In Same, Same, I entered into the very real awareness that I, in some way, am complicit with the injustices of the world, even if it is simply because of my privilege and silence. This video caused my heart to break…open.
Each face looks at me directly, while the words ask me to look, really look with eyes and a heart that want to see, not eyes and a mind that think they already know.
It’s as if the narrator really knows how unconscious human beings can be, how easy it is for our minds to scan images and take stock of them in a split second, coming away with quick assumptions that satisfy us so we can move on.
Can I really watch these images, with an open heart that is willing to feel whatever arises as these eyes stare back, not asking for pity, but asking instead to truly be seen as an intelligent being with capabilities not recognized, with the desire to be a part of the answer rather than simply an object, a commodity or a problem to be solved?
Can I ask myself, “How do I contribute to the current situation?” and can I sit with myself and be with the truth of the answer?
Today, almost one year later, I wonder how I can go through all these months and not consider what is happening in these girls’ lives. Where does my mind go instead? Yes, I am busy with life. And, how easy it is to become complacent and turn away.
In this privileged life, it is so easy to not have to concern myself with those with less privilege.
I wrote a series of posts in the early part of this year on Privilege, Silence and Oppression. It was a difficult series to write, as you can probably guess by the title.
One thing that has stayed with me since I wrote the series is a comment that came from a friend and colleague. This friend is hearing impaired and is very conscious of how privilege causes us to not have to be aware of others’ situations.
From my perspective, privilege is the freedom from having to think about your impact on another. Before I lost my hearing, I never really considered how important acoustic accessibility is to those who are hard of hearing. I didn’t have to think about it because it didn’t affect me. Now, however, it’s in the forefront of my consciousness all of the time. When I can extend my empathy and compassion to others who experience the world differently than I do, when I imagine how it might be for them and take action to rectify the inequity that I am causing people, the world will start to look a lot different to me and to those people known and unknown to me with whom I’m in constant relationship. ~ Judith Cohen
To me, Judith’s words are brilliant. They cause me to pause, to put my attention on others that normally I don’t have to consider or think about. And, they take me back to my own words from last year:
Can I ask myself, “How do I contribute to the current situation?” and can I sit with myself and be with the truth of the answer?
I’ve wondered about the seeming incongruousness of our world that is easy for a human mind to justify, but so hard for the heart to hold.
The incongruousness of a world we’ve created where some have so much more than they could ever, ever need, and others are dying from lack of clean water, food, or love.
Yes, this is the world we humans have created, the world based on our ideas of how things should be.
I feel girls are a part of the solution. And, we are all, women, boys and men, part of the solution.
When we put our attention on the problem, if we are willing to see our complicity and our very generous ability to be creative and resourceful, we have what we need to change things.
At the heart of the matter is the heart.
My heart. Your heart. And, compassion. For ourselves, for others, for the human predicament.
Being human is a very vulnerable proposition.
We can’t, and don’t, always do it right. We are human. And, this humanness is really at the heart of the matter. We can turn out attention to places that feel to hard to look, and when we do, perhaps we become beautiful people…
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler Ross
Privilege also causes suffering. It hurts the heart to turn away from others, to not have to consider others.
It also hurts the heart to turn away from our sisters and brothers who are not, in one way or another, free to be fully expressed souls, free to live a life that is a reflection of the sacredness of the soul.
There is a very real benefit to all of us, and to all of life, for each of us to enter the realm of the broken-open heart.
Real ways to make a difference at The Girl Effect:
Over the course of the past 24 hours, grief has been on my mind. Beauty has been in my awareness. I’ve wondered about the seeming incongruousness of our world that is easy for a human mind to justify, but so hard for the heart to hold.
The incongruousness of a world we’ve created where some have so much more than they could ever, ever need, and others are dying from lack of clean water, food, or love.
Yes, this is the world we humans have created, the world based on our ideas of how things should be.
It’s okay to have so much since I’ve worked hard for it, I’ve done what it takes to make it, and others haven’t. Why should I care or share?
