Words by Kokayi Nosakhere
The magic I experienced at the Shimshai concert extended into Friday morning. Being “staff,” I arrived early, ahead of the general admission crowd.
Daybreak on this mountain came with the gift of mist.
The fire tenders smiled as I greeted everyone. Good morning, someone answered.
“No,” I said. Then, with a big smile and laugh, “This is Beloved. There is no mourning here. Grand rising! Great day!”
Those around the fire smiled and the innovation spread.
The fire tenders embodied their movie-inspired stereotype, same for the campfire musicians. One white bodied male presented like Little John from Disney’s animated Robin Hood. He led the group in a hoarse tenor’s rendition of One Big Love.
“For most of the night, it’s been white men playing and leading the songs. Are there any women or PoC who would like to share?” asked a more corporate-looking white-bodied male when the mountain man stopped singing.
I imagine my presence generated that comment. I still do not know how to feel about that. I don’t know how the white-bodied woman felt – made to feel invisible all night until my dark skin inspired a twinge of consciousness.
I do know a white-bodied woman stood up and started making prayers towards Mount Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Then, while dancing, she started to wail in what I deduced was an imitation of the Hawaiian language.
I left the fire circle to purchase a cup of coffee.
The Burden of Being the Other.
Sigh. Yes, I am going to allow myself to sigh here. Here, in the written word. Why? Because, I am about to engage in emotional labor, or explore PoC-centered vulnerability.
A biracial Sister and yoga expert (Sister Expert) explained how the culture of radical belonging is based on three things: consciousness, healing and vulnerability. Unfortunately, the vulnerability I am expressing is not the vulnerability denoted by the white-bodied woman wailing in faux-Hawaiian. She shared a song when American socialization permitted her the opportunity to share it. As an oppressed minority, she had to wait until the white male patriarchy gave her an opening. Once opportunity was given, she better perform, or risk invisibility: again.
The white-bodied woman was undoubtedly being vulnerable – a physical sense of vulnerability.
In contrast, my physical vulnerability is embedded in my skin tone. I wear it as a permanent costume. I cannot take it off. It is not an option. It is a hard line.
If a mass shooter showed up at Beloved, I am a target because of my skin tone: I am more easily seen in a sea of fleeing white flesh.
That being said, because I have a culture, I do not understand the actions of the campfire musicians, or the white-bodied woman. In Alaska, I never felt the need to borrow from the Native “ways of being” surrounding me. When it was time to organize a multicultural fair at Fairview Elementary, my family argued about which expressions to bring.
I am learning my White friends and family members do not share in my same access to a catalog of cultural material. They do not know what “genre” of music to share as theirs: or fashion; or dance; or story. This creates a problem no amount of positive psychology can resolve.
I met three categories of white-bodied persons at Beloved.
The Blissmaker. As a private event, Beloved is perfect for those seeking to glimpse the indulgence culture the national American consciousness projects unto Amsterdam.
These attendees are not interested in workshops or inner work. They are interested in consumption. They mask their intention through high tolerance levels. Very high tolerance levels. They can spit figments of philosophy through the grandest of highs.
Blissmakers seek to escape. They are consuming the mountain’s life force the way a vampire consumes human blood. The Beloved environment is satisfying in, being potent with life, festival energy provides the necessary distraction needed to NOT be in the body.
Blissmakers are raising children inside festival spaces. They revel in excess, or the intoxication of overdosing on medicine, as those who are more mature users speak of them. The stories I hear of Burning Man with 25,000 attendees and the 16 hour wait lines to enter said event falls into this category.
True Hippies. For this category of attendees, blissmaking gave way to real how-to guidance and spiritual practice a long time ago. Now two generations strong, a section of White America awakened to their complicity in segregation and decided to drop out of their monstrous cultural inheritance and drop into greater humanity. The central problem the hippie movement faced is: how do I, as a white-bodied person, live in a humanistic, anti-racist way?
The solution was someone called Marshal Rosenberg and the practice he developed called nonviolent communication. Or, better stated, the method of human connection he developed is practiced by a LOT of hippies I’ve met in Oregon. Add Rosenberg’s innovation to kirtan and hunter/gatherer rituals and you have a viable, alternative system to Corporate American Whitehood.
The Broken Seeking Repair. These people are not hippies, nor recovering religious fanatics.
They are Christian drop-outs. Many expressed estrangement from their immediate family members because of politics and climate change when asked about their domestic lives.
With this kind of fragmentation, ancestorship is unpalatable. The genetic test sites are useless. They provide no direction of inquiry into ethnicity. There is no common ground to establish a connection.
What is the point of learning one’s genes originate in Norway? One knows one is not Norwegian. One is American. One cannot just take the culture from a person who is already living in Norway. Can they?
In contrast, the cultures of those traditionally oppressed by White America do feel more psychologically comfortable, especially once mixed with Eastern philosophy of embodiment as the goal of spirituality. But, here on North American soil – unlike in Norway – borrowing culture from Original people is an acceptable practice. This is not Norway. The average white American does not see Native people in front of them, just like the White men did not see any White women in their midst all night long around the fire as they sang Native American songs.
Those going through immediate emotional turmoil also fit into this category. They are hurting – right now. A brother has died. A job has disappeared. One is recently homeless. An opportunity to lose Self in the practice of service – menial labor – and a discounted $72 ticket inspired many to engage me in conversation.
