Jun 1, 2020

No Neutral

A letter to white people from a white person.
By Josh Liveright / filmsforaction.org
No Neutral

“What is required is a new Dharma, a radical Dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies the systems of suffering, that starves rather than fertilizes the soil of the conditions that the deep roots of societal suffering grow in. A new Dharma is one that insists we investigate not only the unsatisfactoriness of our own minds but also prepares us for the discomfort of confronting the obscurations of the society we are individual expressions of. It recognizes that the delusions of systemic oppression are not solely the domain of the individual. By design, they are seated within and reinforced by society. We must wake up and cut through not only individual but also social ego. This is not only our potential, but we now each have it as our collective responsibility....there is no neutral.”

~Reverend Angel Kyoto Williams

Dear fellow white folks,

I recently listened to Wade Davis speak about recent and current events at the 2020 World Ayahuasca Conference. Davis is an anthropologist, ethnobotanist and author whose work has focused on indigenous cultures worldwide.

Davis mused that up until only a few days ago, virtually everyone on the globe was pretty much focused on one thing, Covid-19, and posited, “if this doesn't teach us what's happening to our planet, nothing will”. From his lens of hope, and I’m paraphrasing here, he felt it was actually possible we were beginning to appreciate nature's resilience and noticing how we are “a part of it, not apart from it”.

Davis went on to describe how three hundred years ago, Descartes pretty much thrust the final dagger into our relationship with the natural world by reframing the concept of a mountain as just a dead pile of rock rather than revering it as a living breathing deity. Therefore, human beings could justify poaching resources from the mountain with no further consequences entering our hungry myopic narrative driven minds.

Echoing fellow botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer who focuses on indigenous concepts of gratitude and reciprocity in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Davis explains how reciprocity is fundamental to the relationship indigenous peoples have with nature. Yet for those who agreed with Descartes, along with a nod from several other key European thinkers, a new path emerged with the aim to solidify a story of separation by “stealing the ancient sunlight of the world” from the sacred realms where it formerly resided. This was done in the name of man's pursuit of dominion over nature leading to the goal of amassing great wealth and power.

Through economic dominance, the industrial revolution compromised the natural world with impunity thus bringing us to the precipice of disaster in 2020, or what now could be called “The Sixth Extinction” or, in a broader sense, an existential emergency. The systemic and generational programming of our collective mindset manufactured through the narrative of power and control over nature, over anything that may stand in our way, forged largely by a mythology called "I deserve", has created a challenging dilemma - how do we now come to understand our relatively new secular relationship to the world that has evolved into normalcy and is sometimes referred to as "The Matrix"?

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.” 

~Robin Wall Kimmerer

To reconnect with the basic concept of reciprocity, which is a model that has sustained the cultures who embodied it for thousands of years, we need to detox from the story of separation and re-embrace “a sense of awe” that all humans once felt as part of our daily lives, retuning the sunlight we've so violently stolen from the ancient gods. We can do this with the tools of intention, action and integration and through direct experience.

A few days ago, another catastrophic event, the murder, or modern day lynching of a Black man named George Floyd, opened our eyes to an ugly and insidious by-product of the narrative of power we are mired in - systemic racism. As a result, more and more of us have been waking up to discover we live our daily lives as part of a system created in large measure to maintain and foster a division of race and class, realizing it isn't actually broken, it was set up this way. A system that teaches us to accept violence, creating a cycle of endless war, endless murder, endless suffering and injustice at the expense of Black and Brown bodies.

Dr. Ibram Kendi has written clearly and extensively about how this system of white supremacy is a power construct originally designed to separate us by race. Historically, he says, this is a relatively new concept, perhaps six hundred years old, and quickly became a cancer that continues to spread with the murder of Black people, justified by the conditions of a system set up here in The United States of America, festering for over four hundred years and reflected by the population of our prison industrial complex.

In waking up from the destructive story, or nightmare, of separation, and realizing the ancient concept of reciprocity, we suddenly have a choice - to reconnect with nature or continue to seek the comfort and privilege of consuming and pillaging the earth. In waking up to the cancer of systemic racism, we suddenly have the choice to treat this malignancy before it's too late or to continue to allow it operate on the world from a place of privilege and race supremacy. In his much lauded book, How To Be Antiracist, Dr. Kendi writes, "What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose. But if we ignore the odds and fight to create an antiracist world, then we give humanity a chance to one day survive, a chance to be forever free." As with any path of healing, this will require a fierce commitment to probe and lay bare the insidiousness of the story we are born into. A call to action as expressed so eloquently above in the quote by Reverend Angel Kyoto Williams.

We are perhaps at the most pivotal point in human history. I believe with great certainly that we all have the tools to save humanity from apocalyptic events and future disasters but we are currently in full tilt crisis when it comes to the human condition. It is up to each of us to reveal what is no longer working and to mobilize in unprecedented ways. From a portal of awareness, we can emerge transformed, with light, love and transcendence and yet we must acknowledge what it is that brought us to this point.  

Recent traumatic events are forcing us to look in the mirror and build a bridge to a new, yet ancient paradigm, giving us the chance to "live in communion" with a clear sense of justice and equity for all beings. By awakening to the ugly truths of how we arrived here and then collectively organizing by implementing an action plan that will eradicate these fatal diseases of the mind and spirit, we can set ourselves free from the tyranny of a story that only serves those of us who remain hungry for power and privilege. In short, it requires “radical Dharma”, the title of Reverend Angel’s book. It also requires fierce vigilance and the courage to look deeply at ourselves, our fellow humans and the natural world, integrating the practice of reciprocity and gratitude. We need to get extraordinarily uncomfortable as we create necessary change in order to survive and thrive but first, there must be an acknowledgment of the pathology.