It’s okay to not have to think of others, because I’ve been born into privilege, and privilege means I don’t have to consider those who aren’t privileged.
It’s okay for me to legislate my beliefs into law because I know better and am right.
I, too, have thought these thoughts and believed these beliefs throughout my life. I was born into privilege and for most of my life, even though I knew on some deep level that those privileges hadn’t been earned and weren’t part of the natural world, I really never looked beneath the covers of that privilege to see what was hiding underneath.
The world itself,
the natural world we humans are so damn lucky to be a part of, has no beliefs written upon its pages. In reality, there may be incongruencies there as well, but if we look very closely and are very honest with ourselves, we can’t even say we understand this world, our place in it or why we’re here…or for that matter, who and what we really are. It’s really all conjecture.
What is clear is that we’re out of balance. It feels as though our structures are out of balance, and our way of life is out of balance.
Yesterday, after a lovely conversation over coffee downtown with fellow coach Heather Mills, I decided to walk home along some of the most beautiful scenic streets of San Francisco. Heather and I had talked about how easy it is to forget we’re a part of this natural world when we’re surrounded by the cold and steel secular structure of our man-made surroundings. Concrete gray surrounded us as we talked, and nowhere immediate in our gaze was there green or blue, or any other bright color of Mother Earth in our gaze. I had shared with Heather about the feelings I encountered when I returned home from India a few years ago. I had been struck by how cold and lifeless it felt here compared to the devotion-laced air I breathed in my travels there, and this recognition had brought with it great sadness.
On my walk home,
I stopped to watch the cable cars, gazed at the Fairmont Hotel and surrounding buildings with beautiful design details, and wandered the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. As I almost always do when I walk, I was snapping pictures along the way. It’s a form of meditation for me, because as I look through the lens, even the lens of this quirky iPhone, my artist eye has a chance to behold what it sees with a sense of color, balance, composition, intrigue and surprise.
I felt the contradiction between seeing beauty in these concrete creations, while also feeling a sense of estrangement. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what feels so lifeless in them. I looked around at the people I was passing and we all seemed to be so intent on something else other than what was right in front of us – this beautiful sacred creation of life itself that constantly invites us to be amazed. In some ways, what brought me back to the beauty of creation was this quirky artist’s eye…the one that stops to look and feel and compose…and then share images into the interwebs by way of my phone.
In yesterday’s post, I shared this quote:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elizabeth Kubler Ross
On the final leg of my walk,
I felt a welling up of grief and the tears began to flow. So much beauty. I am swimming in so much beauty, and so much of the time I’m lost in my thoughts and beliefs and fears about the world, my place in it and what might happen. So much of the time I believe what I feel in my surroundings rather than feeling what is deep in my heart.
I thought about how things might be if we lived in a world inhabited by seven billion beautiful people…
Seven billion people who have found their way out of the depths of suffering, struggle, and loss.
Seven billion people filled with appreciation, sensitivity, compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern.
Seven billion beautiful people.
As Kubler Ross writes, beautiful people don’t just happen. We become beautiful people by feeling, seeing and knowing the depths of suffering and what it means to be human.
our doorway out of our current predicament is the same doorway into our awakening to the beauty we are, to the beauty of each other, to the beauty inherent in life itself.
Perhaps the fix we’re looking for, that congress is trying to legislate, that our politicians are fumbling to express is really as simple as coming to remember the sacred by feeling the depths of our own suffering that is right here, right now. Maybe, through this doorway of remembering, we might feel our way into a world of enough, of connection, of deep loving concern for all beings.
All the distractions we feed ourselves are done so we don’t have to feel. There is no human being on earth that does not suffer; yet there are many human beings who have learned, very well, how to not feel.
Privilege, like oppression, is infused with suffering.
Having too much, like having not enough, is infused with suffering.
Believing we know who we are, like forgetting who we really are, is infused with suffering.
Not feeling our own suffering is infused with suffering.
