This page is for registered participants in the online course Before We Were White (Jan-March, 2020). Please do not share this page with anyone who is not taking the course.
*All materials from this course will remain accessible via your participant page through Aug 15, 2020*
- Click the links to jump directly to the corresponding homework assignment:
- Homework Assignment for Session One
- Homework Assignment for Session Two
- Homework Assignment for Session Three
- Homework Assignment for Session Four
- Homework Assignment for Session Five
- Homework Assignment for Session Six
- Links to recordings can be found at the top of the corresponding homework assignment (i.e., recording for Session One can be found at the top of the homework assignment for Session One, etc.)
- Please complete homework for each session first, before watching the recording.
- Live sessions include small break out discussions. If you are using the recordings, we recommend that you pause for reflection and/or journaling around these discussion topics. If you are working through the course alongside others, you may want to have these discussions together.
COURSE SURVEY – here
- Once you have completed your work with the course, we hope you will fill out the course survey. Your responses are vital tools that help us assess and improve our offerings. Thank you!
Connecting & Sharing with one another
PARTICIPANT DIRECTORY – submit your information here
The participant directory is not a caucus. Anyone who is registered and participating in the course (whether through recordings or attending live) is welcome to join. Note that you have the option to add ancestry or experiences you’d like to connect with others around (such as “Lowland Scots ancestry”, “Polish ancestry”, “Jewish ancestry”, “Ashkenazi Jew”, “POC”, “multiracial”, etc.)
FACEBOOK GROUP – request to join here
Please write us at email@example.com and let us know if your FB profile name is different from the name you used to register. Thank you!
FB Group norms: Please review the guidelines in the pinned post at the top of the page before posting.
Homework Assignment for Session One / Jan 26
RECORDING OF SESSION ONE here
Chat log from Session One here
Slide Shows on Course Structure:
- David’s slide show on class themes & session topics here
- Eleanor’s slide show on ways we will be working with ancestry here
Quote Katrina Browne shared at the close of the session:
“In the Dagara tribe of West Africa, it is believed that the dead do not pass over into peace until the living have cried all the tears that these ancestors did not cry in their lifetimes–for that which they suffered and for the suffering they caused others. May we, the living, find tears that will bring peace to both us and the ancestors.” –Malidoma Patrice Somé
Welcome to Before We Were White! Below is your first homework assignment for the course. We ask that you do your best to complete it before session one (Jan 26).
Your homework for this course is divided into two sections: Study (with resources for you to read or view) and Activities. When we have a guest instructor joining us, your homework assignment will also preview their bio. We will allow time in the beginning of each session to check in about your experience with the assigned homework. This first session’s assignment is relatively short, but we ask that for most sessions you allow 2-3 hours to complete your homework. It’s possible you may want to spend additional time on the activities portion of your homework, as the course progresses, but this will be your choice.
In the first live session, we will be joined by guest instructor Katrina Browne. Katrina produced and directed the Emmy-nominated Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, a documentary about her slave-trading ancestors. She currently works with the Episcopal Church as part of their Becoming Beloved Community racial justice and healing initiatives, for which she developed Sacred Ground.
- What is White Supremacy – Elizabeth Martínez (10-20 min read)
- Healing Your Thousand-Year-Old Trauma – Resmaa Menakem (5-7 min read)
- Author of My Grandmother’s Hands, Menakem outlines the interwoven nature of intergenerational trauma in the U.S. today (relevant to other Euro-centric nation states as well).
- Daniel Foor on “The Role of Ancestors in Social and Earth Justice”– (18 minute watch)
- Please watch the first seventeen and a half minutes of this talk (through the end of the discussion about ancestors who have caused harm).
- If it would be helpful, we have created a TRANSCRIPT of this portion of the video which can be accessed here.
- Note that Daniel Foor trains people in a specific spiritual process that is distinctly different from what we will be doing together in this course. In short, White Awake does not claim to do the type of ancestral healing work that Foor teaches, nor are our staff trained in his Ancestral Medicine techniques. However, the issues Foor raises in this talk are relevant to the work we will be doing in the course, and provide a useful jumping off point for further discussion together.
Participants who are adopted: For the purposes of this class, we are interested in inherited lineage whether that is biological or by adoption. We invite those of you who are adopted to choose whether you want to focus on your adopted family line or birth family line or bring some attention to both while you do the work of this course. Also, because our work is with “whiteness” as a more general category and construct, much of what we are working with could apply to birth and adoptive families at once (though ethnic experiences do differ widely among those classified as white).
After each study material, we hope you will spend a little time reflecting on what you read or watched. You may want to start a journal for this class where you make note of thoughts, feelings, or experiences you have with your homework. You might also includes questions, or other things you would like to share in a live session of the class. Folks who are using the recordings are welcome to write us with reflections or questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout the course, we will ask you to do two main types of activities: an outdoor, nature communion activity and an ancestral altar activity. In preparation for this, your first assignment is simply to select a convenient spot outdoors for future activities, and clear a spot in your home for an ancestral altar.
