Monday, February 06, 2017

Seven Thoughts on Why White Nationalism Makes No Sense

You've likely heard a lot about 'white nationalism' (coded as the 'alt-right') in the media and not known how to respond to it.

Their logic makes so little sense (but of course it's not about the logic).

We will set aside for the moment that white people, on the whole, are still disproportionately privileged. People of colour, women and indigenous folk are still disproportionately disadvantaged and oppressed in this dominant culture. And so the feeling that they are being oppressed by laws that seek to give opportunities to those who haven't had them is madness. White people are not being screwed by people of colour. They're being screwed by the elite. The same culture of Empire that killed and oppressed most of their ancestors is now oppressing them. The difference now is that they cling to that culture to save them. You can learn more about white privilege in the memes and articles here:

We'll set that aside and look a bit deeper.

Here are seven thoughts on why it makes no sense.

1) It is based on the notion of 'race' which does not exist. It's not real. There is a human race. That's it.

2) It is based on the notion of 'whiteness' which is also a cultural construction. 'White' is a blanket term used to describe people whose ancestors came from Europe and who have a certain skin pigmentation. But it's made up. Race is not real and there is no 'white race'. It is based in the fear of the loss of the 'white race'. And so what they fear they will lose is a fictional creation and all they will gain in some melanin. You can learn more about that in the articles here:

3) They equate white culture with European culture but, for the most part, whiteness was a construction that began in the United States.

4) When they say 'the genius of European culture', they're not talking about indigenous, European folk culture. They're not talking about the massive diversity of culture that still exists there. They're not talking at the Sami of Northern Europe. They're not talking about Gypsy culture or the Tinkers in Ireland. They're not talking about the Mari people in Russia. And they are certainly not talking about the dark skinned Moors of Spain or the Grimaldi. No. They're talking about the culture of Empire (the Greeks, the Romans, the British etc.) and calling that European culture. They are conveniently ignoring most of their direct ancestors. Those ones don't count. And then they are saying that this is 'white' culture (which given the fact the 'the white race' was borne out of privilege created by Empires might not be entirely untrue). White Nationalism seems to be based on the notion of Empire that might is right. That winning, at any cost, is all that matters. You can read more about European indigenous culture here:

5) Ethnic purity is a dangerous myth.

6) When they say 'the genius of European culture', they also vanishing the innovations of every other culture that doesn't appear 'white'. They're vanishing everything that Muslims and Arabs brought into the world ( or the Chinese (paper and gunpowder to name but two). And that list could go on a long time of the things that Europeans and white people owe to other cultures.

7) To say that America is a white nation is madness (and not just because it's browning fast). White people are recent additions to this Turtle Island on which we live. North America is a European dream based on the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the exploitation of the poor. It wouldn't exist without people of colour. And much of its culture is appropriated from the cultures of people of colour.

Additional Reading:
These are my thoughts at the moment. You can read more thoughts on this 'alt-right' movement in the articles here:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What I Mean When I Say 'White'

One of the things that makes conversations around racism hard is this term 'white'.

As soon as a conversation about 'white people' emerges there is bound to be some push back.

And that's understandable.

How can it be okay to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based just on their skin colour? Isn't this the height of racism itself? After all, sure, the KKK might be white but so are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Starhawk and Deena Metzger. 

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? 

And why is it that, in radical circles, these conversations are so often angry in tone and seemingly shaming of 'white people'?

These are fine questions to ask and questions that must be asked. 

The crux of the matter comes down to the understanding of the history of what is meant when the word 'white' is used.

First of all, what's not being referred to is skin colour. Or, at least, not exactly.

Here's the history that we are taught: white people came over from Europe on boats to North America and built up society together. There were some rough spots with the indigenous people here and with black people but that's all over now and we're all equal and so why is anyone still talking about race when we're all one big happy human family?

Of course, that never happened.

White people didn't come from Europe. Europeans came from Europe. More specifically, French, Dutch, Slovenian, Croation and Austrians etc. came over from Europe. 

They became white here. And they became white for a particular reason. 

This is crucial to understand.

The short story is this: whiteness began in North America. But it did not refer to skin colour. It was a mark of status and privilege. The rich British were white. The poor Irish, Scottish, Jews, Ukrainians were not. This is critical to understand. Whiteness began as a club into which you were born. Only later, and as a tactic to divide the lower classes along 'racial' lines, did everyone with my skin colour become 'white'. 

So, being 'white' (as opposed to Polish, Italian etc.) began as a system to privilege. And it continues to be this. 

It's easy to imagine that European = white. That those two have always been the same. But it's not true. Whiteness is what was used to cover up any remnants of European indigeneity

The term 'white' comes from particular places and time in history and many laws, institutions and policies came from those times and places that were designed for the benefit of white men.

Whiteness is inseparable from white supremacy. White supremacy is the father of whiteness and notions of 'race', created from and driven by a desire to justify the hungry-ghost urge to rule the world and to dehumanize those who were in the way of this happening, are the grandparent. This is where 'white' comes from. The notion that humans are divided into different races and that the 'white' race is the best and most beautiful of them all. 

“... the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

This does not mean all white people are, in their hearts, racist as much as it means that all white people have become 'racialized'. It doesn't mean that white people are bad as much as it means that they have been on the receiving and conceiving end of a very bad culture

This culture is much more easily seen by people of colour and indigenous people of all skin tones than it is for people of my skin colour living in North America which was built by and for white men.

And so I have no interest in shaming white people. But I have a deep interest in naming 'whiteness' for what it is: a trauma visited upon Europeans that led to a trauma on everyone who was not white.

One of my friends wrote to me, many months ago to say, "I don't consider "whiteness" something to be healed from anymore that I consider "femaleness" something that I need to be healed from." And, of course, most don't. 

If you were to ask me, "Do you think that there's a sickness inherent in people of European descent? Are they bad?" I would say, "No," very strongly. 

If you asked me if I thought that white people should feel guilty, ashamed and berate themselves for what their ancestors did, I would also say, "No."

Should white people grovel and apologize for their very existence? No.

If you were to ask me if I thought that the social construct of whiteness was something from which we needed to heal? I would say "yes".

Should white people reject the colour of their skin or their ancestors in an attempt to run from their privilege? No. Better to use it to change the system that granted those privileges to them.

White people should not be shamed but whiteness must be named for what it is.

Whiteness is not the core of how you or I showed up on this planet. It's the lable that was put onto us. It's a system into which we were born. This is vital to understand: racism isn't so much something inside us, it's something we're inside of.

When I say 'white' I do not mean skin colour. I mean the result of the system which decided to break the world up by 'skin colour' and 'race'. When I say 'white' I'm trying to tether a rope from history to  this conversation make sure it can be followed back to the place and time from whence it came. 

The heartbreak that white people must face is that we are all treated better by this society at large because of the colour of our skin and people of colour are, on the whole, treated worse. This is invisible to white people. We don't see the privileges we live with and we don't see the privileges from which they were borne. Whiteness was the mark of privilege when it came into the world. It still is. 

And so the road ahead for white people is a difficult one: how do you contend with the reality that you are seen as better and more worthy than people of colour? What does it mean when we want to come together and put down false notions of race and the rest of the world won't let us? What does it mean when we are seen as 'white' in a society that values white people above all else - even when we don't want to be? When white people say they want everyone to be treated the same regardless of their skin colour well... amen. That's what many people have been fighting for for years. And so, what are you going to do about it beyond moaning and wishing it weren't so? And what is 'it' that you want to change?

If you hate being lumped into a group of people, don't look at me. I'm not the one who lumped you into it. I'm the one trying to name the lump into which we've all been thrown and then asking, "What do we want to do about this?"

We may have had nothing to do with the history of this and yet we still benefit from it. We might not have created the systems of racism and yet, we remain on the receiving end of the benefits they create. And so, what are we going to do about it?

White identity came from privilege and was extended to preserve that privilege. 

Whiteness was and is a system that privileges white men above all else.

If you agree with me that such a system exists, do you want to stop me from talking about it because you wish it weren't so, or do you want to change the system itself?

How can it be okay to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based just on their skin colour? Well, it's not, but that's what this culture does.  

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? This culture does it to us all of the time. It lables us all as 'white' and then treats us better because of it. 

How can we lump people together and, so confidently, talk about them as one entity? Because white culture does have certain hallmarks to it, because it is, on the whole, recognizable to those who are not white. 

Is it possible to have white skin and not act in accordance with the roots of 'white culture'? Yes. The fate of our world depends on it.

Why is it that, in radical circles, these conversations are so often angry in tone and seemingly shaming of 'white people'? Because there are centuries of pain there. It's understandable. 

What do we do when we realize that 'white' culture bears almost no resemblance to the indigenous European cultures from which we all came? What do we do when we realize that the world 'white' does not mean what we thought it meant?

When I say 'white' I'm not just talking about skin colour. I'm talking about why skin colour came to mean what it means in the world today so that we can do something about it. 

Additional Resources on the History of the White Race:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On the Five Stages & White People Waking Up to Racism

Why is it white men deny racism so strongly or get so caught up in guilt or try to flourish debating skills in conversations about it or get so depressed about it?
This is a piece I have been meaning to write for a long time. I don't consider it a complete thought but more of a rough thesis that I send out into the world for reflections.
But to get there, I have to tell you a story about how, years ago, there was a fire in a night club. Some people were killed. Others were almost killed but survived.
But before I tell you that story, I want you to remember something.
It's a movie scene I'm fairly certain you'll remember.
It's Neo waking up from the Matrix.
He is unplugged from it and wakes up in a body he's never used, realizing that his whole world was a lie. It was a fantasy. It existed only in his head.
I ask you to imagine what that would be like.
And now back to the fire at the nightclub.
Studies were done on the ones who were not killed by the fire. Much of what was learned came from a woman whose name many of us know today: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
She found that these people went through a similar set of stages in their recovery. Five stages in fact. Five stages which have become very well known to many of us as 'the five stages of grief' or the 'five stages of dying'.
But, those stages might be better thought of as the five stages of trauma. What she was looking at wasn't that they were close to dying but that they were almost killed. What she was looking at wasn't grief, it was PTSD.
What were those five stages?
1 - Denial. 
2 - Anger.
3 - Bargaining.
4 - Depression. 
5 - Acceptance.

