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.

Overcoming Mental Enslavement: A Practice in Decentering

You don’t have to believe everything you think. 

Many of our psychological schemas concerning the way the world works are often based on second and third-hand information. We then take these paradigms and apply them to most of the areas of life, without testing their effectiveness. 

Some of us take certain ideologies that we know to be false and force-fit them into our realities, causing undue and sometimes unwitting harm to ourselves and others. These behaviors become habits and then the habits — through repetition — become deeply ingrained, making it difficult to perceive any other method of accomplishing our goals. When solving a problem, it is important to remember to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

What is decentering?

According to the American Psychology Association, decentering is:

n.

1. any of a variety of techniques aimed at changing one’s centered thinking (i.e., focus on only one salient feature at a time, to the total exclusion of other important characteristics) to openminded thinking. 

2. dissolution of unity between self and identity. 

3. see decentration. —decenter vb.

In other words, decentering yourself does not mean that you should neglect yourself, but consider other viewpoints as you work to solve a problem. In the case of healing our relationships with others, we want to “put ourselves into the other person’s shoes.”

However, changing behaviors can be threatening for some. It can mean a loss of comfort or some other benefit. Or it can mean gaining something, but we don’t know what it is to gain yet. These fears come from the human mind wanting circumstances, relationships, and resources to remain stable and measured. Still, decentering does not necessarily translate to destabilization. The idea that decentering the needs, wants, and agendas of a specific collection of individuals will destabilize their resources is flawed.

Perhaps the number one rebuttal to the expression Black Lives Matter is that All Lives Matter. This is an attempt at circumventing decentering. An extension of this is conflating the focus of other disadvantaged groups with the BLM movement. While there is some overlap between various groups, the problem with this response is the refusal to center the concerns of BLM when we discuss pertinent topics, as if this movement needs to be qualified by other groups with the same aims.

A peculiar assumption is if a person says that Black Lives Matter, they must mean that Only Black Lives Matter or Only American Black Lives Matter. This assumption illuminates the differences in schools of thought: when a white supremacist asserts All Lives Matter, they mean All White Lives Matter and That’s All That Should Matter. With this assertion, only caucasian individuals are people and have lives. Everyone else just exists. 

Centering does not have to be a bad thing. We center patients when they are in the hospital, and center our children when they are upset or scared. However, centering can be problematic when taken out of proportion, as in the case of white nationalists. White people have legitimate concerns and are the majority of the population in this country. That does not mean their lived experiences apply to everyone else’s life.

By white supremacists foisting psychological projection onto others, the aims of the Black Live Matter movement becomes problematic. Then it is called Black Nationalism. Many of our ancestors have been refashioned through revisionist history to be separatists, mercenaries, and boogeymen, because of the inability to decenter.

What are the benefits of decentering?

One of the main benefits of decentering is enriching your life with the stories, knowledge, and voices that may or may not be like you in some way. You do not have to walk in fear that someone is going to forcefully relieve you of something that can’t be taken. Fear can be a prison. In the next article, I discuss how to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 6): Radical Acceptance

There’s an old joke you may recall. It’s said in response to some quip that is not based on reality like this current news story. I grew up saying it to my sisters whenever one of them would not accept some truth that was right in our faces. My sisters laid it back on me, too, when folly consumed my sense of reality. We’d laugh, because it was it implies the obviously overlooked detail is relevant. The retort is a funny pun: “Denial [The Nile]: It’s not just a place in Egypt.”

Now that I’m grown, denial isn’t so funny anymore. It represents a lack of commitment to have integrity with oneself, the first and most important point of truth and honesty in one’s life. If you lie to yourself, you can’t and won’t be held accountable for your actions, or accept the truth. More of us than you can imagine take personal pride in ignoring the truth, especially when it’s inconvenient. The current president daily perpetuates false narratives about basic facts, and what’s worse, people believe him. More importantly, good people deny the reality and accept lies that they can verify for themselves. Small lies or big ones, it all amounts to the same toxic bathwater being used to cook, clean and run our homes. It’s time for new fresh water, and that starts with the practice of Radical Acceptance, a venerable DBT practice that demands we stop lying to ourselves in order to move forward in our personal healing and growth. Radical acceptance is often and uncomfortable and painful consciousness-raising activity.

