How do we be the justice, become the future?
The Provincetown Unitarian Universalist Meeting House Monday Night Meditation Group invited me to talk about race and racism. I conceived this piece for an audience of white folks engaged in Racial Justice work and to accompany our meditation.
This is not an essay. It is lightly edited to read rather than be heard. It is more an unguided meditation on being white antiracists walking together toward love, imagination, and justice.
I have no answers.
There will be no quiz.
Hopefully we will find some good thoughts to share with one another. This is all about LOVE and IMAGINATION—or the absolute lack of both.
I am an educator. I’m teaching an undergraduate course called Men & Masculinities at Saint Michael’s College this semester, and a course for teachers and administrators in the school district where I’m experimenting being an embedded Equity Scholar in Residence —that is, I’m inside the school working to think, offer resources, add a splash of courage for teachers about inclusion and equity issues.
So, the class is Racial Equity, Intersectional Justice, and Confronting Bias at School. We are talking about becoming antiracist educators, abolitionist teachers, and changing what we can in classrooms and policies, for equity and more justice for students. All white, all women, all fully exhausted, yet showing up for class Tuesday afternoons.
I’ve been deep in teaching and conversations about equity and dismantling racism for a long time. I’m often moved by new insights and perspectives, but I’m not often startled.
Claire Willis recently came to talk to the Monday Night Meditation group. She was talking about her new book Opening to Grief: finding your way from loss to peace.
She spoke of invalidated grief, silenced grief—and that startled me to wonder:
What about historic and systemic grief? The grief of knowing the American Dream was/is a distraction, that American History is whitewashed, watered down, and laden with biases. So many lives erased or silenced.
Did you all grow up reading women writers? Queer or BIPOC writers or artists? When I was coming out it was a radical day when Ruby Fruit Jungle was published and the main character didn’t die. Lesbians ALWAYS got married, went totally crazy, or died by suicide. It was a requirement to get to press.
My grief flows for all the lives we still lose because racism, homophobia, and transphobia grip so many hearts.
My grief floods me as I am just beginning to learn to write Land Acknowledgments. I’m learning more about all the nations that once were and those that remain. Why did it take so long to bring this ritual to our way of doing things?
My grief floors me as I see the Covid-19 pandemic exposing all the vulnerabilities that remain in our social structures, all the legacies of slavery and economic inequalities so blatantly still here. Embedded systematically. Loop-holed and entrenched in ways mostly invisible to comfortable white folks.
The Summer of 2020 brought the brutalities of 400 + years to a head. Then January 6, 2021. White supremacy, even more unabashedly, arrived in full gear.
I’ve been shocked that I, who read and talk about race and class and ‘this stuff’ all the time— didn’t perceive fully, didn’t GET the deepest deep dimensions and realities of the racist and misogynist ideologies in our midst.
Why??? How do we see so differently? Who have I not yet met – so I can understand? Have I missed seeing their grief? Have they missed seeing mine?
What startled me as I thought about this are the implications for understanding the depth of race and systemic racism, and how it’s impacted all of us.
As Claire Willis talked, I found a great sense of sadness, Grief with a capital G—and I came to feel the whole systemic and historic levels and layers of racism, sexism, LGBT and gender violence…. then and now.
She said, “Grief is love with no place to go.”
This echoes right now for so many heartbreaks. Grief is love. With no place. No place to go. No place. T0 go. Grief is.
Grief and the subject of race and racism— race is not real, it is a fabrication, a construction, that has benefited a very few for centuries, while racism—all the structures that uphold the systems of oppressions based on skin color—are too strong. We have not dismantled them – yet.
Maurice Berger writes in his memoir and musings: White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (1999)
“…myths hold us hostage to their smooth elegant fictions. The subject of race, perhaps more than any other subject in contemporary life, feeds on myth. …Myths are white lies that tell us everything is all right, even when it is not” (96-97). And— “Racism and hype are bound up together: racism is built on hype, which in turn is built on stereotype” (98).
