Two Books: An Introduction II

Wake up from the American Dream—Whiten(ois)ess

Book One: My name is Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change. What is yours?

Book Two: My name is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. Nice to meet you.

Book One: Where are you from?

Book Two: Not a physical place. I’m from a borderland really. The inner circle is a false kind of memory. “Nostalgia very often arises from false memory. What we see as homesickness or a desire to return to the old ways represents a state that psychologists might deem a post-childhood longing for an idealized time when things felt coherent; a time that may or may not have ever existed.” (195) Outside is an unnatural environment, built but ignored. “According to the World Health Organization, for instance, determinants of health largely result from community and communal factors in addition to individual ones:

‘To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health. . . the context of people’s lives determine their health, and so blaming individuals for having poor health or crediting them for good health is inappropriate. Individuals are unlikely to be able to directly control many of the determinants of health.’” (184-5)

Book One: It’s obvious you did considerable research filled with specific details. Yet, I find that we must not step too far in from the big picture. “The myth of separation is at the heart of the lies that we’ve been fed, and it supports all of the power structures that we have created. This illusion causes us to forget that we are connected to one another and to a divine source, which is embodied through us and put into action in the world around us. When we forget this truth, and embrace the lie, it becomes possible for us to be at war with one another, and to be at war within ourselves.” (46)

And that memory you speak of, the nostalgia even, consists of those memories we can see and identify as our own and the layers of those ignored. “If we carry the hidden wound of the oppressor, there is often an inherent sense of guilt that exists in the forefront. This guilt prevents us from fully coming forward. It creates the persona that appears and hides the deeper feelings that exist under the surface. This guilt also creates an image within our minds of who the other is, and what they need from us.” (64)

Moreover, these factors, this built up system, is not simply those physical pieces, but relationship based. “Systems of oppression greatly damage the hearts and minds of the oppressor. They lock them in a prison of their own making, requiring them to work constantly to build the walls of their prison higher and higher to maintain their false sense of power. The only good news here is that these behaviors are learned, and with conscious effort they can also be unlearned.” (128)

Book Two: Which comes back around to the specific details, the small, but many, stories such as “. . . in a room in a housing project in the real world of the American South, cost also functioned as a proxy for the tensions of race, as questions of Who is paying for whom? And Whose labor supports whom? Led to deliberations about ways to hoard health for some persons, while denying it to others.” (130)

Book One: Your example illustrates one of my main points. “The need to identify with the dominant group forces us to align with their position and look for ways to justify it and prove its superiority. In this process, we lose our willingness and our ability to judge whether that position is accurate or just. We simply want to be on top, or to be aligned with the group currently occupying the top position. We have been conditioned to believe that our safety and our acceptance within the societies that we occupy are dependent on supporting those at the top of the hierarchies that we’ve created. This is why so many people support those in positions of power, even when their actions are detrimental to their own well-being.” (113-14)

Book Two: You speak as if you have seen this everywhere. What about you? Where are you from?

Book One: I often ask myself that question too. For example, “One weekend, while I was home visiting family, I found myself in a long line of traffic on Main Street. I sat there watching the people walking up and down the street and sitting in the cars that were surrounding me. While I watched them, I was thinking how nothing appeared to have changed over the years. I wondered how much people could learn while staying in the same small town for their entire lives. The moment I thought this, I realized that there was a part of me that was judging them. . . In that split second, I had flashes of countless lessons being learned simultaneously. We were all learning those lessons individually, but at the same moment in time. I realized then that we were all deeply and inextricably connected. I understood on a deep level that we are all expressions of the same source, having a simultaneous experience of ourselves.” (8-9). I’m glad to be here today, to meet you.

Book Two: Nice to meet you too. It’s also so encouraging that we appear to be able to understand each other, another difficulty in what we’re talking about. If you pursue your idea that we are all from the same source, the same place, how does this equate to language or communication? For example, when I began my research it was clear very quickly that firearms equal white male authority—“. . . the time-honed notion that gun laws validated the moral rights of white people, and often white men, to own firearms and carry them in public space. And they highlighted ways that the racial divide in guns, gun ownership, and societal reactions to armed civilians retained and derived meaning from historical connection to the tensions between white supremacy and black disarmament.” (71).