Perhaps we are on the threshold of this shift, right now, and our doorway in is to feel the depths of the grief that is right here in front of us.
Grief is an intelligent process.
After all, it can lead us from suffering to beauty, to compassion, to “gentleness and a deep loving concern”. It can lead us from separation to connection. It can lead us to all that is sacred within ourselves, and to a remembering of what is at the sacred heart of life in each other, all seven billion of us.
And, I know first hand, that fully grieving leads to joy and peace… a sweet simple joy, a lighthearted love of life.
What would it be like if the world were filled with seven billion people consciously grieving the state of our world, the loss of awareness of the sacred, our sense of separation, our fears of each other…grieving the very real suffering that exists right now?
How would things be if seven billion people felt this sweet simple joy, a lighthearted love of life that comes from remembering the sacred?
People all over the world feel grief every day. They face circumstances I could not even imagine. They see horrors, they know suffering, they live with grief.
Many of us who know abundance and plenty, enjoy freedom others could never imagine, and have our health are also experiencing grief about what is happening on the planet, although we may not be able to put in words what is happening.
In my short travels in India, even though many there I saw lived with so much less than what I have in my life, I also saw joy, a kind of joy I see here less and less.
I have a sense children already are, for as children we are still in touch with what’s real. Most children see through the illusions their parents have about life, but don’t know how to deal with the discrepancy between what they see and what their parents claim is reality.
I know all I can do is to continue to feel, continue to grieve what we’ve done to our world.
How have I contributed? How do I continue to be unconscious? What can I offer that I am not yet offering?
And, can I remember the sacred in the everyday moments of life?
What would it be like for all seven billion of us to walk through this doorway into awakening? Perhaps there would be seven billion people who’ve come to realize the inherent beauty that’s always been at the heart of who they really are.
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ~ Audre Lorde
I’m beginning to understand something that I wanted to understand when I began this journey.
I’m beginning to know why I am silent about so many things and about why I am silent about what is happening to our world.
It is giving me even more clarity about why men might be silent, one of the impetuses for this exploration.
Lest I get too ahead of myself, I also know there is still much that is hidden.
What is hidden keeps me stuck. Stuck consciousness. Stuck life force. Stuck power. Power in a good, strong, vital way. Power that is life-affirming, like the power the cherry tree outside our house is showing me, right now, as the buds of soon-to-be blossoms begin to take form.
You can get a sense of the power that is released when we speak up and out with truth from these powerful and courageous posts by Jeanne and Angela.
It is the raw power that fuels all of life, the power of truth not wielded over others, but truth spoken form the core of one’s being, in service to freeing consciousness, which in turn frees us all. I can feel it in the words and it is beautiful.
What has become clear,
are some of the limiting beliefs and feelings of shame that keep us silent. I know we all feel shame of some sort.
“white shame is this deeply private feeling of not being at home within one’s own white community. (p. 13) Shame is an emotional display of a hidden civil war. It is a pitched battle by a self against itself in order to stop feeling what it is not supposed to feel: forbidden desires and prohibited feelings that render one different.(p. 12)
“the Euro-American child,… is a racial victim of its own white community of parents, caretakers, and peers, who attack it because it does not yet have a white racial identity. Rather than continue to suffer such attacks, the Euro-American child defends itself by creating a white racial identity for itself. It begins to think and act like its community’s ideal of a white self. When the adult recalls the feelings and ideas it had to set aside in order to mound this defense, it feels shame. More precisely, white shame. …
The parts of (the child) that were not white had to be set aside as unloved and therefore unlovable. (p. 13) Shame is the death of an unloved part of the self because it, apparently, is just not good enough to be loved. (p.17)
When I read this,
“The parts of (the child) that were not white…” everything just stopped. Stopped.
Wait a minute, I thought. Parts of me that were not white. Parts of me that are not white. It sounded so foreign, yet so true.
So foreign, because I so strongly identified with being white. It seems as if it’s been a given, all my life. I’ve always felt different than those that were not white. There felt like a gap of some sort.