I want to submit that white men, as a group, live in a fantasy world in which everyone is treated equally.
I want to submit that, for most white men, waking up from that fantasy to the realities of what's happening in the world is traumatic.
I want to submit that the sudden realization of systemic racism and sexism is like a bludgeon to the mind and a shattering of reality.
I want to submit that most white men are so deeply insulated from the realities of racism and misogyny that coming face to face with the brutal realities and histories of it, especially if it's all at once, is not so different from Neo being unplugged (a fine allegory as it is also a white man being forcibly woken up from a fantasy).
Waking up for white men is traumatic, like having your eyes wide open in the dark and suddenly staring into a flood light. It sends you reeling.
And so, predictably, white men go through the five stages.
If you apply these five stages to white men waking up, it becomes, to women and people of colour, immediately recognizable.

The Five Stages

1 - Denial: 
"Racism is over. That got solved fifty years ago. And women are equal now if not actually more privileged. If anyone is oppressed it's white men." I think this denial is triggered by guilt and overwhelm. I think that, initially, it's too much to take in. I recall sitting at a gathering or young leaders in California and listening, for five days, to them share the stories of what had happened and was happening in their communities. It was shattering. Some of those stories I don't know if I will ever tell again. It took a long time for that all to really sink in. Not that I didn't believe the stories but that the implications of what it meant for where the world was at were so big.
2 - Anger:
"Stop trying to make me feel guilty! I didn't own slaves! What the fuck! This is not how you get allies! I can't change the past, ok! It's over. So we all just need to move on. What the fuck do you expect from me? I'm tired of being seen as the oppressor!" I believe that anger comes from a feeling of helplessness. I think most white people feel so utterly overwhelmed when they finally see the big picture. Or, they begin to see it and, even if the logic makes sense, it's too shattering to really take in and so they push back hard and with anger. They know that letting in the experiences of people of colour and women would shatter the world they live in. Hello, internet trolls. This can also be turned inwards as a self-hatred or hatred of other white men and a desire to not be that.
3 - Bargaining: 
"Okay. But white people have it bad too, right? I mean sure cops need to make some changes but #BlackLivesMatter needs to be less in people's faces." This is the stage in which white men bring out all of their debating skills and play devil's advocate. Part of it is trying to understand but much of it can be driven by a deep-seated defensiveness because the implications of really seeing it are too big.
4 - Depression: 
I think that the depression that white people feel can stem from a certain kind of self-hatred of guilt or the sense that it's too big and that nothing will ever change. It's understandable. I suspect that white-guilt lives here. There's this sense of, "Nothing good has ever or will ever come from white people." Of course, that's not true but it seems to be a stage white men go through.
5 - Acceptance: 
It's safe to say that it's not a given that anyone ever gets here. White men seem to get stuck along the way and never move. Many get stuck in denial and refuse to even consider other perspectives of facts. Some get stuck in anger, convinced that they are the real victims here. Some get stuck in bargaining and imagine they can move forward in their lives without changing anything meaningful if they just find the right angle. And many get stuck in depression after they've given up fighting it.
Acceptance means that we see it for how it is without all of the stories about what it means about us as white people. It means we stop making it about us. It means we stop hating ourselves or our ancestors. It means we see the bigger story which gives us the capacity to see what our place in that story might be.
Acceptance means that we can finally begin to be useful in doing something about it because we finally understand what the 'it' is.
For many white men, waking up to the outer realities of these times is an inner, psychological trauma. It is utterly different in degree and kind than the daily and ongoing, real-world traumas of marginalized people, but it seems to be a trauma nonetheless.
The trauma is not so much the realities (though that's a lot to take in as well) so much as the implications of it.
And, if it's a trauma, and these stages are relatively predictable, perhaps this gives us some sort of a map that might give us some comfort for ourselves as white men and also some patience with other white men as we engage with them.
Importantly: this is not an argument to avoid the conversations with white men because it's traumatizing. I'm not writing this to stop the trauma from happening. I'm writing this because it will happen and, perhaps, knowing this might help us all find some better wisdom in how to engage others and ourselves with more compassion and better strategy.
I've been to and heard many stories of white men going to ant-oppression trainings that didn't take the scale of this trauma into account. They pumped people full of information and sent them out into the world shattered. The trainings handled the intellectual side of things but left the emotional realities utterly untended to. We can do better. Be Present does incredible work with this. As does the Orphan Wisdom School.
I've been to and heard many stories of white men leading anti-oppression trainings while still traumatized and traumatizing others.
But it's not an indictment of anti-racism trainings either (even the ones that end in disaster). It's an indictment of the culture and how it's lured us into such a darkness that even one lit candle is blinding to the eyes. It's an indictment of a culture that has us so asleep that waking up to what's really going on seems to have a guarantee of some level of trauma in it. That's how big the level of disconnection is. That many white men are this deeply disconnected from the realities of our times is not news to people of colour or indigenous people. 
When a white man hears someone really break it down and give forth a lucid and heartbreaking analysis of where we are and how we got here, it is devastating. "I didn't know. I had no idea..." we say to ourselves eventually. It's devastating because what we are hearing is so vastly different from our daily, lived experience. We are being given a map that, in no way, matches the territory we know.
When a marginalized person hears someone really break it down and give forth a lucid and heartbreaking analysis of where we are and how we got here, it is confirming. It affirms their daily experience. "I knew it..." they say to themselves eventually. It's confirming because what they are hearing is identical to their daily, lived experience. They are being given a map that, in every way, matches the territory they know. They've had a foot on their back their whole lift and someone is doing a footprint analysis on it. Finally.
I think it's traumatic for white men because one story of the world is destroyed and it's not replaced with anything else that confirms our goodness. I think this leaves us vulnerable.
I think that self-hatred and white guilt are strategies for dealing with the trauma of waking up suddenly (but that these strategies are actually created by the trauma). I think that these five stages are the ways we cope with the trauma.
I welcome your thoughts on this.

On White Tears

I know of so many white people who are terrified to publicly express their feelings and struggles and issues of race and racism for fear of those feelings being labled as 'white tears'.

"Who am I to cry about this with all of my privilege?" I've heard many versions of this sentiment.

One fellow, a white man living in Alberta commented on an earlier version of this post to say, "To call these tears white, and ignore they also exist in black, Hispanic, Asian and all indigenous people is the root of racism. They are simply human tears." which goes to prove this point, to show the difference in understanding of power dynamics there is amongst white folks but also it's important to note that I don't say anywhere that others don't have tears. But we all seem to hear what we want to hear. 

I was speaking to two good, white women today who were struggling with 'white tears'. What came to me was that those tears are like plants. If they grow in the wrong place, they might be considered weeds but, as one of the women I spoke with pointed out, in the right place, they are medicine.

White tears are like medicinal plants that, when they appear in the wrong context can be considered weeds.

All too often a white person's emotional reactions and inner wrestling can dominate a conversation on race or an anti-racism event (I've seen it first hand). In that case, it can act as a weed crowding out the space for other plants to grow. But, in a safe container dedicated to just this purpose of grief and healing, it is a much-needed medicine.

The Mayan Tzutujil word for tumour translates as 'hardened grief.' This is what grief does when it's unexpressed. It hardens. As Martin Prechtel puts it, "For the lack of grief, we go to war."

If these tears are not shed, I've seen white people become hard and vicious and go to war with other white people. If these tears are not shed, their approach to anti-racism will become dogmatic, punitive and rigid, fueled by the unexpressed grief turned into self-hatred. If these tears are not shed, many actions as an ally will come from a deep guilt and shame, not love and beauty making.

Much of this has to do with the placement of these tears. When white people cry in public to show the world how much they care, it can be driven by the desire to ensure that the world knows we're good, we're 'not like them', we're not racist.

But this, actually, underlines the need for the tears to flow. It's the lack of spaces to wrestle with the complicated weavings of our ancestral history that lead to simplified notions of 'white people' which create 'white guilt' and the very self-hatred the drives the need for attention and validation.

The lack of tears shed amongst white people has consequences.

I've heard white people say things like, "You know, I have zero patience for public tears. The world is a safe space for white people. So I really don't wanna hear about it." Those words land, to me, as the words of someone who has not been given the space to grieve and whose grief has ossified into something hard and sharp.

I saw another comment on a wall that said, "We do have safe spaces though - our friend groups and families." Perhaps this is so for her family and a wonderful thing if it is. But it's not true for most of the people who I know whose families have precisely zero time for anti-racism. Most of these people are the outliers in their families. So where, precisely, is this safe space located?

I've heard others say, "No person of colour is saying 'don't have feelings' it's just that white people are wailing over a flesh wound and PoC are missing limbs. They laid on the grenade and are taking a lion's share of the pain and yet we're limping around like we are dying, wanting our marginalized friends to listen to us." And, of course, I'm not in disagreement here. What I am saying is that the pain and confusion of white people is real and, if not tended to, creates even more dysfunctional behaviour and blinds white people to seeing the realities of the lives of people of colour. When we are so wrapped up in our own unresolved pain, we can't hear the pain of others. My contention is that, if we want white people to be good allies to people of colour, they need space to process their feelings and conflicting thoughts without burdening people of colour with them. But, where are those places?

Another comment I read said, "Go, have a glass of wine. Talk to your white friends privately, talk to your significant other. Some processes need to happen off the field and out of the spotlight. You gotta do what you gotta to be ready, I get that. But that's why we have bathtubs and bedrooms." Again. Is this the answer? Self-medicate and then talk to your white friends who may not share your views, or who, because of their own unexpressed grief might respond to you with "get over yourself"? Who are these people with whom we are supposed to have these healing conversations? Or just cry alone in the bathroom in the hall of mirrors that is our emotional life?

