Tuesday, 2 June 2020
The words white privilege, antiracism, and white supremacy are being thrown around without a proper inquiry into what the language actually means. We are like children mimicking big words that sound clever without understanding the connotations. To be sure, this is how language evolves, as an implicit organic consensus among members of the same society.
But when we don't share the same society and attempt to share the same language, the organicity of that evolution is lost. Even as someone born straddling a continent, cross-cultural communication is *not* easy to facilitate. It reminds me of how 16th century Jesuit missionaries attempted and largely failed to communicate their idea of "God" in Japan, where the closest equivalent is the word 'kami'. 'Kami' (神), or "shen" in Chinese, equally does not have an appropriate English translation, but the closest I would come to is 'spirit'. At least in Shinto (written 神道 - the Way of the Kami) this is an animistic spirit, the capacity for consciousness present in all Life, in humans, animals, plant and matter. Clearly 'kami' communicates an entirely separate notion from the Judaeo-Chrisitian patriarchal overlord (sorry I know that's not how all Christians identify God but you still get the idea how different these understandings are).
The language we are using now is sophisticated and, as is the danger with all misappropriated language, not properly understood, generating a lot of feelings that don't deserve to be felt. The imbalance now is that our society is global, and while we may be able to 'see' the lives of others, we forget that we aren't actually experiencing those lives, and the communities we live in in real life don't necessarily reflect the nuances of the communities these words originated in. The existence of social media means that new languages can be generated among online communities who don't necessarily share the same experiences or understanding of a word, which are then spread and misunderstood with a RAPIDITY exponential to anything we have known before. So we see words being regurgitated and misappropriated without a background understanding of how these words came to be.
White supremacy is a system of imbalance that has permeated cultures globally. Its expression is different everywhere. Modern-day Japanese society is a fruit of white supremacy in many ways which I have expressed in other posts, but there aren't white police officers arresting and sitting on black people's necks there. This is obvious. The media has made us most familiar with its expression in the US, arguably the birthplace of the imbalance. The symptoms there are loud and ugly, and perhaps receive the world's outrage for these attributes. This is also where the term 'white supremacy' has been popularised and made vernacular, but it clearly does not apply in an identical way in other cultures.
My concern is twofold: one is the object of the outrage. What are white cis heterosexual men feeling? They did not ask to receive these privileges, in the same way that women, people of colour, and queer community members did not ask to be oppressed. They were born into a system that has been in generation for *centuries*. No one alive today was the 'first' person to create the imbalance. The imbalances started long ago, and nor were they deliberate.
We all live in this system, and we all suffer from its imbalances in unique ways. The white men in power who went to Eton and Oxford, they are also suffering from the system created by their forebears. Look at Boris or Cummings or Gove and tell me they seem happy. Really, look at their faces. Look at how they stand. Have they ever felt divine essence flowing through their pranic channels? They might be in (perceived) power but they are far from liberated.
Moreover, these 'elite' form a tiny percentage of the general white male population. 'Dismantling white supremacy' does not mean we need to hunt down all the white men who have benefited from the system. My social circles brim with white men who *are* dismantling white supremacy in their very act of being in my social circle. They treat people as people, they share the bounties of their privilege with others, they are gentle, generous souls. They are curious, they ask questions, and they listen. They want to understand their place in the world, and the places of others. They want to interact, engage, and be educated. This, to me, is the embodiment of antiracism.
These words being misused is generating a lot of shame in these men. They are being made to feel bad for existing. They are being made to feel guilty for not appearing to do 'more'. Quite terrifyingly, I fear that this is the identical sentiment that led to the floundering political crew we have in parliament today needing to appear to care about everyone and everything and DO DO DO in order to please everyone and win votes, rather than pay a moment's attention to the core of the imbalances.
This leads into my second concern, the definition of activism. I see a lot of intelligent debate and expression regarding antiracism and the need to speak up, act, and not be 'complicit' in the system. I understand there is a lot of rage, and this being expressed in protests and riots, is valid.
But are there not other ways of being 'activist'? There is already a very developed dialogue around this - using craft as activism, using our hands as activism, using our bodies as activism. Embodiment, meditation, engagement with nature, communication, prayer, as activism. We can be activist in silence. We can be activist in stillness. Silence in a loud world is resistance. Shaming those with 'platforms' for not 'speaking out' (if we have a social media account, we have a platform) is channelling a very narrow definition of activism. Speaking out for the sake of speaking out without actually FEELING the message behind one's words is a form of cowardice. Speaking out for the sake of speaking out *is* complicity.
I would encourage people everywhere to notice how this imbalanced system is affecting them and their *immediate surroundings*. The subtleties of the imbalances are trickle down and extremely specific, to the point of manifesting uniquely in each human organism. How is the system affecting your neighbours? How does the system affect your thoughts and feelings? How does it affect your beliefs? How does it impact the way you relate to people - your neighbours, your friends, your family, yourself. How does it affect your body. Where does it cause you to hold tension. Which parts of yourself do you hate? Which parts of yourself do you withhold Life from?
And then dismantle from that place.
Dismantling the system is dismantling the beliefs ingrained in our bodies through our minds. We each hold the essence of kami . We need to return to this, remember this, over and over and over again.
Knowing the kami within and without - this is dismantling white supremacy.