Ami Worthen as a baby.

Whiteness, Grief, and Belonging

White friends, we get to work. We get to wallow around in the wilderness of our whiteness. Bushwhack through our b.s. Ferociously face our roots and fissures.

Do you feel aversion to this? Good. Let’s feel some productive pain.

Because we know it’s essential to healing.

The fuel for today’s explorations is Episode 14 of the Healing Justice podcast, “Ancestral Healing for Anti-Racist White Folks – Jardana Peacok & Kelly Germaine-Strickland,” and “Opening the Question of Race to the Question of Belonging,” a live interview with john a. powell on On Being.

If the topics resonate with you, click those links and listen. There’s also the Healing Justice Episode 14 Practice: “Ancestral Connection for White Folks,” which I have not yet listened to but will, maybe even with others.

These podcasts offer an abundance of heart sparking ideas. Today I will touch on three topics: White Identity, White Ancestral Healing, and Suffering & Belonging.

Note: I apologize for not using the exact speakers’ names with some of the quotes from Healing Justice. Connect those dots when you listen to the show.

Ami Worthen as a baby.
That’s me, Ami Worthen, as a white baby.

White Identity

“When did you first realize you were white?” I have been asked that question and found it fruitful to be reminded that it took me a long time to identify as white, not just normative. As john a. powell describes it, “Whiteness is like the invisible presence of the narrator in a story told from the third person point of view.” Everywhere and unseen. And while race is a social construct not based in biology (click here for a video of john a. powell describing the invention of whiteness), it shapes our society.

Jardana, Kelly, and Healing Justice host Kate Werning discuss “the immobilized trauma block that is whiteness” and our extreme dissociation caused by white supremacy. Dissociation so extreme that whites can live in an intensely racialized society and not see it. We live with “the pain of what white supremacy has taken from all of us, which is disconnection – disconnection from our bodies, disconnection from each other, disconnection from other white people, disconnection from people of color.”

“White people step into this place of belonging everywhere, but belonging nowhere, because we really don’t understand ourselves or where we came from,” states Jardana.

Being on the path to this understanding is liberatory and connective.

john a. powell
john a. powell

“I think, ultimately — a healthy world really requires, not just a restructuring of what people of color have, but a restructuring of white identity,” john a. powell says. “And that’s not a project that we’ve taken on because the serious problem — in the 1960s, Bundy wrote about the Negro Problem at the Ford Foundation. But today, I would write about the white problem. We really need to come to terms with the white problem, not in a negative way, not in terms of white guilt, not in terms of beating up on whites, but really trying to help whites — because we are deeply related — give birth to a different identity.”

And while john a. powell is talking about the importance of relationships across race in this process, there is much for whites to do on our own as well.

We can weave this work into the ways of our days.

White Ancestral Healing

“Toni Morrison made an observation,” shares john a. powell. “She said we’ve had all of these studies on what the institution of slavery has done to mark the black identity. She says it’s about time we look at what it’s done to mark the white identity.”

Healing Justice
“You cannot be a part of a dominant culture of 500 years of dehumanizing violence and come out unscathed.” – Kelly Germaine Strickland, quoting Mark Charles on the Healing Justice podcast.

“We can’t move to transformation until we’ve been in touch with the depth of the injury of what has been done in our names,” as Jardana and Kelly do with their white ancestral healing work.

They challenge us to sit with “the full range of what our lineage is, and what ourselves as people are walking in this world with the pain that we’ve caused and the pain that we feel.”

On Healing Justice, they talk about how as white people we often move to solutions and action too quickly. This is seriously problematic. “It’s dangerous when we move from awareness to action and we don’t cycle back through grief, lament, going deeper.”

This pause allows us “to live in more sacred humanness,” and “deepens our relationships, the very thing that has been severed by white supremacy – our relationship to the earth, to each other, to ourselves.”

“Sometimes we have to sit in the darkness and despair in order to get the gifts of hope and light.” The gifts that come with understanding our identity.

Suffer & Belong

“When I can sit with that [lament], through meditation, through journaling,” a one of the healers shares, “I can feel the deep connection of healing beyond myself and linking us back together.”

“I think being human is about being in the right kind of relationship. I think being human is a process. It’s not something that we just are born with,” we hear from john a. powell. “We actually learn to celebrate our connection, learn to celebrate our love. And the thing about it — if you suffer, it does not imply love. But if you love, it does imply suffering. So part of the thing that I think what being human means to love and to suffer, to suffer with, though, compassion, not to suffer against. So to have a space big enough to suffer with.

And if we can hold that space big enough, we also have joy and fun even as we suffer. And suffering will no longer divide us. And to me, that’s sort of the human journey.”

Our capacity for holding the pain of white supremacy increases our capacity for creating an alternative to it. As the healers remind us:

“We have to grieve – it’s an important part of our transformative journeys as white anti-racists.”

“When I go into that pain I find liberation and I find a place where we belong together and we’re part of something together – we’re all important to it and we’re all important to building this future that we need.”

Here’s to our tears.

Love.

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