At this moment in history, during a deadly global pandemic, we collectively confront the culmination of centuries of internalized racism and oppression. Even with videos, news stories and daily enactments of violence, many Americans, mostly White Americans, refuse to believe and accept the truth about violence against people of color.

Lesson 6: Practice Radical Acceptance: Watch the videos of the murder of George Floyd, grandfather, son and brother, now Father of the Black Lives Matter Civil Rights Movement. Do not turn away. Practice Radical Acceptance of what you see with your own eyes, heart and mind. Examine and discuss with your family why this is such a difficult act of violence to witness and accept.

Together, we can heal our future.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 5): How to Mourn

One action that has historically, universally sustained oppression is the practice of Dehumanization. De-human-ization affects all people involved. Its insidiously intrinsic nature normalizes itself. People don’t even notice this Othering. Dehumanization is a disease of the consciousness, wherein the afflicted carry the illness without knowing it, and spread it to their families and extended community. How can Dehumanization be unlearned given the nature of this oppressive condition?

We must Humanize all of humans. Again, this work requires self-reflection, introspection and humility. Only the most-committed warriors for justice can stand up and face the self. This internalized oppression must be sought out in the psyche, at its root. Once again drawing upon powerful DBT techniques, we will embody the behavior that is married to the belief. Only by practicing Humanization, can we begin to see this invisible illness.

Lesson 5: Watch the entire video of Ahmaud Arbery‘s murder. Ahmaud was 25 when he was hunted down by a white father and son.

Do not turn away. If possible, show it to all members of your family. Open your heart and mind to the feelings and cry for this fallen son, your brother. See his humanity, and mourn with us.

Cry. Weep. Wail. Scream. Pray. Cry some more. This one step on the path to transforming our society.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 4): Cultivating Compassion

The work of unlearning oppression requires us to turn inward and listen. We must turn off the TV. Silence the radio. Cease all chatter–daily if possible. The work of healing begins with diagnostic work. We must have the courage to sit alone in quiet contemplation to open our hearts and minds to possibility. We can transform any moment with our actions, our body language and our behavior. And yet, without awareness and compassion we are blind to the messages we send and unreceptive to incoming signals. We need lovingkindness in the form of compassion to awaken our understanding and transform the future.

A common response to the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests is that people–so-called looters and rioters–are breaking things. This stance, at once negates the underlying causes of this civil unrest, while creating a false dichotomy about the motivations of protestor. In truth, the protesting represents our collective indignity over the sustained slavery-era violence against people with dark skin in America. Essentially, skin color is a unilaterally imposed death sentence to any man, woman or child who is caught by a person with internalized white rage and white supremacist ideology that devalues us. How then, can we transform this internalized oppression? Only by looking inward at the judgment of inhumanity for dark-skinned people living in America can we heal our nation.

Lesson 4: Dedicate 10-60 minutes a day for the next week to meditation, prayer, writing or contemplation on the following question: How would you feel if your father, brother or son was killed while going to the store for milk? Discuss your feeling, insights and questions with your family. Reflect on how many black fathers, brothers and sons do not return with the milk, and why.

When we see one another as we truly are, we will truly love one another.

8 Tips to Cultivating Consistently Strong Allyship

Read the news from many media outlets, or purchase anything at all, you may find political commentators and businesses stating their support of the Black community in light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. On one hand, one can be filled with hope that we can stand in solidarity against racism, sexism, and police brutality, but on the other, there are so many questions that arise.

One, in particular, is: Why do the same pundits struggle with being as vocal about the quotidian challenges that disproportionately face the black community? We face a higher maternal death rate, unjust treatment in the penal system, the discrepancy in generational wealth, and more daily. What are you doing to be a consistent ally?

But what does ‘being an ally’ mean? Does it mean that you as a business owner say that you stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while not doing much else to alleviate injustices that Black and other underrepresented people face?

