Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Please do not assume anything about the Native experience -- Even innocent assumptions can be incredibly harmful to disenfranchised communities that are struggling to have their real voices heard

Most of the mainstream attention on issues of race today revolves around immigrants and the African-American experience. While this is obviously understandable and necessary, there is still a great need for bringing the concerns, history, and voices of Native Americans into the current public discourse about race-related social justice in North America.

Previously, I explained what I learned from Sue and Chris Franklin about why Native people are still for the most part under the mainstream radar. After that, I described in more detail some of what these two community leaders shared about the contemporary traumatic experiences of Native people, as well as some basics regarding Native American culture, spirituality and worldviews.

Following up on that, the logical next point to make is that the plight of contemporary Native people is not as simple as just “blaming” mainstream North American society for what it did to them.

For twenty years, in many if not most of the social, faith, and work groups I’ve been part of, I have been the most Native person in the entire group. I thus became the “token” who was looked to for any answer I could give to their questions about Native Americans—ranging from the most respectfully innocent to the most stereotypically insulting.

While I appreciate that people want to know answers about Native people, and obviously not all such people are bigots who intentionally keep Native people out of their communities, I’ve always found this situation uncomfortable. It really says a lot about the social disenfranchisement of Native people that an ethnically mostly-white person, who was raised white, and who has ancestry and an affinity for Native culture that she has to date only explored through connection with the local Native community consisting of tribes that her ancestors did not come from, is the most exposure that these people have had to anything or anyone with any direct and authentic Native American influence in their life.

For anything other than the most basic inquiries, I have been transparent with such people that I am not actually the best or most appropriate person to answer such questions. That being the case, they then naturally ask, What about books?

There are a lot of books out there about Native Americans, most of which are written from outsider perspectives. One of the biggest challenges for learning about Native American teachings from authentic sources is that most of the social, cultural, and spiritual wisdom has been passed down orally, not compiled into books that would serve as the Native American equivalents of Scripture. The languages, too, are oral: most of them have never been written down in any form. 

This being the case, I tell people that the best way to learn about Native Americans and their cultures is and always has been from Native Americans themselves—through forming authentic friendships with Native people, through attending events hosted by tribal members that are open to visitors, and through programming such as the Interfaith Leadership Council’s “Ask A…” series event that Sue and Chris Franklin presented at in April.

In the absence of any immediate opportunities for such first-hand experiences, my advice to such information-seekers is to please not assume anything about the Native experience. Even innocent misconceptions can be incredibly harmful to disenfranchised communities that are struggling to have their real voices heard, and whose attempts are frequently strangled by people who think they are being inclusive or helpful simply because their “intentions are good.”

I wrote previously that, when it comes to removing obstacles to true diversity-and-inclusion-supporting dialogue, our intentions are often irrelevant compared with the impact our words and actions have on the people we think we are accommodating

Previously I stated that this was going to be a three-post series, and now I realize I do still have one more. Now that I’ve shared with you about some of the biggest challenges to social justice that Native Americans still face today, in my fourth and final post I’ll describe some examples of how Native culture is still very much alive and thriving today in many ways that predate (or have only been somewhat altered since) the influence of the dominant society that evolved out of the cultures of European settlers. 

Image: "Fancy Shawl Dancer #9" by Karla Joy Huber, early 2000s; Marker, crayon, colored pencil

Monday, August 27, 2018

If we really think about what we usually mean when we say "primitive," Native Americans are far less primitive than what passes for normal in today's mainstream

Last week I wrote about some of the biggest challenges facing contemporary Native Americans, especially those living in urban communities in the midst of the larger North American mainstream.

At their “Ask a Native American” talk hosted by the Interfaith Leadership Council, Sue and Chris Franklin also gave some personal narratives and basic teachings of their tribes that help demonstrate why the heritage of Native people is worth fighting for and preserving despite these heartbreaking challenges.

One of the many fascinating takeaways I got from their presentation was the idea of “blood memory.” As Sue described it, tribal members inherit memory passed down through the generations, which can still be seen in the intuitive behaviors of youth in the Native community who do certain things without having to be taught—such as respecting and assisting elders.