Throughout the course, we encourage you to cultivate a quite, reflective relationship with a particular place outside. This spot should be easy for your to access; hopefully it is a place that is already a regular part of your life. 🙂 If you have mobility issues or cannot easily go outside, you might consider another way to connect with “nature” in your home (such as a houseplant or a window, hopefully one that opens so that you can hear sounds and/or feel & smell the air from outside).
The general activity you’ll be encouraged to do is to simply spend time with this place each week (once per session; there are two one week breaks during the course). We encourage you to spend 20 minutes or longer each time you visit, noticing things such as changes over the seasons and specific non-human members of the natural community in this place (plants, insects, and other animals; natural elements such as water, rocks, and/or moving air).
We hope that, when you visit your outdoor spot, you do so in a receptive mode. Note that in our industrialized, capitalist society the emphasis of our lives is to constantly “do”. Simply quieting our mind and maintaining a passive or receptive state of being is a powerful activity in its own right, and one that we believe will make a valuable contribution to your participation in this course.
Your first assignment is simply to select a spot to visit, and spend a little time there. We will give more specific assignments over the coming weeks.
This assignment pertains to a space we are asking you to create within your home. This space does not need to be large or grand in any way; you simply need room for a few items that can hold ancestral presence (pictures, everyday items, or other small tokens that represent an ancestor or family member who has passed). We do suggest that the space be one that is easily accessible to you, in a room that is part of your daily routines.
Your first assignment is to simply select and/or clear a space within your home for this altar. If you already have an altar practice, you might clear or clean (ritually and/or physically) your altar space. You may, alternatively, want to set up a different space just for this course.
We will discuss both activities during the first session, and give specific instructions as the weeks progress.
Homework Assignment for Session Two / Feb 2
RECORDING OF SESSION TWO here
Chat log from Session Two here
Slide Shows from the session:
- David’s slide show on the development of racial capitalism here
- Eleanor’s slide show on white supremacy as a divide and conquer strategy here
- Bonnie’s slide show on settler colonialism here
Resources Bonnie shared with the group are compiled here.
In the second live session we will be joined by Advisory Council member for White Awake, Bonnie Duran. BONNIE DURAN Dr.PH (mixed race Opelousas – Coushatta descendent) is a Professor in the Schools of Social Work and Public Health at the University of Washington, Seattle. She has worked in public health research, evaluation and education among Tribes, Native Organizations and other communities of color for over 35 years.
The study goals for this session are two fold: 1) establishing a political & historical analysis for the course; 2) utilizing resources to place your own family story (primarily as a general ethnic story) into this analysis
In addition, we have a handout for you all to read in preparation for Bonnie Duran’s visit with us about settler colonialism.
~Political & Historical Analysis~
- Roots Deeper Than Whiteness – David Dean (abridged & supplemented w video / 2 hours total)
- estimated 1.5 to 2 hours minimum time to complete, depending in part on how much time you spend with prompts to reflect on the material
- these videos are embedded in the text: “Birth of a White Nation” – 2014 presentation by Jacqueline Battalora; “World Turned Upside Down” – recording of song by Leon Rosselson about the Diggers
- Matewan “Union Speech” – clip from 1987 film (6 min watch)
- Matewan tells the story of an incident in the struggle to unionize Mingo County in the West Virginia coalfield. Black, recent Italian immigrants, and whites end up working together in a powerful example of solidarity.
- The term “dago” is a pejorative for Italian, who were recent immigrants during the historical period of the Matewan Massacre.
- TW: The clip begins with a racial slur
- Merge Left & Defeat Trump in 2020 – (1 min watch)
- Summary of a recent study about the effectiveness of addressing race and class together when approaching potential voters
- How Standing Rock Made the Military Occupation of Native Nations Visible – Jacqueline Keeler (15-20 min read)
~Placing your family story in context~
*If you don’t know much about your family history, please see the note we’ve shared at the body of the study portion of your homework assignment, below. Thanks!
As you reflect on the material covered in David’s Roots Deeper Than Whiteness article, consider how your family story fits into this historical analysis. We are particularly interested in your thinking about your family as part of a larger wave of migration.
David closely addresses early British settlers who came primarily into Virginia in the 1700’s. Of course there are other, distinct early waves from Britain during this time period (Albion’s Seed is a helpful and thorough source on this, for your reference).
The following materials give more detail and insight about European immigrants who came later. Please pick articles relevant to your family experience, to supplement your thoughts on where your family fits into the larger picture.
We recognize that the following list is not comprehensive. If you would like to share other materials with class members, we welcome you to drop links to books, articles, videos, etc into this shared google document (clicking on the link should allow you to write into the document directly online; if you have trouble, send us your materials at email@example.com and we’ll add them for you.)
- White immigrants weren’t always considered white — and acceptable – Brando Starkey / The Undefeated (10-20 min read)
- This article looks at waves immigrations from southern and eastern Europe in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, considering: Italians, Greeks, Poles, Hungarians, Slavs and other European groups
- When the Irish became white: immigrants in mid-19th century US – Patrick McKenna / The Irish Times (7-15 min read)
- How Jews Became White Folks — and May Become Nonwhite Under Trump – Karen Brodkin / Forward (10-15 min read)
- We will be sharing more materials specifically for Jews after session 2, so that they are available to you during the two week break between sessions 2 & 3
*Notes for those of you who don’t know much about your family history:
We want this coursework to be accessible to everyone who takes the class, regardless of how much you know about your particular family of origin. Understanding that ancestral recovery is a lifelong journey, we hope that the information and activities we share in this class will be helpful to everyone, regardless of where you are in this journey right now. With this in mind, you might consider the following points:
- Much of the course will be looking into general patterns that have occurred within the process of migration/immigration and assimilation that have taken place somewhere along the line for all of us who are now categorized as white.
