Words by Julie Gillis and Kokayi Nosakhere
On Thursday, November 15 I woke up to a headline which momentarily froze my mind.
“Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says bloodshed may be needed to protect conservativism.” A Yahoo News story floated across my Facebook timeline. I immediately read the article, to verify if it was real or not.
The first three paragraphs detailed Gov. Bevin’s statement. Because, I had just posted a link to Laura Ingram’s latest tirade the two articles were linked as relevant in my mind. I missed details in my process.
It is here that I must admit my bias got ahold of me. I treated the Yahoo article like current news and made a post inside of a Facebook group populated by members of Oregon’s Rogue Valley. It is later, in a second reading of the article that I learned it was old, like two years old. Gov. Bevin made the statement during the 2016 campaign season.
“Please help me, a Black man in America,” I wrote in the stream of my emotional current, “understand where my more conservative neighbors are coming from with the broadcast of Laura Ingram’s 10 minute rant and Gov. Matt Bevin’s statement here.
“America is worth fighting for ideologically. I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically, so that we don’t have to do it physically. But that may, in fact, be the case.”
I am NOT taught to dismiss their statements as 1) backwards, 2) ignorant or 3) befitting a stereotype. These messages are being broadcast by white persons who are educated and purposely aware of what they are saying.
Because so many people’s LIVES are on the line, can we have a CIVIL discussion about WHAT is generating the fear inside of our more conservative neighbors and HOW we can alleviate their fears? As society changes, we are ALL begging to be treated like human beings and it not be acceptable for ME to be crushed by society because I am a white person and “those White persons over there are hurting you, not ME! Why are you trying to HURT me?”
I am making this post because in OREGON since 2016, there have been over 250 hate crimes, according to FBI reporting. 72 hate-based crimes were reported in 2017 INSIDE Eugene, Oregon alone.”
Emotional or not, the request I made was received well enough to spark a conversation which remained civil. My goal – literally – was not to agitate, but to listen. Most people have to step out of their ideological trench to converse with you about their humanity. Democrat and Republican are labels. We use them. They are note us.
Most of us just don’t want to be crushed by anything within society we cannot control happening to us.
Julie Gillis, a two year resident of Ashland, Oregon, where only three hate crimes were reported, was in a different space than me. She has lived most of this lifetime in the South, between Georgia and Texas. With patience, understanding and eloquence she responded:
“If you have been raised and cultured and educated with a focus on authority and status: on hierarchy and power, then the fear of the group you mention makes sense, in that they fear losing a cultural dynamic that has brought straight (mostly) white men – but white women have also benefited – power, wealth, and relative comfort, at the expense of others.
Not just power and wealth, but an existential understanding of their idea of ‘rightness,’ and their idea of ‘goodness’ and it appears to align into a spiritual belief system in which rightness and purity is connected to lightness/whiteness.
The cognitive dissonance of questioning that spiritual, cultural, and existential belief system is for some, so painful that they double and triple down into authoritarianism. It’s painful enough for some others that those folks begin to break their conditioning and ‘wake’ a bit to use a phrase that is perhaps overused.
The deep structure narrative is so embedded that it is invisible to those believing it. It’s just – ‘the truth.’ And a culture that emphasizes the ‘truth’ of it, tells those fearful people you are referencing that, ‘Yes, we are right and others are wrong. Those others will take everything from us.’
It is a tangled web, which clearly has caused incalculable harm to those oppressed and ironically, it also causes harm to the “souls” (if you believe in that) of the oppressor, even as they believe they are thriving in a world they struggle to control.
The Responsibility of Allyship
Thus, talking with white people who are still stuck in that place is something I believe other white people (who have begun to really see the actual truth) need to do constantly.
Why not just see the immediate suffering and act? Yes, that is a question and for me the answer is is because to ‘see’ would mean perhaps, an entire breakdown of their spiritual, cultural, political, and existential experience. They’ve become so fragile, they cannot manage. I say ‘they’ but what I mean is a culture indoctrinated in the ideas of white supremacy. I do not include all people in it, as individuals have varying experiences, but am trying to speak of the group you are questioning about.
Well, I think many are capable of breaking out of it, but the deeper the authoritarian system they are in, the harder.
That’s a poorly worded quick thought. I’m sure there is much I’m missing and look forward to critique.”
I responded with the following question: “Please. Is this communication in alignment with the view of all of us human? I hear a desperate cry from them to be included in America, not treated as inherently evil and therefore justified in being crushed by society.”
Julie had an answer for that also:
“That is indeed the question,” she wrote, “I will say that the arts are a huge piece of how a mind can be developed-anything that can support and nurture a brain/spirit that is curious and seeks multiple outcomes, creativity and open experiences. That’s a huge thing. My favorite musical, as an example, has been ‘Sound of Music’ because Maria is ‘chaos’ and the Captain is ‘order’ and Maria can’t handle the nunnery ‘order’ and then the Nazi regime moves in and is like ‘ORDER’ and the Captain and the kids let loose into music and creativity and etc. A musical but a nice metaphor. The war is internal for them, but also mirrored in an external authoritarian regime. They must escape it. Not a perfect musical, but I hope it’s a metaphor that makes sense here.
Supporting spiritual paths that are non-hierarchical. No ‘leader’ perhaps or shared and moveable leadership.
Increased encouragement of willing and seeking Whites to talk to other Whites along the path. I sought the path myself and in part that’s because my parents encouraged my observational skills, my questioning of things, and modeled well, at least for the time during the 70’s, a path towards civil rights.
I think supporting candidates of color is vital. Instead of White people running, though some are wonderful and make great candidates, more White people modeling by them taking roles in the campaign as support; giving up speaking engagements and recommending their peers of color; sharing leadership and opportunity, in other words.
I watched the film, ‘Mankiller,’ on Tuesday and it was mentioned very briefly that she helped create a feminism that was indigenous/collaborative, as opposed to the individualistic white feminism we usually see. I seek different models of feminism and leadership.
The phrase ‘White people can take a seat’ comes to mind, but I think again, most White people read that as a deeply negative thing vs a ‘you could do more to support and be the base of the pyramid vs the top’. We are trained though in our overall culture, to try to get to the top instead of sharing leadership.
White people (our whole culture actually) are taught, in a capitalistic corporate world, that their individual success is everything – EVERYTHING. My brand, my success, my business, my competitors etc. New, or I should say older, models of success can and should be shown as viable and far more beneficial to community and to each other. Harder to do than to say, perhaps. But these are the solutions I am trying to practice. I am certainly not perfect at it, and remain aware of the constant work I should be doing.”