My perceptions are only as a white, queer, mother of two no- adult African American kids, educator, gardener, swimmer. I only have ever walked in the world in my white body. I thought my queer self would offer me great awareness—I promise—I get it now—I’ll never be all woke. As much as I want to identify or think I ‘get it’ when my kids talk of their experiences or other BIPOC people talk of everyday life in America—I have never walked as a black body. My knowing is only through my white bodied experience.
Meditation settles me, centers my values, engages my body, mind and spirit. Rhonda Magee notes in The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities through Mindfulness that the historic Buddha spoke out against the caste system of color.
Yet–only recently—the last 5 years? — have Black Zen and Buddhist teachers been published in Tricycle or Lion’s Roar –do you think that’s the right timeframe? I’ve attended weekends with Rev angel kyodo williams, who co-authored Radical Dharma. I swear it has new words in it every time I pick it up! Black teachers are now being heard and interviewed in established Buddhist resources and launching incredible on-line sources.
Listen: the historic Buddha spoke out against the caste system of color. When was that?
We (white people) have been trained so well in the ways of systemic racism —and I would add all the other systemic oppressions—we are just not as fluent in talking about race—that we didn’t realize BIPOC teachers were missing—until they are appearing with regularity. We (I) didn’t realize education focused on the wonders of white male patriarchy and excluded all other stories until I found myself at 19 in Provincetown in the Seventies surrounded by drag queens and theoretical lesbians….. yes! I started to see! So much beauty and possibility.
Rev angel kyodo williams writes in Radical Dharma Talking Race, Love, and Liberation:
“the great fraud of the construct of whiteness is that it has coerced and convinced most white folks to no longer see their own oppression: by men over women, by straights over LGBT, by hetero fathers over their sons in arbitrating their masculinity, by capitalist values of personal acquisition over the personal freedom of one’s soul. white folks have been duped to trade their humanity for their privilege. the most insidious lie is that racism is a Black problem or a colored folks’ problem. white folks wake up: not only oppressed people are complicit in oppression. it’s your problem too.”
How do we become the opposite of “duped”? I looked it up: “Undeceived” is an antonym.
How do we become the future?
Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator) and Myles Horton (started the Highlander Folk School) were friends, activists, and writers. Together they published We make the road by walking. My current teaching methodology, influenced by Freire and adrienne maree brown, is an ‘emergent praxis:’ What do you need? Let me meet you where you are. Let’s explore your questions together. We’ll just see where this goes— there may not be an answer or conclusion. Let’s be curious.
I know we won’t find justice, equity and inclusion for all in my lifetime. We may not be able to open lots of minds and hearts— but the ones we reach will continue this work.
We are on the road to reckoning.
We are being called to account for a bloody, cruel history, a country based on standing on necks and killing unarmed people. Freire wrote about the oppressed becoming oppressors. Hurt people hurt people.
We are now called to be amazing—to bring the dream of the possibilities of this nation into being.
Anand Giridharadas wrote in his newsletter The.Ink: “…what we are actually endeavoring to do right now is to become a kind of society that has seldom, if ever, existed in history. Which is become a majority-minority, democratic superpower.” Then he writes, “We are falling on our face because we are jumping very high right now.”
We are falling on our face, picking each other up and — walking together.
Michael Eric Dyson writes in Long Time Coming: “If justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public, then patience is what mercy sounds like out loud, and forgiveness is the accent with which grace speaks” (178).
Several writers talk about trees of hate — racism — as seeds planted, nurtured, and matured. Rev Kate Wilkinson of the UU Meeting House in Provincetown has told the Cherokee story of the fighting wolves inside us—the one you feed will win. Children are not born racists or rapists or haters. Our social constructions of gender, our economic and systemic segregation set us up, dupe us into being toxically masculine or feminine, romance us guns and violence, deny us joy in our bodies and perpetrate demeaning pornography instead of encouraging real time and real pleasures.