- Assimilation into whiteness does obscure or even obliterate ethnic or cultural belonging. However, most folks know something about their family origin (such as whether or not you are Italian, or Irish, etc). Because we are looking at larger patterns and migration waves, we feel you can read a lot into the little bit that you know, and then continue to flesh this out further over time.
- We do not, in this course, go deeply into genealogical research techniques (though perhaps some of you will share about this in the FB group!) What we emphasize is a groundwork that we hope will support this type of research with context and meaning whenever you engage in it.
- If you know absolutely nothing at all about your family origins (other than that you and your parents and grandparents are “white”), then it’s likely your family history is similar to what David describes in the Roots Deeper than Whiteness article about the early British settlers. You can always get some insight into family origins by doing a general Google search on your last name (and any of the “maiden” names of mother’s, grandmother’s, etc). This is a very simple starting place.
- Finally, keep in mind that we are considering ancestry in broader terms than your family lineage alone. We are considering ancestry of culture (which can be related, if nothing else, to the region where you grew up, or where you have the strongest family ties). We are also considering the ancestry of the social collective of whiteness, which is the common point of experience everyone in the caucus for this class shares (whether directly, or through their parents in the case of multiracial, POC participants).
We hope that these notes are helpful. 🙂
ACTIVITIES / SESSION TWO HOMEWORK
Throughout the course, we will ask you to do two main types of activities: an outdoor, nature communion activity and an ancestral altar activity. If you didn’t have time for the activities portion of your first homework assignment, please go back and read through it now. The first assignment gives you some important introductory information about each type of activity. Because the main action to take with homework one was selecting a place for for each activity, you can easily combine the first homework assignment with the second assignment, outlined below.
When you visit your outdoor spot this week, we encourage you to do the following things:
- Spend some time simply noticing what is around you. Engage through your senses – what do you see? what do you hear? what do you smell? what does the air, or movement of the air, feel like on your skin?
- Notice and identify any plants or animals you know; notice and invite curiosity about any plants or animals you do not immediately recognize. Notice also natural elements such as rocks, dirt, water, etc. Notice any patterns you see (like, where the water collects; where things are growing; where soil is exposed; etc).
If you have time for a reflection, we invite you to bring this question to your outdoor spot:
How can I be in right relationship with this place?
In asking, you may be asking about this particular spot; you may also be asking about the general area or region where you live, inviting the beings you are physically close to in your outdoor spot to speak on behalf of the larger place.
When you ask, maintain a receptive state. See if you can notice things like body sensations, emotions, or images / textures / sounds that come to mind (ie, non-word-based thoughts). When word-based thoughts arise, look for simplicity and freshness to indicate a response. Regardless of how you might frame this activity, re your spiritual beliefs, we can all agree there are responsible ways to steward or be in right relationship with a place. This activity is an invitation to consider what this could mean where you are now. You might be called to do something very simple and mundane, like picking up trash off the ground!
Leaving a gift – Receiving a gift
One last activity, which you may choose to repeat multiple times as you take the course, and which you may begin this week or next week:
When you go to your outdoor spot, consider taking a gift with you to leave there. You may want to leave bird seed or healthy bread crumbs or other appropriate food. You might take a small crystal or stone that holds a special intention for you. You might take thread or yarn (made from natural materials) that birds could use when it’s time to build their nests. You might take a bit of a meaningful plant such as tobacco, sage or another artemisia (artemisia’s are used in folks traditions around the world for cleansing), or you might bring corn meal, wheat flour, or some other kind of seed or grain. Be sure, of course, that what you leave will be healthy for the physical space. You can, if you have nothing else on hand, always consider plucking a hair from your head and leaving it on the ground or wrapped around a twig or leaf.
Having left a gift, you may notice a small offering that this place wants to make to you. Again, don’t take anything that could harm the space. But things such as a stone, acorn, bit of soil, shiny rock, fallen leaf, feather or last year’s fallen birds nest might catch your attention. If you notice a small gift, say thank you (having left your own gift in return) and bring this item back home with you. Gifts from your outside spot can make a nice addition to your ancestral altar.
There are two components to your assignment for your altar this week. First, we suggest making placing an object or objects on your altar that relate to one or both of the following two categories:
Family of origin
We hope you will select one or more objects that connect you to your family of origin (birth or adopted). You may also consider objects that hold a connection to your ethnicity or culture. And/or, you can simply select an object from your own childhood, which in turn invokes your entire family line. Items that have been passed down to you, or saved from childhood, are particularly potent, however any object can be imbued with meaning.
If you have pictures of beloved dead that you have a strong and positive connection to, we invite you to place one or more photo on your altar as well.