This expansive layering of history and words boils down to one particular language code--white gun owners equated to “protectors” and black gun owners were “threats”. Those bits and pieces of vocabulary come easily, but I find I struggle for even the access to authentically learn the words to define the stories I’m trying to hear. Seems, impossible to not ascribe culpability to the culture itself-it will always be impossible to ask the question the right way

Book One: I do understand. “Though we have made significant progress, in many ways the equation involving our rights is still largely aspirational and grossly imbalanced. In my opinion, this inequity is caused by our failure to balance the rights that we demand with a set of humane responsibilities toward one another and the rest of the creation.” (85)

Book Two: Absolutely, and it’s not only health. Education, for example, “. . .The dynamic was difficult to discern from the outside. Even as I drove for interviews at a number of public schools, I could not help but notice the tranquility that the schools projected to the outside world. School buildings seemed immaculate and well maintained. Football teams practiced on well-mowed fields. Students strolled through the grounds laughing with each other on the way to class, their futures but a light weight in their backpacks. Much like global warming, the threats of educational disaster seemed, at the individual level, almost impossible to discern. The day was bright, the sun was warm; all seemed well. (262)

Book One: I love that you draw the parallel to global warming ignored and the earth dismissed. This has always been a key factor of the marginalization of which we speak. “Demanding rights without taking responsibility for creating and maintaining those rights for others creates a warped sense of entitlement that often leads to violence, injustice, and chaos.” (89) Am I right to believe that many of your conversations involved men?

Book Two: Yes, and “. . .many white men. . . voiced a willingness to die, literally, rather than embrace a law that gave minority or immigrant persons more access to care, even if it helped them as well.” (124) It is as if in their language there are no words for “communal responsibility” or “network”.

Book One: I would rather believe, forgotten or never learned, paints less a picture of a villain, which does not help us come together. “Even when the people on the other side are unwilling to participate in this process, we can still use conflict as an opportunity to change our perception by being receptive to the broader perspective offered by the differing views. . .” (78)

Book Two: “It’s a narrative about how ‘white-ness’ becomes a formation worth living and dying for, and how, in myriad ways and on multiple levels, white Americans bet their lives on particular sets of meanings associated with whiteness, even in the face of clear threats to mortality or to common sense.” (270). For example, the gunfighter myth. Guns were not as common in the West as television would lead us to believe, nor was the persona as important. People in towns wanted peaceful lives.

Book One: “Conflict is a naturally arising phenomenon in human relationships, and when viewed properly it can be used as the impetus for growth and transformation.” (75) “Yet, we continue to use the divisive tools of conquest and expect them to provide us with a more unified outcome. They never will.” (116)

Book Two: Wow, we have a lot in common. What brings you here?

Book One: “Thus the question is not why we are here, but how we show up most powerfully to meet the times that we are part of. . . Can we see how we, collectively, have played a role in the reality that is unfolding around us? Can we look at the world that we’ve created and identify our fingerprint in the design. . . Are we willing to recognize the patterns of harm that we have been involved in, and consciously choose to heal the reverberations of that harm that are unfolding all around us?” (39)

Book Two: I think you know that this disconnect has been a long time in the making. For example, Durkheim observed in the 1890s, an era of mass industrialization, the loss of value, of a feeling of belonging. In short, a crisis of masculinity.

Book One: This is the reality, and has been, as you said, for hundreds of years. It involves not only humanity, but the natural, emotional and spiritual worlds as one. We have been on an onward march of force and conquest that continued to result in an ever growing imbalance of the masculine and the feminine.

Book Two: People interpret this outward push as necessary for inward survival. “Yes, survival and well-being represent core human drives, and protecting the health of yourself and your family remains sacrosanct. . . However, I had seen firsthand how many voters in Trump country felt the burden of centuries of history that charged the idea of government intervention in general, and into health care specifically, with race and class politics—often accompanied by overt xenophobia and racism.” (123) This means that “Ultimately, the complex interactions of race, gender, and violence lead back to risk. Risk helps people identify the possibility of peril in their loved ones and is something that we all want to avoid in our own lives. Risk implies peril, hazard, and the possibility of loss. Risk, as anthropologist Lochlann Jain puts it, is a form of American autobiography—inasmuch as it reveals a great deal about our relationships with cars, machines, and other objects and technologies.” (50)

Book One: “In addition, trauma from long-standing oppression can leave the group huddled together in a form of stagnated solidarity. When anyone tries to move beyond the place of suffering that the group has occupied, they are attacked by the group and brought back down. Some within the group may feel a sense of loyalty to the suffering that the group has endured and they hold onto it as an act of allegiance.” (56) I have really enjoyed talking to you. We have a lot in common, which means that is a positive form of solidarity that also exists.

Book Two: “These histories, myths, and ideologies go a long way toward explaining the complex tension between promises of restored ‘greatness’ on one hand and practices of self-sabotage on the other. Better awareness of this paradoxical tension might allow us to better promote an alternative investment in collaboration and equality. . .” (19-20)

Book One: “Our ancestors lived for us; they died for us; and they dreamed for us. Through their collective imaginings, we were all brought into being. What an incredible honor it is for us to carry their life forward through our own.” (13)

References:

Metzl, Jonathan M. (2019). Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is

Killing America’s Heartland. Basic Books: New York.

Mitchell, Sherri. (2018). Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based

Change. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.

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