Another comment, "As someone who has shed enough tears, I am ready to get to work and half my friends seem to want to embrace the abuse and the other half seem to want people of colour to pull them out of their bed in the morning." This is part of the strange dynamic amongst white people that we will say to each other, "I've grieved but you don't get to. It was okay for me to do but not for you." There's this strange urge to want to shut it down rather than to insist that it happens. But, again, where? Who are the qualified people to guide such a conversation?

Another comment, "We are in a crisis. If this were a flood, or earthquake, we'd need to pull our shit together to get shit done. The person sitting on the curb bawling when we're all trying to move sandbags or drinking water is not being helpful." And, of course, that's true too. And this is my point: my emotional confusion and turmoil inside of most white people as they wake up to what's happening is what keeps them from being able to really see what's happening. The response that, "White people shouldn't be so fragile." Isn't so helpful when the reality of the fragility appears amongst us. A better question might be, "What could the tempering process look like that might help work the fragility out of the metal of their emotional body?"

I wish the situation were other than it were.

I wish white people could see the situation more clearly.

I wish the waking up process for white people wasn't so messy and overwhelming and that we weren't so fragile.

But it is how it is. 

White people need healing as much as people of colour but for different reasons. 

If the core argument is that, "White people shouldn't have pain." in the face of the reality that they do, what kind of argument is that?

If the core argument is, "White people should process that pain on their own." but they don't know how to and there are no safe spaces to which they can go, then what kind of an argument is that?

If these tears are not shed, if these hard questions are not asked, if the wrestling with the issues isn't encouraged, if white people are not helped to see how the same colonization that has brutalized people of colour and indigenous people also brutalized their own ancestors then white people will continue to turn people of colour into validation giving machines and the only possible source of emotional approval for them, their only possible salvation from the deep, deep self-loathing created by a sorrow that wasn't allowed to be expressed.

This all puts an incredible burden on people of colour to do immense emotional labour on our behalf. It's not much fun to be around someone who either dumps their emotions on your or who is still using you to deal with the dysfunction that's arisen as a result of not having given those feelings a proper voice.

White people need healing as much as people of colour but for different reasons. So much of the struggle here is that white people don't have many spaces where they can go to safely share feelings, cry those tears and receive the needed medicine that comes from them.

But where?

Additional Reading:

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Irish Slavery Meme

This is a list of all of Liam Hogan's work on the "Irish slaves" meme. What he's sharing is a controversial questioning of history which feels important as a particular piece of the #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter debate.

I can't say that I understand the history well enough to agree or disagree with Liam's assertions but it feels important to consider and make sure we are speaking accurately about history to honour it. 

If we don't, then history can be used to dismiss the experience of black people who certainly endured a history of slavery.

2. The unfree Irish in the Caribbean were indentured servants, not slaves (co-authored with Matt Reilly and Laura McAtackney)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Four Time Frames: Holding The Big Story

I've been wondering why white people have so many predictable responses to conversations about race.

Part of it has to do with what I've come to understand as the Three Levels of Identity but I think I've found another angle and it's about time.

This is a bit rough, but perhaps you can help me flush it out.

I've found that how white people respond to conversations about race depends heavily on which time frames they are holding in mind.

For the sake of simplicity and clarity, I will lay out four time frames and how white people seem to respond when this is the time frame they are rooted in (assuming they have an accurate understanding of the time frames we're talking about).

Prehistory (dawn of the human race): When responses are rooted in the prehistorical times of humanity you will hear comments about race that sound like Bill Clinton's recent comment, "We are all mixed race." You'll hear how we are all from Africa and so must all be related and so there are really no differences between us.

Ancient History (Indigenous Europe): When responses are rooted here, you'll hear, "But my people were oppressed too! My ancestors were indigenous too. So we're all the same." I find white people, when learning about their ancestral history tend to zoom back to the time their ancestors were oppressed and colonized.

Recent History (the past 500 years): The tone shifts when conversations are rooted here. It sounds more like, "Waugghhh! White people are awful. We've done such terrible things." We are firmly in the territory of white guilt now.

The Present: When people have zero historical context I think there are two different ways it seems to go. One is denial of, "People of colour must be exaggerating. It's not that bad. They're playing victim." with the implication that white people have it more together and, if put in the same situation as people of colour would quickly transcend it. And the other is, "Wow. Things seem to be really rough for people of colour. There's a lot of poverty, racism and abuse from police. What can I do to help?" But, without understanding the history, it's hard to appreciate how far things have come and what hasn't changed much. It's harder to understand the intensity of reactions from people of colour around these issues. There's some white guilt, but not as much as those who have a more keen understanding of recent history.

As Howard Zinn put it, "If you don't know history it is as if you were born yesterday."

Four time frames. All of them true.

Each of these time frames begs us to say, "This is who I really am."

I think that, for white people, there is the immense twin-headed temptation to want to either skip the Recent History chapter or to make it the whole of the story.

To skip recent history might look like not wanting to face the way that our ancestral cousins, directly related or not, were the architects and implementors of a system of racial oppression or it might look like wanting to ignore one line of our family because they were abusive but it always looks like disowning a certain group of our ancestors. It always looks like cutting a large swath from the fabric of time.

To make it the whole story seems noble in the way that all self hatred seems noble.

Certainly this is true of more than just white people. I don't know if there is an ancient culture or elder spiritual lineage in the world that doesn't include dark times in its history and moments of incredible shame. But I will let those cultures, people and lineages speak for themselves.

I think what is being asked of us is to learn them all, to remember the Big Story, to trace the threads of how it got to be this way and to hold the whole story. I think we're being asked to hold the present not in isolation but to place it like an egg that promises the future into the nest of recent history and to place that nest onto the tree of ancient history in the forest of our deep, prehistory.

I think that's the only way we can understand it. When we can hold the Big Story and say, "This is who I really am. All of it." then we have the chance to become something else.

I think that our understanding of the Big Story of our past is our only way forward to the possibility of things being different.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

What to do with Racist Facebook Friends? 23 Thoughts on Building Bridges & Claiming Space

It started with this message in my Facebook inbox.

Tad, I need your advice, I'm at a loss. Any advice for dealing with the upsetting and completely disheartening social media posts that have been flooding the Internet lately? Do you roll your eyes and keep on going? Unfriend and ignore that these views exist? Confront? This, for example, showed up in my feed today. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated!

I’ve been hearing this brewing more and more. So many of my friends having been proudly posting about blocking their racist friends only to then wonder if they might not be taking the easy way out. It’s even made the CBC.

What do we do? I asked this of my friends of Facebook. Do we unfriend them all and leave them surrounded only with those who agree with them? Do we engage them directly? Do we ignore them? Do we listen to them? Do we, collapse and leave social media all together and let it be taken over by racism and misogyny?

As my friend Claire put it, "The never-ending quest to lure defensive Facebook commenters off the internet and into workshops is social justice's greatest struggle."

The goal is a better world and we need as many people on the team as possible. So, what do we do?

What's clear is that conversations on Facebook with folks who are playing the role of trolls with disturbing accuracy are likely not our most highly leveraged activity for creating change. There are so many more things we might be able to do that might help build and foster sustainable movements for social justice. But, along the way, you'll likely find yourself facing a post on Facebook that jars you with its racist overtones and implications and you may find yourself wondering what to do about it. 

I asked some friends what they did in these moments.

A friend of mine replied, “If it is a racist grandparent? Outlive them.”

Martine Paulin said, “Friends help each other grow. The likelihood of your friends listening and responding well to a gentle and mindfully crafted response that expresses your opinion regarding their misguided position is much higher than if that opinion comes from a stranger who is not trying to preserve a relationship in expressing that opinion. The likelihood of seeing an actual shift in your friend's position, and effecting positive change in the world, is exponentially higher as a result. We should not shy away from such interactions, but see them as a growing opportunity for all.

Pushing further and challenging the ease of defriending and blocking people, Megan Kinch put it, "White people: no defriending other white people and getting offended. Stay present and engaged, and make your anti-racist, anti-islamaphobic point. White people don't get to flounce here— it's our job to be there. That might involve making your point, and then sucking it up and listening to people say things that you don't like, or seeing some messed up Facebook posts and ignoring them, and maintaining contact with people we might really disagree with. It is our job to educate. If I can sit in the lunchroom and make my point (shared with my whole list in my last status) against opposition from everyone else at the table (and one guy who walked out of the room— I think he's more in agreement with me), so can you. And if you aren't having these discussions because you've already cut people out of your life you have disagreements with, think about re-engaging. This is important stuff."

Another friend of mine Jenika Juxtaposed said, “To those of you who are white and bragging about deleting fb friends who are racist: this does not make you a better ally. Our job is to talk with our racist families and friends. To help move things in a better way, not to seek validation by being viewed as anti-racist for deleting people. It's tough work, but tougher for those who are at the receiving end of racism and hate. It's our job to dismantle the legacy we have benefitted from.

Perhaps it’s one of dynamics of modern, city life is that, if we disagree with someone, we can blow them off and there’s a good chance we’ll never see them again. This would never happen in a small town or village. You’d have to find a way to be in each other’s company without agreeing.
Perhaps one of the biggest privileges of being white is having the option about whether or not we want to deal with these issues or have these conversations.

I’d kick you out of her so fast if I didn’t think you’d end up on someone else’s doorstep and do the same shit there.” were the words a teacher of mine was reported to have said to a young man who was being inappropriate with the women at an event on his land in the Ottawa Valley. It was a teaching moment. The easy thing would have been to kick the young man out and wash his hands of it all but his sense of village mindedness stopped him.

“Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today.” - Malcolm X

The Story of Joshua and The Peasant Woman.

Hope you're feeling better Tad. I am so grateful you are still here with us. You're much too brilliant, caring, and valuable to be wasted. I love you like a brother, Tad. I want you to know that.”

Tad I had a dream last night that we were both walking down the same street somewhere in some city (I would imagine in Canada). We passed each other and said hello, but then realized who each other was. We ran up and hugged and shook hands. It was a joyous dream. We still gotta do that "meeting each other in real life" thing though.”

Those words all come from the same person. A man I still, to this day, haven’t met. An odd virtual friendship that has formed over time.

