Recently, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington DC. I’ve read enough OpEd’s and social media rants to know that that statement alone can polarize me from some who may disagree with the march, which concerns me, because I didn’t march for polarity. I marched for inclusivity and intersectionality.
Inclusivity – that ever increasing popular principle that sounds good on paper but is difficult to incorporate into everyday life because, I believe, it requires our physical bodies to promote equitable and sustainable civil and social rights and necessitates intentional, compassionate, committed, often uncomfortable gritty dialogue with persons from differing world views, nationalities, disabilities, sexual orientation, etc.,
Thus, with this understanding of inclusivity, I marched in the Women’s march in the hopes of primarily doing these three things:
1) Promote a culture of listening. Inclusivity requires a chance for all voices to be heard at the table. Preparing for the march, I knew that there would be various voices with differing “agendas” participating. I knew that there would probably be signs that I didn’t agree with and perhaps ones that would seem offensive. I expected this but it was not enough to deter me because I believe that at the heart of inclusivity is a belief in the value of differing opinions. It was important for me to be able to march peacefully beside strangers with different worldviews because I want to see and hear their concerns.
2) Promote a culture of peaceful, compassionate, empathetic, articulating discourse. I have a confession to make: I’m not always the best at participating in this kind of dialogue. Far too often, I enter dialogue invested in my own competitive agenda: convert the “unbeliever.” I want to listen just enough that I can make my arguments stronger than my “opponents.” Learning to promote a culture of peaceful, compassionate, empathetic dialogue is critical to recognizing and unlearning my own competitive edge and dismissive conscious/unconscious stereotyped beliefs and bias. While often barraged by I-Statement signs at the school in which I work, I have found that the following questions, when asked authentically and with a desire for transformation are especially helpful when dialoguing:
This is what I hear you saying/what I am hearing is….
Can you help me understand ___better?
I want to hear more about….
I appreciate your vulnerability…
3) Promote a culture of healing. Black/Native American. Female. Cis-Gender. Educated. Straight. These labels are not exclusive and they define me all the time: some of these labels afford me greater privileges than other labels. On a global scale, the fact that I live in America also affords me access to greater privileges than in other countries. Additionally, I can use all my limbs. I have a full-time job with benefits. My boss and coworkers communicate in the same language that I do. I could go on. I have a variety of advantages and disadvantages. Because I have some privileges, I believe this requires that I must intentionally work to promote a culture of healing. Because I love Slam Poetry and I have a particular love for social/civil justice and the arts, I recently re-listened to “Therapy Session” by the Atlanta Team for Brave New Voices (If you haven’t already listened to it, YouTube it). In this poem, the slammers mention this phrase: who are we but our history? This phrase has particularly plagued me when I think about my own history of trauma combined with the cultural trauma of my ancestors and the collective traumatic memories of the modern African-American identity in the context of meta-narrative.
I think it may be important to recognize that the definitions for cultural trauma in this context are from Ron Eyerman’s book: Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of the African American Identity, and are as follows: “refer[ring] to a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that has achieved some degree of cohesion.” Additionally, Eyerman advocates that “trauma is also rooted in an event or series of events, but not necessarily in their direct experience…and always engages in a ““meaning struggle”” which is ““a grappling with an event that involves identifying the nature of pain, the nature of the victim and the attribution of responsibility.””
With this framework, l suggest we merge our understanding for a culture of healing. For it is into this context which we bring our own stories, personal and cultural traumas, and it is into this context which we must also provide space for articulating discourse and opposing views and alternative voices.
So what does a culture of healing look like and what does it have to do with the labels I shared at the beginning of this particular segment? I imagine that a culture of healing must remain rooted in its commitment towards providing dialogue and space for all voices, especially those most marginalized by society. Recognizing these marginalized voices also requires understanding one’s own labels. My personal experiences with racism, micro-aggressions, sexism and abuse continue to inform my everyday decisions. As a black woman married to a white man living in a small town with little racial diversity (93% White), I know which streets to take if I am outside in the dark. I have been followed, threatened, spit on and asked to leave public spaces. I have been a victim of sexual assault and harassment. I have had a classmate pull a knife on me and threaten to kill me. My personal history of trauma combined with the aforementioned metanarrative of cultural trauma leaves me, perhaps, justifiably wary and fearful. It would make sense to surround myself with persons who would make me feel “safe.” And, perhaps, this is where I will – if I haven’t already- upset you.
