When we use the rhetoric of spiritual enlightenment to avoid complicated discussions about race, history, memory, trauma and culture – we re-create the damage that was done.
I empathize with wanting to move past all this. But dealing with cellular memory does not work that way.
We can go throughout our lives without talking about any of this, but our bodies, our (mother´s) wombs, and our descendants will still remember.
It is my sincere appeal to those who seek the spiritual to avoid engaging in yet another form of spiritual bypassing. Trauma does not heal itself if you pretend that the circumstances which created it never existed.
And it becomes a lot more complex when you seek to hold space for, or engage with persons of colour. The article analyses the ways in which their spaces are taken even in that process, and how respectful engagement can be held instead.
We are all hurting, and the ways we hurt are not always the same.
Let us respect our differences – including the ways we need to heal.
Please read this with your hearts open.
Whilst every race on this planet has experienced some kind of trauma or another, the impact of modern colonial rule on persons of colour is a very specific phenomenon. It transformed the energetic, cultural, political, economic and social framework of this planet – and continues to shape the developmental trajectory of the world we currently live in. Hence its relevance. It is not ´white-bashing´- to point out that this happened.
And it is not universally a colour-coded thing. There were white races that were considered inferior or ´lesser´ and they were also dislocated from their culture. But please take numbers, geography and the extent continuing impact of such in account as well. Entire continents were carved up and its peoples forcibly ripped away from the roots of their culture, their connection with the Earth, their identity – and life-force. Their descendants make up the vast majority of the population of this planet.
Let them speak, and be heard.
Colonial rule was one that destroyed and disconnected millions from their heritage and created a karmic imprint that generations later – so many are still trying to unshackle themselves from. It is a very specific kind of pain that is so hard to translate. But people of colour everywhere know the same scars instantly.
We wear it on our bodies, burnt into the colour of our skin. ( Which is funny because some brown people are extraordinarily fair-skinned, it´s still burnt on though. I wish there was a better word than people of colour, but it´s better than framing it as white vs. non-white).
I find the greatest resistance to this work coming from the descendants of those who (in that incarnation) played the role of the colonial oppressor.
They are the first to say that race does not matter, that talking about this history makes a person racist, or that they are too transcendental to engage with it all because they are cosmic star beings.
(A concept – I might add that got popularized by adopted and watering-down Eastern and First Nation spiritual traditions as part of the ´New Age´movement).
They are also the first to seek to tone-police and project on (especially) educated women of colour who present the facts. And you can be damn sure we will be loud, we will quote our facts and we will not re-package our truth to make it more comfortable or palatable.
(Not speaking for anyone beyond myself and the other scholar-practitioners I work with).
Another tactic is to quote mixed racial heritage when they themselves may have lived as a ´white person´ and experienced the full benefits of doing so.
Please do not cite DNA tests that say you are 1% percent Native American / Asian / whatever and make the claim that you have the right to speak for their trauma if you have not actually connected with that culture – or recognized its pain.
And felt what it means to recognize and live with the remnants of that trauma day after day – and to re-live it within societal structures that perpetuate institutionalized racism.
You have no idea how much that hurts a person who does live it day in and day out.
Cultural heritage is not something to be worn and discarded to make a rhetorical point.
It lives through you, you live through it. It creates the framework of your existence.
But what about white people?
There is a great amount of healing and reconnection for Western-European descendants to do in really looking back at their own culture and understanding why they were disconnected from their own spiritual roots to begin with. But that should not come at the cost of denying what an already-traumatized people did to the rest of the planet. Or in equating one trauma with another.
Or legitimizing it with platitudes that say this is the nature of the human condition. That REALLY does not help and creates a narrative that legitimizes re-traumatizing others because one is already hurting.
Please try to understand feeling uncomfortable with the recognition of history is not the same as flat out trying to abuse someone. There is a line there and one that we need to talk about more.
To phrase it differently, you need to be able to stomach the discomfort and cellular memory that arises when confront with this history.