The broken seek to feel. They seek to go from numbness to feeling. They seek movement – sensation – as a step towards healing the sense of separation causing the fundamental ache in their souls.
Forgive me for creating these categories. White America is fractured and motivated by a diversity of causes. These three categories are not exclusive. They reflect those whom I conversed with. My time at Beloved was limited among white-bodied persons.
I presented those categories to make the following more digestible. I hope the following exploration lands well, because Beloved – and hippie culture – is problematic as fuck. Let me begin by exploring the opening ceremony.
For my mental landscape, the ceremony “worked,” just like Shimshai’s chanting Thursday night “worked.” Following the opening ceremony I “bought into” the Beloved Festival. I wanted to be there, however, the inspiration I felt came from the mountain, not the Festival itself.
I, Kokayi Nosakhere, struggle with engaging in spiritual practices with large populations of white bodies. A lifetime of programming – of learning how to be hypervigilant around White bodies searching for signs of distress or discomfort without appearing to do so – is difficult to override. I spent several moments feeling anxiety flow through my nervous system as I sang to the mountain.
To cope with being surrounded by 3000 white bodies in a hard to leave location, I plowed my anxiety deep into the mountain.
Intellectually, my consciousness remained in turmoil, despite my practice. I could see the injustice of white-bodied persons leading a hunter/gather ritual indigenous to North America. I knew Native persons lived in Oregon. I knew one of them would accept an invitation to lead The Seven Directions ritual to open a sacred music festival. Or, even better, participate in the festival to the point where they were leading their own songs with the campfire musicians.
(You mean to tell me, Grandma Aggie wasn’t available? Or invited?)
I knew, intellectually, my complicity. Afterall, I was choosing to participate.
And, it hurt.
Cold daggers of my Ancestor’s disgust entered me when I learned, and sang, a West African earth-grounding song from an Irishman. Intellectually, I knew there were West African musicians preparing themselves to perform who could have taught all of us the exact same song – one they have sung since birth.
It felt like I was cheering Elvis Presley as he sang Hound Dog in the presence of Big Mama Thorton, who wrote the song.
In that moment, I felt fully the bittersweet paradox of being Black in America: the blues; the deep longing of looking for the good in every situation, no matter how incremental. I felt complicit in my own oppression. I knew what was happening. I was, and I am, conscious.
My mind was racing. The awareness grew. Even here, in an intentional healing space, I was battling the spectre of White Supremacy and colonialism’s effect upon my mental health.
Sigh. I took all that anxiety and choose to drink “the medicine of the mountain.” I choose to leave my conscious awareness of the paradox I found myself immersed in and plowed myself into the mountain.
Then, the main stage exploded with the musical notes and vigorous rhythms of a Congolese band.
I left after two songs.
Repair and Renewal
I expressed my “buy-in” to the festival with the leadership of the BIPOC Sanctuary, but it came at a cost. Looking for the good in practicing White Supremacy comes with a cost – every time.
Twenty-four hours after the start of my Beloved adventure, as six Black and Brown bodies gathered inside the Sanctuary to discuss how we can heal from intergenerational trauma, I learned I was not the only one who felt some kinda way about being in the festival space. Six of us began by processing our feelings. Others flowed in and out of the conversation.
A Puerto Rican Sister from Brooklyn caught a fire and start spitting some real truth.
“Do you see them nests? Them Ancestral alters?” she asked, emphatically. “First of all, who is they getting that from? Stealing – let me just say that! Who is they stealing this nesting idea from as Ancestral alters. Second, who’s Ancestors? Which ones? My Ancestors don’t necessarily like all of your Ancestors? So, let’s not call all of them in. I need you (White people) to get specific!”
The Puerto Rican Sister from Brooklyn was preaching!
“Call in your abolitionist Ancestors,” she continued, “your rebellious Ancestors from Europe, who didn’t like being slaves; call in your strike leaders; your labor leaders; them people who survived the Dust Bowl!”
We all roared with laughter and agreement.
“I don’t know about all this white dread-dom and psuedo-shamanism.” Again, we roared. Only Black people can coin phrases like that.
Pandora’s box was open. The observations flowed like lava. We allowed ourselves the power to name our experience. Kujichagulia!!
“If one more white person tells me they love me after only knowing me for 15 minutes, I don’t know if I am going to be able to remain nice.”
“Or gives me sage, along with a lesson about sage! Like, I do not know my own shit!”
Accurate critiques of the Beloved community or no, these emotional currents needed expression – in our space. Our laughter was the metabolizing of the anxiety we felt. (Thank you, Resmaa Menakem, for that jewel.)
Having a space to acknowledge our shared reality and understanding of STILL being surrounded by White Supremacy created a healing atmosphere. It freed up psychic space within ourselves. A layer of energy used to remain hyper-vigilant in the face of White Supremacy was no longer needed.
The BIPOC sanctuary space became a healing space when we felt not just physically safe, but psycho/emotionally safe. We no longer had to justify the validity of our experience. The persons surrounding us knew what we were talking about because they were actively sharing in the experience. The freed up psychic energy was transmuted into vulnerability: we could process our emotions.
For those who have never felt such relief, there are no written words to describe the sensation.
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