Loves, my heart is still broken, breaking, raw. I am no less settled today as I write this than I was last week. In fact, I am more disturbed than ever. I want to keep sharing with you what is coming up for me in these days as I move through various spaces, conversations, strategy sessions, and mourning rituals.
As always, I am offering donation-based yoga in the community tomorrow night at 5:30 and 7. Please join me. Details here.
Michelle Johnson is a woman of color therapist, yoga teacher, and anti-oppression trainer. She is a beloved colleague from whom I learn so much literally every time I share space with her, and with whom I am privileged to work. This past weekend we were co-facilitating a weekend long exploration of (cultural) trauma, social justice, and yoga. In last-minute preparation conversations, we were discussing the ways we would need to shift the agenda to hold space for what folks were holding in the wake of the (s)election of Donald Trump as president of the US last Tuesday.
We compared notes about what we were seeing in terms of the ways our different communities and folks around us were responding, and it quickly became clear that the dominant response is trauma. Especially among white folks. Folks walking around describing the experience of feeling out of their bodies, no sense of ground, totally disconnected (aka dissociated). Folks talking about not knowing whom to trust. Folks talking about feeling hypervigilant given the ways that perpetrators of white supremacist, patriarchal, xenophobia, transphobic and homophobic violence have been emboldened by the campaign, by the results, and by the hundreds of documented hate crimes that have occurred in the days since the election.
A major point on this matter is the difference, by and large, between how many members of marginalized communities are responding – particularly folks of color – and how white people are responding. Michelle reminded me that many white folks don’t consider themselves part of any group—which is actually fundamental to how we got to this place—and so they often don’t have a concept of or context for understanding this as cultural or collective trauma. Folks who have always been targeted by systems of oppression, violence, and domination are often very keenly aware of their membership in a group, because the nature of that violence requires them to be constantly vigilant, aware of the race/gender/ sexuality/class/ documentation/etc. status of those around them, and thus have a context for understanding this as the latest, extreme entry in a long list of attacks against their very existence.
Even among those who do have an understanding of what individual trauma responses look and feel like, many are at a loss right now to understand this as a collective experience. For many of us, there simply is no precedent for it.
[I recognize that I am using a lot of generalizations here, and I take responsibility for the ways that it is limiting the conversation and potentially reinforcing monolithic ideas about folks’ identities; the purpose of this is simply to name the different ways we’re responding and to note that even though it is an assault on all of us, that the blow does not hit us all equally hard, and that we’re not all responding in the same way (of course). It is also to name and normalize the ways that folks are responding and to remind us all to be extra patient and loving with ourselves in this time.]
Mourning and meaning-making
As I spoke to in my entry from last week, it is essential that we continue to let ourselves be mired in grief (to the extent possible – again, a privilege not all of us have). We must let the fullness of this horror really sink in, so we are supremely and increasingly motivated to mobilize in the face of all that is at stake. We cannot keep it movin’ y’all. There is no “movin’ on” from this for so many of us. As well there shouldn’t be. As Akaya Windwood reminds us, these are the death throes of white supremacy and patriarchy and we need to do our best to hasten them even as we do our damnedest to protect each other from the damage of their last, gasping breaths.
Mantras of reality and resistance
On that note, we need new tools. Especially new mantras—phrases infused with intention and power—to carry us in these times. We need mantras rooted in reality and resistance. Things like, “This is happening. I want to survive it.” Or “Constant vigilance. Collective resistance.”
Choose ones that work for you, but make sure they have some crucial components: they must be a reminder to wake up and stay attentive to the truth of what is happening, nothing that encourages bypass or posicore tuning out or anything like that. So many have commented that they’ve woken up every day to a fresh realization of the horror. I know we don’t want to face it but we must. The neo-Nazis and fascists taking over our country are wasting no time and we really cannot either. So whatever your mantra, make sure it is firmly rooted in reality.
Also, make sure it is rooted in action, that it serves as a reminder that you have what you need, that you can make it through this, and that only together will we salvage our humanity and—if it’s meant to be—some version of our society. Creativity is a crucial right now, so get creative with your mantras. And please share them with me!! (seriously).
I think it was Madeye Moody (or was it Barty Crouch acting as Madeye Moody under polyjuice potion?) that offered this bit of wisdom that feels so crucial right now: constant vigilance. I am reading so many things about the importance of cultivating our capacity to remain shocked and horrified by the realities that will no doubt continue to unfold. We cannot normalize, cannot desensitize, we must let each new horror affect us so they will activate us every day to stay the course and foment resistance. We will no doubt be tempted (as we have been all these long years) to normalize the unthinkable, to tolerate the inhumane, to ignore the atrocities in the name of our own individual survivals. Everyone will do what they have to do to survive, no doubt, but the toll will be less if we push back hard, and starting now. Yesterday. Last week. Let Ella’s song inspire you in this.
[Any folks targeted by oppression (“marginalized” communities), especially black folks and other folks of color, who might be honoring me with your attention right now are no doubt sitting here like, ‘really? NOW you wanna be vigilant?’ And I know. I know it’s possibly too little, too late. I know y’all have been telling us white folks this for ages. Shouting it for centuries. I know and I am sorry. I am trying to do my best now. And I’m hoping we all will rise to the challenge.]