So true, because I can feel, have been able to feel, those parts in my psyche that aren’t white, that never identified that way, that were put to sleep, way down inside.
Such a funny feeling. That gap = those parts and places inside that I have denied of my own wholeness.
Then, the remembering that there is no such thing as race. No such thing as race. I remember when I first learned that race is only a concept with no genetic validity. It’s a social construct (destruct?) created at some point to differentiate, to separate, to categorize, to stratify.
You know how it feels when something hits you that wakes you up? Wakes up a place that has been asleep for a long time? That’s what happened. Something big that had been stuck was now free.
Something important has been seen through.
I take it a step further from what I shared here of Thandeka’s words.
We all have all parts within us. Everything is within. The entire Universe, is inside each and everyone of us. The Universe is holographic, meaning the entire Universe is within. We each have all parts. Girl and boy; white, black, brown, yellow and red; straight and gay; dark and light; joyful and rageful. We all have these parts within us.
“The parts of (the child) that were not [insert quality not mirrored in family, community, country] had to be set aside as unloved and therefore unlovable.”
This very clear articulation of me having to disown those parts of myself that aren’t white fits. I know this somewhere deep inside. I feel joy in seeing this. There are parts of me that don’t feel ‘white’ at all.
For me, remembering these parts and knowing they didn’t die, is the key. I killed them in my consciousness, because that is how I created my ‘identity’. But, what is whole is whole. My unwhite parts, my gay parts, my indigenous parts, my rageful and bitchy parts, are still very much available to me and I celebrate this, because it means I am not so different than anyone else who has been classified as ‘other’.
We are much more alike
than we believe ourselves to be. And this is good news, for in releasing the illusion of separation, we find out that we are indeed one consciousness robed as billions of separate human beings.
Just this realization has released even more life force, more stuck consciousness, more remembering of my whole self.
My knowing I am more like you does not mean I know your pain, your experience, your oppression, your privilege, or your lack of any of these things. Rather, it has created an opening of desire to connect, to hear, to listen, to know and to love. It has opened my eyes and my heart ever more widely to my true nature, while also giving me a greater capacity to embody all these parts of myself that I thought I had cast away so long ago.
Many of you have written
about why you don’t speak up, why you silence yourself.
“I don’t dare speak up because i am not worthy. I am white. I am middle class. I am not worthy.”
“Thank you for this post. It made me accept that I need to remain part of the conversation. Sometimes I think I have no right.”
“My voice doesn’t matter. How dare i say anything? Me, who’s had it so easy.”
These words ring in my ears. “Sometimes I think I have no right.”
How many of us believe we have no right to speak up? No right to be in the conversation? No right to speak up for ourselves, the earth, all those who can’t speak, for all the world’s children that are, right now, suffering greatly?
How many of us hear a shrill internal voice, harshly berating us with, “Who do you think you are?”
I ask you
to think about this, something my good friend, Judith Cohen, shared in her comment on part one:
A thought just passed through my mind thinking about oppression and comparing oppressions. I wonder if comparison is just another way the patriarchy tricks us into believing that there is not enough heart and compassion to go around. Patriarchy is so much about hierarchy and power. Certainly, it’s convenient and an energy saver not to have to consider those whose experiences fall lower in the hierarchy. But hierarchy doesn’t exist in support of love. It lives to support a small number of people wielding power over others. We’ve “democratized” hierarchy by letting more diverse people in at the top but hierarchy is still a system that says “NO!” to most people. It continues to poison all of our relationships by asserting that some of us are better than others or that some type of pain is more worthwhile than another.
to feel what Niki Andre shared as a comment on part three:
I’m frustrated by the divisive undercurrents of guilt and blame that distract us
From getting down to the crux:
It is necessary for us
To dispell the silence as One.
This us and them mentality,
Their divide and conquer legacy…
This is it isn’t it?
