“Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human. People who are full of hate and anger against their oppressors or who only see Us versus Them can make a rebellion but not a revolution. The oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor. Therefore, any group that achieves power, no matter how oppressed, is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.”
– Grace Lee Boggs
A few weeks ago, I attended the first session of the Network Learning Lab Fellowship with an amazing group of folks from all over California. We are focused on the field of relationship violence and how to use a networked approach to solving problems that arise when we try to participate in self care and healing. We also look at how POC maintain systems of oppression and white supremacy while pinpointing intentional ways that we can be supportive and of service to one another.
Led by one of our fellows, Ada Palotai the group participated in a series of Theater of the Oppressed exercises. We picked a familiar scenario, in which a colleague unintentionally perpetrates a micro-aggression. When putting together a team, one colleague asks another to join because she is a “sassy Latina,” and “checks all the boxes.” Even though we knew that we were working on People of Color perpetuating white supremacy, it was almost impossible for us to consider the antagonist as being a person of color. As we continued the role-play, we focused our attention on how to change the behavior of the antagonist – how to ask for participation in a non-racist way, how to listen and understand where the other person is coming from, what words might be offensive, how to acknowledge humanity, etc. All of it was a familiar analysis, centering the aggressor and figuring out how to change the behavior of the person who is doing “wrong.”
As some of us debriefed this later. We talked about our familiarity with the scenario and the reality of how we do this to one another. We inquired as to why it was so hard to admit that we played out this behavior on one another.
An amazing thing about this Leadership Lab is that it is not a white space; it is a space where people of color are in the majority. And, yet, what we observed was our conditioning to place the most attention on the antagonist. We were focusing on how to change the behavior of the aggressor, rather than looking at the role of the protagonist and examining how to disarm an individual inflicting harm.
I will take this moment to admit that sometimes I am fucking tired. Sometimes we are all fucking tired. Sometimes, I am so completely uninterested in dealing with ignorance, whether you are a white OR a person of color. If you say something that strikes wrong, is ignorant, intentionally or unintentionally harmful, I just want to curl into a ball. On those days I just want to scream and find someone else to handle it, COME GET YOUR PEOPLE…
And, then there are moments when we don’t do that. Moments where we use a Hapkido like approach, a redirection of aggression, to remind the person that their behavior is unacceptable and that, in the moment, with kindness, compassion, and love, we ask them to do better.
For me, this approach is a must when we are examining internalized oppression and intersecting with our POC brothers and sisters. As the lab continues, we will be looking at strategies to support one another in this work, as well as practicing what it looks like. Throughout the lab, I will update and analyze, interrogating at my own growth and imagining new possibilities.
Are there ways that you support your friends, colleagues and loved ones, when they are not reflective, participate in unintentional white supremacy or internalize self-hate?