Reimagining Whiteness- an invitation

These thoughts are inspired and informed by the work of adrienne maree brown, Resmaa Menakem, Sonya Renee Taylor and Ijeomo Oluo. Please look into their incredible work. 

“What do you want whiteness to be? If we want to stop the cycle of violent white supremacy, then white society is going to have to figure out what it wants whiteness to be.” - Ijeoma Oluo

My body holds beliefs that scaffold systems that are harmful to other humans. Deep in my bones are the experiences of ancestors who chose to become blank in order to be safe. But that safety for them was violence for others and the root of a cancerous growth inside of them that continues to eat away at the humanity of their descendants- like me.

I carry in my nervous system the thoughtless quickening toward stringent ideals that negate basic human needs. I carry shame, not only from the moral injury of being complicit in so much pain, but also - and at the same time- for not being enough as seen through the eyes of that violent system. It is a simultaneous guilt for being part of the problem, not knowing how to be part of the solution and for all the while being bombarded with internalized messages about how to be a foot soldier in the systems that causes so much harm to us all. 

This all came from somewhere, in the most basic sense, it came from someone’s imagination. Someone had to imagine that certain humans could be less human in order for them to become, in the eyes of that person, less human. Then beliefs formed around those ideas and culture formed around those beliefs and systems formed around that culture and became, as it seems now, cemented into a crushing reality. 

Someone, and then a group of someones moved away from their full humanity in order to imagine a lesser humanity in others. And that nightmare grew. That imagining grew into a culture that is not connected with our innate connection to the knowing of our bodies, that lives in constant threat of violence for not conforming, that was stripped from a sense of place and a sense of being enough. 

I have so much deep grief for how this imagining has impacted millions of people. That imagining that fueled global colonization, chattel slavery, extractive and exploitative capitalism and relating to each other from fear instead of trust. I have so much deep sadness for how this affects us all, alive and passed. How this stripping of the humanity of some necessitates the stripping of all of our humanity- for we cannot be fully human when we see any others as less than. 

I feel the current manifestations of this in my own body and I see it in the bodies of others. Upon walking down the street, I sometimes notice my body tensing and preparing for danger when I see humans I don’t know in bodies that my ancestors saw as less than human because of the color of their skin. My nervous system needs to heal, it needs to learn. Because it starts there. My brain knows that this person in a brown body is not any more likely to cause me harm than anyone else, but my heart rate quickens, my eyes scan for exits, my system prepares for a possibility of harm. This is an ugly and embarrassing truth, but my desire for it not to be true doesn’t make it a lie. We must face this truth, this truth of embodied racism that leads to the daily deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police whose nervous systems have also been hijacked by lies of danger and fear and superiority/inferiority. 

The imagination of some so many hundreds of years ago has infected not only our toxic social systems but our very bodies. The imagining of a way of life where some held the threat and use of physical harm over the bodies of others is alive in the bodies of all of us and it is harmful to us all. 

And it isn’t just this body response to perceived threat- it is a way of internalizing how we “should” be- that we are never enough. Never productive enough, beautiful enough, happy enough, strong enough, brave enough, smart enough. Someone imagined that hamster wheel at the root of consumerism and self-hatred and now it lives inside all of us and fuels a global extractive economy that may well end most of life on earth. 

So, breathe. Fully. In and out. If you would like to, put your hand on your belly or your heart. Feel your body in space, how it connects to the ground. Look at something in the room that helps you feel nourished. Open and expand around whatever is here for you (feelings, thoughts, images, body sensations) with words and ideas.

And then, hear this: 
If someone could imagine such a horrible world, what if we imagine a different one? What if we look our shame straight in the eyes and say-  ‘no more will I let you silence me.’ ‘No more will I let you keep me immobilized in the face of all of this, the weight and tangled mass of all of this pain that I, in my body, carry my own piece of responsibility for.’ The antidote to shame is empathetic connection. White folks need to share these feelings with other white folks so we can stop trying to ignore the monster of white supremacy that lives inside of us and turn- together to face it, with fierce compassion and begin to untangle it’s hold from our unconscious minds and bodies.

What if we imagine healing? Healing for ourselves and our own damaged bodies, hearts and minds that are infected with the old imagining that anyone can be less human than anyone else for any reason? What if we imagined our collective healing? What if we imagine that our hearts can expand to hold all of this pain without shutting down, without numbing out, without turning away and leaving ourselves or this reality behind through ignoring what has come before? 

What if we imagined joy into this process? What if we imagined the fullness of being enough? What if we imagined the beauty of being part of a culture defined not by a blank power and history of violence, but a culture that, in recognizing the harm we have caused, also claimed a new path- a path that is wide enough and varied enough to include everyone in the dance of repair and re-creation? 

How does your body respond to this invitation to imagine a new way? A new set of possibilities for being a human in a white body who can be enough, who can make mistakes, who can face the need for repair and then engage in that repair, who can be connected to our bodies and our hearts and others in our collective full humanity, who can do hard things and also feel the joy of facing the truth that another imagining has wrought on us all? 

Breathe. In and out. Allow for as much space in your heart and your belly as you can. What does this bring? Who do you want us to be as a collective group of humans in white bodies? Who do you want to be? What needs to heal inside of you to move toward this imagining, to let go of the shame and move toward an open receptivity that could allow us to walk toward a new world, of our imagining born from love and the desire for all beings to be free and supported? 

I invite you to consider all of this and while you do, honor where you are, what this elicits for you. Who can you reach out to that can support you and listen to you and will dream with you? How can you move forward on your healing path so you can have more capacity to do this work?

rachael koeson