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 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.

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.

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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