I hope that it means something else. Here are some ideas of what I think it might mean:

  • Correct others on stereotypes, misconceptions, and prejudices even when a member of the group you are defending is not present. It also means accepting correction from members of the party whom you are trying to advocate.
  • Hold space for opinions, emotions, grievances, and experiences that are not your own, without trying to invalidate or minimize the importance of them.
  • Offer full redress to those being harmed, and being fully transparent about your expectations concerning interactions — business and otherwise — with others. An example of this is realizing that certain rules and regulations in various institutions borne of one culture may muzzle the concerns and wishes of another, without making excuses about it.
  • Honor the ingenuity, business-savvy, beauty, and other traits of a group by extending proper compensation, protection of intellectual rights, and historical consideration as others.
  • Be self-motivated to become informed on the social mores, particular cultural practices, psychology, history, economics, and other facets of a particular population that have an impact on the role the group has in mainstream society. It means realizing that even though the group may be a “minority,” it is still a heterogeneous demographic that holds various ideologies by different factions within it.
  • Resist aggression and micro-aggression s through your behavior: ask yourself if you have to see, touch, say, hear, or otherwise assuage your curiosity or fear about an individual at that person’s expense. An example of this is calling the police on a person who has done nothing wrong, or “asking” to occupy personal space in a way that makes the person uncomfortable.
  • Understand that the law is not always just. For example, many citizens do not know that Miranda rights are not required to be read in every situation. In a similar vein, the law is not always applied reasonably, as studies have shown that darker-skinned defendants tend to receive more unfair treatment during processing and harsher sentencing when tried.
  • Do away with political cognitive dissonance: Our collective legislative and political workload increases when supposed allies vote for a candidate whose policies are known to unjustly target disadvantaged groups while espousing beliefs that everyone should be treated equally.
While this is not an exhaustive list, these are stepping stones to being an ally, which is a full-time job. Being an ally is a full-time job because when you are a member of a disadvantaged group, the barriers that must be overcome are present on a day-to-day basis.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 3): Allies for Justice

We see daily that we each much choose a side. There are no bystanders in this moment. Coronavirus in the form Covid-19 ravishes our community on one side, while systemic oppression and white supremacists devour our Black flesh in the light of day. Long prey to the economic hungers of Jim Crow America, we can no longer sit quietly with our own sustained hunger, historical discriminatory unemployment, political disenfranchisement and continued enslavement through mass incarceration, we stand up for our lynched and murdered Black Americans. We simply say, “No more!” Now, we need support from our allies.

Don’t make excuses. If you don’t know any people of color, start reaching out with kindness. Treat us like humans. Don’t pretend you don’t see the news. Black people in America are in need of support. We need to know that White-Americans believe in our humanity and our right to live without daily enactments of violence upon our bodies. We need to know that White Americans do not condone  someone sitting on our father’s neck until he dies. We need to see White Americans outraged because our son was shot down for sport during a jog in his neighborhood. We need to hear words, see actions that unequivocally demonstrate that White Americans will not tolerate the innocent slaughter of our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, elders and children in our own homes, yards and cars.

Lesson 3: Practice showing up for people of color. Look us in the eye. Ask our name. Listen. Ask what you can do. Do what you can support your neighbors, coworkers and extended community who aren’t white. Accept whatever comes with grace and compassion. Keep showing up until you are successful.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 1): The Practice of Inclusion

I’m not going to repeat everything you already know about the national protests about the executions of innocent black people. What I will do is what I’ve been trained to do: Educate. It’s obvious that people need to learn how to change ineffective behavior that perpetuates dehumanizing oppression that manifests in sexism and racism.

There is a fundamental othering that occurs in enactments of oppression. It says that some of us belong and others do not. These lines are arbitrary, drawn upon personal privilege, individualism and systemic-historical rewards for the same behaviors. Racism in American society manifests as:

  • Discrimination in hiring, medical care and financial services
  • Poverty and poor educational services
  • Violence and aggression directed toward Black, Latinx, Native American and Asian men, women and children

The question arises: Can we end and unlearn the internalized violence and aggression that accompany oppression? The answer is yes. Similar to treating mental-health disorders, racism and other forms of oppression can be treated using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) techniques. One simply way to begin to unlearn the thinking behind the action is simply to change your actions to include us. Try this simple strategy:

LESSON 1: Never ask a Black, Latinx, Native American or Asian man, woman or child, “How did you get in here?” unless you are in your private residence, hotel or car.

This simple technique will help you understand that public spaces like Starbucks, banks, college campuses, libraries and parks belong to everyone. No one need ask you for personal permission to co-exist in society. These are rightfully shared spaces. By practicing mindfulness and refraining for exclusionary language, we can begin to mend the historic rift tearing our nation apart. We all belong. Do your part to make sure we all feel included.