in our country. We must make amends, reparations and heal the historic harm imposed on the original People of this land.

Lesson 14: Dedicate July 4th to non-violent remembrance and action for Indigenous Women, Girls and Families who have been historically hurt, raped, massacred and disappeared since Europeans invaded North America. Honor them with prayer, donations, awareness and respect. Avoid fireworks, gunfire and other militaristic displays of aggression as a show solidarity with Indigenous communities suffering and mourning from trauma, deprivation, cultural destruction and grief.

Here’s a short lists of organizations that you, your family and church can donate resources, time and support now more than ever. Unfortunately, the Indigenous community is also hit hard with Covid-19 because of historically-imposed Systemic Racism. From everything I understand, Indigenous people were steadfast allies to enslaved Africans during legal American Slavery. Let’s do our part for them, now.

It is time for the United States of America to follow suit with the Canadian Government‘s move to give the necessary attention, money and resources to the plight of disappeared, murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. We need accountability at all levels of Federal, State and Local government to protect our Indigenous communities from further harm. Start with your support and donations this July 4th.

“It is no longer good enough to cry peace; we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.” ~Native American Proverb

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 13): Stop the Labels!

Everyone likes to be called by their name. Almost no one likes their name to be mispronounced, changed or shortened by anyone other than their immediate family. And yet, so many people impose egocentric perspectives on our names. Worse, many people in our society openly express outrage, discomfort and blatant bigotry against people with Non-white names. This practice of Othering impacts most immigrants, Indigenous people and African Americans, who use naming as counter-cultural reclaiming mechanism for self-valuing: After Slavery, wherein most black people were given names by slaveholders, Black people collectively have reclaimed naming rights. Essentially, I want you to “Say my name.”

A temporary sign, labeling those allowed to walk on the street. The sign appeared for two days before disappearing again.

And still, we have even bigger problems than that: As a society, we are so comfortable with the status quo, we’ve forgotten the basic respect that begins with learning our student’s name. Labeling is pervasive in the workplaces, classrooms and interpersonal dynamic spaces like the Black Lives Matter Human Rights Movement. Even in smaller groups, like an email list, people resort to acronyms and other inventive labels to avoid saying individual names. Unfortunately, this is not a universal practice–White People are excepted. That said, large groups of us are lumped together, unnecessarily: For example the new label BIPOC. Such labels are a product of White-Anglo Saxon hegemony that dictates which names will be said aloud, and who gets a label. I don’t want to be consolidated into a convenient group. I want to be seen as I am.

Lesson 13: Practice learning and using individual names for all the people in your community. Avoid lumping people into groups when you can relate on an individual, personal level.

It’s time to drop the labels. Let the individuals in your social, neighborhood, church and work networks identify themselves. Take the necessary time to be in community with those closest to you. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you imagined and that when you take the time, people will appreciate your authentic curiosity and willingness to learn.

“A flower grows in compost.”

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.” ~Audre Lorde

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 12): Give Us the Ballot!

Amiri Baraka teaches in his writing that “Each of us sees a thing or event according to our own experiences and interests and ideological stance.” It’s no wonder, then, that as Americans we are polarized by our viewpoints. And yet, within this complicated binary, lies the blatant practice of intentionally limiting the participation of working-class people, especially people of color, in the electoral process through Voter Suppression. The United States historically and actively excludes Indigenous, Black and Latinx Americans from the voting, and subsequently, from influencing national policy. To add injury to insult, Citizens must vote on a Tuesday, a workday.

Many youth in America want to participate in the political process, as their lives have been disrupted by Covid-19; many youth even risk their lives in solidarity with us. To dismantle oppression in our society, we must work multi-cultural, cross-generational teams to achieve win-able local results through research, writing, and data analysis–skills necessary for civic engagement. The context of our upcoming General Election during Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter Human and Civil Rights Movement warrants concern and action. Our young people need to feel their autonomy, strength and agency. Developmentally and otherwise, youth need to exercise their beautiful young minds.

Only we can prevent another Covid-19 disaster at the polls.

Lesson 12: First, read A Quick History Lesson on Voter Disenfranchisement by Carl Amritt. Next, organize under the direction of local youth how to give all residents in a 100 mile radius of your home access to VOTE. Use a concentric circle that ignores district, city or state boundaries in the consideration of the proposal. As a group, draft policies for a successful Nov. 3rd General Election, and send the proposals directly to government officials, social-media channels and community members.

Recognizing that all of our voices matter, we must ensure that we can all cast a ballot and participate in improving our society for all members. At this point, the Federal Government knows exactly who is an American Citizen, as they sent us Stimulus Checks, and I haven’t heard any complaining.