But it started with this photo.

this woman. this moment. breaks my heart.

What was the situation?” he asks.

I don’t know this man yet and already I suspect I may not like him.

He is referencing the photo above and my comment attached to it, “this woman. this moment. breaks my heart.”

Before I see his question others have already responded to him and the whole thing has boiled over into an ugly situation of him questioning our assumption that these police or soldiers are in the wrong and that the woman is innocent. As I read the comments, my initial reaction of smug satisfaction at some random troll getting crushed turns into another feeling. This isn’t right. This whole conversation. All of my progressive friends are piling onto this man and shaming him. It feels wrong.

Years before I was the recipient of a public shaming from which I still haven’t fully recovered. A public shaming that filled with me fleeting thoughts of suicide and strong thoughts of leaving Edmonton forever. If you’ve never lived through that kind of thing, you just can’t know what it does to you.

I am reminded of these words from Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, 
“I feel like they want an apology, but it’s a lie.” Mike Daisey and I were sitting in a Brooklyn restaurant. He was a big man and he frequently dabbed the perspiration from his face with a handkerchief that was always within reach. “It’s a lie because they don’t want an apology,” he said. “An apology is supposed to be a communion - a coming together. For someone to make an apology, someone has to be listening. They listen and you speak and there’s an exchange. That why they have a thing about accepting apologies. There’s a power exchange that happens. But they don’t want an apology.” He looked at me. “What they want is my destruction. What they want is for me to die. They will never say this because it’s too histrionic. But they never want to hear from me again for the rest of my life, and while they’re never hearing from me, they have the right to use me as a cultural reference point whenever it serves their ends. That’s how it would work out best for them. They would like me to never speak again.” He paused. “I’d never had the opportunity to be the object of hate before. The hard part isn’t the hate. It’s the object.”
So I reply to his comment on the photo, “I don't know. just her. resisting. it's impossible. she knows she can't stop them. but she tries anyways.”

This fellow, let’s name his Joshua, comes back with, “What if she just killed a child? You can't fall into stereotyping riot police to be ALL bad.”

At this point I feel ready to write him off. I can’t imagine looking at a photo like this and getting that from it.

He continues, “it's just stupid to assume the police are evil or even disagree with your ideals. riot police show up when your expression of your ideals interferes with the safety or security of others or of property. they are there to control a crowd to stop rampant violence or destruction. while their tight-knit squad tactics might be seen as a denial of individual thought, it is also the most effective method of crowd control. If a crowd of people is formed without a permit to form, they are breaking the law. The police must then arrest and remove them. You have to get a permit to gather in a public location. The police might not have intervened with the black bloc because the situation was out of their control. There were reasons they did not get involved. While the protest they did get involved with was peaceful, it wasn't lawful. They had to remove the crowd to avoid danger to person and property and to allow business to continue uninterrupted in that area. The right to assemble exists. The permit is a method of organization, so the city knows you are assembling and can provide accommodation and security to keep the situation under control. You need to realize that people are very unpredictable. The city doesn't want people to gather en masse unsupervised. Whether or not it is a peaceful gathering there is always chance that something might happen to endanger the safety of the protesters, passersby, and anyone else involved. The property that you would gather on, while being public property, belongs to the city and falls under the jurisdiction of the city. If you do not believe that the city has the right to allow or disallow gathering of large groups of people, for any reason, then do you believe that you have the right to stop people from entering your home? There needs to be a form of control to avoid dangerous situations. While the government (my govt. is the US govt.) is clearly corrupt and power-hungry, I could never see riot police as a bad thing. People need to be controlled when they are out of control. Even if you are peacefully gathering in a location that you don't have a permit for, you are breaking the law. The laws protect everyone. You are not above the law so you need a permit to gather. I know the police were overly aggressive with the G20 crowds, but the atmosphere of the situation created that aggression. It wasn't an average day of work for them. Anyways, if you lawfully gather you really don't have to worry about riot police at all. That isn't subservience to the government, it is just observing rules and laws that protect everyone, including yourself. The idea that all police are evil is just bred out of anti-authority mentality. I've worked with a lot of police officers while being a security guard. I used to live in SF and watched the riot police that showed up for various protests. A friend of mine is the chief of campus police for SFSU. My brother was a police officer in the USMC security forces. He fulfilled the role of a riot police officer at the US embassy in Kosovo during those conflicts in the 90s. I have been very familiar with many police officers in many roles. While there is some corruption present, the idea that all police are evil or corrupt is just a mentality bred out of lack of facts and an abundance of opinion. Just because a police officer is brash and abrasive doesn't mean they are corrupt or hateful. Their job isn't customer service. They aren't there to make you feel good. If you are breaking the law they will deal with it, quickly and harshly, if needed. There are some corrupt officers, and I believe they should be punished to the full extent of the law.
"You can truly grieve for every officer who's been lost in the line of duty in this country and still be troubled by cases of police overreach." - Jon Stewart
My friends reply to this. Some politely. And some less so. And Joshua is throwing elbows too.

Finally, fighting through my instincts to fight, I cobble together, these words, “Joshua. i think you might be being a bit harsher with people than is called for? they're good people you know. what i'm hearing from you is that you're really wanting people to hear your conviction that police are people. and good people. and that they aren't out there to oppress people. and i imagine you're wanting people to appreciate how hard their job must be - and the choices they have to make (often in a split second) to stop property being destroyed. And i'm also really hearing how frustrated and disgusted you are by blind hatred of all forms of authority. Am i hearing right? Am I missing something?

I stop trying to persuade him of anything. I stop trying to make him understand the thing that couldn’t be more obvious to me and I just try to understand where he’s coming from.
“Let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before us will demand nothing less.” - Naomi Klein, address to Occupy Wall Street
I continue, “i think i'm also really hearing you want people to acknowledge that we don't ACTUALLY know what's happening in that photo. sure, it's an evocative photo - but the real story could be anything. and i hear you wanting some openness to what could really be happening instead of an instant jump to demonizing the police. is that close?

Joshua replies, “i was never formally trained in a riot police role. that wasn’t my MOS. yes tad you are correct on all points. two things annoy me greatly, jumping to sensational conclusions based on little to no information, and blind hatred for authority. i was harsh and i apologize. i get that way when the other party in a debate resorts to childish insults.”

hey Joshua. i can totally get why you felt upset now. you really value the role that police, the military and other forms of authority have in our society. you hate to see it dismissed out of hand and for no good reason. i totally get that and respect that. i think we've all had moments of feeling ourSELVES dismissed by others because of a rumour and it's the worst feeling in the world. how easily people will believe the worst about us. ugh. and what strikes me here is the power of anonymity. when Milosevic was in power and doing terrible things he, of course, had the force of the police behind him. the non violent strategists knew they had to convert some of the police to join them and HELP them stop the atrocities. no chance without them. Slowly they began winning some over. And then they did the most incredible thing. They found out where the police lived - and they began to talk to their neighbours. They told their neighbours what their neighbour was involved in - what was going on. Their neighbours would confront them saying, 'how can you be a part of this? how can you cover this up?' No more anonymity. No more hiding. They had to deal with their friends. And this cracked many of them open. It was the thin edge of the wedge to holding them accountable to the people in the community - not the elite.”

Joshua replies, The hate of authority is the secondary annoyance. The main annoyance I have is people assuming this woman is innocent because she is a woman or whatever reason, perhaps just because it is riot police pushing against her. People don't look at the facts (which aren't present) and they simply choose the woman as the innocent victim. It is very stupid to accept things at face value. Since the facts aren't readily available for this situation, only a fool would form an opinion about it, just based on what they see.”

I am annoyed that he didn’t even reply to my amazing story (how quickly my real agenda to seem smart and helpful begin to appear) but this feels like progress, we've all got more common ground than we think we do. you're a good man joshua!

I press him, “And given that you think protester and rioters all the same - what do you think of the work of Martin Luther King Jr.?

Joshua replies, “If I were to assume the police in the photo were acting correctly I would also be stupid. If you assume either way you are stupid. There are no facts with this picture. When we start basing logical conclusions on feelings, we are not using our brains. There is so much emotion surrounding protests and riot police, etc. The emotions cloud the facts. what if the buildings burning in the background were caused by her and her group? What if they are just rioters that want to destroy for whatever reason? Is it that she is a woman and wearing a dress that she "must" be innocent? Do you see how stupid that is? Think, then conclude ... and you simply cannot form a mob of any kind, be it protest or riot, without expecting reaction from the police. You do not have the right to take over the city with a mob. You just can't do that. In Canada or the US. You have the right to assemble as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. I don't know why I'm having to repeat myself so many times.

I feel like I’m finally starting to understand where he’s coming from. Joshua, i love it when you said, "If I were to assume the police in the photo were acting correctly I would also be stupid." And I really hear how much you value logic and rational in this and sticking to the facts to make sure we know exactly what we're talking about. And my big question for you is this - what do you do when your rights and the rights of others are being trampeled and the system doesn't work for you? Would you break the law in order to stand up for what you thought was right? If so, can you have some space for the possibility that this is just what the majority of the protesters were doing and have always done?

Others are weighing in here and there. Not much of it seems to be very helpful but reinforcing a sort of progressive echo chamber and dismissing Joshua utterly. One person named Ashley is particularly getting up in Joshua’s grill and the two are grating on each other.

It strikes me what an incredible echo chamber that social media is and Facebook in particular. The way it only feeds us posts we’re likely to approve of. And we don’t seem to mind. As my friend Tamara Teez put it, “People whose strong political opinions are blasting through social media are doing it to find acceptance and agreement. If someone wanted a different opinion on something it's easy to get.” But why bother getting a second opinion if you already know you’re right.