Rigorous self-inquiry and determined discipline
If you haven’t already, it is time to cultivate a regular (daily, if possible) practice of an honest self-assessment of what is at stake right now and what you’re willing to sacrifice. As SONG leaders suggest, reflect on whether you’re willing to be transformed in the service of the work. For some of you this will be a choice, involving a decision to turn towards and listen wholeheartedly to those already in the crosshairs of the white supremacist, capitalist, cisheteropatriachy. (It will be a choice…until it’s not.) It will be a choice to listen to the voices of those targeted by this system and be willing to believe them more than you believe the illusory patriotic tale interwoven (to whatever extent) into the fabric of your beings. It will mean cultivating every single tool for distress tolerance you have (the ones that keep you present and “on line,” not the ones that help you check out and dissociate.) It will mean beginning or deepening your spiritual practice. It will mean seeking out trustworthy comrades with whom you can process very honestly what comes up for you “off line” (not in the presence of targeted folks) so that you can be totally and utterly available for the Truth that is gifted to you when you are in the presence of communities of struggle. And you must believe. Just as you must believe the tyrants when they show you their true colors, believe even more fiercely those who dare to speak plainly about the horrors they are facing. Don’t look away. Most people do not imagine their own worst nightmares in the light of day.
This is hard work. White supremacy has taught us white folks we have a right to be comfortable…literally at the expense of everyone else’s health, safety, and very existence. There is absolutely no denying that. So you will need these tools for discernment and distress tolerance every day, in every space you’re in. Because every day, in every space you’re in, the ideology of oppression will be there, giving you opportunities to practice caring more about the health, safety, and existence of others than your own sense of entitlement to comfort. I am not saying this lightly. I am also a trauma therapist and yoga teacher, and I know that we all have trauma and trauma responses. I am not saying be unsafe. I am not saying to ‘do whatever whenever’ because other peoples’ lives are more important than yours. What I am saying is that safety and comfort are not the same things, and that it is in your hands to deepen your own intuition and cultivate a clearer understanding of your fear and stress responses so that you can work to manage them in order to engage whenever possible, as often as possible…there will be discomfort, especially at first, but that is not the same as danger. [I hope to write more on this soon. If you’re local to the Triangle, NC area I am planning a workshop to explore some more of this on Sunday. Details coming soon.] In short, gone are the days of maintaining polite decorum. The Nazis and fascists are not remotely playing nice with us and our people, we do not owe them our allegiance, our open minds or are patience. They have shown us who they are and they are showing us no mercy.
Any organized effort LED BY marginalized folks (or in explicit accountable relationship to them) is a worthy place to engage. You don’t have to take on all the issues at once. An immigrants rights group with intersectional analysis is a great place to get active. A People of Color led cultural organizing group is a great place to engage. A multiracial effort to stop mass incarceration is a great place to plug in. An intersectional queer liberation and economic justice organization is a perfect place to participate. You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do something. And now. And in relationship with those on the true frontlines of this fight. If there is a real pressing social need out there, odds are a group or effort already exists to address it. Do your homework, find the ones led by the people served by the mission of the group (i.e., a youth liberation organization led by youth, or an immigrants rights group led by undocumented immigrants), and start there.
For all his many faults, Gandhi offered many things to those of us who are students of collective liberation. His concept of how social change happens was threefold: personal transformation, political action, and constructive program. The first two need little explanation (I hope!), but the last one merits a bit more: constructive program is putting your hands where your heart is. It is “building the new society in the shell of the old.” It is choosing right now to start building the infrastructure and industry we’ll need to navigate whatever is to come. It is a multi-part process that requires a careful analysis of where we are tacitly or explicitly supporting oppressive power structures, and then choosing to withdraw that consent. Instead, to invest those resources—money, time, energy, presence, etc.—into the construction of something new that does reflect our values and that will serve all of us. Again, it is a creative endeavor that engages the aspirational and visionary parts of us. It is crucial to keep breathing life in to those parts right now and into the future.
Constructive Program also invites you to convene circles of ritual and practice. Practice whatever capacity it is you want to foment in yourselves and your communities. Practice cooking the biggest meals you can with whatever you already have on hand. Practice not spending money for a day. Practice really savoring the food you eat, the water you drink, the air you breath. Practice taking them less for granted—these are some of the things at stake that you are working to protect and preserve. Practice giving stuff away to simplify your own life and fortify someone else’s (I’m thinking functional and useful things, not half-used-up-headed-for-the-trash-heap things). Practice naming clearly whatever you are seeing, feeling, noticing. Nurture your capacity to see and keep seeing, past the easy answers or the expected responses or the natural (or conditioned) tendencies. Practice first aid and water filtration and composting. Practice plant identification and tool-lending. Practice using your community phone tree. Practice whatever you can think of to keep you focused on how precious your life is, how rich and abundant your network is, and how much you want to survive whatever is coming.
What else are you practicing? Please share that with me.
I want to close by acknowledging my social location and privilege, if it is not already evident. I am a cisgender, white, able-bodied, English-speaking, neurotypical, documented and employed person, I do not have kids. As such, I am not worrying about my own immediate safety vis a vis hate crimes, deportation, etc. as so many other folks are. By nature of that reality, I have more space to breath and think than so many right now.
And yet, to the extent that any of us here is here, alive still and reading this, having the luxury of grief and shock and trauma – we are all privileged to some degree. And that does not make my contribution worthless, nor yours. From wherever I am, from wherever you are, you’ve got to do something different. Something harder. Something that moves you beyond your comfort zone into the zone in which you are open to learning and transformation. Something that puts more of your skin in the game. Something that makes it impossible for you to check out or delude yourself into thinking that your own life and liberation are not absolutely on the line.