The Federal Government, the Courts, Governors, Mayors, Senators, Congressional Representatives and Donald Trump must ensure all American Citizens receive a VOTE-BY-MAIL ballot in their mailboxes for Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.

Artwork by Theodore A. Harris, 2008

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 11): Intercession

Like many of us, I have witnessed the transformative energy of prayer. I know, that if I ask my mother to pray for or with me, God will respond. My mother’s faith is powerful; therefor, her petitions are heard. Mostly, she doesn’t stop praying until the job is done. I have learned to ask for what I need from others, from family, friends and God. I ask in prayer, so that I experience breakthrough, and also understand that the power of collective intention and dedicated prayer is effective. My mother and I know that if we “Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9).

Prayer, meditation, intercession are ways that humans have devised to harness the energy of our minds. Without focus, discipline and intention, we are apt to flounder and lose our way. That is why church communities pray together, as well as many families and religious groups. Prayer, meditation and intercession represent the moment when thought turns into action. This is when leadership is crucial, because, What is the prayer?

As we approach a new era of understanding in our society, we must look to our collective healing. While some Americans continue to prosper, many more Americans in communities of color are suffering hardships of food and economic insecurity, historic discrimination, as well as traumatic, violent deaths of family members and the associated costs of death. It is my conviction that our collective, national focus on the plight of Black Fathers is one of the most powerful and best ways to honor and celebrate Father’s Day and begin to change the injustice we see all around us by opening our hearts and minds.

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a Father, will he give him a stone?” (Luke 11:11).

Lesson 11: On Father’s Day 2020, join us in compassionate action: With your community of worship, Sangha, family and friends, pray for Black Fathers and the Fathers of Black Children.

The loss of lives in Black communities owing to violence, oppression and Covid-19 is overwhelming. Black families across our nation are bereaved and mourning recent and ongoing loss and violence and threats of violence from the highest office in the land. We need what Dr. Eric Lewis Williams calls Radical Solidarity to transform this moment and heal our society through supplication.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 9): End Academic Gatekeeping

If you are black, Indigenous, Latinx, or a recent immigrant from any place other than Europe, you like have personally encountered Gatekeeping in multiple educational institutions. Gatekeeping is often used to describe the unfortunate discrimination of Disabled students. I myself am guilty of this oppressive practice in my early career as a teacher. Fear, misunderstanding and lack of training prevented me from acting appropriately. Ableism is a form of internalized oppression. Soon after my own low point, I took it upon myself to learn what I was never taught in a course titled “Ableism,” so that I will not repeat my mistake. Because oppression is rampant in our society, we have to learn and unlearn the explicit and implicit messages and lessons taught in every circle of society, starting from infancy.

Throughout my career as an educator, I’ve witnessed many teachers using and upholding barriers to education as a weapon: Low expectations, punitive classroom measures and hostile-racial climates in classrooms, schools and campuses. I have experienced all of this as a student and teacher, and as a witness of White Americans enacting violence in the classroom against black and brown students. I also have spoken out, with consequences, while White community-college teachers applauded each other for failing 80% of their students in precollegiate courses. Little effort is made by these otherwise good White people to unlearn their internalized oppression, nor do they attempt to grow and change.

Needless to say, students in those classes were often people of color. This is another example of the toxic othering rampant in our society. I have seen these same teacher who hold people like me back, elated over a success of the most privileged white students. These White teachers actively erect effective obstacles for young first-generation college students that happen to be non-white. These practices are often couched under the mantle of rigor, while perpetuating and enforcing discrimination, White Supremacy and White Privilege. Such behavior actively prevents equal opportunity and academic success of hardworking young people.

Lesson 9: Look at the demographic of your child’s school. If you don’t have a child, look at your own schooling. What do you notice about the population of the school children, teachers and staff? Reflect on whether the school accurately represents your community and city and what policies could be improved. Write, call or attend a school board meeting to advocate for better education for all children.

White Teachers gather in the school to mock a symbol of racism and oppression by displaying a noose, posing for a photo for Principal Linda Brandt and sharing the photo openly.

Consider a how a Indigenous, Black or Latinx child in the school where these white women work must experience racism, oppression and disenfranchisement. Do your part to end systemic racism in K-12 schools, colleges, universities and government policy. Imagine how this picture would differ if there was a black teacher or staff member present.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 10): Radical Solidarity

What are you most afraid of? The path of the Spiritual Warrior is often solitary yet abundant in community connections and roots. Connectivity to her community empowers her to navigate personal, interpersonal and intrapersonal communication. A Spiritual Warrior’s roots are long, because me may have to move and keep access to the knowledge of her people. She carries their names and stories far, knowing she may not return. Therefore, a Spiritual Warrior’s strength lies in her ability to build community and connection quickly, as she relies on her integrity, skills and humility to move easily within different spheres as the Spirit guides.