Outside the Native community, any kind of blood memory has long since been bred out of most people. If a person represents two or more ethnicities, as I do, whose blood memory would we have? Probably no one’s, because there’s no way for potentially-conflicting teachings to not cancel each other out at some point.

This is why mainstream North Americans can’t relate to (and many have trouble believing) in this phenomenon, and why they don’t understand why trying to forcibly mainstream Native children is so traumatic. (Imagine a psychic, emotional, and spiritual equivalent of cutting off their feet and telling them to learn how to walk as well as before on just the bare ends of their ankles. Yes, it really is that bad; I’m not just being overly dramatic.)

There are a lot of “romantic” stereotypes about Native Americans, most of which include depictions of them as “primitive” and worshiping trees and animals as some form of nature-based paganism.

The truth is that Native people are monotheist, just in a different way than Christians, Muslims, and Jews are. Native people’s reverence for different aspects of the One Creator, by different names, is more comparable to how Hindus (another group often misunderstood to be pagan) worship. The traditional Anishinabek greeting “Boojoo”—which loosely translates as “Are you here?”—is even reminiscent of the concept of “Namaste,” which is acknowledging the presence of the divine in others we meet.

Native people view Creator more as The Ancestor, and humanity as Creator’s grandchildren. As I've always seen it, Native people's parental view of Creator seems to foster a more familial and love-based spirituality than the king-god of European monotheism that I've always been so ambivalent about.

Native traditions vary by tribe, and have always been far more sophisticated than history books and mainstream North American thinking have ever given them credit for. By comparison, in fact, much of our mainstream is actually far more primitive. While our modern society is based on profit, greed, getting ahead at the expense of other people, ruthless competition, the exploitation and derision of women, and having a sort of love-hate ambivalence toward the next generation, Native people start with a concept of power that equates with responsibility, not with stand-alone status or advantage over other people.

Wealth is also viewed as a source of great responsibility, not something to be hoarded and used to make us feel more important as human beings than those who have less material resources.

If you’d come to this continent “5,000 years ago,” Sue said, “children were the most precious resources, and women were held in very high regard,” compared with what we see now“and you [mainstream society] have the nerve to call us savages.”

The subject of North America’s indigenous people is so dear to my heart that I want to do one more post on what I learned at this presentation, rather than try to cram it all in this one or cut a lot out. Thus, I’ll do a third post within the next week or two. This next post will go into more detail about spirituality, how the plight of contemporary Native people is not as simple as just “blaming” white people, and helping to clear up some more of the dumb misconceptions we amazingly still need to put effort into refuting even today.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Image: "Bracelet from John," by Karla Joy Huber, early 2000s; colored pencil

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Want to know more about Native Americans? Instead of asking “Who were they?,” the correct question to ask is “Who are they?”

When people want to know more about Native Americans, the question usually goes something like, “Who were they?”

While sounding like an honorable inquiry, this question itself demonstrates a huge part of the problem—by referring to indigenous Americans in the past tense.

The truth is that there are twelve alive and active federally-recognized tribes and reservations in Michigan alone, according to Sue Franklin, Executive Director of South Eastern Michigan Indians, Inc. (SEMII). At the invitation of the Interfaith Leadership Council’s “Ask a...” series, Sue Franklin and her husband Chris Franklin, Chair of the American Indian Veterans of Michigan, gave a great presentation about some basics of both the contemporary and historical context of Michigan’s indigenous people.

Hosted by Unity of Royal Oak, the purpose of the presentation was to answer the questions that people are actually asking, rather than give a cookie-cutter historical lesson about tribal customs or beliefs. While Sue and Chris Franklin speak from their tribal perspectives of Anishinaabe and Oneida, respectively, their biographical anecdotes and answers to our questions gave valuable insight into many of the shared aspects of the contemporary Native American experience, which too few people actually know or understand.

For starters, there is the misconception that Native Americans are either extinct, or too few in numbers to justify any cultural accommodations for them in current society and public policy.

The challenge, Sue pointed out, is that Native people aren’t accurately reflected in the census records because Native people have very valid historical reasons for not self-identifying on the census.

