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,
My birth name is Alexandra Blakely Browne, I am a queer, white person and use they/she pronouns. I live with neurodivergence and complex trauma. I am a descendant of the Hebrew people, of emigrated Polish Jews becoming Brooklyn Jews as yet another form of historical and diasporic resilience. I am grateful to my Ancestors who stayed Jewish, generation after generation when it was not strategic or safe to do so. I am a descendant of survivors of the Pogroms and genocide of Jewish people and the gynocide of my great grandmother witches in medieval Europe. I descend from the lands of Northern Norway, the Swedish islands in the Baltic Sea and Ireland, Scotland and England. I am of the caribou, whale, rain and mycelium people and I come from priestesses, healers, activists and oracles, silversmiths, potters, alchemists and farmers. I am here to reclaim what my Ancestors didn’t pass on to me so that myself and my child could be here today.
Part of their strategy for my existence came in the form of giving up our animist (or spiritual) ways of being and trading them in for the social construct of whiteness with its very real benefits. Because of my white skin, I have more than often been able to choose at what times I unsettle myself and at what times I soothe myself. Because of my white privilege I am able to choose when I disengage with the struggles of my BIPOC siblings and when I engage in them because I feel resourced. I have cis-privilege and some ability-privilege. I have privilege of growing up with a US passport. I have the privilege of not fearing for my life (or my daughter’s) being targeted by the prison industrial complex and I have many more privileges because the system under which I live, white supremacy, says I deserve these things - while others do not. It is important for me to name that this unlearning and learning is a process that I am aware takes lifetimes and I do not pretend to be an expert on the topics of racism or white supremacy. I am sure I will have (naturally) many blindspots and am grateful to those who trust me enough to offer their feedback on how to strengthen this analysis and also those who believe in this vision and step in as co-conspirators to enliven it. Thank you.
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 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.
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.
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 attempted genocide of Indigenous people is a culture that is in desperate need of healing. I would add that most often hurt people, in turn, hurt other people and not only does this project address the harm caused as a result of white supremacist ideologies and manifestations but also, the hurt that people of European descent received before becoming white, before passing along the trauma to others. Although fundamental to grieve one’s role as an oppressor, one must also grieve the ways in which one has been (or continues to be) oppressed. Consequently, this project wishes itself to be 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 addressed in a container where Indigenous, Black and People of Color are not required to witness or do any of the emotional labor.
When white people have lost what we have lost: 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.
Although this thesis focuses on white supremacy, I want to acknowledge the myriad of identities oppressed by capitalism, settler colonization, christianity, patriarchy, eurocentrism, heteronormativity, ableism and other isms as well. I want to honor the transgender, gender non-conforming, gay and queer communities, people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, refugees, immigrants, people practicing poly-anything and all identities not named in this specific paper that continuously bring teachings of the plethora of ways of being in these bodies, collectively called the human experience. I believe the work being put forth here is directly interconnected with your wholeness as well.