Joshua replies to my question, I would break the law and have broken the law in order to do what is right. I am not a firm believer that the law is the ultimate standard of "good" in the world. Often laws are useless or even worse, they are unjust. Not to open a whole other can of worms but I believe marriage should be open to anyone. I am against calling it gay marriage because that's just another way to discriminate. Just call it marriage and let everyone have it. That is not legal in California, obviously. It is wrong that it is illegal. In that situation the law is clearly wrong. Sadly it is not as easy to ignore the law in that case. I also believe in the legalization of marijuana. When I did security I was under orders to call a Sheriff unit out to my post if I caught people smoking marijuana illegally. I never did. I would ask them to leave the premises but I would never confiscate it, force them to destroy it, or anything else. These are just examples of how I don't believe the law is right. I would gladly go to a protest if it helped legalize marriage for gays or legalized marijuana. I was just mad when I said "protesters and rioters are the same". I was reflecting the same attitude back at Ashley that she was sending my way. One of not giving a shit of the other person's opinion and saying things specifically to piss them off.”

I reply, Joshua, when you say things like, "I was just being a dick because Ashley was being rude and condescending. i get that way when the other party in a debate resorts to childish insults. I don't feel the need to respect someone's opinion when they deliver it in such a condescending way. I fully respect anyone who returns the respect." I totally get where you're coming from and I want to invite us all to shine a little brighter here and take full responsibility for how we're feeling and communicating with each other. These kinds of excuses are how children defend themselves on playgrounds. We are not children. We can do better than this. Yes, it's hard to keep giving love and respect when we're feeling triggered - but I think we can do it. Maybe when we're feeling upset it doesn't so much mean that THEY don't understand but that WE don't understand them enough. Joshua - i loved hearing about how you have broken the law to defend what's right. loved it. i felt a better connection to you when i heard that.”

Years later, I see Joshua posting memes in support of BlackLivesMatter and he and I have fostered a deep affection for each other. 

Who knew?

Twenty Three Thoughts on The Long Game

I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately and I haven’t come up with much. But I do have some thoughts. These thoughts come from my experience and that’s about all I can speak to. I can’t say how relevant any of these will be to people of colour or indigenous people or women and, only in very cagey terms, can I offer these up as being of any use to other white men. 

It's important for me to say that I'm not suggesting this is how anyone (especially women of colour) should proceed - that it's their role to save white men from their racist and misogynistic demons and bring them back into the fold of humanity and that they should be really nice and respectful about it. This is just what I'm sitting with and have been experimenting with. If anything, I'm saying it's likely a better job for white men to take these conversations on with other white men for reasons I'll got into later. 

But, in the spirit of knowing these words may only be for me but with the hope that there might be something of value for you, I offer them up.

Thought #0: Playing the Long Game. This is my overall overture here - the invitation to shift our approach for a tactical, short-term, reactionary model to a longer term, relationship building one where we work to foster a connection where we might yet be seen as their go to person when others, less cordial and understanding, attack them for their views. You might get to be the person in their corner who can, as they become ready to see it, help them see something more. The Long Game is about establishing good will between yourself and the ‘racist’. The revolution won’t happen over night. There will never even be one revolution. If we are going to look at success it can’t just be measured in short term victories of a mind being changed here or there but in creating the conditions for thousands of minds to be changed. These thoughts pertain to this.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin
Thought #1: Setting Ground rules. Your Facebook page is your virtual front porch. It’s not the free press. For me, the central rule is no name calling. We can have a passionate debate but I am not alright with people dehumanizing each other or myself with lables. If people do it, I will ask them to stop. If they are overtly racist and show zero signs of openness then I will block them. But if they seem willing to have a conversation, if they’re open to considering other views. I’ll keep talking. We all have to come up with our ground rules that make sense for us.

Everyone is welcome but not all behaviour is. 

Thought #2: If you’re going to unfriend and block them, make sure they know why. If you just block some random, don’t flatter yourself with the thought that they will lose any sleep over it. They might not even notice. But if you give the candid feedback about how their conduct impact yourself and others it will be another straw on the camel’s back of their ignorance.

David Brower, one of the grandfathers of the modern conservation movement, once said, “You can’t reason racism out of someone because that’s not how it got in there.”

Sometimes this kind of pulling away is an ‘arresting emotional experience’ (a term from my friend Carmen Spagnola) that they might need. Sometimes people need to be given, in as clean and non-demonizing a way as possible, the direct feedback about the ways their ways of being and acting have landed for others. In fact, this is almost always what it actually takes. If you’re fighting empire you may find yourself alternating between good cop and bad several times per day. Sometimes you’re the one yelling at people and sometimes you’re the one holding them. Sometimes you’re afflicting the comfortable and sometimes you’re comforting the afflicted. And sometimes it will be the same person in the same day. It’s easy to say that listening sweetly and compassionately to others is the only thing that’s needed or that yelling at people and cussing them out isn’t okay but it all seems to be a part of the story.

A friend of mine was at over at a friends for dinner. The woman across from her was spouting off all kinds of nonsense around race. She was incredibly ignorant about the history and facts but her words walked all around the table with a swagger they had not even come close to earning. My friend did her best to listen and speak respectfully until she finally burst into tears and shared with the woman how much it was hurting her heart to stay at the table and that she just had to leave. And then she did. She walked outside into the night air and didn’t come back. It was, for the woman sitting across from her, an arresting emotional experience.

This can be an incredible human-making event for them. And, of course, you can give this feedback to them without blocking and unfriending. Plus, if they are at all close to you, if there’s any sort of relationship there at all, then you ghosting on them does something to them that’s worth considering before you do it.

And remember, you can always hide them from your news feed if it’s too much for you. That way they get to see what you post and you can still be influencing them in that way.

Thought #3: Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. This is the biggest one for me. Arguing on the fruitless. It just seems to entrench people more deeply into their positions - and moreso on the internet. What if you, when trolled, you utterly stopped trying to convince them of anything and, instead played the game of helping them to feel ‘gotten’? In my experience, those conversations plant the seed of trust between yourself and that person. You might be the first person from ‘the other side’ to ever listen to them. And if you don’t exploit this new openness by shoving your perspective down their throat but simply say, “Thank you. I feel like I understand you better. I appreciate you being willing to share so honestly.” and walk away... that’s a whole different dynamic. Empathy before education always.

Aaron Penny points out the obvious in that, “Facebook posts are not really the place where people explain thoughts completely so I try not to judge too quickly. I take everything with a huge grain of salt. I tend to look up a persons homepage and see what they post, their age etc.

One of the finest things I’ve learned in dealing with these moments is from Caroline Casey and it’s about asking people how they define their terms. It’s so easy to assume we mean the same things by the same words and the truth is that it’s actually a miracle when we do.

If someone would tell Caroline, “I hate liberals.”

Instead of trying to defend liberals and liberal values, she would ask them, “Well, how do you define liberal?” And they might answer, “You know! Lazy, good for nothing people who just want to mooch off the system and give nothing back.” And she’d reply, “Oh yeah. Fuck those people. I hate them too.”

Ask them how they define their terms. Don’t assume they mean the same thing you do by ‘feminist’ or ‘anarchist’ or ‘racism’.

Another approach, and I can’t recall where I heard this, is to explore how certain they are about a notion from 1-10.

Let’s say someone says, “All Muslims are violent.”

You might ask, instead of reacting to it, “How certain are you about that? Like if a 10 was totally certain and 0 was not at all?

They might surprise you by saying, “8/10” or maybe they say “9.9”. You can still ask, and this is brilliant, “Why not 10/10?

What you’re inviting them to do is share their place of doubt. You’re inviting them to lift up the exceptions to what they are speaking of as the rule.

The secret here is to hear it, thank them for it and then not to try to stab them through the chink in their armour with your logic.

“Race is there; it exists. You're tired of hearing about it?... Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.” - Jon Stewart

Thought #4: Stand up for others. I don’t just mean this in a noble way but in a self-preservation way. Your chances of having a productive, levelheaded, not-losing-your-shit conversation with someone around issues that are jugular to you are slim to none. If you’re a black person, sitting there listening to a white person going off about how ‘racism isn’t a thing in America anymore and whites are the real oppressed ones’ without tearing them to shreds is a Herculean feat worthy of all the gold medals. If you, somehow, manage to reflect what you’re hearing and have that white person feel ‘gotten’ then I want to build an altar to you or a religion around you because... I just can’t even. The reality is that we’re going to have a much better chance of engaging with others around issues that, while important to us, don’t cut quite so close to the bone. It’s a way we can be friends to each other’s causes. If I were a black person racial issues would be immensely triggering. But, as a white person, it just isn’t. If I were a person of colour, I would either never want to talk with a white person about race again or be so tired of having the exact same conversation over and over and over. If you’re a white person and you want to be of some help to people of colour then take one for the team and have some of the difficult interactions with other white people about race. It’s exhausting (a small taste of what people of colour face every day). If you’re too triggered, consider tagging your friends who you think might be able to bring some needed perspective and capacity to really the hear the other person. That doesn’t mean you don’t do the inner work to deal with those triggers. It just means being real with yourself about what you are or aren’t capable of.

As Stephen Jenkinson put it, 
“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with our particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns… I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”
Thought #5: Restorative not punitive justice. I’ve rarely seen anyone more cruel to white people than other white people. I’ve seen so much cruelty from white radicals who want to be seen as ‘more radical’ than others. We seem to, without knowing it, be driven by the notion that the worse we treat people the better they will behave. This is a bankrupt idea. Punishment is not justice. Punishment is just more violence. If our goal is to build a bigger team working for a finer world, then that won’t be achieved by excising anyone who isn’t ‘pure enough’. If we can, instead, be driven by the desire to restore the wholeness of the community - including the racist - we will behave differently. It doesn’t mean we don’t stop behaviour that’s causing harm. It just means that we see the difference between stopping bad behaviour and punishing people for it.

Punitive justice is very interested in lables. It’s determined to figure out who people are and what they deserve. And so, when someone says something racist, we say, “Aha! That’s who they are. They are a racist.” And we stop thinking. We stop relating to them as anything more than a caricature.

Restorative justice in more interested in what’s alive inside of people that would have them do something that would harm others and committed to reweaving the torn fabric of the community.

I first saw Caroline Casey speak at the Bioneers conference a number of years ago. Instantly, she became my favourite thing. Who was this woman? I'd never seen anyone more spontaneously artful in her language - improvised craftsmanship.