While these reasons are about self-protection, the downside is that since so many Native people have made themselves “invisible” to the government, the government sees no need to provide more funding or public policy consideration than it does to them and the organizations that serve them, such as SEMII, AIHFS, American Indian Services, and NAIA.

So why exactly are Native people still so secretive and so “angry”? I’ve heard many people ask—just as they do about black and brown people—why Native people don’t just “get over it” already and get with the mainstream times. The reason is that the historical trauma of Native people is not old history at all—The institutionalization of violence and cultural oppression against Native Americans didn’t even officially end until 1980, with the discontinuation of the government-sanctioned program of abducting Native children from their parents and sending them to “Indian Schools” designed to forcibly remove their culture (click here for an excellent documentary on the subject) and language and make them like mainstream white children.

(For an excellent personal narrative that touches on this dark period of American history from a Michigan Native perspective, I highly recommend Warren Petoskey’s Dancing My Dream, which I blogged about here.)

When you think about it that the last group of those children are in their 40s and 50s now, and still dealing with the PTSD of their traumatic early experiences, the Native community has a long way to go before such trauma can be considered healed and no longer an active part of the present generation.

According to Sue Franklin, such historical trauma takes seven generations to heal. Thus, Native people are still only one or two generations in, not several like people assume because they’re thinking only of what Native people endured hundreds of years ago.

Complicating the recovery process for people directly affected by the institutionalized violence and brainwashing attempts is the fact that, until 1978, Native spiritual practices were not even legal in the United States. Native people did not have the freedom to use their religious faith to help them heal, which is something that no Christian or “spiritual but not religious” person in this nation ever had to worry about, and thus can’t even adequately imagine.

(This is why I get so furious when I read about conservative Christians' calls for what they inappropriately call religious liberty reformFor a great critical analysis of that travesty of justice, click here.)

Since we can’t even imagine such experiences, or the time frames such healing takes, no one outside the Native community has any right to assume, suggest, or otherwise impose their ideas on Native people.

Just like I spent much of this year writing about black and brown people not wanting the white-dominated society around them telling them what their experience should be, Native Americans need to be allowed to do their healing and tell their stories how they see fit.

Next week, I’ll give more details from what Sue and Chris Franklin shared about their experiences of doing just that.

Image: “Archetypal Dreams” by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Sumi ink, Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, metallic silver Sharpie marker, highlighter marker

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Dialoguing with people unlike us doesn’t have to be so hard—Which Debra Darvick and the MSU School of Journalism are proving in unique ways

For the past several months, I’ve written about intercultural and interracial reconciliation, particularly regarding open and honest dialogue about these sensitive topics. Not only do we struggle with dialogue about sensitive topics, we struggle with open and honest dialogue, period.

At one of the most recent Michigan Professional Communicators interfaith networking meetings I attended, blogger and self-proclaimed “conversation catalyst” Debra Darvick pointed out that this has a lot to do with our electronic culture. “The cell phones are taking over,” she said, and pointed out that there has been a proliferation about “kids growing up with screens” within the past half decade.

Rather than just complain about this like a lot of us do, Darvick decided to try some innovative ideas to get people connecting more in person again. “Scientists are finding when you talk face-to-face, you feel better,” she said; and to help facilitate that benefit, she and her husband decided to create the “Picture a Conversation” cards.

With the tagline “Text less. Talk more,” the conversation cards are not a game such as the Un-Game or Cards Against Humanity. Instead, they are designed to help people in situations where conversation tends to stall, or never gets started in the first place.

The cards each feature a beautiful picture on the front, and conversation-starting questions on the back. Darvick and her husband have also hosted “conversation events” using the cards.

Darvick has also shared her unique approach to dialogue with social workers and businesspeople. She seeks to “give people the experience of looking face-to-face, talking about things that matter,” while “putting away cell phones.” Aiming to “help people reconnect in conversation,” she starts the events by speaking for about twenty minutes, then turns the conversations over to participants. People feel awkward at the very start, but then they open up, laugh, talk, and hold hands, “and remember what it was like before cell phones.”