Natural elements & sensory appeal
In addition to objects or photos that represent your ties of kinship, we invite you to place one or more objects on your altar that represent an element of nature, such as a candle, bowl of water, stone, leaves, etc.
We also invite you to place on or near the altar some things that appeal to your senses, such as a beautiful piece of fabric, natural incense, or something that makes a pleasant noise.
Through these items your altar not only represents your relationship with family or human kin; your altar becomes a space that reminds you of your absolute belonging as a child of this earth, a species on this planet, connected to all that is through your body and your senses.
In addition to placing these types of objects on your altar, we invite you to begin to think about an aspect of the course we will describe in more detail when we meet for session two.
For some of our sessions together, we will be working with guided meditations designed to make a spiritual connection to our ancestral origins (and/or engage with what we are learning through the use of our imagination, depending on how you look at these things).
Any time we work with ancestors, its good to do so within a protective container of some kind. As Daniel Foor pointed out, we are bound to have challenging energy within our ancestral line (whether you look at this as ghosts of troubled dead, or simply unfortunate things in the past that can have ripple effects through multiple generations that bring challenges forward today).
So, when we are doing guided meditations, and when you are doing work on your own, we would like you to do so with the help of a protective companion. You can consider this to be a real, spiritual presence or simply a calming, soothing image/idea to call to mind, depending on your beliefs.
Some examples of who this protective guide or companion might be: a family member you love and trust who has passed on; an animal companion you were close to that has passed on; a natural place or specific tree, mountain, vista, waterfall, etc that you have a strong relationship with (if you select a nonhuman guide, it could be helpful to imagine it manifested in a human or animal form); a deity, teacher, or leader from any tradition or lineage you are a part of (such as Tara or Kuan Yin for Buddhists; Jesus or the Holy Spirit for Christians; etc).
You do not need to decide on this companion right now, but we hope you will begin to consider who this companion might be. If and when you know, you might bring an object onto your altar that represents this guide or companion, as well.
While describing these activities required some lengthy explanations, we hope you will find the activities themselves something you can connect to with simplicity and ease. You never need to do everything we write down – we hope you will consider these things as possibilities, from which you choose the actions that resonate with you and with which you can most easily connect.
Homework Assignment for Session Three / Feb 16
RECORDING OF SESSION THREE here
Chat log from Session Three here
Notes & other resources shared:
- Nina’s notes from antisemitism presentation – here
- Eleanor’s meditation on Harm Caused – here
- Barbara Smith interview (where she clarifies the term “identity politics”) can be found here (short clips of this interview can also be found here, in her endorsement video for Bernie Sanders)
- Clip of adrienne marie brown can be found in this video: How to Support Harm Doers in Being Accountable
Session Three is the session in which we focus on the window of harm caused by white people in the context of capitalism, European imperialism and colonization, and the settler colonial societies that these things birthed (with a focus on the US).
In this session we will also be joined briefly by guest instructor Nina Smith (our facilitator for the Jewish caucus call.) Nina will share a presentation on the history of antisemitism and some of her personal experiences processing this legacy. Keep in mind that, in the case of antisemitism, we are dealing with the windows of Harm Caused and Harm Received at once – for Jewish participants and their ancestors, antisemitism is a form of harm received; for non-Jewish participants and their ancestors, antisemitism is a form of harm caused. Our request is that we hold this intra-caucus difference in experience with care.
In preparation for Nina’s talk on antisemitism, please review the following materials:
- Introductory Material from: “Understanding Antisemitism: an Offering to Our Movement” (10-12min read)
- excerpt from a resource on anti-semitism and racism put together by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice / full PDF can be found here
- Eric Ward on Antisemitism – (7-10min read)
- related material, if you would like to read more, can be found here
Introduction to Harm Caused study section
The primary homework we hope you’ll complete to prepare for session three focuses on harm that our ancestors (family, cultural, or simply the collective “ancestors” of whiteness) caused. Before you work with the study materials of this section, we want to acknowledge three things:
- The scope of harm caused that we could consider for this aspect of the course is too vast to be comprehensively addressed in any two week homework assignment. The study selections we’ve putted together are in not meant to be representative of all harm caused, but are offered as windows into it.
- The historical harms of white supremacy have not stopped; each window we look through has its own trajectory into the present, where some form of these harms continue today.
- Engaging with the resources we have put together here will take considerable emotional energy.
On this last point, we hope that you will pace yourself, and resource yourself. If at some point what you are studying is too much to take in right now, please respect your personal limits. It is important to take stock of the horrors our society is built on, and this will require some sacrifice and discomfort. However we do not allow the work of this class to interfere with your ability to fulfill your present day responsibilities or maintain sufficient emotional regulation for emotional/mental health. Please eat well, drink water, and do what you can to get adequate sleep while working with the topics for this session. If you are yourself a victim of violence, please ensure that adequate supports are in place for your process, as several of the study assignments are triggering (we have place TW beside assignments with specific, graphic accounts).
Additionally, we hope you will read over the activities portion of your homework and schedule intermittent times over the course of the next two weeks to engage in the different activities we’ve assigned. These are designed to help you ground and discharge any grief, anger, numbness or overwhelm you may encounter as you work with the material for Session Three.