This is what keeps us
Too factioned and fragmented to effectively rise up;
Conditioned for infighting,
We are easily quieted or confounded to remain stuck;
The silenced majority remains
This system of patriarchy doesn’t live on its own. It can’t. Patriarchy is not a thing. It is not men. It lives in people and in the things people create out of patriarchal beliefs. We breathe life into it when we act from the beliefs and thoughts that habitually feed our choices.
Our internalized patriarch tricks us into making many choices the heart would never choose.
We are all very underprivileged when we allow ourselves to be silenced.
Who do you think you are?
Who do I know I am?
A woman infused with life, infused with the sacred light of love, infused with a basic goodness, living and breathing the sacred feminine. A woman who can, and must, choose in each moment to bring her full self to the conversation for the sake of what is being born.
This post is the fourth in a series of posts on Silence, Privilege and Oppression. You’ll find part one, part two, and part three important preludes to this post, as well as this interlude a beautiful expression of how powerful it is to voice what is dying to be said.
“I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” ~ Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches)
You may have noticed that I’ve begun each post of this series with a quote from Audre Lorde. The depth of her insights astounds me. In her life, she was an African-American, lesbian woman. I share that because I am aware that I have no idea, no sense at all, of the major amount of oppression she must have faced in her life.
Her words cut my heart open. Wide.
My anger, my rage has been hidden most of my life. Hidden way down. She knew her anger like the beat of her heart and the taste of her spit.
When I read these lines, my heart stopped at ‘the threatening universe of whiteness’.
It would be really easy for me to write something here about Lorde’s quote and how it affected me. I could leave it at that, but I can’t.
Let me take a moment to share something else.
In the comments
of part one of this series, a woman named Kierra D. Foster-Ba shared this:
Both a scratch and a gaping wound share some commonalities. This does not mean they are the same or that the only difference is the degree or severity. This is how I feel when people of privilege talk about oppression. Yes, everyone experiences being treated unfairly but this does not mean that they are oppressed. There are various statistics that reveal that white women have overwhelmingly (at least statistically) benefited from affirmative action, something that people of color have been demonized for. So while, I would not challenge your feelings, your feelings are yours. I think in 2011 oppression is a strong word for a middle class, educated white woman to use. To me oppression is when 97% of the images of people you share several identity groups with (race; gender; complexion; body size; shape) are buffoons; belligerent; and unbelievable ignorant. A recent commercial for bounce comes to mind. It is a series about different people and the way they use bounce. The large black woman announces “Ah put em…Ah put em in my shoes; Ah put in my drawers….Ah put em; Ah bin put em for years.” This is oppression. These images of the angry; unattractive; ignorant and large black woman have not changed from the antebellum period to now, but the images of priveledged white women have changed from fainting women too fragile to work to smart; competative; atheletic women who are equal to men.
When I first read Kierra’s comment, I was taken aback. In my experience, the oppression I have suffered has been very painful. And, I don’t think it helps to judge who’s pain is more.
Kierra’s comment has stayed with me. I’ve promised myself to really be ruthless with my own bullshit. Her words pull at me, telling me to stop, listen, feel.
Just before I posted part two of this series, my article, The Courage to Sin, was unexpectedly posted on the Huffington Post. I didn’t expect this, because I submitted the post a while ago, and the post is long. The team at HP told me it was too long. They asked me to cut it down and I chose not to. Suddenly, as I found myself knee-deep in this series, it appeared, and I received this comment:
I guess it depends on who’s doing the ‘sinning’, since all women aren’t held to the same standard.
For example, myself being black,for me and a white woman to commit the same ‘sin’ isn’t the same. I will always be looked at and judged more harshly, and the worst motives will always be attributed to my actions. It’s not fun, free or innocent when I do it, it’s seen as evidence of an inherent lowliness.
Her words, “inherent lowliness” caused my heart to hurt, again. Those words are a direct hit to the hierarchical bigotry of patriarchy.
I responded saying none of this is fun, free or innocent for me, either…AND, “I hear the pain in your words. I want to know your story.”
