Clockwise from top-right: Zainab at the Centering Race in Gender Advocacy event; Zainab at the Caribbean International Film Festival; headshot of Zainab.
“While we see anger and violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies. If we are to survive as a country, it is inside our bodies where this conflict needs to be resolved” Minneapolis-based therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem.
Decolonizing the self is crucial to decolonizing our society. In decolonizing the self we are required to heal our personal & inherited traumas. The process of healing, in and of itself, impacts others, expanding awareness and inspiring transformation.
Political movements have a tendency to underestimate the impact of internal work on social change. Spiritual practices tend to emphasize internal over external work. The idea that external decolonization and internal spiritual work are detached from each other is rooted in the illusion of separation, a characteristic of settler colonialism and capitalism. The reality is anyone’s internal work impacts everyone to some degree.
My skin does not delineate the end of me. Your skin does not mark the beginning of you. We constantly impact each other with our emotional states, unhealed traumas and unspoken intentions even without conscious awareness. If you don’t want to accept this from various cultural wisdoms, trust the science. Using standardized research protocols, scientists from various disciplines have measured how our bodies interact with each other, exchanging light, sound and other forms of electro magnetic information below the level of our awareness. It is clear that human beings can influence each other to feel agitated or calm, angry or forgiving, racist or accepting, hateful or loving, even without being able to see and hear each other.
When anyone adjusts their internal dynamics to become more peaceful, accepting, generous, loving, and healed it impacts the collective human consciousness. In fact, there is evidence showing a life enhancing impact beyond humanity to our plant and animal relatives on this planet, the waters and the Earth herself. Healing traumas, be they from childhood or from generations past, collective or individual has significant impact on all of life. There is no way you can heal yourself and not expand the wellbeing of Our Relations.
We often mistakenly assume that when we focus on decolonizing our institutions and systems we will decolonize our lives and relationships. This is not a wrong idea but it is an incomplete one. I believe that one sign of decolonized thinking is to be able to hold two seemingly opposing or contradictory ideas as equally true. For example, society shapes us and we shape society. How, after all, can we achieve peace and justice in our external world when our internal world is full of blame, shame, guilt, rage and other forms of turmoil?
When highly traumatized communities come together, they are going to trigger each other, despite good intentions. We’re going to reflect our unhealed wounds to each other. To a greater or lesser degree, that’s the story of every type of relationship, and what makes the more intimate ones so risky for our hearts. Unfortunately, if you’re lacking the self-awareness to understand that is what’s happening, you may find yourself looking to change an undesirable reflection by attempting to change the mirror rather than the one looking into it.
This is sometimes what happens when Black and Indigenous folks are brought together. The violence of white supremacy has trained us to compete, protect and defend in all situations, while it has obliterated or damaged the cultural knowledges and resources our peoples once had to tend to our wellness. We project our traumas onto each other. We then judge, blame and shame each other for reflecting back to us what we don’t want to see and lack the resources to deal with.
With healing, however, comes a more expanded awareness of relationship dynamics and a higher sense of self-acceptance and self trust. As the poet Rumi suggested, your wounds, regardless of how they are ripped open, show you what needs healing. There is a level of consciousness where every challenge you encounter, every discomfort you experience, no matter how it shows up or who might be involved, is an opportunity for self exploration and healing. There is a level of awareness where you see unhealed parts of yourself in the behavior of others. In this awareness you understand how you share a common pain and your judgment of their actions and yours melts away into a desire to express compassion and love.
Anyone who is Black, Indigenous or Mixed knows what it’s like to enter a space fearful of being triggered or re-traumatized. That fear is present whether you are a program participant, or a program coordinator. At the same time, your curiosity and excitement are probably just as real as your anxiety. These contrasting emotional states are your truth – our shared truth. So what do you do? Do you don a mask of curiosity? Strive to impress or intimidate? Compete in the Oppression Olympics? Strike first? Find allies who will have your back when the inevitable knife is drawn?
Or do you employ tools to quell your anxiety, open your heart and allow everyone to express themselves in any way they wish, knowing it cannot hurt you unless you allow it? It’s just information. And that information can inform your transformation to a more empowered individual who might become a valuable healing resource to another.
Now of course, we will never form the type of relationships where we don’t at least occasionally hurt each other unintentionally. In fact there are many spiritual teachers who tell us that the gift of being in any relationship (life partnership, friendship, family, work, etc.) is that the other, will inevitably, sooner or later, scratch at your unhealed wounds. In fact, there is a spiritual law that says we attract the people and situations that will shine a light on whatever needs our attention.
More often than not, however, we want to blame the other for ripping open our wounds instead of thanking them for, wittingly or unwittingly, kick starting us into a healing process. Or we may want to judge and focus on them to distract us from the pain we are in and avoid what we imagine to be the hard work of finding our balance.
While we can all learn more about each other and how we desire to be treated, and there is no excuse for abusive behavior, we can all make our relationships healthier by using every unpleasant interaction we have in this life as an opportunity to explore inward and tend to our own traumas, sharpen our healing tools and expand our wellness resources.
When we have healed from our traumas enough that we can enter a space with other traumatized communities holding an interest in learning more, being more and helping others on their path to do the same, it’s inevitably going to have impact across our communities. We will no longer be traumatized people traumatizing people. We will be family enjoying healthy relationships.
Stay tuned for the third chapter in this discussion: What You Resist, Persists.
*Check out Part 1 of Black and Indigenous Relations: BLACK & INDIGENOUS RELATIONS PART I: A THREAT TO THE FOUNDATIONS OF SETTLER COLONIALISM