For those of you who are not from the US, we hope that you can consider our US focus as a case study, facets of which can then be applied to the specifics of your country of origin. Keep in mind that the relationship between settlers and the indigenous people’s of any settler colonial nation state (US, Canada, Australia, etc) will be very similar, and folks whose ancestors never left Europe nevertheless have inherited relationship to the legacy of European colonialism and imperialism abroad.
Your study begins with a selection from Medicine Stories, by Aurora Levins Morales. From this selection, we would like to highlight the following quote:
“Acknowledging our ancestors’ participation in the oppression of others and deciding to balance the accounts on their behalf leads to greater integrity and less shame. … It becomes possible to see the choices we make right now as extensions of those inherited ones, and to choose more courageously as a result.”
May it be so.
- Embracing Rootedness and Radical Genealogy by Aurora Levins Morales (10 min read)
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on the Ulster-Scots (7 min read)
- Slate graphic of transatlantic slave trade (2 min interactive graphic)
- The horror of the human trafficking and enslavement of Africans is vast. As you watch this interactive graphic, take time to reflect on what you already know about the middle passage and subsequent enslavement, then attempt to scale this to the number of dots you see moving across the screen.
- Bob’s Story from Combined Destinies (15-20 min reading) / TW: graphic descriptions of violence
- This is particularly difficult reading, as it is a personal story that focuses the relationship of one man’s family and community to lynching
- We Are Here Because You Were There: Refugees at the US-Mexican Border (10 min read)
- Our relationship to national government is complex; every day people don’t have much (if any) control over how aristocracies or national governments decide to use the military or economic leverage that these entities have at their disposal. However, the harms of imperialism are part of the collective legacy we want to acknowledge in this class.
- Consider that many family members and/or ancestors were directly involved in imperialism through their service in the military (conscripted or not).
- Consider as well the relationship between racism and anti-immigrant activities at home, and the abusiveness that is rampant in agencies such as ICE (itself an offspring of the entire prison-industrial complex), as a way of reflecting on how imperialism is woven into our social fabric at multiple levels.
- Supplemental resources / completely optional:
- Soldiers talk about what they saw and did in Iraq / TW: descriptions of specific acts of violence
- This is why they hate us / Salon – a history of US backed “regime change”
- The Treatment of Migrants Likely ‘Meets the Definition of a Mass Atrocity
- “The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness” (37 min watch) / TW: descriptions of childhood abuse
- This is a grassroots documentary that illuminates the Indian Boarding Schools in relation to genocide of Native people’s of Turtle Island, broadly, as well as inter-generational trauma and what it takes to heal a damaged culture.
- The material can be very triggering. Please allow time and space for your viewing and post-viewing experience.
- The video title is linked to an edited version created for White Awake workshops; the full documentary can be found on Youtube here.
Optional related resource: At some point, now or even once the course is over, you may want to watch Traces of the Trade, Katrina Browne’s full length documentary.
Jewish participants: While recognizing that everyone’s experience is distinctive and unique, you may find the Jen Kiok’s personal story is supportive of your process while working with the window of Harm Caused.
If you are jumping into this homework assignment without having looked at the first two, please go back and (at minimum) read over the first activities assignments, which explain your outdoor and altar activities in general terms and offer instructions for setting up an altar and spending time in your outdoor spot.
The subject matter of the next session, and the study assigned for it, is difficult. You may feel strong emotions while working with your study assignments (if not, no judgment! Emotions come and go of their own volition, not ours 😉
We hope that spending time in your outdoor spot can be a way of diffusing and grounding anything that comes up for you in the study you’re engaging in over these two weeks between sessions two and three. Here are a couple of activities you can do in your outdoor spot with this in mind. These have been adapted from the work of Francesca De Grandis.
Breathing and softening your focus
While you are outside, take a moment to simply breath. You may want to take a couple of purposefully deep, cleansing breathes. Notice how it feel when you breath in; notice how it feels when you breath out.
Now, still connected to the breath moving through your body, begin to notice the sounds, sights, smells, and other sensory aspects of what is around you. We understand that not everyone has access to all five senses; please experience the space you are in through the senses that are primary for you, and disregard any instructions that are not relevant to you.
Do you notice birds? Can you see them or hear them? Can you distinguish between different songs or distances between birds? Do you notice squirrels, or other small animals? What are they up to? What do you notice about their movements?
Can you focus simply on the air around you? What is its temperature, how is it moving, how does it feel – both outside on your skin as well as inside when you breath it in?
Consider everything about this place that you can notice through your senses, and in so doing, soften your focus on the stream of thoughts within your own mind and bring your awareness to the immediate, multi-faceted environment in which you are immersed.
This practice is best done after checking in with your breath, and noticing the immediacy of the environment through your senses (as outlined above; though you don’t need to go into great detail with the first practice before beginning this one).
Allow yourself to notice emotions, sensations or thoughts within yourself that may be difficult to process or hard to hold. Don’t shy away from them. Just bring them to your caring attention.
Once you have a sense of what these thoughts, emotions, or sensations are, bring your attention to the ground below you. If you are standing, you might really connect with the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.