But it's only now that I'm beginning to understand what she means by the Trickster.

And why it matters so much.

We live in a day and age of so much hidden, obscene devastation highlighted most recently by the devastation in the gulf of the United States. And the oil gushing out is bad enough – but it is made far worse by the cover ups, the lack of media access, the obfuscation. And this is one of the roles of the Trickster – to illumine that which is hidden. The word ‘obscene’ is perfect for so many of the troubles going on today as it translates into ‘off stage’. So many things we will never heal unless we look at them. So much hidden from the eyes of the public.

The Trickster is that mythic part of all of us that comes alive when times are most dire. 

Unlike Han Solo's 'never tell me the odds', the Trickster thrives on the impossible. The Trickster finds the way out of no way by seeing through the false oppositions created by the 'reality police'. Even more so – the Trickster sees that these ‘team a’ vs. ‘team b’ dynamics as part of what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

The Trickster doesn't take sides, but is on the side of Life.

The Trickster is not interested in giving people easy labels of ‘you’re a redneck’ or ‘you’re a heartless CEO’. What use is there in putting people into boxes and prisons?
"Clever men place the world into cages, but the wise woman ducks under the moon and throws keys to the rowdy prisoners." – Hafiz
The Trickster transcends dualities like Republican/Democrat, Conservative or Liberal. And, while provocative, the Trickster is not interested in creating opposition - but inviting everyone to play. Not polarizing but liberating. Nothing is demonized - everything and everyone can be called forth into the service of life. It doesn't see the world through the lense of, 'do i like this? do i approve of this?' That's all irrelevant. It only wants to know - 'how can this be used for the greater good?'

Radical collaboration.

Everything welcome. Everything useful.

And if it isn’t useful in its current form it can be thrown into Pluto’s Cauldron to be boiled back into what it wanted to be.

The Trickster knows that even the most toxic things on the Earth can be transformed into healing tonic. That every shadow has its light side. That impositions can be transformed into offerings, shame into remorse, constraining certainty into liberating mystery, punishment into restoration, celebrity culture into deep mythology, vengeance into accountability, triggered reaction into creative responses, unconscious rage into wrathful compassion, rape into ravishment, the addiction to purity into a deepening wholeness, seduction into magnetism, principled anxiety, fistfulls of grievance and impotent rage into open hands ready to work with anyone to get the job done and the conman into the Trickster.

The Trickster doesn’t just want you – it wants to fullest, most magnetic and charasmatic expression of you. It knows that there’s a right relationship or angle of approach between all things.

The Trickster knows that whatever we speak to in others we are animate. Whatever we speak to we invite to dance with us. Are we speaking to what is Tonic in others – or what is Toxic? Are we seeing and relating to the best in others? Or the worst?

There is no time or use for shaming, blaming or finger wagging. There's no time for posturing - only the passionate and creative protection and upliftment of Life everywhere. There's no time for the whining and complaining about how bad it is. There's no time to be caught in instant reaction to the forces that destroy life - but rather the Trickster slows down to go fast and offers up infinitely creative responses because to walk around in reaction is to carry around a portable jail.

The Trickster is capable of seeing things from multiple lenses and holding multiple stories as true at the same moment – but then discerning which story to animate.

The Trickster is that force that wants to liberate ALL forces in the world for the uplifting and healing of Life.

Certainly the Trickster wants to see the abused and exploited protected and safe - but has no interested in punishing anyone. Because, while incarceration and punishment or ostracizing people might work for the moment - in the long term it does not. How many revolutions of hope have imposed far worse tyranny's than were there to begin with?
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" - Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
The Trickster knows that the only long term answer - the only sustainable thing is that everyone is welcomed and everything finds its proper place. Like Sheherizad in 1001 Arabian nights knows - it’s not just enough to get rid of the tyrants (even the ones who have murdered their own hearts) – but to compost Tyranny itself. To change the hearts of the Tyrants. A radical sense of hospitality, equality and democracy is the only true answer to Tyranny.

So, the Trickster wants to see everyone liberated.

The Trickster wants to see . . .

. . . the scientists who create so many poisonous drugs, chemicals and weapons liberated from the constraints of chasing funding, adhering to a materialistic worldview and Scientific dogma so that they might turn their brilliance into the creation of ingenious solutions that heal the world and inspire our mind.

. . . the rich freed from the Golden Cage of wealth and the fear it creates, freed from the Hungry Ghosts who plague them with their endless hunger for 'more' and have their hearts filled with honey so that they can send hundreds of gold laden boats out to sea in the direction of the highest aspirations of humanity.

. . . the politicians freed from the need to be re-elected, approved of and the backroom deals with the devil they feel they must do so that we can see the rebirth of true Statesmanship turned towards the reweaving of the soul of our communities.

. . . men liberated from the shackles of patriarchy so that the genuine masculine can return, white people unlocked from the lies of racism so that their roots may go deep into the soil of their indigenous hearts,

. . . the masses liberated from their ignorance and the veil of lies that has been cast over them so that they can look up and see the sky clearly again.

The Trickster is full of fierce blessings for all – genuine good wishes for everyone - may people be woken up to deep and immediate empathic experience of their impact on others, may we all know the true stories of where our food comes from, may the worst tyrant meet a woman who will change his heart, and may we all fall in love with a woman who will change our hearts - and may that woman be the Earth.

Thought #6: Be mindful of whose house you’re in. If you’re on their page conduct yourself like a good guest. If they’re on yours, insist on good behaviour. Facebook is not the free press.

Thought #7: Keep posting what you’re posting. Don’t let the trolls grind you down.

Thought #8: Emphasize common ground. Whenever you see it and where ever you find it make sure you emphasize the common ground you share. When you find a belief or value you both hold that’s worthy of shaking their hand and letting them know, “Alright! Looks like we found something we agree on!”

Thought #9: Support their causes. If the relationship matters to you then this will help to deepen your relationship. My friend Joshua didn’t share my views around race relations at the time (though things have shifted for him since as views tend to do) but he was a passionate supporter of LGBTQ rights in a way that puts me to shame. And so I would often tag him in memes, videos or articles I found around gay rights. It’s so easy to want to lable people ‘racist’ and want to write them off because then we get to feel so damned smug and superior. That’s easy. But the reality is that people are complex creatures. My grandmother took some of the first yoga classes in Edmonton, had a fascination in the occult and got her news from Fox and CNN. People are a big complicated mess. You might not be on the same side of one issue but one the same side in another one.

I’ll never forget Winona Laduke telling a small group of us the story of how her tribe had partnered with some redneck hunters to protect some forests by focusing on the issue on the table instead of everything that divided them. They won the issue and also built a deeper trust between them that translated into other causes that mattered to them both.

Look for places you can have their back. You might be surprised at the goodwill this generates.

Another way to look at this is to make sure they know where you agree with them. If you agree that the issue is an important one, hey, that’s something. Maybe you agree that this issue is one that’s worthy of considered conversation and that decisions shouldn’t be rushed to. That’s something else too. Where do you agree? Where is there common ground? Always always always.

Thought #10: Give them love on their posts. My friend Joshua, I discovered, was the proudest of fathers. Whenever he would post something about his daughters, I would like them and express my appreciation in a comment. Then, by following his posts, I discovered he was also a songwriter. So I listened to his songs and shared my love for them. One day, he posted, venting about his struggles in his marriage and so I sent him a private note expressing my love and support for the hard moment he was in. When we don’t reduce people to a two diminsional, cardboard cutout of ‘racist’ we are freed up to be a loving human to them.

Thought #11: Apologize. There’s a fair chance that, during the course of your interactions with them you were curt and condescending at best and name calling and attacking at worst. Apologize for that. That’s no way to be. If you do, goodwill is fostered.

Thought #12: Don’t share your response unless asked. Post what you do. When they go after it, shift into the mode of trying to understand them and thanking them for their perspective. But don’t offer your thoughts in response if you can help it or if it seems like it might cause undo resistance. Wait, if you’re able, until they ask you for your opinion. When they ask, share honestly. If you foster goodwill, they will ask you over time.

If you feel like there’s enough trust and goodwill for them to really hear what you have to say, even then, you might ask them, “Would you be open to hearing another perspective on that?” before sharing. You are a guest in their world. It’s best to conduct oneself with the most gracious etiquette you know of. They might say ‘No’. Then you know the truth. But, if they say ‘yes’ then there’s an opening for you to share another lense on the issue they might not have considered.

What we are doing is courting people into something finer. I have written more about this in my piece The Courting of Each Other.

Thought #13: Expect resistance. When you finally, having been invited, share your thoughts, expect some pushback. If you ever challenge someone’s privilege it’s going to feel, to them, like oppression. That’s just how it’s going to be. When you try to share some real history that they have never heard it’s going to be hard to believe. Being unplugged from the Matrix will only ever be a traumatizing event. So, when you get the resistance, just move back into the mode of trying to understand and know this: you’re not seeking to understand to coddle them but to foster the top soil of trust and goodwill so that, when you are invited to share the seeds of your perspective, that they might actually find purchase.

