A few days back i got an email from Barry who had read my Blog. We began a conversation that is still continuing.
With his permission, i give you a piece of it .
back and forth.
I have to say, it's interesting to make this connection with you at this time in my life. Several years ago I served on a "Culture and Communities Board" at
Well, as I served on the board, I occasionally spoke at faculty meetings and panel discussions. The reception was always welcoming, affirming, and warm, but one thing troubled me. Time and again I encountered Euro-Americans (White People) who seemed to feel they had to apologize to me personally, as if I were Father Confessor and had power to absolve the sins of their ancestors. I never knew how to respond. Should I tell them everything's okay? What happens if they perceive me as clearing their conscience? Are they then free to return to ignorance without guilt? And what if I tell them it's not okay? What then? Am I then to blame for reverse discrimination? Will they start accusing me of being a flaming liberal, hell-bent on beating down the White man? These individuals were obviously sincere, but I felt horrible hearing their confessions. I often thought if they truly wronged someone in their lives an account of race, or some other characteristic, then they should make amends with that person, and perhaps some Higher Power, but not me.
TAD: hmm. yes, i felt this too at one point. the desire to be accepted by a person of colour and ESPECIALLY a native. that was the coup de grace. ha. what i noticed was that as i dug into my roots, the need for approval from indigenous people lessened dramatically. i had my own roots. i didn't feel so strong a need to lean, you know. i remember one event where i introduced myself in Gaelic for the first time. It was a youth environmental meeting. after the circle two native activists came up to me - amazed. they'd never heard a white person do that - speak in their indigenous language and honour their ancestors. "that was so powerful," one kept repeating.
ironically, i needed it less and got it more.
what finding my indigenous roots is showing me is that the same thing happened to MY ancestors as happened to other indigenous people's around the world. our liberation as indigenous people's is bound up together. not that i see myself as an indigenous person but . . . the survival of the indigenous mind is a common fate. the same trouble is hurting us all. it's the same disease in different forms.
this is the shift i think most white folks never make - from solitarity (being on their own) to charity (supporting those oppressed) and then from charity to solidarity. we expressed our understanding of this principle for the Youth Jams in this way .. . .
7) SOLIDARITY: The Jams are based in the knowing that the grassroots civil society needs to come together across the lines that have divided us in the past. Those lines have divided those who have privilege (economic, racial, gender etc) from those who do not. As these two groups come together, we believe that there is a vital distinction to be made. This is the distinction between charity and solidarity. Charity was once defined as love in action. Sadly, at its worst, modern charity says, "Let's go help those people, over there, with their problems.” This can be incredibly condescending. This is not to downplay the important role charitable acts and giving play in the world. Charity is vital, but it is not enough. Charity, by itself, can disown our own connection with and responsibility for the problem. It may justify the privileges that come at the expense of others. Charity is made complete when it is grounded in solidarity. Solidarity is not an action you can take, it is a stand you can embody. It is grounded in partnership. While charity may help those on trial by the system, solidarity may put the system on trial. It not only gives resources, but it actively works to change the very systems that put resources into the hands of some at the expense of others. Solidarity is borne of knowing that we are all connected and so the choice of 'us' versus 'them' is a false one. We choose to serve one another because we know that to serve others is to serve ourselves. What harms anyone harms everyone. No one is truly free until everyone is free. Solidarity says, "I refuse to benefit unfairly from a system that is harming others." It knows that the quality of life gained by privilege over others is a pale shadow of the quality of life gained by a world shaped by, for and of the highest dreams of us all.
BARRY: In all fairness, I think this situation reveals a deeper dynamic playing out in race relations these days. On the one hand, there are a lot of people from the dominant group who still refuse to acknowledge race issues. Minority advocates would like these people to make some kind of sincere acknowledgment, but very often that comes out as "white guilt."
I've been searching for ways to engage discussion without invoking issues of guilt and without invalidating any people or culture. Identifying indigenous people across cultures often serves that purpose. Rather than attacking "White People" and idealizing Native peoples, we can look at forces in society that cause us to lose our common instinct to care for one another.
TAD: a beautiful thought. i like that. i sit with the same questions - how to help white people see the truth in such a way that they become powerful allies instead of guilt ridden white folks. how do we not only heal them of racism - but of their whiteness? the white privilege is out of anyONE person's control. that's deeply institutional. but can we help white people cure themselves of their white culture (by definition: patriarchal, hierarchical, capitalist and racist etc)?
if so they must know what the cost of holding on is - the holding on must become unbearable. and what the possibilities are for letting go - these possibilities must become irresistible.
Here's a quote someone just sent me from the new book by Alice Walker - "Now is the Time to Open your Heart." I think it's very powerful ...
"'The more powerful the powerful appear the more invisible they become...This used to work differently than now. In the old days it was said that the powerful merged with the divine and the divine was all that one saw. But now the powerful have merged with the shadow, and when you encounter them they are really hard to see...'What is the medicine for this invisibility that white men have?' Armando looked for a long time in the direction of the river, and yet his gaze seemed to hover just above it, at the edge of the trees. ' In my opinion,' he said, after a while, 'the only medicine that cures invisibility among the powerful is tears.'"
BARRY: In fact, one could argue that the social ills we all lament come from the kinds of stratified societies created by power and wealth. The Aztecs and Mayans, for example, began to show all the same signs of racial and political oppression evident in "white" societies.
TAD: yes. this is why "race" is a the biggest red herring. all cultures have wrestled with this.
"Given the ubiquity of this cultures destructiveness as well as its technological capacity, there has never been a more important time to ask Ruth Benedict's question: why are some cultures "good" and others not?
Benedict found that good cultures, which she began to call "secure," or "low aggression," or "high synergy cultures," could not be differentiated from "surly and nasty" cultures on the basis of race, geography, climate, size, wealth, poverty, complexity, matrilineality, patrilineality, house size, the absence or presence of polygamy, and so on. More research revealed to her one simple and commonsensical rule separating aggressive from nonaggressive cultures, a rule that has so far evaded implementation by our culture: the social forms and institutions of nonaggressive cultures positively reinforced acts that benefit the group as a whole while negatively reinforcing acts [and eliminating goals] that harm members of the group.
The social forms of aggressive cultures, on the other hand, reward actions emphasize individual gain, even or especially when that gain harms others in the community. A primary and sometimes all-consuming goal of members of these cultures is to come out ahead in their "dog eat dog" world.
Another way to put this is that social arrangements of non-aggressive cultures eliminate the polarity between selfishness and altruism by making the two identical... it all comes down to how culture handles wealth. If a culture manages it through what Benedict called a "siphon system," whereby wealth is constantly siphoned from rich the poor, the society as a whole and its members as individuals will be, for obvious reasons, secure. They will not need to hoard wealth. Since this generosity is manifested not only monetarily only been all aspects of life, they will also not need to act out of their nonexistent insecurities another way.
On the other hand, if a culture uses a "funnel system," in which those who accumulate wealth are esteemed, the result is that "the advantage of one individual becomes a victory over another, and the majority who are not victorious must shift as they can." For reasons that should again be obvious, such social forms foster insecurity and aggression, both personal and cultural."
BARRY: Anyway, this is still a work in progress. I don't feel I have any definite answers for anyone. In fact, whenever I speak publicly these days, I usually share a few personal experiences and then ask people to simply look inward for biases. If everyone looked inward first, we would have less room for judgment and accusation.
TAD: that's a good thought. any work that puts us back in touch with our hearts and helps us return to inner wisdom vs. outer authority is decolonization work. wholeness. healing. this is what we need. our indigenous minds.