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.

Hero Worship for Activists: “A Conversation with Anita Hill”

I am a woman of many heroes, men and women of character, substance and integrity. I admire and emulate them. It is in my nature to seek out traits such as fortitude and compassion in my community. My list of heroes is long and not limited by perimeters such as distance, time, gender or race, for although I idealize simple attributes; these principles are not easy to live by. My heroes are people whose actions demonstrate superior courage and discernment, people whose lives are exemplary because of their persistent vision to transform society for the better. When I experience difficulty, I look to my heroes for the strength required to endure and stand in the face of oppression and to carry on with my work. Today I honor Dr. Anita Hill, who rises into the foreground of my legion of inspiring soldiers.

Like many, I have been asked with whom I would dine given a choice. In the process of pursuing my formal education, I have written many essays on the topic. I have photos of my heroes around my home, reminders of my highest ideals. I draw courage from these immortal mortals. To me, even the dead ones are alive. But I have shaken her hand. I put my arm around the honorable and steadfast, Dr. Anita Hill, Esquire. Dr. Hill did not disappoint. She was everything I had imagined and witnessed beginning in 1991 when she faced the entire US Senate for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She testified about the former direct superior, who systematically sexually harassed her in the course of the workday.

This was a pivotal moment in women’s history. I was riveted to the TV, watching the testimony with millions of people. It was a formative experience to witness another highly intelligent black woman, stand in truth while powerful men attempted to revise, denounce and silence her. She was a courageous older sister, leading the way. For me, she was no less than a Joan of Arc. Her poise was monumental, her eloquence, sanguine. Dr. Hill, spoke of what other women have waited a decades to discuss. She demanded accountability, whether or not it was granted is irrelevant.

As movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too gain momentum, it helps to recognize the warriors that have established a pathway to transforming society. There is strength in numbers. There is power in speaking when the world attempts to silence, to act when society coerces submission. Witness the lives of Audre Lorde, Dr. King and John Brown. They all knew this. Anita Hill knows it, still.

The legacy of people like Dr. Hill creates a bridge that reinforces and delineates the struggles of women and people of color in society. Their work illustrates that We are not alone. The reveal that we are not the first to endure, to resist or to speak truth to those with power and authority. When we work to create a just society, we walk in the footsteps of these giants.

Recognizing that Dr. Hill is capable of telling her own story, I share those of her ideas that address the ways in which we can harness the efforts of our predecessors to affect lasting change. According to Dr. Hill, by recognizing and always mentioning two or more factors like race, gender, age and class allows us to see the invisible intersectionality any issue. There are layered issues impacting an individual grappling with harassment, discrimination or systemic oppression. By acknowledging the overlapping nature of these experiences we begin to address the true work required to transform society into a just system in which all people can thrive. It is time, according to Hill, to modify our conversations about sex to include intent, consent and expectations. I agree, and I also see this as one of the biggest hurdles to change, since so many people are afraid to have candid conversations about their needs, desires and expectations in general. Women, in particular, often have difficulty negotiating salaries, speaking up in meetings and setting boundaries in their personal lives. We are simply not taught to assert ourselves in these ways.

Yet, we must engage in this reform work if we are to give our sons and daughters the tools they need to grow into accomplished and confident citizens. We must learn and teach each other that no one has the right to abuse another person, regardless of their legal status, educational level or gender. It matters little what form the abuse takes. We need to have a zero tolerance for abuse, for inflicting it on others, for allowing it to be enacted with impunity. We must hold uncompromising standards that permit all people to thrive—whether they are children, elders, women or under our direct supervision.

No one has the right to abuse another person.

Beyond being enamored with the image and ideal of Dr. Hill, she is actually a woman of true substance. Her personal achievements and education make her a paragon for anyone in need of a hero. It is no small feat to persist for a lifetime when men insist upon your silence—when society attempts to enforce a standard smallness and mediocrity. Anita Hill moves beyond these projections into the space of the warrior, where she stands as a paladin for truth and light. When I introduced myself to Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk for the Level Playing Field Institute fundraiser, she admonished me to pay my gifts forward to the next generation. I assured her that I am. I have been. I will.

This is what it is like to meet one’s hero: She charges you with the highest expectations possible.

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Dr. Guadamuz and Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk March 9, 2018  at a Fundraiser for                            Level Playing Field Institute

 

Excerpts from James Allen’s “As A Man Thinketh”

 From “Visions & Ideals”

Cherish you visions; cherish you ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

Dreams are the seedlings of reality.

“Gifts,” powers, material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions are the fruits of effort; they are thoughts completed, objects accomplished, visions realized.

The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the Ideal that you enthrone in your heart—this you will build your life by, this you will become.

~ James Allen

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