“White supremacy is a mass sociopathy, it is the great illness that insidiously consumes people without them even realizing they’ve been infected, that theirs is not a natural state at all. It is the most unnatural of states, constructed and massively deployed through every social space. Like death of human decency disseminated through the air in microparticles.”

~Reverend Angel Kyoto Williams

The path to transformation and healing begins with intention. If the intention is to rewrite the story of violence and separation, what then is to be done about it? Will we put our bodies in harm’s way to protect the body of another? How do we integrate our intention and action into new ways of seeing and doing? Will we choose to set fire to the old story of systemic oppression and embrace individual and collective responsibility to become anti-racist? Will we allow privilege to keep our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal system coasting along, business as usual? Have we even considered how the color of our skin has worked well for us in a system of oppression and violence, imperialism and exploitation, injustice and separatism? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves when enough is enough?  One thing seems abundantly clear, “there is no neutral”.

There’s also another overarching question that plagues me. Is it even possible to end systemic racism without ending systemic class struggle? More to the point, is it possible to live in a capitalistic society without racism? Seems highly unlikely as the two are inexorably linked. Filmmaker and activist Boots Riley offers this analysis from his Twitter page (edited for length and translated from its original Twitter format):

Racist violence and police murder are inherent to capitalism and will be around until we get rid of capitalism. Knowing this is the key to finding short term ways we can collectively get some semblance of immediate reprisal for these injustices. You cannot have full employment under capitalism. Capitalism must have a certain percentage of unemployed people to exist. When unemployment rates lower past a certain point, you see Wall Street worry because it means that wages go up and stock values go down, in real time.

There must be an army of unemployed workers so that bosses can keep wages low by threatening workers with the idea of being replaced. If capitalism needs an army of unemployed workers in order to exist, what do you call an army of unemployed workers? You call them hungry. They need to eat. And they don't have a job because capitalism needs them to be unemployed and desperate. That army of unemployed workers isn't going to just let themselves or their families starve and be homeless. They are going to go into illegal business. Hell, even many folks with legal jobs that don't pay enough may need to do this for supplemental income.

So illegal business practitioners have to regulate business themselves. As you see with police and legal business, regulating business takes physical force and violence. You can't have business without violence, and you can't have unemployment without illegal business, and you can't have capitalism without unemployment. Therefore, you can't have capitalism without poverty, unemployment, so-called "crime", and violence.

How does the ruling class tell the working class who, in the US, is largely white, that their poverty and low wages is something that is built into the economic system? That the wealth of the Bezoses and Bloombergs of the world RELY on their poverty? They don't. They teach the working class, through the media conglomerates they own, that low wages, poverty, and the violence that grows out of it, is a result of the bad decisions of the impoverished.

How do they GET AWAY with telling the WHOLE working class that their low wages and poverty is built in to capitalism without the working class deciding to get rid of the ruling class? They don't. They point to Black people and other POC and say to the white working class, "look at those savages, they’re violent, their culture is lacking what they need to thrive in this system, they don't work hard, they have a weaker family structure than white people, etc., etc., that Black people and other POC are in poverty because of their own doing, when in actuality capitalism works fine and you can get RICH if you do it right. Here, watch CSI:Bumfuck, it'll prove it to you."

And that's when you get white people in families who make $22k a year calling themselves MIDDLE CLASS and aligning themselves with the ruling class. But now that poverty and the "crime" and violence that comes from it has been racistly defined as one derived from the culture of the community where it is supposedly happening, what is the role of the police?

If police are supposed to actually want to "fight crime", then they would go to the source of the "crime", the ruling class. This would be the billionaires who cause the low wages and poverty and "crime" that is necessitated by their actions. But, since the racist ideas about Black people and other POC are necessitated by capitalism, the job of the police in the Black community is functionally as a combatant against the community.

If we want to stop these things, we have to get rid of capitalism. 

So, my fellow white folks, are we going to remain neutral or get to work? I must say, even in writing this, my motivation to compile these ideas and offer my own thoughts gives me pause. What do I have to offer that hasn’t already been said? As someone interested in healing trauma and helping people get unstuck from their deep programming, I view systems of oppression as huge obstacles to the pursuit of freedom, equity, justice, joy, peace, love and acceptance. The story of separation is pervasive throughout the world excepting tiny pockets of indigenous communities largely hidden from view, people who are perhaps the last remaining keepers of this wisdom.

So what now? I believe we need to first acknowledge how the stories of separation, white supremacy and capitalism, all deeply embedded, are destructive almost to the point of no return. Acknowledgement then creates a path to intention where we can formulate an action plan. In the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, he lays out the so-called four noble truths. The cliff notes version is one, to realize that humanity suffers. Two, to know the cause of the suffering. Three, to commit to ending the suffering. And fourth, to find a way to do it by eradicating the underlying constructs. This, according to the Buddha, is the path to sanity. Only our lack of desire for change keeps us from that path and, if you’re following the dharma, all other paths lead to confusion, conflict and insanity. It’s both an individual and a collective choice, perhaps, but I wonder if there’s even a choice at all to be made here because we’re at the point where we either wake up to the harsh reality of what’s happening or simply die in our sleep and do nothing.

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