If You're White American, You're Racist.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and confess that none of my immediate family relationships have been easy. If you're a normal person, you can probably relate on some level.

Of course on some level, we've all seen or dreamed of families where everyone gets along beautifully and actually like each other on top of it, but that is rarely reality.

Living around the same people day after day gives you insight into their best and least desirable behaviors. It gives you access to their routines, habits and idiosyncrasies. It teaches you where their hot spots are and how to get them riled up in under three sentences. If you pay attention, it reveals the dark corners of their psyches that they'd rather not visit.

Interestingly, it is always easier to identify the issues and secrets of people you live with than it is to articulate your own.

Case in point: As a kid growing up in a tempestuous family, I adopted the role of counselor and coach. I would move from one agitated party to the next, seeking to understand the heart of their conflict and communicate it to the other party, going back and forth between them until something of a compromise was reached.

Healthy? Decidedly not, but interesting? Eternally. I learned that the general cause of conflict between people resulted from the untended and misunderstood areas of pain and wounding in each individual being poked or trampled on (intentionally or unintentionally) by another person.

At that point I knew I did not want such volatile reacting in my relationships when I grew up, so I figured I'd better start facing my dark places and finding a way to shine a light on them. Instead of running from emotional, existential pain, I started meeting it. Even if it was just for a moment longer than the day before, I kept asking myself to come back until I could speak about it, until I could feel its grip of silence and fear begin to soften and release...sometimes the process was quick and sometimes it was ongoing. Some of the pandora's boxes I have opened are still being sifted through.

Many of the things I have discovered have been uncomfortable at best. Things like having hair trigger anger that can take me from 0-crazy in the space of one defiant toddler at bedtime. Things like realizing that I'd rather pull out all of my eyebrows than stop eating food I know is bad for me. Things like the racism that has literally been written into the Constitution of our country.

People have been speaking about the ills of any particular civilization since humans began to vocalize.
But what I find particularly interesting about America and other European cultures is the movement from deriving meaning from a relationship with one's inner wisdom and one's connection to the seasons and cycles of the earth to relying on external forms and concrete objects to create meaning for their individual existence.

Before industrialization, people had to more or less build their lives around the seasons and patterns of the earth. You planted your crops when it started to become warmer, you prayed for bugs and hail to stay away, you worked hard to prepare for the coming cold, and you spent the winters in a more sedentary fashion, sharing stories, creating crafts, staying warm and dreaming the dreams which could find breath when the world came back to life again.

We had internal times and external times, but with the coming of the electric light and the machines that never stop running, we lost those periods of reflection and went straight into Production as God.

I remember as a child, loving when the power would go out in a storm. We would gather the candles, build a fire in the wood stove, collect all the water we could before the lines ran dry, and then stare into the darkness or at the licking flames. It felt like our house became a temple. A place where I could suddenly hear the messages that generally got drowned out in the continuous light and movement. I could hear them because time became still.

As I reflect on this stillness now and look about at this country I love-- all the yelling, all the frantic name-calling, and all the furious people, I see them seem to be dancing around one elephant in our American Room.

We have lost our memory of being here by the grace of this earth. We have forgotten that there must be a counter to the external lives we are raised to produce. We look at our degrees, our jobs, our new appliances, our time saving devices, our fabulous vacations, our gurus and our plans of salvation and hate ourselves for feeling so apathetic. And though we might not have any of these things if we are poor, we still feel like we deserve to have them and the hatred runs both ways. To a nameless force outside of us keeping us from our material dreams, and towards ourselves for somehow not being able to reach happiness, part of our constitutional birthright as American citizens.

And then, when we, as white Americans, for example, are confronted with the fact that we are the beneficiaries of a system designed to exploit, marginalize and ultimately disenfranchise groups of people based on skin color or country of origin for our benefit, we completely shut down. Poor, middle-class, or rich, we cease to hear the dissonant cord because we have no real experience of what it means to know ourselves on the inside.

I was 32 years old and walking home from work one day when I suddenly had a picture flash in my mind. I was standing with my back to a wall that was higher than I could ever hope to climb over. In front of me was a world that was pressing closer and closer to me, clambering, it seemed to get a piece of me. I felt a sense of panic, knowing that I could never give a piece of myself to everything demanding my attention.

And then, my hands felt a loose brick at my back. I began to pry it out even as the world in front of me and around me moved in. When it finally gave way, I felt myself being pulled inside, through the hole what lay behind the wall. And when I opened my eyes, I realized that they had simply turned from looking outward to looking inward. The view was astonishing. A whole,vast, incredible looking world lay there, inside of me, waiting for me to explore it. To know it. Nothing was demanding my attention, it was simply inviting me to be curious.

The image faded then and I was left with a profound sense of sadness and hope. This entire, amazing world was just waiting for me to expand into it. I had spent so much life looking outside at all the drama, all the demands, all the chaos screaming for my time, when I had the key to navigating the external world sitting quietly within.

But it takes time to turn the gaze back to the inner light. It takes some unplugging from all the structures we have been taught to formulate meaning from. Like buying stuff all the time. Like needing to always be in contact with a group you can poll for their opinion on your ideas, your hair, your craftiness, your etc. Like your views of what makes you a good person, right, or saved.

And that's where space starts to open up for considering realities without feeling like you're loosing yourself if you find you're on the "wrong" side of the equation.

For me lately, this has revolved alot around being white in America. Other modifiers aside, simply having fair skin puts me at an advantage in this country because white men wrote the rules and people of color didn't. I often think of the phrase, "History is written by the winners." as I embark on any controversial historical course of study.

Just so, as I have read more deeply into the experience of black and colored Americans, a parallel narrative to the one I was taught begins to emerge. Whereas I learned, Civil War=Good White People Fighting to Free the Slaves and Keep America Together, I now read, Civil War=Slavery Over, Chain Gangs and Ku Klux Klan Begins. My childhood impression of The Civil Rights Movement= Black People Finally Getting To Go Where White People Go, grown up version=Civil Rights Movement=Beginning To Address Systemic Oppression of Colored Americans, Then The Leaders Get Assassinated.

And of course, the truth is somewhere between both poles, but if I really open my eyes and ears to listen around me, it seems to be closer to the side of the minorities. Because they have very little left to loose.

White Americans, regardless of where they sit on the economic spectrum have a decided advantage over those with darker skin because in America, light is right. We love our 24/7 electricity. We love eternal youth. We love movies. We love looking everywhere except inside ourselves because we've never been taught as a culture that when we have a clear sense of how we fit with our people and our earth, we have purpose and dignity.

But I know we can do better. I believe with everything in me that we can chose to embark on the inner journey no matter who, where, how old we are. We can always chose to be curious about what lies behind the wall separating our vision from what is without and what is within. We need both to thrive, but we must turn our attention beyond the external if we truly aim to create a better world.


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