HEALING AT THE ROOT
GRIEVING EMBODIED WHITE SUPREMACY
Grief is something I have been writing about (and actively doing) a lot over the past year and a half. I graduated June 2021, majoring in Comparative History of Ideas at the University of Washington, writing my thesis on Grieving Embodied White Supremacy.
What does that even mean? Yes. Glad you are wondering. This thesis was inspired largely by Resmaa Menakem's book My Grandmother's Hands. In his book he writes, "While we see anger and violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies... white-body supremacy (whites as the "norm" standard for human) is in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the culture we share... it is always functioning in the background, often invisibly, in our institutions, our relationships, and our interactions... it is like a toxic chemical we ingest on a daily basis- eventually changing our brains and the chemistry of our bodies." He also makes very clear that before white bodies inflicted harm on Black, Brown and Red bodies through slavery and colonization, white bodies were inflicting harm on other white bodies for centuries prior.
The work I am doing creates a space for white bodies (aka: people of European descent or who identify as white) to grieve (a healing, embodied practice) ancestral, internalized and institutionalized white supremacy. This specific work is called racial caucus work. This work is important because so often white folks tears in mixed race spaces can often cause more harm than have an impact of solidarity. This particular container is one where white folks can grieve the trauma that we have not yet metabolized and where Black, Indigenous and People of Color do not have to do any of the emotional labor.
This is a grief ritual for grieving what we have lost in becoming white (because before we became white, we were Scandinavian, Lithuanian, Irish, Jewish, etc.), the guilt and shame one might feel around one's whiteness and also the legacies of white supremacy that are still very much alive today and embedded in almost every single one of our institutions since the foundation of the United States. These are the legacies that we have inherited and that we are responsible for dismantling today.
This grief work is also greatly inspired by Joanna Macy's methodology, The Work That Reconnects. I am motivated by The Spiral and its intentionality for guiding a group through a dynamic process of collapse and transformation.
My thesis will be available to read here in August.
And along with co-facilitators, we will be offering this ritual beginning fall, 2021.
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I am humbled and honored to be an alchemical witness to cultural transformation in this way.
I see this work through the lens of an abolitionist. I see this work as mitigating future harms. I see this work having ripple impacts for future beings where life-affirming conditions are possible - where there is focus on holistic systems - where infrastructures based in preventative care and regenerative processes can be birthed.
I bow to the deeper undercurrents of this work and to my teachers: Resmaa Menakem and Joanna Macy and to these wise friends and mentors: Nala Walla, Rain Crowe, Laurence Cole, BJ Star and Aaron Johnson.
Please also reach for me if this work resonates for you and your community.
We would be blessed to collaborate with you.
With dreams and imagination... love,
Excerpt from my thesis.
If you would like to read the whole thing, please contact me to request it.
GRIEVING EMBODIED WHITE SUPREMACY
“...you recognize that to displace another is to have displaced oneself.”
- Bayo Akomolafe
I have crafted a grief ritual for white people to grieve embodied white supremacy. Some may see this project as white-self-help or centering white fragility. I would not argue those narratives and I would add that we (people identifying as white on Turtle Island) need healing. A culture that has inflicted the harms of slavery, the US police system, the prison industrial complex and the genocide of Indigenous people is a culture that is in desperate need of healing. Most often hurt people, in turn, hurt other people.
What does embodied white supremacy even mean? This thesis is largely inspired by Resmaa Menakem's book My Grandmother's Hands. In his book he writes, "While we see anger and violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies... white-body supremacy (whites as the "norm" standard for human) is in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the culture we share... it is always functioning in the background, often invisibly, in our institutions, our relationships, and our interactions... it is like a toxic chemical we ingest on a daily basis - eventually changing our brains and the chemistry of our bodies." He also makes very clear that before white bodies inflicted harm on Black, Brown and Red bodies through slavery and colonization, white bodies were inflicting harm on other white bodies for centuries prior.
When white people have lost or destroyed our connection to place and land - to village - to songs, dance, story, to elders, to language, to earth based practices and reciprocity with Earth - we are left with a terrifying emptiness - one that leads to spiritual starvation - cultural appropriation - and the layers of unmetabolized trauma that result in the perpetuation of cyclical pain in the form of settler colonization, white supremacy and beyond.
This is a ritual where the harm being caused as a result of white supremacist ideaolgies and manifestations and the hurt that people of European descent received before becoming white, before passing along the trauma to others, can be addressed. It is fundamental to grieve one’s role as an oppressor, and grieve the ways in which one has been (or continues to be) oppressed. Consequently, this project is one small step on a journey of many millions of steps toward cultural transformation. It is one where the intergenerational trauma(s) inherited by white bodies can be processed in a container with other white bodies.
The research of this thesis is based in oral storytelling, song, somatics, ritual and grief work - much of which are underrepresented in academic and peer reviewed papers. As I write this, we are a year and a half into a global pandemic. I find it quite ironic to be writing a thesis based on community and village practices during an unprecedented time where we are advised to live in isolation and where things like singing together is one of the most dangerous acts. The ingredients that I stir into my metaphorical cauldron today include visions of in-person gatherings where our sweat, saliva particles and snot are in one shared biome again.
Resmaa’s work inspired me to feel I was capable of birthing this ritual, although the ritual is not based on his work. His book My Grandmother’s Hands is what reassured me it was not only ok, but necessary to metabolize white tears - in a caucus setting - as one of many roads to mitigating future harms of the perpetual cycles of white supremacy. Joanna Macy’s, The Spiral inspired the shaping of the ritual (beginning with gratitude to grief to deep time to going forth) and the wailing altar is from the lineage of Sobonfu Some’s work from the Dagara Tribe in Burkina Faso.