HEALING AT THE ROOT

GRIEVING EMBODIED WHITE SUPREMACY

Sometimes, something is so badly broken. You cannot recreate its original shape at all. If you try, you create a deformed imperfect image of what you've lost. You will always compare what your creation looks like with what it used to look like. As long as you are attempting to recreate, you're doomed to fail. I’m beginning to realize that when something is that broken, more useful and beautiful results can come from using the pieces to construct a mosaic. You use the same pieces, but you create a new design from it. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. If we allow the pieces of our culture to lie scattered and the dust of history trampled on by racism and grief, then yes, we are irreparably damaged. But if we pick up the pieces and use them in new ways that honor their integrity, their colors, textures, stories - then we do those pieces justice, no matter how sharp they are, no matter how much handling them slices our fingers and makes us bleed.

- Deborah Miranda from her book Bad Indians

I am currently writing my thesis at the University of Washington, majoring in Comparative History of Ideas. It will be complete and online come July 2021. You will be able to find it here and have access to the ritual toolkit for grieving White Supremacy Culture and Embodied White Supremacy that will include group singing songs, metaphor as ritual, somatic practices and audio clips of interviews with Black and Indigenous academics and activists. I will also be facilitating this work post Summer 2021 in collaboration with other musicians and grief tenders. To stay tuned for updates, join my newsletter. 

 

The Bones (outline):
 

  1. Settle to Unsettle

  2. Story time: Healing at the Root

  3. Origins

  4. Wholly Questions

  5. Muses

    1. Resmaa Menakem

    2. Joanna Macy

    3. Silvia Federici

  6. Methodologies: shaping the ritual toolkit 

    1. Story(time): Song of Earth

    2. Metaphor as Ritual

    3. Grief

    4. Song

    5. Somatics

    6. Facilitation 

  7. A case for Racial Caucusing 

  8. Backwards: hiSTORIES of whiteness

  9. Here and Now: White Supremacy culture as a body

  10.  Forwards: ritual tool kit 

  11.  Reciprocity

  12.  Gratitude 

An excerpt:

“we are afraid, and we think it will assuage our fears and make us safer if we can clarify an enemy, a someone outside of ourselves who is to blame, who is guilty, who is the origin of harm. we can get spun into such frenzy in our fear that we don’t even realize we are deploying the master’s tools.”

- adrienne maree brown (by way of Audre Lorde)

 

My birth name is Alexandra Blakely Browne, I use she/they pronouns. I identify as a white, questioning, queer, cis-woman. I write this thesis accompanied by my Jewish, Scandinavian and Eastern European Ancestors. I thank them for guiding me through this indefinite process of strengthening my muscles of healing. I was born to walk the path of regenerative practices in service to life and death - and I serve the animate, inanimate and unseen beings. I write this accompanied by the rain, humpback, reindeer, crow, song and dance people. All of the voices in my belly, heart, head and cells and the spirits inhabiting this vessel - to their council I belong. I belong to my intuition, my innate knowings - witch at times are ineffable and cannot always be articulated or intellectualized. I belong to their conviction in the face of their delegitimization. Especially in the face of academia, I belong to the body’s sensing as valid fact or data. 

This work is an auto-ethnographic project with research based in story, song, somatics, ritual and grief work. As I write this, we are a year into a global pandemic. I find it quite ironic to be writing a thesis based in community and village practices during an unprecedented time where we are advised to live in isolation. 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. 

In this thesis, I use the word embody. When I use this word I am talking about our literal, physical bodies giving shelter or home to the spirit of something. I have been studying Cultural Somatics at the Ritual as Justice school. One of its root teachers, Tada Hozumi says, “Somatic therapies are based on various spiritual and embodiment practices of pre-colonial people from around the world." Honoring that, the root word soma is of Ancient Greek origin meaning "body." And according to Thomas Louis Hanna, who coined the term somatics, soma is the biological body of functions by which and through which awareness and environment are mediated. It is understood that the word soma designates any living organism, animal or plant. It is also understood that all such somas have, to some degree, the capacity for awareness (sensorium) of the environment and intentional action (motorium) in the environment. The study of cultural somatics would continue on to say that culture itself is a body, (and I would say that this thesis is a body): a living, breathing being with its own spirit, spine, posture, nervous system, quirks and traumas. I also use the word egregore which is an occult concept representing a distinct non-physical entity that arises from a collective group of people. With this understanding, I will analyze White Supremacy Culture as its own person and some of the different ways in which people living within this particular life form have embodied (internalized) White Supremacy itself. 

​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 (as well) since some of the greatest harms created by US policy, policing, the prison industrial complex and unacknowledged histories of genocide (to name a few) are built upon institutions of white supremacy. I would add that hurt people, in turn - hurt other people and that this project walks towards a longer term vision of cultural transformation. 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.

Although this thesis is focussed on white supremacy culture, some of its impacts and seeks healing for those with European ancestry - I want to acknowledge the myriad of identities oppressed by capitalism, christianity, patriarchy, eurocentrism, heteronormativity, ableism and other isms as well. I want to honor the transgender, gay and queer communities, people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, 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. 

I also want to clarify that when I use the word "we" in this thesis, I am referring to people who live in the United States and who identify as White (unless otherwise stated). 

​The story that I opened up with, Healing at the Root, is a holistic invitation. It asks of us not to treat the recurring symptom of headaches with aspirin, but to search deeper for the cause of the headaches and going to heal there. The etymology of the word healing means to come to wholeness. This thesis is wholly founded upon the belief in wholeness. Personally, I define wholeness as the welcoming of the duality mindset plus all the infinite possibilities existing and being birthed in between, above, below and beyond the polarities. For example: our shadow selves and our shiny selves, the darkness and the light, the grief and the joy and the constellation of shades around and inside of them. I see wholeness as nuanced, complex and fluid. I see wholeness as honoring all the components that make up an animate or inanimate object. And from a holistic perspective, I see that many of our current dilemmas are a result of only seeing parts and not the whole.   

​I find that the dominant culture within the United States has a tendency to make our wholeness taboo, resulting in repressing real needs and/or fears that then in return manifest into individual and societal stagnations (or ailments) that are then pathologized, targeted, ostracized, heavily medicated, institutionalized and/or imprisoned. 

I’ve heard a thinker, Charles Eisenstein say (paraphrasing), “It’s not that the answers are wrong to the questions we are asking, its that we’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking how we will survive within the conditions that currently exist, what are the conditions that we want to create?” 

​Do we choose to continue to ignore the pain or do we turn to face it and embrace it? Will our embrace soften the ripple impacts into the future generations? Do we continue to traumatize already traumatized people by throwing them into a prison system or do we create both new conditions that reduce the trauma to begin with, while supporting diverse demographics in walking their communities back to wholeness? 

​The shadow of this thesis is White Supremacy. “Shadow may be visualized as a series of dark subterranean lakes, flowing deep beneath our everyday awareness. The dark water of the collective shadow becomes a way station for the energetic residue of unresolved conflicts, multigenerational suffering, and all manner of unhealed trauma*.” 

I call upon those who feel ready in their bodies to sit with the spirit of White Supremacy and get to know it, intimately. I want to know: what can facing and embracing the shadow of White Supremacy together look like? ​

*from Thomas Hubl's book, "Healing Collective Trauma: A process for integrating our intergenerational and cultural wounds."

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