Imagine any emotions, sensations, and/or thoughts that feel difficult, challenging, or hard to hold simply flowing down through your body and into the soil. Use your imagination to direct these downwards, like a flowing stream, that flows, flows, flows into the ground until you are emptied of them, or until you feel a little bit more clear.
Now, imagine that these feelings flow deep into the soil and that down there underneath you they are changing. The ground, the earth itself, is cleansing anything that doesn’t serve you – the difficulties, sadness, grief, helplessness, anger, numbness, irritation … whatever it is, the earth is swooshing them around and around underneath your feet and healing, cleaning, or absorbing anything you might need help with.
Once the energy of these thoughts, sensations, feelings has been cleaned and cared for in the earth – much as a watershed cleanses the water that runs through it – imagine the energy of these things coming back up to you from the ground. Running back up through you from your feet (or lower portion of your body), imagine you slowly filled with the fresh, pure energy that lay at the heart of the difficult feelings you just sent into the ground. You might bring to mind a teaching Joanna Macy has popularized, which is that: anger represents our deep desire for justice; fear is the flip side of courage; confusion can become an opening from which new understanding emerges; and grief is a product of love.
Once you have done this grounding practice, you might make an offering to the place that you are in – if nothing else, plucking a hair from you head and setting it upon the ground – while thanking this space. Notice any changes in how you feel, and cleanse your mind a bit more as you leave by breathing deeply, and noticing what is immediately around you.
If you are able to spend a little more time in your outdoor spot, you might spend quiet time in a receptive mode, after clearing your heart and mind through the grounding practice. Perhaps the land you are spending time with, or the other-than-human forms here, have wisdom to offer regarding how you relate to the stories of destruction and violence that you’ve been receiving through our study materials around Harm Caused.
If either of these practices are helpful, we hope you will consider repeating them as desired.
We hope you will set aside at least one period of time to spend with your altar between these two sessions. You might go back and review the first two assignments, and see if there are any items you would like to add to this altar at this time.
If you have not looked at any of the prior altar activities in your homework so far, please go back and read through them, as the following assignment builds on the earlier descriptions. Do not feel you need to do every activity we’ve described, but at least familiarize yourself with them and complete the activities that you feel called to.
Note that we have included multiple activities for your altar practice. We hope you will read over each of them, and then select the activities that feel nourishing to you. No need to complete all of them at this time! The one exception is the first activity, re your protective companion, as completing this exercise will be helpful for the work we do together in Session Three.
We have encouraged each of you to choose or call to mind a protective companion for your work in this class, and we will be working with this companion directly in session three. If you have not already selected a companion, we hope you can do so now. You might consider this companion to be a real, spiritual presence or simply a calming, soothing image or idea to call to mind, depending on your beliefs.
Some examples of who this protective guide or companion might be: a family member you love and trust who has passed on; an animal companion you were close to that has passed on; a natural place or specific tree, mountain, vista, waterfall, etc that you have a strong relationship with (if you select a nonhuman guide, it could be helpful to imagine it manifested in a human or animal form); a deity, teacher, or leader from any tradition or lineage you are a part of (such as Tara or Kuan Yin for Buddhists; Jesus or the Holy Spirit for Christians; etc).
Once you are clear as to who your spiritual companion will be, please select an object that represents them to place on your altar. We invite you to also spend time (sitting, standing, or laying) near your altar, simply calling this companion to mind. When you call your companion to mind, our hope is that you will do this in a way that prioritizes your emotions and your physical experience. For example, if your companion is a strong, soothing light, you might simply imagine that light enveloping your body. You might feel warm, or peaceful, or a tingling sensation, etc. If your companion is a beloved family member who passed on, you might hear the sound of their voice, or feel a wash of love and happiness in your body and heart, as you experience their closeness and enjoy their presence.
We hope you will spend a little time with this exercise at least once before Session Three.
Contemplating Harm Caused
This is the simplest activity we are offering for your practice. We encourage you to pair this activity with at least one of the others (such as calling your protective companion to be with you, or imagining a soothing healing space, or using the water & salt exercise, etc). These other activities are designed to help you move and/or discharge what arises as you work with the window of Harm Caused.
We invite you to spend with your ancestral altar and contemplate the harm your ancestors might have caused. You may also contemplate the harm upon which any privileges you or your ancestors may have experienced was built. You might light a candle or burn incense while you consider these things. You may want to hold one of the objects you have placed on your altar to represent your childhood or your family.
You might have questions about this harm – why people did it, how could they have participated in it, what should you do about it now. We invite you to notice and allow judgments to pass through you, while turning your attention to your body and your emotions. We hope you will remember to differentiate yourself from your ancestors (and/or the collective ancestors of whiteness – ruling class or not); as Katrina Browne mentioned, remember that you did not personally commit these acts. We hope you will also open yourself to the value of bearing witness (rather than turning away), as well as the incredible value of setting your intention to repair or correct the legacies of this harm, and to work with others to build a world in which we do not treat one another this way.