Spiritual warriors exhibit Radical Solidarity, what author Eyal Press calls, “Beautiful Souls” in his book Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. When Sie is on fire for Justice, the Holy Spirit is upon them and Sie moves with the special light of a seasoned, honorable and stalwart paladin. Sie lives sie’s own training, adapting, studying, working in a state of meditative evolution and constant growth, self-care and wellness. These many skills embody the preparation to stand in the light and be known in word and deed as One. This is difficult. That is why Spiritual Warriors searches sie’s soul, contemplating which seeds to sow.

https://www.history.com/topics/abolitionist-movement/john-brown

A Spiritual Warrior is a powerful ally in a time of need. His Radical Solidarity is demonstrated in his actions, words and intentions. He must know himself well enough to know when there is lack of alignment and try to correct his course. He must do his best to keep his promises, show empathy and make amends when necessary. A Spiritual Warrior is a human being with fears, doubt, needs, dreams and all the rest, just like any of us.

Lesson 10: Practice Radical Solidarity with someone in your community who is in need of kindness or community in the next week. Call, Zoom, yard visit or FaceTime with someone who is disconnected, alone or far away, and listen. Radical Solidarity may require you to change plans, make room for people of color and grieve with us.

Many people in our society are hurting right now. We are in mourning, grieving and distraught over the violence we see all around. I grow more uneasy daily by my own meat consumption, and yet I trust in my ability to release the unnecessary and make sacrifices for a better tomorrow. Live your convictions.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 8): Unpack White Privilege

Obviously, people with white skin and White Americans have a huge part to play in how our country operates. The laws, the systems of our economy, the governance is largely controlled by White Americans. Our national institutional systems were created by White Americans to protect their economic privileges as they benefited from the oppression of Indigenous Americans and later, imported free labor from Africa. After Emancipation of Enslaved Black people, brutal efforts were been taken by White Americans to protect the legacy of power and privilege afforded by their tyranny. White Americans discriminated, lynched and unfairly incarcerated Black Americans in order to ensure their privilege and status was handed down to subsequent generations.

And so we arrive at the present moment. Death, destruction, lynching and unemployment of Black American are the systemic practices of a Racist foundation. The imposed condition of Indigenous, Black and non-white immigrant people in America is nearly invisible to White Americans. What is plainly visible to us collectively, is dismissed as an acceptable inheritance. To dismantle this oppressive system, White Americans must see there part in protecting, purveying and trafficking in White Privilege for personal gain.

Lesson 8: Read Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” with your family, Bible Study group, co-workers or reading group. Make a list of ways that you either participate in or witness White Privilege in your daily life. Work to eliminate these enactments of oppression and racism that hurt our society.

Consider how you can share this work to begin the healing of our society, and to make reparations to Indigenous people and Black descendants of American Slavery.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 7): Moving toward Reconciliation

When a relationship is damaged owing to our action or inaction, we must move to restore it to a good state. Rupture in all human relationship is almost inevitable. As humans, we are intrinsically fallible: We are by nature imperfect. However, the fractured relationship, in most cases, can be repaired through Right Action. One attainable method of right action is the practice of reconciliation. Reconciliation requires perspective, analysis, insight and courage to see ourselves and accept responsibility for our participation in society.

When it comes to race relations in the USA, we have a long legacy of dysfunction, leading to loss of trust and more directly to loss of lives for several centuries. How are we to repair hundreds of years systemic and institutional collusion, oppression and racism? We begin with the actions that demonstrate reconciliation, a promise to correct what is broken. This is one step in the direction of renewing the container of trust and preparing the ground–our Nation–for planting the seeds of goodwill, lovingkindness and harmony. For this to be possible, we must own are parts, both the immediate and the historical, that we have played in the culmination of this moment.

Lesson 7: Read Margaret Renkl’s “Open Letter to My Fellow White Christians.” Take time to reflect on her words, and if you have time, do some research. After you have reflected on the issues raised by Renkl, write your own reconciliation letter. Choose your audience. Share it with your work or school community, Sangha, church and or family.

The tradition of letter writing is an ancient form of communication that requires thoughtfulness and skill to be effective. Letter writing can act as a powerful meditation, prayer and historical artifact. As such, writing a letter is an action that in itself is its own accountability and witness of our intentions, thoughts and behavior. Famous letters like Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail can be instrumental in transforming hearts and minds and leading to lasting change.