In the Fall of 1985, I travelled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace, in protest of the Reagan administrations support of covert operations in Central America. The toppling of governments by the CIA was already well-documented at that point, and as a Mennonite, raised in pacifism, and with many socially and politically active friends, I felt this is how I could do my part. We spent three weeks visiting the countryside, interviewing people effected by the "Contras" and one farmer in particular, who's two sons had been kidnapped to fight for their cause, stood out to me. Given the absence of his sons, we helped him pick his ready crop of corn. Part of Witness for Peace's mission was to literally put blue passport holders on "the front line" to keep Nicaraguans safe. Prior to each trip, the organization would literally call the state department, and describe specifically where we would be, and, to no-one's surprise, the US backed "Contras" would leave that area during our presence. The idea was to use our status as a protective shield with our bodily presence. I was not emotionally equipped to handle any of these encounters. And, while driving away from his farm, in our white bus, I couldn't help but see the compesiños walking along the road literally looking up at us.
Their gazes stung me, and the message clear: I was safe for no other reason than holding a blue passport, and that I was white.
It was so perplexing to me. I was shot through the heart, and my intellect was in chaos. I never understood why this penetrated me so deeply until reading this article by Layla F. Saad on I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy.
That experience in Nicaragua is the first time I became aware of my white privilege, and it caused such dissonance in me, that I became like a computer presented with a logic problem and literally freezes.
My upbringing gave me no tools to process this, and so my response was to leave political discourse and burry my head in the sand. My first experience of political activism became my last. And I found many ways to avoid doing any work around that. I got a Master's and Doctorate in music composition. I poured myself into my career. I traveled, wrote about music and film sound, intellectualized and went deeply into my brain. And then, while on a residency in Taos, I discovered sweat lodge and did a vision quest which brought me back into my body even as it connected me with Spirit. This lead me down a deep, metaphysical rabbit hole: one that seemed to hold in high esteem my intellectual abilities. What followed became a relationship with the land that literally saved my life and gave me a purpose far beyond just myself.
And the bypassing of my difficult experience in Nicaragua, that confronted me with my white privilege, continued in earnest.
Past one killing of an unarmed black man after another. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic kept me home on this land, and my head deeper in the sand, feeling like I was doing my part for the raising of the vibration of all of humanity, just by giving to Mother Earth and creating a healing sanctuary where others may visit to go deeper into themselves and feel a relationship with the land.
This was working brilliantly until Goerge Floyd was murdered. Something about his heartless killing triggered something deep in me. After a week of inner searching, I realized I had homework to do. Homework to understand my part in white supremacy and white privilege. I, like much of our country, has been well aware of personal racism, and were pretty self-congratulatory of ourselves when Barak Obama was elected president. And yet, systemic racism lay in the shadows like a festering wound, still unaddressed and un-treated. And I feel like George Floyd's life shouted so loudly that "it is time for me to take a hard look at the systems I had benefited from my whole life, that held others down."
I started here shared by a friend on Facebook: Anti-Racism Resources & Action Items for White People: The Spiritual Bypassing Supplement
There are literally 100's of well-written articles and blogs, some personal experience, and others research-based, describing systemic racism. And this list is a good start, especially for those of us in spiritual and energy healing practices.
I believe the reason Saad's article resonated with me, is because she relayed her own experience. Not as an expert, which she openly states, but as a human being who also did her own work into spiritual bypassing, even as a person of color. She gave me permission to engage this without being perfect at it.
While her two part article is aimed specifically at white women, it landed squarely on me too because of all the work I have done around balancing feminine energies, both within myself, and with the land and others.
My white brothers and sisters, I invite you to start this challenging work if you haven't. Racism has been created by white people, and we are the tacit beneficiaries. Dismantling is our work. I invite you start by reading one article a day, either from the list above, or one you find elsewhere. This is our homework, and the time for procrastination is over. It is time to dig my mind, body and spirit out of the sand, and stand with my brothers and sisters of color by doing something. Active protesting and political activism is still not my sphere. I am an educator. So, starting in the fall, I will be discussing with all of my students "racism in classical (i.e. concert) music and our education systems of music." My homework is leading me into aesthetic racism, colorblind racism in music theory and musicology, cultural appropriation, cultural colonialism, and many other subjects of art through the lens of racism. I encourage you to look at your own field and get creative about how you can bring conversations to your colleagues about systematic racism and white privilege. This is white work. This is our work.
peace and tough love, paul