I know of my own experience, of friend’s and client’s experiences with oppression. There are experiences of personal oppression, group oppression, systemic oppression and god knows what other kinds. Yes, there are degrees of oppression. And, there are very loud and obvious forms, and there are some very silent, very hidden forms.
I do know, after 54 years of living on this planet, that I will never really know your experience, or Kierra’s, or this other woman who courageously shared herself. I can only know mine. And, I do know that I want to hear their stories, hear your story, while at the same time have you hear mine.
Somewhere it could be easy to slip into silence again, a silence that comes from believing my story shouldn’t be told aloud because I was born white. No one has said that. I just know me, the old me. A while ago, I did believe that. I didn’t speak of it. As I read these words of women of color and their experiences, I know all our stories hold something another woman needs to hear.
The privilege I have enjoyed,
has given me things other women have not had. Some who have read this series have wondered if I’m attempting to speak of privilege as something to feel guilt about. I’m not. What I am wanting to share, here, is my process of investigating into the story I tell myself about silence, privilege and oppression in my life.
I truly want to know where I am not telling myself the truth, where I keep myself separate, where my own consciousness is stuck, holding on to something that I think is serving, but that really is not.
Guilt isn’t going to help anyone. Ruthless truth-telling will. Compassion for myself and my fellow sisters will. A genuine hunger to know what will break the barriers of separation with my sisters, so we can join hands to voice our collective “Enough is enough!” will.
Going back to Audre Lorde’s quote, I was shaken by the realization that an extremely intelligent, insightful, beautiful woman saw whiteness as a “threatening universe”. I am of this universe. I am a part of this threatening universe. I am of this whiteness.
When I read this, “It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” my eyes light on the words, “worth wanting each other”. I don’t know the exact context that led to Lorde’s words, yet I am deeply touched by the depth of her heart. I do know that when I read them, I realized all women, no matter what complexion, race, socio-economic background, religion, nationality, age, sexual orientation, are worth wanting.
I know I am worth you wanting me, and I know you are worth my wanting you.
I now so clearly see that one of the most important ways I give up my power when I continue the deceit of privilege, is the power of connected women. When I speak of power, here, it’s not power over, but power with, and I know I am most powerful when my voice is joined in Sisterhood.
The old way is of hierarchy, the new way is not yet known.
And, the way of the Feminine is connectedness, relationship, weaving and circles. I can’t stand together with other women when I hold onto privilege out of fear of what might come if I lose it.
These past days of living this series of posts have brought many moments of synchronicity. I know, when we are doing what we’re here to do, symbols and offerings show up directly in one’s lived experience. I discovered this poem on Louise Rooney’s blog. The poem speaks to what is happening right now in our world. It speaks to the power that privilege and silence robs us of, the power of women united, voices rising and heard.
This World (by Rose Flint)
In Sudan, a Muslim woman journalist
faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in a restaurant.
In Afghanistan, the family of Nadia the Poet
who wrote of love and beauty, said she shamed them –
she may have died with her scholar husband’s hands
around her throat. Sometimes lipstick is a crime
And Shakespeare, maths, and the desire to dance.
And still a woman’s unbound hair incites a man
to sexual violence – she must be covered up
in darkness, top to toe, to keep her safe.
So. In America, loving mothers give their daughters
breast implants for graduation. Thirty-two thousand
women seek breast surgery every month.
And in Africa, mothers, grandmothers, take the little girls
to the rusty knives of genital mutilation.
All this is fear and desperation,
the last acts of Old Order who is dying on his feet
“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.” Audre Lorde
There is power in truly wanting to see through your own bullshit.
Since I opened the door to wanting to know about silence, privilege and oppression, so much has been shifting and churning. I am already wiser for this exploration. Your comments have touched raw nerves. My own words are doing the same.
Over the past six days, I kept writing and sitting. Nothing clear would come out. I spoke with my writing partner, Jeanne, and clarity seemed to show up for a bit. But the next morning when it came time to write, fog and confusion, again. Something here doesn’t want to be seen. I don’t want to see it; but, I do. I want to be free.