In the past few years, critics continually demonize the media for “sensationalized journalism.” Some attribute this tactic as an explanation for President Trump’s electoral victory. Others attribute this brand of journalism with increasing fear, polarization and volatilization between ethnic/racial/sexual-orientation/gender groups, while others claim that this journalistic style simply highlights pre-existing beliefs. I believe that the culture of fear in which we find ourselves is supported by everyday conscious and unconscious decisions by the everyday individual. For example, many of us make decisions out of our belief systems. I choose not to hold my husband’s hand when we go certain places because I have been targeted when I have held my hand in those spaces before. I have a justifiable reason to not hold his hand, right? But what about this one? I choose not to help the man along the street who has a dead engine because I have heard that it is dangerous for women to stop and help men because it could be an elaborate ruse to kidnap and rape and kill them. Every day I make thousands of decisions based on either lived experience or preconceived ideas. Now, let’s try some of these:
· I am terrified of a Donald Trump America because, as a Black/Native-American female with a history of trauma, I fear an increase in racialized and sexual assaults.
· I am terrified of a Donald Trump America because his (recent) statements have a history of inciting violence and public hate crimes.
· I am terrified of a Donald Trump America because his legislation supports the systematic marginalization and deportation of refugees.
My fear, perhaps, while rightly grounded and justified, cannot be greater than my determination to neutralize that fear with actions rooted in and by the love of Christ. We were never promised safety. In fact, Christ consistently and peacefully engaged in conflict with his physical being. (And, here I am reminded of C.S Lewis…Aslan was never a tame lion…) With these bodies, we are given authority to participate in the physical act of Christ-Following. With these bodies, we are given authority to compel compassionate, loving and respectful spaces into being. The critical underlying influence of fear is that it often incapacitates powerful people. Marianne Williamson offers the following ideas regarding fear from her book Return to Love (1992):
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so far that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
However, I want to offer my own version of the above:
Why do we fear ourselves? Our bodies, while sacred, are not objects to be hoarded. Our bodies were not created out of fear, but rather to make manifest the overwhelming love of Christ.
Remember that perfect love casts out fear. We were created by the Creator to be powerful community, shalom-following, kingdom-minded people. Our bodies empower us, but far too often we use them as shields from one another. False pretenses, stereotyped and unilateral belief systems and an overwhelming urge for personal safety shackles us to a dangerously cyclical worldly conforming act. When our bodies become only defensive shields we shackle ourselves to reflexive fear. Our bodies are powerful! When our bodies become offensive, (not to be confused with derogatory) intentional and committed to kingdom-living, we model this power for others and empower them.
Dismantling fear requires knowing and naming it. This involves intentional, uncomfortable, intrinsic, confrontational, commitment. Fear often hides in the guise of something else – for instance: the other, the rapist/terrorist/kidnapper/killer/thief, the guy alongside the road asking for help, the dark alley, the country with all the shooting, the drugs, the gangs, Southside, Compton, South Philly, Mexico City, Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Iran etc., It is easy when we can just name off “things” rather than attributing and identifying it with a personal reaction and/or emotion. When we continue to follow a cycle that allows us to lazily misplace our fear without intentional, analytic, self-scrutiny, we propagate a dangerous cyclical pattern. What scares us and why? (Side note: I personally believe that all fear stems from our inability to cope with death, but that could be a whole other blog post…) Are we afraid of the things we have been told about those things/persons/places? One of the crucial underlying victories of fear is that it often incapacities (or paralyzes) its “victims” with either worry or an inability to function or both. We must know fear and how it works. Without going into the fight or flight concept, I hold these fear “symptoms” as truth: fear alienates. Fear incapacitates. Fear consumes. Fear can cause physical symptoms. Unfettered fear can lead to hate. We must be vigilant and courageous enough to recognize fear and notice our reactions every time.
Earlier, I talked about the labels in which I carry and these labels (often through societal reinforcements) inherently influence my worldview. Remember that lovely philosophical term product of our environment? Okay, dust that idea off, because (without geeking too much into philosophy or psychology) there is some truth to the concept. We are constantly reacting to stimulus our environment provides. For me, right now, a lot of that stimulus is news. When I enter a social media site, particularly Facebook, I am bombarded by news. When I turn on the radio, again, I am hearing the news. My personality, my environment, my psyche, my beliefs, and the news outlet I choose to listen to are all factors that reinforce my understanding of the world. Again, as I mentioned earlier it would be easy for me to be consumed by fear. And, I admit, I often live in fear. I worry about my safety, about the environment my future children will grow up in, and the future of the world. But, here’s two extraordinarily uncomfortable thoughts:
What if fear is paralyzing my ability to walk in wholeness, and what if safety has become my idol?
Now, I don’t offer these two questions lightly. I don’t even like these questions. But, I haven’t been able to shake them. The world in which we live has glorified life to an extent that I can’t help but notice the fear surrounding death. Let’s be clear: I am not advocating that we should forget all about safety measures, etc., but it is important to dissect the unconscious messages we give about death. I want to offer that there seems to be a dangerous dichotomy between deaths by persons who are impoverished and/or marginalized and those who are affluent. But, this conversation isn’t about death (though, it could be, and may be in a later post). Instead, it is one that I hope has you rethinking your fear archetypes. It certainly has me rethinking mine.