Another great new resource for starting conversations, especially with people we feel are very different from us, is the abbreviated hand-outs the MSU School of Journalism is creating based on their 100 Questions and Answers cultural literacy series, which includes books that each concisely answer the 100 most common questions asked about a heavily-stereotyped cultural group, such as African Americans, Arab Americans, Indian Immigrants, Latin American and Hispanic people, East Asians, and American Jews.

At the time of that MPC meeting, the team had produced an 8 1/2” x 11” two-page handout featuring ten questions and answers from the book about Muslim-Americans. The plan is for this to be the first of many such handouts, which can be excellent resources for helping us feel comfortable starting conversations with people of a group we would otherwise worry about offending or appearing ignorant in front of, because we just don’t know where to start getting answers to their basic questions.

When I learn more about the availability of this new resource and which books have a two-page quick sheet so far, I’ll share that with you. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the books themselves, which you can find links to and read more about by clicking here and here.

MSU School of Journalism professor Joe Grimm reported that the team wants to focus for a few years on doing 100 Questions and Answers books about different religions, starting with Chaldean-Americans. Read the Spirit founder and MPC meeting facilitator David Crumm suggested a book about Sikhs.

In addition to giving stereotype-busting exposure to certain religions, also in the team’s queue is a guide about gender-identity, then one about sexual orientation—which, though they have similar challenges, are actually two different things, Grimm pointed out. After that, “Millennials,” “Generation X,” the police, and human trafficking are up for consideration.

Grimm reported that the team is always open to suggestions, which they prioritize based on the timeliness of concerns facing particular groups (such as groups currently experiencing an uptick in negative media depictions or hate crimes).

I personally would like to see a guide about Buddhism, and be one of the contributing panelists so I can make sure it gets in there that Buddhism is indeed a religion (which even some people in the interfaith circle don’t acknowledge unless I correct them), and that there are as many different forms of Buddhism as there are of Christianity—which are as varied and even potentially contradictory as the various versions of Christianity. 

Image: Detail from “Nothing Without Love” by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, white gel pen, gold gel pen

I finally found the last missing piece of my health and wellness puzzle...

~ ~ ~ This is technically not a blog post. While I have written here before about the intersection of health and spirituality, the following transcript of a monologue I recently wrote does not fit the subject-matter or style of my blog.

This is why you’ll notice I uploaded it simultaneously with my actual blog post for this week, which you can read by clicking here

I did a podcast-style recording of the paragraphs below to deliver to my friends and family to reveal some important things about how I operate, due to some odd quirks regarding my health that I finally began to understand recently. Since I don’t currently have a YouTube channel I can upload the 13-minute audio onto, I decided the easiest way to share this right now is to post the transcript of the audio recording here and share the link.

While the wording is tailored specifically with reference to my friends, the message is intended for family and frequent acquaintances as well.

Though I initially created this monologue solely for the benefit of me and the people who know me, I realized that by posting it here I can potentially benefit other people. There are probably many others out there who, like me, have struggled to share their experiences about the hard-to-describe health issues that for years have slowly been eroding their quality of life, because they didn’t know what to say without leaving themselves open to misunderstandings and questions they can’t answer.

Our social conditioning is that if we don’t have answers—and, in this case, clear-cut medical justification—to explain our situations, then the validity of our situations, and our personal credibility, is doubted. So, rather than subject ourselves to more distress and embarrassment because we ourselves don’t even understand why we are the way we are, we keep silent, until our distress and lifestyle modifications become conspicuous enough to other people that we have to say something.

By sharing my experience, perhaps I’ll give other people ideas for how to share their own experiences with their friends and family. At the very least, they may feel encouraged that there is an alternative to feeling regularly embarrassed and self-conscious, continuing to doubt their own experience, and feeling imprisoned by their obscure diagnosis or suspected diagnoses.

Speaking of diagnosis, while there are no specialists in the state of Michigan who specialize in the diagnostic label that best fits me, I was greatly relieved recently to finally find a doctor who really gets me, and was willing to list the diagnosis in my medical record so that if I ever need major medical care, doctors will know to look for it and adapt my treatment options as necessary, and also so I have diagnostic authorization to pursue such things as physical therapy so I can learn how to have a better experience in my own body.

So, here's my story...

