We’re in a time of reckoning here in the US. In an attempt to wake up, we are getting a bit more vocal about White Power and its misuse. This hotbed topic of White Supremacy, seemingly the bedrock of our country’s society, is being thrust into the limelight as we recognize that we simply cannot stomach any more images of innocent black men and women being murdered by the police. Finally, it’s too graphic to continue to turn our minds and hearts away from. It’s gone on too long, and yet what is the real issue here? If we pull apart white supremacy, misogyny, abuse of power, and the exercise of control at the core of these matters, the question becomes: What is it that compels this abuse and allows it to stay intact in our culture?
These issues of abuse are personal and collective, both of which depend on the other for their continuance. To illustrate this point, I digress personally. As a person residing in a female body of cisgender, my most difficult issues in life have stemmed from a deep-seated core belief that I’m not allowed to be feminine. I couldn’t express or show softness, tenderness, or vulnerability, and to do so is shameful and weak. I learned very early that it’s not safe to be female, and this links to a very clear and simple message, “Do not be who you are”. This is an unsolvable problem, and if not seen clearly for the invisible power it has over one’s psyche can lead to a lifetime of torment. This core belief must be seen and worked through as a false construct in order to dissolve the identification at the heart of this message. This invisible power controlled all aspects of my experience up to a certain point in my life.
I didn’t come into the world with this message. It was, however, given to me by a wide variety of people and influences as I developed through my early years and beyond. In all cases these messages were hand-me-downs. Not one of them was an original idea of the influencers through which it came. So, what to do? How to find the core of the issue? Who and what exactly is the perpetrator of our stolen innocence and what do we need to do in order to hold them responsible for this wrongdoing? Is it possible to root out the “evil” that keeps us down and tells us we’re not good enough? How can we collectively get rid of the destructive patterns that have been part of the human condition for as long as we know, and how do we as a country heal from the trauma that is sourced way longer than 400 years ago? These are not small questions.
In the video below with Dr. Cornell West, Anderson Cooper is brought to tears by West’s call to racial equality and the Transformational Power of Love that does not discriminate against anything at all. “That kind of love is always tragicomic and cruciform”, he says. “We have to get ready to get crucified with that kind of love. That kind of love is the only hope of the world”. I feel he’s right on all counts.
What I hear him speaking to, what it touches in me, is how when we really let go, when we come to the end of fighting against what oppresses us, when we finally understand what it is that wants to keep us down and that seeks to steal our light, we see it for what it is. Fear. And then, and only then, can we start to see the isolation and alienation that fear creates in our lives. We can start to see our imperfections for what they are. At times we are frail, we are weak, we are vulnerable, we are dependent, we are tired, we are lost, we are scared. We all get confused at times, and yet we can be terrified to admit it. Once we do, we see that we don’t need to fight anymore. We see that we need to learn how to love more. We can see that every single one of us fumbles. We lose our way. We don’t necessarily know what we are doing at every given moment and that’s okay. This is our humanity. We are all different beings, yet we are similar in many, many ways. When we can admit our frailty then we can truly know our beauty, our strength, our value, our goodness, our soul-giving worthiness, and connection to all that exists here on earth. We can learn to see ourselves and others with compassion. Energy that heals so much.
So, in this way, Love itself is a death of sorts, and that’s the crux of his plea I believe. When we truly embody love, some part of us dies. We die to what has been. We die to what will be. We live right here in the present, not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. Everything that we do from presence fulfills the promise of mankind. When we embody love above all else we find ourselves no longer against anything but rather for life. This is the hope of the future, and what I believe West is pointing to with his comments.
Most every one of us in this modern western culture suffers from this undermining message that we need to be different to some degree or another. Our inborn potential can be seriously disrupted in early life by the conditioning from family, church, and state to such a degree that many cannot maintain a connection to their true self very easily. It’s in this disconnect by these issues of poverty, sexism, racial disparity, abuse, neglect, and gender bias that we come to believe that we have to be different in order to be worthy. It’s an existential issue, a problem of existence. As I see it, this is the problem White People need to solve in order to bring racial equality. By being willing to see the false beliefs that make up our sense of entitlement and how underneath that entitlement is a sense of unworthiness, deep-seated insecurity, and low self-esteem we literally uproot the hatred of others that lives in our hearts with the love of Self that is even deeper. Self being something greater than our ego, something numinous.
In order to change, we must be willing to find the roots of fear within us and to face what is ugly and painful inside. We have to want to see the parts of our psyche that try to stay hidden and denied yet that have a lot of power to hurt both self and others. We have to make a commitment to bring compassion to these aspects of ourselves and to learn how to soften the hard places that want to control and impugn others. We must learn how to love the untouchable places by allowing the truth of who and what we to are shine through without apology. We are perfectly flawed human beings. We’re not supposed to be perfect, we’re supposed to be who we are. Attempting to live the potential bestowed upon us makes us better people with more meaningful and fruitful experiences, and that makes this a better world all the way around.
It also evens the playing field. If we are willing to see others as not just one thing — all good or all bad — and if we own what we see in them as aspects of self that we too can identify with given the right circumstances, then we cannot continue the oppressive behaviors and politics that give some of us rights while denying others the same. Being vigilant and paying attention to that which may not always be immediately obvious in our personal view of things is necessary in order not to get caught in the polarity of othering. When someone, or a group of people, is suffering, their pain is our pain. “It’s not separate. It’s the same”, says Dr. West speaking to Anderson’s tears in the video. He says, “We cry because we care, we’re concerned. . . . we cry because we are not numb on the inside, we don’t have a chilliness of soul or coldness of mind and heart. We cry because we connect, and then we must have a vision that includes all of us.” Every single one of us must be included in the policies and practices that govern life in this country and on this Earth. We are being asked to look deeply into these Rules of law and come to fair agreement about how our past is still affecting our present way of life.
Wendall Berry’s words ring loud for me here. Asking the questions, “What is my place in all this? Is it possible to live life differently? And if so, how can I begin?”, seem absolutely, unequivocally essential if we are to shift the balance of power toward equality and away from totality. We don’t know how to find the road that leads us where we want to go, but we can’t afford to stop trying to find it. It’s there. In the here, in the now.
Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash