What does it mean to be accountable to one another in this moment? How can we build trust given the systemic, intergenerational violence that has impacted Black and global majority communities for the last few hundred years? I am sitting with these questions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter uprisings, that were triggered by the weight of so many lives unfairly taken.
It has been truly mesmerising to see such a global response. My own emotions have been swirling through deep grief, hope, fear of disappointment and frustration at the urgency that is now being demanded to address so many things that my family and community have been working to undo throughout their lifetimes. As unprecedented as this moment is, with the opportunities we have to create change, it is a bitter pill to swallow realising that two weeks prior to this, many well meaning white people did not see dismantling racism as an item of their agenda. Now that it appears to be on the list, is it here to stay? I have seen understandable echoes of doubt within the Black community and the real concern that this may be a trend- a fleeting moment of performative activism. Unless we integrate sustainable models to carry this work in a holistic way, burn out may be on the horizon.
For me, I notice that trust is a big issue. I feel a sense of fatigue around many white friends in my life who are psychologically in support but still not integrating this work in an embodied, care filled way. This is hardly surprising given that many only acknowledged this to be a serious issue a couple of weeks ago. An important point to note is that anti-Blackness and systemic racism are not intellectual debates for me, but relate to my life and the ability of my family to exist in this world. To be seen, honoured, respected and valued as full human beings. I am seeking held space; space for the weight of my grief to be acknowledged and supported. I understand that not everyone has learnt the “right” language to use and frankly, verbal signals of wokeness are not enough for me to feel trust and safety with people at this moment. I am seeking embodied care.
I need to feel solidarity from the bodies of my friends rather than a subtle expectation for me to alleviate their guilt, or untapped legacies of ancestral shame. I need my friends to tend to their grief in particular containers so they can hold space for mine. I yearn to feel held- physically, emotionally and spiritually. I desire white folks in my life to actively work on increasing their resilience and capacity to hold space for my grief, as well as my reflections on how they can show up for me in ways that make sense to my body and nervous system; which has been in a sensitive state for the last few weeks. I have gratitude for the friends that have been able to simply hold me and let me cry. This is a huge gift. To simply make space for my body to be in pain and to have that validated and supported by another body- without having to hold any of their guilt, shame or pain. In some ways, this act can feel more transformative than the “right words” in this moment.
Although racial liberation work can be uncomfortable at times, I hope that we can collectively pivot and re-frame this moment as an opportunity for closeness and reconciliation. Racism and other forms of oppression separate us – we have been divided by these systems for centuries. There is a radical potential for pleasure, joy and healing in beginning to mend the many harms that have been caused. Hyper individualism would have us believe that we are all islands to ourselves and the actions of our ancestors have no bearing on our lives. However, research in epigenetics suggests otherwise. We often carry the stress response and traumatic legacies of our ancestors in our bodies. As a result, we may enact and unconsciously perform the same forms of behaviour they did in their life times, due to a host of factors. Therefore, if you are invested in creating a more care filled and equitable world, it is worth tending to the dirty laundry of your ancestors for the benefit of yourself and the collective.
In The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Some notes: ‘Elders refer to the rightings of wrongs as “keeping the house clean for others”. Thus harmony is won through cleansing and through maintaining vigilance. This allows future generations to inherit purity instead of having to repair the damage that irresponsible grandparents or great grandparents have neglected to fix’. In doing this healing work accountability can be seen as a ‘deepening of relationship…a productive example in service of the greater whole. For example, when someone causes hurt in someone else, correction rather than punishment is in order; the wrongdoer makes things right by deepening the relationship with the person hurt, maintaining it for the rest of one’s life.’
I hope that ancestral healing and racial justice work can be reframed as joyful; as something worth sustaining and committing to. As an act of love and service for future generations. These systems are unlikely to fully re-pattern or shift in one moment. These are deep wounds that must be tended in our bodies, minds and spirits. This will take time and rest. Trust needs to be rebuilt- with marbles put back into the trust jar. I hope that people commit to this as a lifelong practice and feel the freedom in shedding the virus of superiority and dehumanisation that has perpetuated this system of racial hierarchy for so long. Are you willing to make this commitment? What will it take for you to weave this work into your life? I hope you can sit with this question and see what messages emerge from your body.
What we need is a collective practice in which investigating and shedding privilege is seen as reclaiming connection, mending relationships broken by the system, and is framed as gain, not loss… Deciding that we are in fact accountable frees us to act. Acknowledging our ancestors’ participation in the oppression of others (and this is ultimately true of everyone), and deciding to balance the accounts on their behalf and our own, leads to less shame and more integrity, less self-righteousness and more righteousness, more humility, compassion and a sense of proportion.
~ Aurora Levins Morales, Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (pp.100 – 1)