~ ~ ~ 

In 2018, I finally connected the dots regarding various odd quirks to my health, and their implications for how I need to live my life and relate with other people. While researching to help me understand my situation, I came across a lot of personal narratives and medical information about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (or EDS), and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (or POTS), most of which sounded very, very familiar.

I am not presenting this monologue to help you understand EDS or POTS, however. I am presenting this to help you understand some physiologically and emotionally important things about me to the extent that they can affect my interactions and my relationship with you. Please do not worry, this is not going to turn into a TMI about personal health stuff.

Regardless of if I ever get officially diagnosed with EDS or POTS, it would not necessarily change anything for me in my everyday life, or in how I manage my symptom flare-ups, beyond the changes I have already made over the past few years. The physical characteristics included under the diagnosis EDS represent a body type, with certain functional deficiencies built in to it. There is a huge difference between a medical disorder or disease, and a body type. These characteristics cannot be “cured” or reversed—because they are part of how my body itself is made, from the beginning—not issues that developed over time in response to what I was doing or not doing.

Therefore, I see no value in medicalizing my experience, nor in experimenting with pharmaceuticals, the side effects and toxicity of which are not worth whatever relief I could potentially get in return, if any.

In my case, the situations that formal diagnosis would be applicable are if I need documentation for something that would be considered a special accommodation at work (such as exemption from heavy lifting and having to stand mostly still for a long period of time), and when I require medical care for things homeopathy isn't enough for, such as injuries or serious infections. In such cases, the people treating me need to know these things about my physiology, in the diagnostic language of EDS and POTS, to save me a lot of unnecessary wasted time and potential medical agony.

The physiological common denominator in my experience is in my connective tissue, particularly its essential protein collagen, which is not produced and managed properly by my body. Since there is connective tissue all throughout the human body (not just that which connects soft tissues to bone), the particular symptoms and deficiencies stemming from this root problem are literally all over my physiological and neurological map—my tendons, joints, veins, nerves, digestive system, and so on. Since my connective tissue for all these components is more rubbery than supportive, all kinds of systemic issues occur and really make me a buzz-kill when it comes to the idea of doing something fun and energetic when I’m having a symptom flair-up. 

These characteristics are “defects” only as much as they lead to troubling symptoms, which for me are as severe as they are because I went well over thirty years of my life trying to follow “one size fits all” conventional guidance about exercise, lifestyle, healthcare treatment, and nutrition because I did not know any better—and neither did anyone else around me. I eventually had the good fortune of encountering holistic health specialist Cindy Dillon, who has helped me manage my health challenges in ways that make me feel like a whole person who has to do certain things differently than everyone else, instead of seeing myself as a collection of malfunctioning and partially-functioning parts that require constant vigilance, testing, and medications from doctors who cannot “fix” the problem anyway.

All that being said, I will give you a few particulars that affect my daily life—without, as I said, going into TMI about health and medical stuff. For starters, the most obvious characteristic of my body type is joints that hyperextend past their intended range of motion. While hyperextending my joints made me the object of envy in yoga class, the reality was that by doing that, I was gradually damaging my joints—which never occurred to me, because it never occurred to any doctor, grade school P.E. coach, physical therapist, dance instructor, or yoga instructor I ever obeyed who was conditioned to urge me to push more, stretch farther, work out harder.

This, plus running for several years and periodic attempts at weight training, regardless of the fact I got good at those and at my best was quite “in shape” by conventional standards, destabilized my joints and overtaxed my muscles even further, not to mention the wear and tear on my other already-not-up-to-par connective tissue. This has led to gradually increasing chronic pain, injury risk, and fatigue, trouble balancing, overall loss of physical strength, and my body not responding well anymore to conventional strength-training attempts, all of which started to accelerate in 2016. 

At the end of the day, instead of being physically stronger and healthier for all the effort I put in to being so up until my mid-thirties, on my worst days I now feel like I have the joints of an 80-year-old.

Now, the more I try to do what I did before 2016, and keep up with the people I was keeping up with back then, the harder it gets for me to bounce back, to have longer periods between symptom flair-ups, and the lower my tolerance for such life factors as hot and cold extremes, crowds, loud noises, sleep deficits, flashing lights, day-long activities, consecutive days of intense social activities, very low pain tolerance, skin hypersensitivity, and so on.

