This past week, I was in Vancouver with an amazing group of folks. Many were First Nations or mixed First Nations. We were all at a different place in our process for understanding how we have been colonized. With my co-leaders we compared the process of understanding oppression to the five stage grief.
At first there is denial. It may be what we tell ourselves as young folks, or believing the interpretations of those around us. Maybe, you assume that racism is not happening on a micro level or that it doesn’t effect you because you have a middle class job or live in an affluent area. You might hold on to the idea of meritocracy and believe that everything is equal, if only everyone worked equally as hard.
Second there is anger. The rage of knowing that your life is influenced by something you can not control. The frustration of recognizing that how you operate in the world is full of scrutiny, the distrust of folks that do not look and act like you. Here you may also hold anger for ALL people in power or ALL white people.
Then comes bargaining, which can be different for different folks. For me I went through a process of wanting to believe that oppression was fixable, that if people did their internal work , we would be able to change our destiny. Or it might be engaging with the concepts of oppression in a workshop but stepping out and putting it on the shelf once you go home.
In the context of the Vancouver workshop there were participants that moved between these concepts, changing their expression from minute to minute or day to day. Sometimes understanding the complex network that holds oppression in place overrides your nervous system encouraging you to grasp to whatever might provide an anchor. The understanding of systems of oppression is never fixed, we all have much to learn, all of the time.
In grief, after bargaining comes depression. I spent 2 years depressed after my in depth research into colonialism. Everything that I saw reinforced oppression and dominance, everything had subtext. Even moments of joy were clouded by the realities of inequity in the world. Depression is real and deep. After the string of social media broadcast deaths in the United States there seemed to be a community depression. Sometimes if feels as if there is just nothing that anyone can do, ever.
And then you move toward acceptance, a commitment to understanding how systems operate and manifest in the world. As you begin to integrate the complexity it can send you right back to the beginning of the cycle. Acceptance is not apathy. Acceptance is understanding that there is work to be done. That it takes individual reflection as well as focus and attention to how systems, laws and policies interact and maintain oppression. Acceptance leads to vigilance and the awareness that things are happening all the time and that each individual plays a small but significant part in change.
It is important to honor each step in the process and to honor where folks are at. WMy co-leaders and I examined how anger could be motivating and how denial could be a place to begin. We mapped internal landscapes, finding paths that could lead us to a place of liberation.
Through honoring each step of the process we become better able to support those that come behind us and need our assistance.
Sometimes it is too easy to forget where you came from and the steps that it took to get you to where you are. Honoring your own process gives you access to empathy for others. No matter where you are at in your relationship to oppression you are on a path that can lead to recognition and action.
How do you honor the process?