The wolf of shame and guilt gets a head start over the wolf of joy and justice.
To get to justice we strengthen our willingness and bravery to really reckon, to believe stories our BIPOC friends and community members tell us, and most importantly, be upstanders and find ways to be antiracist activists.
Meditation and prayer keep me in “the work.” I have to listen. I take my dogs walking every morning, even at 4 below, praying and walking, seeking guidance, and courage. The courage to continue. Microaggressions are not usually aimed at me directly anymore, but the BIPOC and LGBT kids put up with them daily. The N-word is in the hallways. White teachers are afraid to teach the Civil War, Emmitt Till, Civil Rights. I heard a student was told not to do a project on the Black Panthers because they were a terrorist organization.
I love the ideas and ideals of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
I pray for courage and often for patience—why are school systems STILL teaching white hetero-centricity? Why isn’t Black History Month every-month-all-year-long? Black History is American History. What do teachers need to revise and re-vision their courses to be inclusive? Why, why, why are we still HERE?
What are we, white folks so afraid of? Why don’t we tell the truth?
Understanding our white advantage (a term Resmaa Menakem uses and I appreciate because saying “white privilege” makes people shut right down) and grief—will aide in our readiness for reckoning. Really, honestly, and truly, accepting the history of the land and the peoples who went before us, and being accountable. Herein lies our liberation.
And what does our accountability look like? What does liberation feel like?
James Baldwin, writer, activist, gay, Black genius wrote that Black history “testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”
I call myself a science fiction project in my role as Equity Scholar in Residence. I guess all of us—seeking individual and social justice or endeavoring to work toward inclusion in any system built to manufacture good workers, good widgets—could claim this identity.
In this, now: Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin –the Buddha and all such friends—smile upon us as we live our lives planting the seeds of the possible—together.
Maurice Berger—Born: May 22, 1956, New York, NY Died: March 23, 2020, Copake, NY Editor of Independent Lens in the NYTimes— grew up poor, white, Jewish in a housing project with primarily Puerto Rican and Black families. His point of view was shaped by his early experiences and he curated work that shows the lives of people of color in their complexity and beauty. He died in March 2020 of Covid-19 complications.
BIPOC Black, Indigenous and People of Color https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-bipoc.html
adrienne maree brown. emergent strategy: shaping change, changing worlds. (2017). “Together we must move like waves.” “What we put our attention on grows.”
Michael Eric Dyson. Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Races in America. (2020).
Anand Giridharadas. Writer, political analyst, and Dad. The.Ink: on politics and culture, money and power. January 15, 2021 https://the.ink/p/hope “We are falling on our face because we are jumping very high right now.”
Myles Horton Born: July 9, 1905, Savannah, TN Died: January 19, 1990, New Market, TN. Highlander Folk School (https://highlandercenter.org/our-history-timeline/) where labor activists and then civil rights activists trained in organizing and non-violent action. Rosa Parks, MLK, Bayard Rustin— marvelous makers of the Sixties events were there. Freire and Horton worked together and published We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. (1990).
Valarie Kaur. “You are a part of me I do not yet know.” “Who have we not yet loved?”
The People’s Inauguration (February 2021). https://thepeoplesinauguration.org/
Land Acknowledgments. This practice honors the lands we live on, acceptance of the history of broken treaties and genocide, and begins the reckoning for current generations.
Resmaa Menakem. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (2017).
Rhonda V. Magee. The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Informing Our Communities Through Mindfulness (2019).
The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum offers a new installation by Wampanoag historians about the Province Lands. https://www.pilgrim-monument.org/wampanoag-exhibit/
Two wolves inside “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is black – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is white – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith” He added, “The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”His grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked him, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”. https://uplifters-edu.org/two-wolves-in-your-mind/
Rev angel Kyoto Williams, with Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah. Radical Dharma Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (2016).
Claire Willis with Marnie Crawford Samuelson. Opening to Grief: finding your way from loss to peace (2020).