If you are wondering what such things as dealing with large groups, flashing lights, loud noises, pain sensitivity, and temperature tolerance have to do with connective tissue, the answer is that the nervous system too consists of connective tissue. Thus, my nervous system has a harder time buffering any extremes and it takes very little to make me trip into overload and have to exit the situation immediately lest I have a panic attack or have to stay home like a hermit for the next two or three days.

In addition to all that, I have episodes of chronic inflammation due to my body's inflammatory response mechanism not self-regulating properly, as well as trouble regulating blood pressure, heartrate, and breathing when transitioning from sitting or lying down to getting up. My body has to work a lot harder to do these supposed-to-be completely automatic functions, so on my low days that means I have that much less energy for what I really want to use it for, like getting things done, being more involved with other people, exercising, and so on.

It bears mentioning here my most challenging and symptomatic season is always summer. Whereas other people look forward to the relief and revitalization of summer, with its warmth, sun, and longer days, and become more energetic and want to do more, I am actually the opposite. I dread summer, with the sole exception of the days that are less than 80 degrees. Warm to hot weather is when my connective tissue is loosest, and thus my body struggles more to keep everything together and functioning like it should. 

This being the case, you will encounter the most reluctance from me to be more social and outgoing in the summer, so please, I need you to just accept this, because if I try to push myself through it by stepping up when my body is stepping down, it just gets worse for me.

Now, a brief word about digestive sensitivities: My reluctance to be adventurous in trying new foods is not because I am simply a creature of habit or do not want to step out of my comfort zone; I eat what I know works for me, and I stick with that. Period. If I say I don’t want to try it, please leave me be, because, well, I won’t tell you what happens when I violate my dietary intuition due to social persuasion or desire to please someone because of what they cooked or really want me to try. On that note, it is worth mentioning the dietary thing I do that freaks most people out, because of cookie-cutter health guidance: I consume large amounts of salt, because it helps with the blood pressure dropping / light-headedness set of symptoms. Doctors even prescribe increased salt intake beyond the standard maximum guidelines for these symptoms.

Because of all this, I do naturally need more rest and time away from intense stimuli than most people I know, because my nervous system has a lower maximum tolerance than theirs before it short-circuits and leaves me unable to think, keep up a social interaction, stay focused long enough to accomplish a task, or stay standing without getting dizzy. Therefore, while it can be inconvenient for other people, I must opt out of participating with them more often than I (or they) would like. It is not that I do not want to attend Kosen-Rufu Gongyo, or go to a Sunday afternoon bazaar, a dinner party, or dance and drum. On the contrary, my reluctance or refusal to participate is because I know that the energetic price I will have to pay is too high considering what I already did that day or week, or need enough energy to do next.

I will not, however, use my “health thing” loosely as an excuse when I’m not symptomatic, because I know I would just lose your trust if I do that. If I decline an invitation because the event is actually not something I feel guided to attend, I will be honest with you. If it does interest me, yet I know there is 50% or less chance I will attend because of how I’ve been feeling or what else I need to assure I have enough energy for, I will tell you not to expect me, so as to avoid being one of those people you feel you cannot trust to do what she says she will. If I make a cameo appearance, it is usually not because I am too disinterested to stay longer, but because that is as long as I can comfortably stay without suffering a few-day-crash afterward.

As I said earlier, my situation is as challenging as it is largely because of mainstream lifestyle and health guidance backfiring on me—thus, trying to follow more mainstream guidance that works for “most” people will certainly not improve any of this for me. Trust me, I have heard it before, and it does not work for me. While yes, regular (low-impact) exercise and healthy eating patterns help, and I use the holistic and homeopathic methods and supplements Cindy Dillon has given me, there are always inevitably times when even those cannot bridge every gap and I end up crashing for a while.

