“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
A “new” cultural story is beginning to emerge at this time. This story, though inspired in part by new scientific findings, draws on ancient wisdom preserved for millennia by the world’s indigenous cultures (often in the face of genocidal persecution). This emerging story is restoring our understanding that humans are essentially interconnected beings, inextricably woven into a social fabric of communal relations. It affirms the best of the Enlightenment liberalism – the principle of individual dignity that has inspired countless liberatory social movements – but transcends the implicit ideology of domination that ranks humans by race and places all of nature in subservience to mankind [sic]. The new story recognizes that our individuality emerges out of our fundamental interrelatedness and interdependence within the complex social and ecological systems that sustain all life on Earth. The new story is moving us beyond separation.
The work of Beyond Separation is informed by an understanding that racism is much more than a set of false beliefs to be unlearned. White supremacy is intricately woven into our cultural story about what it means and looks like to be human. This story, articulated by European philosophers during the Enlightenment, puts forth a theory of human nature that explicitly affirms the dignity and freedom of individual persons, but implicitly justifies the domination by white men of women, non-European peoples and the natural world. The story inculcates a culture of separation, where people are separated from each other by gender and racial hierarchies, and the privileged are separated from their own full humanity.
Our work with white people is about embodying the new story at every level, beginning with the personal. We must allow the new story to take root in our bodymind, a process which begins with awareness of the many and subtle ways that our thoughts and feelings are conditioned by the older story. We look unflinchingly at oft-denied perspectives on our history, examine the structural aspects of privilege/oppression, and confront our own implicit and explicit beliefs. While significant discomfort and unpleasant emotions often arise for people, these difficult feelings are actually part of the process of transforming the layers of conditioning that keep us mired in separation.
Moving beyond separation means, first and foremost, healing one’s relationship to self. We have been taught to experience ourselves as disembodied minds charged with mastery over our unruly bodies. Self-domination is the paradigm for domination of, and separation from, the other. And we’re conditioned to feel shame when we inevitably fail in this hopeless pursuit of total control (including our failure to control our conscious and unconscious racial biases). To move beyond this sense of separation from ourselves we must engage this work in an atmosphere of radical self love, practicing unconditional self acceptance as the first step toward healing.
The next step in the path of transformation is community. Although this may seem obvious, it is rarely given the emphasis it deserves. So let’s be clear: We cannot move beyond separation as isolated individuals. It is essential that we do this work together, supporting, challenging, and depending on each other along the way. This isn’t one way to do the work. This is the work. Moving beyond the culture of separation requires us to learn and practice new ways of being together as white people, ways that de-emphasize competition, right vs. wrong answers, and “helping,” in order to focus on vulnerability, trust, and community building.
Beyond Separation is more than the name of our organization. The name was chosen in recognition of the growing global movement to heal the trauma done to the human species and the Earth by centuries of genocide, slavery, dispossession, exploitation and war. We believe that ending the system of white supremacy is an essential dimension of this movement. And we believe that the primary responsibility for ending white supremacy rests with those who benefit most from its systemic injustices – white people. Moreover, it is clear that even those of us who experience relative privilege pay a high spiritual, political and ecological price for that privilege. Recognizing that our own liberation is inseparable from the liberation of the most marginalized and targeted people in this society, we commit ourselves to liberation of all.