Marcus Riedner shares his experience, “In other cases I am happy to point out where something is inappropriate. Sometimes it is met with silence. Sometimes it is met with discussion. Sometimes it ends up on the forbidden topics list. I don't assume myself to be perfect, so it is okay for others to be imperfect as well. Some of the things I post are offensive to them, even though I consider them to be valid and of value. The bonds between family and friends (and by extension community) are far more important than being ‘right’.” Long Game. Long Game. Long Game.
A conversation that has never happened in the history of the human race: "You have unexplored privileges and are pulling rank," said you. "Thanks for helping me see that!" said no one ever.
Expect that, no matter how kind you try to be with your words, that they may be experienced as unkind. In your mind, you might be giving them 10% of the intensity you’re feeling and yet they may see it as a full frontal assault.
"There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly." Daniel C. Dennett
My friend Claire Edwards recently shared on Facebook, “I'm so tired of people telling me (and others) to be nicer when criticizing things that are sexist, racist, homophobic or oppressive. No matter how calmly I tweet or comment on something it seems someone always has a problem with the way I said it. I am inflammatory. I am alienating. I'm confrontational. I'm emotional. This seriously happens every time I challenge something online. Often from people I love and respect. The demand that I be "nicer" is made almost exclusively by men (with a couple exceptions). They say that it is my job to hold the hand of the racist/sexist/oppressive person as I slowly and calmly bring their attention to readily available information on the issues of gender, sexuality, race, class etc. They insist that I cater to their comfort. That I adapt my tone and vocabulary to accommodate them. Even people who might otherwise agree with what I have to say are more concerned with telling me to word things more politely than engaging with me on my ideas and/or showing solidarity with me. Obviously there are limits here. Personal attacks against those I disagree with are never okay. I like to think that while I may often be abrupt and blunt in a 140 character tweet, I've never stooped that low. And if I ever do/did, I am sorry. That's not what I want. I also understand the difference between calling out and calling in, but it seems that whether I spend hours in a comment thread providing resources and long explanations, or refuse to give people the time of day, it's always my fault for how I'VE reacted. I'm the mean one, and unless I'm nicer I will never bring new people into the fold. Nevermind the other person's responsibility to use GOOGLE and educate themselves. It's my job to remain calm and kind to those who dehumanize and oppress. Bleh. There's really no way to get this right. I am tired of jumping through hoops to get the approval of people who aren't really on my side anyway. From here on out I will not let tone policing derail conversations. And neither should you. Be angry. Be sad. Be emotional. Social change isn't polite.

Thought #14: Taking back space. This ties back to Thought #1: Setting Ground Rules. At the end of the day, we are faced with the heartbreaking reality that, alone, there’s not much we can do to end racism (or other forms of ignorance) try as we might. We only have so many hours in a day and so much patience. That’s the hard reality. We can’t do everything but what we can do is to do our best to keep the space around us as free of racism as possible. It’s like we have a circle around us - our domain. Maybe it only extends our a couple of meters. It’s the place where we have at least some degree of sovereignty and where we get to say, like the Kings or Queens or Chiefs of that place, “Not in my land.” We can’t stop them doing it elsewhere but we can stop them doing it here. And, if enough of us do this, that’s a lot of space and, the more our circles overlap each others, the stronger that space becomes. We can’t always change hearts and minds, but we can stop the behaviour from showing up. And, there’s a chance that this kind of “Not here” message could be a wake up call to someone that their behaviour isn’t appropriate. Maybe not the first time. In fact, almost certainly not the first time, but maybe the tenth time someone stops that racist joke from coming out of their lips something might happen inside of them that looks suspiciously like waking up. And it’s what friends to. Friends don’t let friends say racist things. It’s not only to protect people of colour and those who love them. It’s to protect the white person themselves from hurting themselves.

People only change when they have to. They don’t change because it seems right. They change because they must. They change because they have hit some sort of limit. Some people will do drugs and drink until they hit rock bottom or it kills them. Some people will go from sexual partner to sexual partner until they’re old and alone or finally have to face themselves. People will go on being racist until there’s nowhere left to be it - until is costs them too much. People will go on being racist as long as they can get away with it and they will be encouraged by the societal norms that say it’s okay to do so. When we stay silent on these things, it is taken as our consent. When we stay silent on these things, they will assume it is normal to say racist things. But you can be someone’s limit. You can be their rock bottom.

My friend Rob Butz shared his thoughts on this, “Acknowledge (when it's true) that I know I am voicing an unpopular opinion & be comfortable in it. I think that more than anything, the people I'm around who disagree with me are afraid of having an opinion they see as extreme, or are afraid of "solutions" that will take longer than a day to work out (meaning that the sorts of ideas they favour won't be radical, but will just rearrange deck chairs). When they see someone comfortable with an unpopular opinion that can't be implemented tomorrow, I think it opens up a small amount of space to say 'hey it's all right, we're not really in charge of the decisions in the world, so we have the luxury of occupying whatever position we want.'”

Thought #15: Defending their dignity. This one might sound strange but it’s become something important to me. My ground rules around ‘no name calling’ and ‘no insulting people’ don’t just apply to my friends, they apply to strangers and those trolling too. If someone is trolling and a friend tells them off in a way that I consider to be dehumanizing and harsh I’ll let them know it isn’t welcome. If someone tries to reply in a dehumanizing way to the one trolling, I say the same thing. If people with different views see that there’s no double standard for you in your rules (i.e. your liberal and radical friends get to be as vicious as they want but you cut them off at the knees for the same behaviour) they will respect you more, goodwill will be fostered and they’ll be more open to hearing what you have to say after being defended by you.

Thought #16: The Private Message. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to respond to someone in public where there’s a good chance they will feel embarrassed and defensive.

It’s the end of Summer and it’s much colder here that I had thought it would be. I’m at a Permaculture Convergence in Kananaskis Country and it hit -5 degrees celcius the night before. I wasn’t prepared for it at all and woke up achey and with a sore throat. Thankfully my friends Lucy and Ed have agreed to take me into their home nearby for the following nights and I am currently being warmed by the sun as we sit in a circle talking about money. 

It is, as can be imagined, a spirited conversation in which divisions and convergences of politics are emerging. Sitting to my left on some hay bales are three young women of colour. They are the youngest people there and the only people of colour. They raise their concerns about money and capitalism as a whole. This, of course, engenders some resistance from others. 

Sitting on the balcony above us on the balcony overlooking the unlit fire pit we are circled around is Rob in a chair with his newborn child, listening. Rob is a middle aged white man and one of the undeniable god fathers of the permaculture movement in Alberta. He’s the reluctant Don who, the more power he tries to give away and the more other projects he empowers, the more respected he becomes. It’s a no win situation for someone who doesn’t want to be in a leadership role. 

He stands up, knowing we’re already late for lunch and the kitchen had given us shit yesterday, and closes the conversation with the words, “Ok. There’s nothing wrong with money or making money for what you do. We have to go to lunch.”

The circle breaks and I walk over to the three young women. I feel relatively certain that the dynamic of the older, white man, literally sitting above everyone shutting down the ideas of the young women of colour didn’t feel good to the young women of colour. I ask them how it was for them and they confirm that it didn’t feel good and that they’re not sure they’ll come back next year. Would you mind," I ask them. "If I checked in with Rob about it? I think it might not even have occurred to him that his words might have had that effect on you all.”

They say that would be fine and I walk over to where Rob is standing. And it strikes me that, even though Rob is a dear friend, there’s a small part of me that wants to just stand there with the young women of colour and bitch about how oppressive that move was. That part of me wants to do it because then I get to feel like I’m way more down with the movement and anti-oppressive than him. I get to feel like I’m the man while he is ‘The Man’. And, underneath that, it’s a self protection mechanism because I know I could just as easily be in his shoes one day and, if I put deposits in the anti-oppressive bank account now, maybe a big withdrawal later won’t have me in the red.

Rob, can I check in with you for a second?” I pull him aside from his conversation and share what I noticed and how it impacted the young women. His eyes widen. It had never occurred him at all. “Do you think I should check in with them?” he asks. “I think that would be appreciated.” And he immediately goes over to talk to them.

If we’re going to talk about being allies (a term I’m not overly fond of) then white people need to not only be allies to people of colour but also to other white people and not write each other off with derision at the first opportunity. We can’t stab each other in the backs in order to further our own reputation as being the most anti-racist.

And one of the best ways to be a friend to each other is to know when to bring things up in a group and when it might actually serve better to pull the person aside and have a heart to heart with them where there’s less chance of them getting defensive.

I think this is true of Facebook as well. Sometimes it’s good to respond in a comments thread, but sometimes you might want to send them a personal note. I ended up having to do this Joshua after he had trolled some of my friends.

hey my man, i need to check in with you. you know i love you man and have much respect for you. and i am feeling the need to clarify some boundaries and codes of conduct for comments on my posts. i'd like you to treat my facebook posts as my home and conduct yourself the same way as you would if you were a guest in it. no name calling. no belittling. no dismissing people. in my home, we try to understand each other. and if we're triggered and upset, we deal with it constructively and respectfully. if you can't disagree agreeably (heaven knows I can't always), i want to ask that you just don't comment. the people who read my posts are my friends and family. it feels terrible seeing them talked to in some of the ways i've seen you talk to them. i think you've got important things to share and i'm very glad you share them. truly. as a man, i love that you are such a voice for the challenges men face in the world. that means a lot. and i love that you're such an advocate for lgbtq rights. and are such a kick ass father. i like that we've become pals even though we're so different and have never met. big love, - t

He replied quickly, Yeah I am sorry for that the other day. I clearly have issues with wildly different views and I need to work on that. I have some drama going on in my life and it's causing me to be bitter and not understanding.”

I felt my heart soften reading those words. I’ve been there. I wrote back, “love you man. i understand 100% of that. i'm sorry to hear about the drama. i know how unsettling that can be to every other area of my life when it happens. thanks for hearing me and owning your piece of it. that feels really good. i hope the drama dissipates soon.”

It's unlikely that it will.” he says and goes on to tell me of the family struggles he is facing.

I reply, “oh my god. Joshua. i am so incredibly, heartbrokenly sorry. i can't imagine how painful this is for you. i know you love your daughters so, so, so much. i have never been through this myself and can't imagine what it would be like other than that it would be totally devastating and awful. sending prayers your way for your strength through all of this.

He replies, “Thank you. I will adhere to your page rules. I won't mistreat people on there anymore. And I apologize again for doing that. After the fact I always feel bad when I insult someone online.”

It occurs to me that I actually don’t mind it when someone disagrees with me. That’s fine. It’s the tone and name calling that really gets to me. I pause before sending the next words, unsure if I’m pushing too much, but decide to send them anyway. One more thing that would feel good. when you feel on your feet and strong enough - if you could reach out to the people you feel you treated poorly on that thread to make amends, i know both they and i would appreciate it so much. no rush or pressure on this.”

He doesn’t reply, but I feel good for having sent them.