Before I knew what I know now, all this made it very difficult to not misunderstand my own experience, let alone combat other people’s misunderstandings. Now that I understand myself and my situation better, I decided it was time to share this with you so you understand where I am coming from—not because I feel I owe an explanation, justification, or excuse for why I operate differently than most of the people around me, but because I want to be transparent with you so you do not get worried, or confused, or doubt my intentions, or wonder if I don’t like you anymore, or if I’m severely depressed and need immediate help, when my circuit breaker trips and I need to retreat or step back for a while from ongoing activities or projects we have been enjoying together.

So, the reason I am telling you all this is not because I want your sympathy, or advice, or strong reactions. Please do not strongly react. You also do not need to treat me like I am ill. If you would like to know more about my experience, or there is something about all this that I didn’t quite clarify for you, I am open to questions, as long as they do not start with “Have you tried…” or “What if you…” It is not that I don’t value other people’s suggestions or input, it’s just that I’m working with my health care specialist and my own intuition, and by now I have a good idea of what works and what does not; so, I’m really not looking to get new ideas from anyone other than my health specialist or other people who actually have this physical experience themselves. Unless I tell you I need your help, please trust that I’ve got this.

What I want is your acceptance of me as I am, and patience, as I gradually figure out all the lifestyle adjustments I need to make to enable me to be as present as I can be for you, and to be on the same social and emotional page with you as often as I can be.

As one online writer said about her experience with many of these same challenges, “Knowledge and understanding from friends make all the difference.”1

Thank you for listening, and thank you for being my friend.

1 Buzzfeed writer with screen-name “ZebraZebraZebra”

Image: “A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering” by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, and silver Sharpie on marker paper

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Social justice starts with opening the forum to a variety of voices, regardless of initial agreement or disagreement

Over my past thirteen posts, I’ve shared what I’ve learned about racial justice primarily from my friends and what they’ve told me about their experiences as people of color in a world that favors whiteness.

In that time I’ve also read a lot of amazing articles (which I encourage you to read yourself by clicking on the blue text throughout this post), written by both everyday individuals and by professionals in psychology, education, community justice, and religion.

Probably the most controversial of these articles is “Churches make a drastic pledge in the name of social justice: To stop calling the police,” in which the Washington Post’s religion writer Julie Zauzmer presents a fascinating twist in the ongoing struggle between the black community as a whole and police brutality.

The idea of a community getting so desperate and fed up with the larger society that they’d consider something as drastic as this article’s title suggests makes it all the more important for white people to help black, brown, red, and yellow people turn the tide in favor of worldviews and dialogue that are far more value-adding for all of us.

Thankfully, my research also yielded some examples of people doing just that. In his Washington Post article “I’m the descendant of a founding father and I have two black daughters — and I am racist,” Phil Lee makes the important point that “Racism is more than individual beliefs and actions. It is a complex system that has given — and continues to give — my racial group a host of advantages and power by oppressing and disadvantaging others.”

One of my favorite short articles that challenges the “good old days” fallacies that are exclusive to white people is “Debunking an imagined past,” a brief introduction to the social justice thinking of Christian ethicist David Gushee. Gushee’s writings which challenge the “white nostalgia for an imaginary Christian past that doesn’t take seriously the problems of racism” are specifically oriented to helping quell the fears of white Christians.

Another great short article from ReadTheSpirit.com is “Michael Emerson on our racial divides, cocooning and humility research,” which points out one of the reasons cross-cultural dialogue and racial reconciliation is so difficult is that Americans “have been so cocooned” in being surrounded by “people like them, that think like them,” that they “don’t know how to handle people that don’t,” and “tend to be focused on our ‘rights,’ not on a compassionate understanding of other people.”

In the article “They considered themselves white, but DNA tests told a more complex story,” Tara Bahrampour presents some fascinating narratives about people who grew up thinking all of their ancestors were European, and what goes through the minds of such people—and what dark secrets sometimes come out of their families—when they are faced with biological proof that their family trees are actually more diverse than they always thought.

When it comes to white people in entertainment media trying to appeal to audiences of color, Peter Manseau provides a fascinating example in his article “The Surprising Religious Backstory of ‘Black Panther’s’ Wakanda” of why we must be careful not to cross the line into cultural appropriation that can actually further alienate under-served audiences. While “exotic” international heroes that were actually created by white people seem on the surface like a celebration of diversity, and in many cases (such as Marvel Comics’ Black Panther) have decades later been successfully re-cast and made more culturally legitimate by people of color, their initial creation demonstrates a deep disrespect of native cultures by treating them interchangeably, regardless of the creators’ good intentions.