Soothing, healing space
In much the same way you have selected an actual, outdoor space to spend time in, we hope you will select an *outdoor* space you can spend time in via your imagination, while you are working with your altar. You may call to mind a tree that you have loved and visited before, embedded in a healthy landscape; you might visualize a body of water such as the shore of an ocean or a flowing river or a creek in the woods; you might call to mind a clearing in a forest, a warm smooth sitting stone … you might simply imagine you are back in the outdoor spot you’ve selected for this course.
As you work with the material in the study portion of this lesson, we invite you visit this soothing healing space and spend time there with your protective guide. In the same way we’ve encouraged you to ground difficult, painful feelings in the physical space of your outdoor spot, you can do this grounding activity anywhere by calling this place to mind, going there with your protective companion, and pouring whatever needs expression out into the ground of this soothing, healing space.
You may feel fear or anger or grief or numbness too large to contain. Let any harshness, anything too large for you to hold flow down into the ground of this place. Be comforted by the tree by the rocks by the water by what ever more than human presence is here with you, and by your protective guide. As you have been prompted to do in your outdoor spot, you might leave an offering (via your imagination), and you might also receive an gift. Once you are clear in spirit and mind, you might quietly sit and see if this landscape of your imagination has any wisdom to offer regarding how you relate to the stories of destruction and violence that you’ve been receiving through our study materials around Harm Caused.
Water & Salt
This exercise is one I (Eleanor) was introduced to through my colleague Jodi Lasseter, activist and organizer based in North Carolina. Unlike the first two activities, this one is very physical and immediate.
You are invited to place a bowl of water on your altar, and place beside it a smaller bowl of salt. Call to mind the stories of violence and harm that you are spending time with in the work of our class. You might notice specific things that weigh heavy on your heart. Begin to take a pinch of salt that represents your grief for what you are bearing witness to. It can be helpful to be very specific about these feelings of grief – one pinch for story, or one type of violence. Set your intention for that pinch of salt to embody your grief, and place the salt in the water in the bowl. You can sprinkle it over the bowl; you can place your whole hand into the bowl with the salt and swish it around. Now go back, and take another pinch of salt, allow it to represent another fact or story, and place this pinch of salt into the bowl.
If tears come during this exercise, we hope you will welcome them as a gift, though no particular emotional expression is required or even desired (remember, we don’t control the emotions that come to us – only how we express them). As you continue to place the salt into the water, you may want to say a simple prayer for the ones that were harmed. Something like, “I honor you. I take this moment to remember what happened to you, and to also acknowledge that the violence committed against you was not all of who you are. You were a human who loved and received love. You were beloved to your community. May you be at peace with the ancestors.”
There are no right or wrongs words to use, and you may also express your intentions without words. You may already have a spiritual practice or prayer that works well for this purpose. You may feel called to offer an apology, though we would recommend avoiding projecting your guilt onto the person or people this moment of prayer is intended to honor. Our main goal for this activity is that you have an embodied way to express your grief, anger, or even despair at the harm that has been caused.
Spending time with your ancestors who are well in spirit
Our last activity is one in which you call your own ancestry to mind. Considering the experiences Daniel Foor described in the talk we assigned for Session One, we hope you will be specific about your invitation – you are inviting ancestors who are well in spirit, who have made their transition and are well seated among the human dead. Your belief system may not hold these things as literally as Foor described, but we still encourage you to use this caveat when using your imagination to reflect on your ancestors (known or unknown), albeit doing so in a way that makes most sense to you.
You might light a candle when you make this call. You might feel the presence of ancestors, hear their voices, have a conversation. You may invite ancestors whose names and stories you know – you may be have a picture of some of these ancestors on your altar, in which case looking at the photograph (or holding an object that is connected to them) could be the focus of this reflection. You might invite ancestors whose names and stories you do not know. Our spiritual consultant for this class, Katrina Messenger (who we will work with in Session Five) reminded me that, “We may not know them, but they know who we are!” Rest assured, these ancestors are there (or, if you do not have this belief system, at least you know they truly existed!) whether we know their names or not.
It can be enough to simply call these ancestors to mind (opening yourself to feeling their presence in your body and emotions), and then be with them in a quiet, reflective space. You might find that you have questions for them, and if you ask these questions you might find that answers arise. If you have a strong experience, make note of the fact that this experience is information. Know that you are safe in body and spirit – and make note of any information that might be valuable to you (like a detective!) as you continue this work, during and after this course.
Homework Assignment for Session Four / Feb 23
RECORDING OF SESSION FOUR here
Chat log from Session Four here
Other follow up from the session:
- Lyla June’s “Forging Settler-Indigenous Alliances” training materials can be found here
LYLA JUNE is a nationally and internationally renowned public speaker, poet, hip-hop artist and acoustic singer-songwriter of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages. Her music and message centers around intergenerational and inter-ethnic healing, as well as an articulation of Indigenous Philosophy.
STUDY – for the window of Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions
Materials by Lyla June
The Vast and Beautiful World of Indigenous Europe – Lyla June (approximately 20 min, inc embedded video)
Mamwlad – Lyla June (5 min watch) / A music video, filmed on location in Wales, in dedication to the witches persecuted throughout Europe.
Question: Who are indigenous people today?
