It is extra hard to be a black or brown body in the United States right now. As a white bodied facilitator I am usually zoomed out watching as new movements unfold. But what I am seeing now is that silence is complicity with the status quo, and so wanted to share some of the guidance that is personally feeding me these days from systemic work.
One of the reasons I have been so drawn to constellations is the enormous possibilities for truth and reconciliation I see, both on a personal and collective level. It is not too soon to start looking at the spaces where significant racial healing work could take place. And so in a spirit of respect for my beloved white-bodied brothers and sisters, I offer these invitations on how we might de-center the whiteness in healing spaces. Because as we are hearing, the shift in perspective that is needed will be ours to do.
1. Do it all wrong.
Mess up. Put your foot in your mouth over and over. Make all of the mistakes. We will not get it right the first time.
It is going to take a while, but we are here for it. The time to do the deepest, most lasting healing work may not be when centuries of historical trauma are as enflamed as they are now.
I can see in myself that even my urge to fix it, “do something” is an expression of my whiteness and being from the class of people who have historically been permitted to be captains of the ship and dictating its direction. Part of this is about letting go of doing it right and doing it perfectly.
2. Acknowledge what is
This is always a first step. Name what you see: When it’s all white people in a healing circle, on a panel, standing at the front of a room, name it. My own circles are disproportionately white and I wish they were more diverse.
Start asking the uncomfortable questions about why that is. What are my blind spots? What are my biases? Whoever did the original installation of those biases likely did so for good reason that may not longer be necessary.
3. Be ready to say “I benefitted.”
In systemic work we are always keeping an eye on where the balance of taking and giving rests — of life energy, of money, of love.
Once you identify an imbalance, there is a new stance you may find: “I benefitted.” These words have a kind of magic that open up a possibility where the balance can be restored. It is not as hard as you think it will be; and the places it can take you are more than worth it.
There must be some reason me and my dearest white brothers and sisters have not yet waded all the way in on the most beautiful work of truth and reconciliation. For some it has been because it felt really big, almost too big to make sense out of. From afar it seemed like it would be too painful to approach; or that if we did, it would mean needing to look into the eyes of a guilt that would be too hard to bear. Looking through a systemic worldview, we can pull apart the pieces into something more manageable.
Humans have a finely developed sixth sense that intuitively knows “I took more; I benefitted.” Or “I gave more; others are benefitted from me.” We see this in micro and macro forms all day long — in love and family relationships, in everyday transactions. We know what is a good price and we know when we’ve been ripped off. Taking has its place in the yin and yang of life, but when the taking has run wild, everybody knows it.
The feeling of guilt is nothing more than knowing you are on the “taking” side of the imbalance. Seeing the imbalance alone actually sets something new in motion and makes it more possible to rebalance the scales. Living systems are constantly seeking for homeostasis, and so in the seeing you get the creative support of winds that will aid in the rebalancing.
So if when thinking about systemic racism, you recognize a feeling of guilt, look bravely into it. It is a turning point. Simply being able to say, “I benefitted,” is a very good beginning.
And if all of the racial inequity that is becoming revealed right now is a topic that is moving you deeply, consider that there could be an echo of an unacknowledged taker or one who was taken from in your own family system. Either from your lifetime or from a previous generation.
4. Don’t ask our black and brown friends to hold it all
Do not place the burden of asking the black and brown friends in the room to be the spokesperson, on behalf of all who have been oppressed, forgotten, excluded. Not only is it exhausting, but you miss the precious opportunity to discover the unique perspectives, beliefs, and practices of the multi-faceted person standing before you.
As white bodies we are starting to get the message that it’s time to be more actively engaged. What this could look like in constellations is to be aware of a tendency to ask people of color to represent the outsider, the enslaved person, the most oppressed one. Consider the possibility of inviting a white friend to have the chance to experience these representations.
5. Lift up women and men of color facilitators
We will all benefit from seeing more women and men of color at the front of the room, leading workshops, in charge of healing spaces. Celebrate and find ways to support the ones who are putting their work out.
For the many who will be coming to heal from racial injustice, it will mean they will not have to second-guess what the race consciousness of the facilitator is. And whether the questions on their heart can be held with care.
6. Reclaim the sources of strength in your ancestry
We need to be well-grounded and rooted to do this work. Many white friends are alienated from the indigenous sources of strength in their own ancestry. At one point every culture had medicine people who knew how to interpret sickness or imbalance, go into nature to find the right herbs to take, and sing the songs that were needed. The intentional exiling of this knowledge from the Western world is an ancient devastation. It is one of the reasons many people with white ancestry like myself travel afar, embed ourselves in foreign lands, and ask the indigenous of that place to heal them.
I encourage my white friends to start retracing the routes back to the indigenous knowing in their own ancestry, where there are untold riches. Find and reclaim the lost arts that are yours. Doing so has a way of showing yet another dimension on what remains unhealed in your own consciousness: the ones who were silenced; what was stolen; the ones who took; the ones who were taken from. And how this may be informing the way you relate to current systems of oppression.
I wish you joy and connection in this most amazing work that I believe may be the path to freedom for all.
Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. 2017.