Silence, privilege and oppression.
Three pretty powerful topics, and I’ve lumped them all together. They are intertwined.
Some of you have asked why I’m exploring this topic. Something is pushing me to see what I don’t want to see. I want to know what keeps me silent. I want to know where I am blind. I want to know where I am ignorant. I want to see what I haven’t been willing to see. I want to be free. And, it is foggy. It feels like something painful is coming to light.
I know that what stays hidden, what stays in the dark, hurts us all.
A few nights ago,
after opening this can of who knows what, anger and grief finally came pouring out. I kept yelling, over and over, out loud, very out loud, from someplace deep inside, “I don’t understand men’s silence.” “I don’t understand.” “How can you stay silent about what happens to women, when there are women in your life you love? Your mother, your sister, me?”
I was saying it to him, my partner…and at the same time, I was saying it to all the world’s men.
After so many years wondering what it would be like to simply say what had been kept inside for so long, I experienced it. It wasn’t clumsy at all. It was clear. It was alive. It was powerful. It came from someplace deep within my body.
The anger was a deep and boiling. It’s been cooking for some time. It burned its way through. It burned itself out of me. After it subsided, grief began to spill out. A deep, deep grief about the way things are in the world. So much grief.
But as everything came tumbling out of my body, the rage, the grief and the tears, I also felt something inside me become stronger. It was as if I found a part of myself that I had lost a long time ago. It’s the part that I silenced.
It is still a bit hazy,
but I’m going to try to write it in hopes it will become more clear.
I don’t understand my partner’s silence. He is a good man. I love him. I feel so much anger and so much love. It was a sign that something was up in me, something coming up to be seen through, something that was ready to be set free.
There is an old, worn out relationship between me and men. In opening the door to seeing my complacency and silence, I see even more clearly how these things are fueled by my conditioned loyalty with men, especially the men in my life that hold power. The men in my life who hold power are white men. Educated men. Middle-class men. Men I love.
If you asked them, they might not feel powerful. In fact, I bet they don’t feel powerful. So many men have said they feel powerless in this culture. Yet, in relationship to me, they seem powerful. They seem to hold the power. What’s that about?
As a girl, I learned I held no power. Small body. Big men. No way I could hold my own.
As a girl, I learned my role was to take care of men, and to try to help them feel good about themselves.
As a girl, I learned to be silent about the things they did that didn’t feel right to me, that didn’t feel good.
As a girl, I learned to stay silent: silent = safe.
As a girl, this was survival.
As a woman, it is no longer survival, it is conditioning, habitual conditioning that covers old fears. old betrayals and very real oppression.
The conditioning played itself out until, one day, the urge to know the truth, to be free of the conditioning, became stronger than the urge to stay safe. As Lorde wrote, we can incite our own learning, if we follow the urge for truth.
So what is the relationship between silence, privilege and power?
You may already know this. I didn’t know, until these past few days, how they have played out in my life.
Over the last few days, every time I tried to write about this, I would feel sick to my stomach. Something really uncomfortable was coming up. I could only see fog, and writing didn’t clear it like it usually does.
The morning after so much anger rose up and burned out of me, I went for a walk in the woods across the street from our home. I could hear the birds calling, the water rushing down the stream, and the rustle of the early morning breeze. As I walked deeper into the park, I could feel the earth alive. I could feel her holding me, Mother earth. I felt so much love from everything alive around me. In that holding, more grief tumbled out. The tears literally poured from my eyes.
As the grief subsided, I could feel something shift. It was as if a distancing had happened, a distancing between me and men. Then I saw it clearly.
My silence earns me privilege, and it costs me my power.
Let me say that again. My silence earns me privilege, and it costs me my power. I give away my power to have privilege.
I may feel I have power, but as long as that power is based on a privilege that is hollow at its core, the power is hollow, too.
Any privilege is hollow at its core.
