Origin stories, radical self love, and anti-racism
In the last few weeks, all of us have been called to examine the racism around us, and in our own lives. (If you read that and thought "Well I'm not racist," then please keep reading to the bottom of this post for further thoughts and resources*). A few weeks ago, before the murder of George Floyd and the world-wide protests, I wrote this in a newsletter about the pandemic:
This pandemic is acting as a mirror for us. We've been thrust through the looking glass, everything has changed. We're forced to examine our systems, to see ourselves in new light. What former ways of being have revealed themselves to be ridiculous? In the larger world, in your life, inside your self? What about recent changes might be working better for you?
When the time comes to begin rebuilding our lives and our world, what will we cherish, and what will we let fall away? What could we make anew?
Yes, this pandemic has forced us to look at ourselves, and we have seen some very dark and dangerous things. Yes, we are working to rebuild, working to make the world anew.
White supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, homophobia, fatphobia, etc., are systems that were born of human rejection of our place in nature. When we stopped seeing ourselves as part of a great cycle, and started seeking to dominate that cycle and each other, we planted the seeds of these illnesses we suffer today. We traded in Earth-based origin stories, which involved the cooperation of animals and plants and the elements, and replaced them with one in which we were banished from the garden, to live outside of it forever.
The societal and economic structures that separate us from nature and cause environmental destruction, are those that enforce inequality. When we exploit the land, we exploit each other, and vice versa. As we heal one of these illnesses, we heal the others, and at the same time none of them can be truly healed without healing them all.
To do this healing work, to smash the patriarchy and white supremacy and all the harmful phobias and isms, we need to change them externally and internally. While these systems terrorize our bodies in society, they also live inside our minds, and thus we inflict harm on our own bodies.
Sonya Renee Taylor, who taught me the meaning of radical self love in her book "The Body Is Not An Apology," said
Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies...radical self love [is] the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems.
If you've found yourself thinking "I'm not racist," then I'm here to clarify that when we talk about white supremacy and racism, we're talking not just about individual people who exhibit these qualities, but systems as well. Yes, there are individuals who wield these qualities like weapons, and that's a problem, but the larger more insidious problem is that these systems are the water we're swimming in. Systemic racism is responsible for the underfunded schools, the segregated neighborhoods, the mass incarceration, the pay gap, the health disparities, and the violent cops.
So no one who was raised in this water can be simply "not racist." All of us have racism inside of us, and we won't get far in solving this problem if we won't admit that. Even an actively anti-racist person can and does have blind spots and moments of racist action, if only out of ignorance. Here are two books for examining the racism and anti-racism within ourselves:
"Me and White Supremacy" by Layla F. Saad
"How To Be An Anti-Racist" by Ibram X. Kendi
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