I was on a walk this morning listening to a podcast by one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed. I have struggled lately, as we all have, with understanding how to respond to disease, collective sorrow, injustice and systematic oppression. This morning I was stopped in my tracks by a quote that reminded me that the world is not all violence, disease and death.
“There is Beauty in everyday, we know that for certain, no matter what is happening… This moment [in history] simply amplifies again what was always true, there was always sorrow, there was always violence, there was always death and disease, destruction and loss and there was always Beauty.”-Cheryl Strayed
One thing I would add to the quote from Cheryl is that there has always been structures of supremacy and injustice. There has always been a need to fight to abolish these structures. It would be too easy to believe that things are only just now “getting bad”. This moment in history is just amplifying these structures of supremacy. This moment in history just amplifies our need to be aware and active in fighting these structures of supremacy. It just so happens that in this time of social distancing we been forced to be still and without distraction. We have not had the luxury of being distracted by our own small stories to be able to ignore the larger structures of injustice.
I have felt shameful lately about my personal inability to participate in outward demonstrations against structures of injustice and supremacy due to my own very tenuous personal struggles keeping my mental health on track. I will not lie. I have struggled this year, for reasons unrelated to COVID and racism, with being able to keep myself safe from teetering dangerously into a despair that would stop my feet from moving forward and threaten to swallow me whole. This year in general, before the murder of George Floyd, I had to be very careful about how much media I consumed and how much I allowed myself to invest in sadness and rage. There have been days when I was barely hanging on.
More recently though I have been slowly climbing out on the other side of that deep emotional valley. I can own that I have felt immense shame for simply not having the emotional capacity to be a part of the collective grief and rage about his murder. I have had to set emotional boundaries to not fall again into that shame, despair and hopelessness. Instead of demonstrating outwardly I have been forced to turn inward and examine where supremacy and injustice have taken root inside of me. To understand my role in dismantling supremacy I have had to investigate, in a more personal way, what supremacy is and how it behaves.
To understand how to fight structures of supremacy it is important that we understand the tools it most commonly employs to collectively manipulate us.
Supremacy uses shame. Shame is a dangerous and powerful tool that is used to manipulate and strip others of their worth. It is a powerful tool that pushes us into silence and isolation. Supremacy makes individuals feel ashamed for themselves for things that are out of their control…the color of their skin…their country of origin…their personal mental health struggles. Supremacy says “Who you are is defective. Who you are is less-than. Who you are needs to be controlled or hidden. Who you are is unworthy.”
There are many other tools that supremacy uses to strip beings of their humanity and agency but shame is one of the most divisive and insidious.
Shame would say “How dare you need rest or feel exhausted when others are out there fighting for a just cause? How dare you take time to reflect and think about your needs? How dare you stop to breathe when George Floyds last words were I cant breathe?
This fight for justice is a long haul. We need to take care of ourselves and each other as if we are in this for the long haul too. Supremacy wins if we exhaust ourselves to the point of giving up. Supremacy wins if we spend so much time in outward rage that we would be too tired to look inward and move into real sustainable change. Supremacy would love it if you fell into such a deep sadness that you became paralyzed from moving forward. Supremacy would win if you fight so hard and be come so disillusioned with the change that you are not seeing yet, that you give up. Supremacy wins if our action is born out of shame and not love.
This fight against supremacy is not going away anytime soon. This fight for justice requires us to actively dismantle the structures of supremacy inside ourselves. Out on my walk today, while listening to the words of wisdom on the Cheryl Strayed podcast called Sugar Calling, I saw a sign near a creek that said “Clean water starts at your front door.” The news of George Floyds death, in an already dark time, has brought the structures of supremacy to our own collective front doors in a way that cannot be ignored. It struck me that dismantling structures of supremacy is not exclusively a task that is accomplished outwardly. Dismantling supremacy “starts at your front door.”
Dismantling supremacy starts in your own heart.
If or when you are unable to participate in rigorous outward displays of activism I ask you to think and wonder with me…Where have the tools of supremacy, like shame, taken root in my life? How can I find a way to dismantle and search out the roots of this systemic form of manipulation? How can I actively resist supremacy and its tools of manipulation inside of me?
Today, I am committed to looking inside and finding where I can dismantle supremacy in myself to sustain long term action to end injustice. I am committed to learning as much as I can about the history of Black America. I am committed to learning as much as I can about how I can be a partner in fighting racism and supremacy inside of me and outside of me.
The last thing I will say is if you are looking for a place to start on understanding racism I highly recommend the book “How to be and Anti-Racist” by Ibrahim Kendi. I, myself, have just started reading it and I am learning so very much.
Keep fighting my friends, but also keep resting, keep listening, keep loving, keep learning…. Keep confronting shame with love and curiosity. Keep confronting supremacy “at your front door” in all its forms.