After reading these fascinating cultural exposés, I encourage you to check out the Psychology Today article “How Do We Learn to Appreciate Each Other's Differences? Try these simple steps for understanding diversity,” in which Lori Russell-Chapin, Ph.D., gives practical advice for overcoming the fear and conservativism that often accompany diversification of historically white communities. She proposes we do this by not only learning about the beliefs and customs of newcomers, but by questioning where our own “We’ve just always done it that way” beliefs really come from and seeing how they have limited our lives.

While there are so many more examples of working toward social justice one small step at a time as individuals or as small communities, these are the articles that have stood out the most for me as I’ve written this series. Regardless of if we agree or disagree with everything their writers say, they all present sides worth hearing, and news worth knowing—especially since not a single one of these narratives made it into the in-your-face, everyday mainstream news we’re bombarded with daily, despite being way more important than a lot of what we see every day.

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This post concludes my longest-running blog series yet, so thank you for reading and I hope I’ve made your time worth it by sharing with you something you didn’t already know and can use.

Next week, I'm transitioning into my next round of exploring the intersections of faiths, cultures, and other opportunities to think spiritually and culturally out of the box. Namaste.

Image: "Fire-Bending in the Underground Forest" by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, Silver Sharpie marker, Sharpie pen
(Dancer based on a Hawaiian-inspired character in Cirque du Soleil's show "Alegria")

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Our differences provide opportunities for greater understanding"

Social justice within the context of intercultural and race relations has been my longest-running series here yet, spanning eight months and twelve posts.

After that, I wrote about the one-year-anniversary of the social justice dialogue series Vanguard Discussions, in which we presented about racial justice and the idea of cities such as Detroit saving themselves, rather than being forced to rely on “white savior” organizations that don’t understand what is socially or culturally appropriate for the people they are trying to help.

Following that, I wrote about how power is meant to be a shared resource that grows and flourishes with distribution, instead of a limited commodity that must be taken from one group in order to empower another.

Following that, I turned the focus on the common barriers to open and honest discussions about race and racial justice, particularly why many black and brown people get frustrated when they hear white people insist that race doesn’t matter and we need to stop talking about it.

In January, I refreshed this series with some Buddhist perspective on the idea of a future in which people see differences of race, culture, and religion as assets, instead of as potential problems or traits that “don’t matter.”

After seeing the excellent movie Black Panther put a very timely and socially-relevant spin on some decades-old comic book characters and their fictitious African nation, I wrote about the fascinating commentary and metaphors the movie presents about the worldwide refugee crisis, the aftermath of colonialism, and the idea of a powerful nation sharing its resources and wisdom with the world without demanding land or religious conversion in return.

Following that, I offered more rebuttal of the idea that we need to stop talking about race and racism, by pointing out we can do so only after the problem of racism has actually been solved, and no more black, brown, red, or yellow people argue with us that they are still experiencing it on a regular basis.

Then, I sought to try and balance these arguments by pointing out that many white people honestly don’t know how to be true allies in the fight against racism, so we need to teach them how instead of focusing on just pointing out their white privilege and what they’re doing wrong.

While I still have plenty of material left on this subject, I do need to switch gears for a while, especially since it’s been pointed out to me that my approach is not as effective as I would like to help people understand why insisting on human homogeneity as a species is not the answer to eliminating racism. I need to find other ways to present my material in ways that people will be able to have some take-away from, even if that take-away is not 100% agreement.

In the meantime, I’ve got one more post to close out this series: Next week, I’ll wrap it up by turning my platform over to some actual experts (social psychologists, educators, professional activists, and people who have lived this experience firsthand their entire lives), by listing links to some of their written work on the subject of candid discussions about race versus the argument that “race doesn’t matter.”

"Our differences provide opportunities for greater understanding" is an anonymous quote I read somewhere, so I don't know who to attribute it to.

Image: "One World Heart," by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, white gel pen, gold gel pen