Thought #17: Pick Three People. Consider the extreme limits of your time and energy. You can’t have in depth conversations with everyone. And so something I’ve been mulling over is the possibility of picking three people who seem like the most open to conversation and working to foster a meaningful connection with them over time and letting the rest slide. There are some people who may never change. There will be many you don’t care about enough to do anything. But there then there may be others who, for some unknown reason, you find yourself drawn to persisting with. And maybe one day you’ll find yourself in a hospital bed and find yourself surprised by the outpouring of genuine care from the one you could have easily written off years ago.

Thought #18: Some people change. Some people don’t. Most of us have had experiences or at least heard tell of those who were died in the wool racists who changed their ways, parents who were deeply homophobic who came to love their child’s partner, men who hated women and women who hated men who learned to love each other again. The list goes on. Sometimes people change. And sometimes they don’t. But if we write people off, we also write off a portion of the possibility of their changing. And, of course, writing people off and leaving their presence are two different things.

Thought #19: It doesn’t need to be you. It may be too hard for you to have conversations with some people. Perhaps it will be with family members. Perhaps it will be with close friends. Perhaps it will be with someone who is so deeply racist that you can’t deal with it. It’s good to remember that you don’t need to be the one to ‘change them’. You don’t need to be the one to say the thing that opens their eyes. You probably won’t be. You’ll be one more stone in the river as you attempt to make a path across it, but your stone is important none the less. Imagine if no one put a stone in the river at all because it wasn’t going to get them all the way across. Put your stone in anyway. Share your words with others so that they might be a thorn in their mind.

Thought #20: Be someone they could come back to. You might be seem to make much headway but, if they feel loved and respected by you, if they feel their dignity intact in your presence, they might yet come back to you, shattered by someone else’s rage around their ignorance and finally be ready to hear what you’re saying. They might need to hit bottom in a way you can’t possibly orchestrate. But if they hit bottom and have no friends to turn to who can help them pick up the bricks from the walls of their racist worldview then they may never know how to use them to build bridges. Again, I am saying this as a white man. 

Thought #21: Pushing creates resistance. Unless you’ve cultivated a deep emotional maturity, and most of us haven’t, when you are met with pressure from another we are sent straight into survival mode and feel as though we have only two options: to submit or rebel, to give in or to fight back. When we come at people hard, it is not surprising that one of these two happens. Having them submit to our anti-racist views might seem like progress but I question that. It’s good to ask ourselves if obedience is what we’re looking for at the end of the day. If you are, then this post is not for you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push people. I’m not saying you should. I’m just suggesting that it’s no surprise when they rebel against it and push back. And I’m suggesting that pushing may not be the best approach we have as it is likely to entrench those espousing racist ideas deeper into the swamps of racism which is the opposite of what we want.

Thought #22: Work on your own stuff. This is a hard one, especially when you are filled with convictions about what’s right. But as J. Krishnamurthi put it, “The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.” And this fear, that racism will win if we don’t utterly change the worldview of the person with whom we’re speaking in the next five minutes, is at the heart of an urgency that is rarely helpful. And we are scared. Of course we are. The world is going to hell and it feels like every conversation is a battle on the front lines of the war for the soul of the world. We can feel like, if we don’t destroy our enemy they will win. It’s a deep sense of panic underwritten by the belief that if we can just be stressed enough about the state of the world, we might change it. For all of our rhetoric about how much we want peace, we are actually terrified of it. Because, if I were to engage with someone without the need to change them, if I were actually just to be present with them as a human being, if I were to feel at peace with their holding such different and destructive views... then nothing would ever change. That’s how we feel. And so it must become a war.
“The only way you can help someone is if you know they are already perfect.” - Cindy Teevens
And I want to lift up that another way, besides war, may be possible but that it is hard and expensive.

I want to suggest that if you share another opinion from a place of needing them to pull their head out of their racist ass, they’re likely to feel that. But if they are met with respect and the sharing comes from a place of offering and not imposition, they will likely be more open to you. And this is hard. This is why I’ve written this with white people in mind. I would never say to a person of colour, “Couldn’t you just be more loving with that racist random dude? Why do you have to be so terse?” I would never ask someone whose life and ancestry has woven trauma around these issues into their DNA to do this. I think it’s one of the roles that white people can play - engaging in these difficult conversations whenever possible and doing the inner work required to stay present.

Mary Tracy puts it well, “I could write a book on the subject. Since I am a very... "radical" revolutionary "centred around Truth and nothing but the Truth" kind of person, I have spent my entire life disagreeing with pretty much everyone. So I've had to learn how to tolerate other people's "wrong" opinions. I do point out the "general" negative aspect of what they think and say, but I don't get into big arguments, like I used to. I work on my own "stuff" a lot, and now other people's opinions don't "threaten" me as much as they used to. So my advice would say, own the part that is yours (i.e.: the fact that other people's views bother you) and work on that. And choose your battles: it's OK to express your views, but fighting with people who don't get it (and aren't likely to get it on this lifetime) is not worth it.”

At the end of the day, we aren’t actually that moved by anyone’s arguments anyway. We’re moved by their example. Everyone knows a good vegan and a bad one. Everyone knows the cool vegan who is passionate about the topic but never preaches and doesn’t, within thirty seconds of meeting someone, bring up up topic. As the joke goes, “Do you know how you can tell the vegan at the party? Oh... they’ll let you know.” Everyone knows the vegan who, instead of acting ‘granolier than thou’ (credit Cassin Elliott) choose to just use good, vegan food to lure innocent people into more conscious food choices. The dogmatic vegans kind of ruin it for the rest. The same goes with anti-racists. I’ve met some loving ones and I’ve met some viscious ones. In fact, I’ve never seen a person of colour be as cruel to white people as anti-racist white people can be to white people. And, if that’s how you act (out of some unresolved need for approval from people of colour) then others look at you and think, “Shit. Is that what anti-racism turns you into? No thanks.”

Thought #23: Speak for yourself. This is so vital. It’s easy as a white person to get into a zone of wanting to educate people about how wrong they are about people of colour. I’ve done it many times before and I likely will again. But this posture of, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I’ve just never seen it do much except polarize people. Learning to speak for yourself (instead of on behalf of people of colour or ‘all white anti-racist allies’) is hard. But it’s more likely to create a connection if you can share, in a human way, how their behaviour impacts you and hear, in a human way, how they are experiencing these issues. I urge the reading of Nonviolent Communication - a book written with social justice activists firmly in mind. Instead of making them wrong, we can say, “Wow. Thanks for sharing so honestly how you see it. I see it differently. Would you be open to me sharing something?” or “I’m hearing that you’ve had some painful experiences with black people. I’m sorry to hear that and I’m wishing you could have had some of the experiences I have had. Can I share one?” or, “It is really painful for me to hear you speak about black people in that way. I’m imagining if my black friends were sitting here beside me and listening to your words and it breaks my fucking heart. I just need to leave right now.

Alice Grange shares a story of a time when sharing her experience with a man ended up creating an opening, “I am always reminded of a conversation I had almost 40 years ago while defending a clinic where abortions were being held. I engaged a man on the other side in conversation and told him that none of us were pro-abortion but that I was decidedly pro choice and would remain so for as long as consistently reliable, accessible, affordable and healthy to the woman birth control remains elusive. I also told him that I would have a lot more respect for his perspective if he put as much time into supporting women who chose to have children as he did in preventing women from choosing whether to have children. To my surprise he thanked me for my perspective and told me that this was the first time anyone from my 'side' had ever NOT yelled at him but had treated him like another human being.”

Stanley Woo shares his thoughts on this which I have seen in action and admired many times, “Accept that people have different backgrounds, opinions, tolerances, and preferences, and that they came by their viewpoints the same way we all did: through experience, discussion, and exposure. So, when I disagree with a viewpoint and can engage in discussion (we can't always), I do so moderately and with an emphasis on discussion, not on necessarily being right, and citable sources of information. I provide evidence for why I believe as I do, and if they use "sensationalist hyperbole" or unfounded accusations to make their point, ask them why or to provide credible sources for their argument. Finally, I will never hesitate to back away if there can be no discussion. I respectfully tell the person I am agreeing to disagree, am leaving the discussion, and thank them them for the conversation. This becomes more difficult when discussing very integral parts of a person, such as religious views, political affiliation, etc. But I try to not take things personally so long as the person is engaging in the discussion rather than blustering or posturing. I like discussion, and only by engaging with people of differing viewpoints can I better understand my own position on issues and judge its value to me.”

Marilyn Edwards shares her experiments in what I see as a Long Game the best results of which are yet to arrive, “I have a friend from high school who is very right wing..... he would zoom in on my posts all the time. I decided to stay as loving as possible..... I made points where I could that I backed up with scientific or other evidence. I acknowledged when he said something I thought was fair or true or that I could agree with. I pointed toward the solution of kindness and love as often as I could. Sometimes I got pissed but mostly not....I don't know if it changed his mind on anything, but it changed our dynamic to a more respectful one. I tried to listen to what was underneath the things he was saying and address those issues, fear about the economy, etc. I asked him what he felt the solutions were... I certainly didn't always agree but I asked his opinion.

Angie Evans shared a recent experience, “This happened to me in person this weekend with a close family member. At first i was super-pissed and bit back, but he continued (our usual pattern). I chose to open my heart to him, send love, and really listen. I also made him listen ("shhh - it's my turn, let me finish!") to me. We had a long and respectful conversation. I think he might explore alternate news/info sources and i learned he's not a blanket racist. We didn't find the rainbows and unicorns, but it felt OK in the end.”

Final Thoughts:

These are my reflections as incomplete as they are. I hope they are of some use. Please leave your thoughts below for a continued discussion.

Other Resources:

Memes: It’s handy to have the right meme for the right time. Here are some around race.

Healing for Whiteness Facebook Group: A facebook group full of thoughtful people who post thoughtful things around race, whiteness, and decolonization as it pertains to white people.

Healing from Whiteness Blog: the blog where I put most of my thoughts around race, whiteness, and decolonization as it pertains to white people.