That´s not easy, and many try to avoid feeling that pain – often at the cost of minimizing another´s voice.
For those of Western-European origin with the sensitivity and decency to seek to reconnect with their culture – I ask you to do so in a way that does not capture the center of attention in a space that is focused upon the experience of marginalization of other races. And to not seek to define the terms of engagement with which they have that conversation.
Colonialism may be a painful truth of your past you may want to forget, but its consequences still form a part of the lived reality for millions on this planet. For your own comfort, do not try to minimize the damage it created by seeking to delegitimize that term.
If you can, do not try to deflect the debate on how you or your ancestors also suffered. Whilst everyone´s pain is real, taking away the space of focus on this discussion repeats the essence of the colonial enterprise. Let people speak for themselves in the terms that they want to.
When listening to the pain of those who have been hurt by this legacy, please check your privilege before you ask them to make things feel good for you, or to make it more comfortable for you, or to allow you to be the center of their attention and focus. That´s a different form of tone policing and really defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.
If you cannot handle that conversation – hearing those voices of pain – please do not engage in it till you can. Because that does not benefit anyone.
It would be a graceful gift for all parties if you could do so. And would not repeat that fundamental injustice. I see where your hearts are, but privilege is an insidious thing – it is accessed and used without even realizing it.
If you can bear witness and let them speak, you do so much more.
You will probably learn more about what others are feeling without trying to label, dissect and understand it through the intellectual mind.
People of colour can see the attempt at taking their narratives of trauma and trying to equate them with others. Colonialism took away languages, cultures – and sacred connection with land. It is a loss and a violation that no amount of words can ever fully express. It is not to say their pain is greater or less, it is to say that it is different.
So open your heart, if you will – and listen to what they have to say. Let them then invite you to share your pain.
And that is a far, far, more meaningful experience.
We are all genetic cocktails with a common origin, but some of our journeys have very very different chapters. Parallels will be there, but they´re not the same experience.
Yes, we are all members of the human family – but if something happened to your family member – you could feel sad for them. But you cannot take away their personal pain and experience.
If we are to be true to that argument, honor the other members of your family and let them be true to their experiences.
We are all souls on a journey and have lived all across this planet (and others in all likelihood), but there is a reason why we choose to incarnate into a particular culture.
Erasing your race is trying to erase a part of your own spiritual path and the journey your soul has chosen to take.
It´s an uncomfortable conversation to have, and feel in your body – but allowing that conversation to happen will actually begin to take the first steps towards healing this pain. And then genuinely moving away from the legacy of this horrid chapter in human history, together – hand in hand.
It is also wise stop telling people whose descendants bear the imprint of colonial rule that they have to ´transcend it and awaken´ – whilst appropriating their culture even more.
Let me give you an example. After reading my previous post on this many, several men and women of colour reached out to me and began sharing their experiences of the same. They were glad that someone was saying it. And I´ve already made some fruitful connections through that one post. But one story really jumps up at me.
An Indian teacher of traditional bhajans expressed her dismay at being publicly put down for her ´incorrect´ pronounciation of Sanskrit by a white person who assumed they had greater knowledge of her culture and religion than she did. I read the exchange …
He was absolutely obnoxious and kept insisting he had a right to speak on her tradition and ignored her knowledge completely – putting her down over and over and over again.
I have no words for that kind of behavior. It feels like even more of a betrayal when it comes from someone who claims to respect that culture.
Whilst it is wonderful to study a different cultural practice or tradition, please do not assume that you have the right to re-shape it or lay claim to it, or to market it and sell it as your own without honoring its origins and the land it came from.
I discuss this in far greater depth in this video and article (on spirituality and the politics of cultural appropriation – https://wp.me/p4OUNS-2sv )
And I hope that those reading this will do their best to speak up when they see this colonial pattern played out as it was done so very many years ago.
Same old wine, new rainbow-chakra-coloured bottles.
Dr. Bairavee Balasubramaniam PhD
The Sky Priestess
Post & Image `Triplicate Electric Heart` © Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2018. All rights reserved.