Privilege is not the way Spirit works. It is not the way of soul. It is not the way of the Earth. And it is not the way of the Mother of us all.
Privilege is the way of patriarchy.
It’s an exchange. A pact. A very unconscious pact. Unconscious in me, until now.
This pact between privilege, power and silence upholds this system of domination and control.
As the tears poured from my eyes, I felt grief rise up and leave. I felt a letting go of this pact of silence. I felt my own autonomy grow. I felt a solidness in myself take hold.
I want to be free, a woman liberated from her own silence.
This is part two in a series of posts on silence, privilege and oppression. You can read part one, here. I don’t know how many more there will be. Thank you for walking beside me through this exploration. I would love to know your reactions, comments and experiences with these very tender places.
“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
— Audre Lorde
Privilege, handed out at birth.
White privilege: Yes.
Gender privilege: No.
Born into color. Born into gender. Born into a system.
I am white. I am a woman. In reality, I am neither of these things. Yet, I live in a system, a system full of institutions that are insidiously laced with privilege, domination and oppression.
I don’t know…
what to do with this. I know I’ve been handed privilege. I know I’ve used this privilege and enjoyed its benefits. I know part of me would rather not talk about it.
Yet, I must.
Why must I? Because, not talking about it keeps me in a silence that needs to be broken.
Not talking about it keeps me from seeing my own humanity, keeps me tangled up in a fog of complicity and complacency that go against the nature of what I really am.
Not talking about keeps me from fully waking up to the light that is at the heart of every cell of matter.
Not talking about it keeps us from solidarity, soulful human connection that can help to break apart this system that we all uphold, both consciously and unconsciously. And I no longer want to uphold this system.
a woman told me this story. She was talking with her boyfriend about gender oppression, about what it’s like living in this culture as a woman. He replied to her that she couldn’t know oppression because she is white. He told her she couldn’t be gender oppressed because she was privileged by her skin color. He negated her experience of gender oppression because he determined that her whiteness denied her the very real and direct experience of gender oppression.
I once had a man, a white man, tell me that my whiteness automatically made me an oppressor. The first time I heard this, I was stopped short with surprise. Then anger. Then confusion.
I asked myself,
“What do I do with this?”
So, I sat with it. It churned. There were no clear answers, no short and sweet snippets of wisdom. And then I forgot about it.
Until now. Until my deep, deep desire to see men break the silence about gender privilege invited me to break my silence about what I’ve been privileged with – racial privilege mainly, as well as financial privilege, class privilege, etc.
As a white woman, I know both privilege and oppression. And, yes, I know I experience both, that one does not negate the other.
We were all born into a system that oppresses. We didn’t’ choose it, yet it is our responsibility to see it for what it is. And, for the sake of our children and grandchildren we must come to terms with the insidious ways it keeps us doing things that I know are antithetical to our true nature.
We’ve been born into it through no choice of our own. AND, we have a choice as to whether or not we continue to uphold it, because the system doesn’t do it to us. It works through us. The system is just a collection of beliefs that we internalized. Everything that we create from these beliefs continues the system. Everything that we create from knowing that we are simply many expressions of the One source of all of life will create a new infrastructure based on the love that is this One source.
I no longer want to know separation, because I know I am you and you are me. I know this. I see this, and it is only my internalized idea of the way the world is, and my habitual response pattern to these ideas, that keep me upholding something so painful.
I am angry about what has been done, and continues to be done, to women and children, to the earth. I am angry about the continued degradation of the feminine.
I am outraged at my own complacency.
My love for life, for this beauteous wonder that moves through me, calls me to live something greater than my habitual fear and confusion.
Am I willing to look here? Yes, I am willing to look. And, I hope you’ll look with me.
This post is part one of a series on privilege and oppression, and compliance and complacency. I don’t yet know how many parts there will be, or how and where it will end.
I hope you’ll inquire with me and leave rich comments here. Let’s begin a discussion. Let’s find a way through the fog of not wanting to see and know, so that one day we will meet in the place where there is no ‘other’.