As we view our ancestry through the window of Indigenous Roots, we want to have a grounded understanding of who indigenous people are today. The following handout is shared for this purpose:
Defining “Indigenous” / White Awake handout (30 min total time for activities)
Question: How might our indigenous ancestors have approached life differently than we do today?
The ancestry of “whiteness” generally involves the severing of ties with the indigenous ancestors of each group that has come to be classified as white. In many cases this break with an older, rooted and traditional way of life began hundreds or even thousands of years ago. We hope our work together will inspire you to learn more about when and where your ancestors may have lived as indigenous people, with a sacred connection to a specific place; however, we are also interested in your recognizing some of the common cultural traits that many indigenous people’s share.
We feel that understanding this, in a general sense, can help strengthen your relationship with ancestors (or the stories of ancestors) who had a very different way of approaching life than we do today, regardless of how much specific information you do (or don’t) have access to regarding the indigenous people (or people’s) from whom you are descended.
The following two resources are shared with this intention in mind, and may contribute to a shifting of our own worldview or daily lives in a way that is inherently healing:
Animism and Earth Ritual – Daniel Foor (10-15 min selections)
- Please read the following selections from this page: “What is animism?”; “Animism & Earth-Honoring Traditions”; “Animism & Ancestors”; and “Ancestors & Spirits of Place” (first paragraph only).
- White Awake does not take a position on Foor’s trainings; we have not vetted them, nor can we make a recommendation one way or another about them. What we have found is that Foor’s description of animism (which draws on the work of Graham Harvey, author of Animism: Respecting the Living World) is helpful and succinct – especially as we consider ways in which the culture of our indigenous or earth-honoring ancestors might be different from our own.
Speaking of Nature – Robin Wall Kimmerer (10-15 min selection)
- Please read the first full selection of this essay, stopping at these lines: “… I wonder if English sharpened its verbal ax and lost the companionship of oaks and primroses when it began to keep company with capitalism. I want to suggest that we can begin to mend that rift—with pronouns. As a reluctant student of the formalities of writing, I never would have imagined that I would one day be advocating for grammar as a tool of the revolution.”
Questions: When and where might my ancestors have been indigenous? What earth-honoring traditions might have continued through to the present day?
As you spend time with this window of ancestry, we encourage you to do a little research into when and where you ancestors might have been indigenous. Remember, if you are adopted, you are welcome to consider either your adopted family line, your biological line, or both – this is entirely up to you. We honor the kinship bond of adoption as one that binds you to the ancestry of your adopted family on equal/parallel lines as the bond of biology, and we trust you to work with whatever ancestral lines are most appropriate for you at this time.
This exercise has much in common with the one we encouraged you to engage in for the study portion of Session Two (“Placing your family story in context”), however the focus now is not on migration or assimilation, but on the place or places where your ancestors held a strong bond to the land before migration, assimilation, or older disruptions of colonial / imperial forces in Europe. For many (but not all) people who are now white, their indigenous ancestors first encountered imperial aggression and destruction of indigenous life ways through the Roman Empire.
If you know nothing (or very little) about your family story, you may want to simply Google your last name, and any other family last names that you know (your mother’s name before marriage; grandmothers’ names before marriage, etc). For example, when I Google “Hancock surname origin”, I can see that it is an English name. The same is true of most surnames in my family. If I knew nothing else about my family, this would still lead me to consider indigenous peoples of England (who fought and succumbed, in different capacities at different times, to Roman imperialism) as potentially part of my ancestral story.
Below are some resources that might help you consider basic themes of indigenous or folks traditions you may have some connection to, through the part of your lineage that is now considered white. Keep in mind that, when faced with colonization and/or imperialism (from the Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, etc), older indigenous traditions often morphed into what we call “folk traditions” today.
*These resources are for your reference as you consider/explore your ancestry. We do not expect you to read or look at all of them.
- Ancient Spirit Rising-Practices (excerpt from Ancient Spirit Rising, by Pegi Eyers)
- “IK” is an abbreviation for “Indigenous Knowledge”
- We are thankful to Pegi for making this resource available as a PDF to our class!
- Note that Pegi takes a very specific approach to European indigenous traditions, actively encouraging her reader to reclaim their own European, earth-honoring roots. While some of you may feel called to do this, White Awake is not encouraging or even recommending that you make this activity part of your personal journey. Our goal is for each of you to understand that these older, ancestral lines exist, and to come into an appropriate relationship with them in whatever way is best for you.
- Magical World of Aradia (passage from the 1998 translation by Mario Pazzaglini, PhD and his mother, Dina Pazzaglini)
- focus on Northern Italy, and a useful resource for thinking about ways that older earth-honoring traditions remained alive through thousands of years of repression
- Boudicca (short summary of how Boudicca united Celtic tribes against the Roman invasion of the British Isles)
- Boudicca’s story helps illuminate some of the earliest forms of colonization in the British Isles, which would later become the colonizing force that gave birth to “whiteness” and white supremacy
- Before We Were White #1 Participant Sharing: Exploring Earth-Honoring Traditions of European Ancestors
- This is a compilation of resources shared with us by participants in our first Before We Were White course (Jan-Feb, 2018). Resources are in no way comprehensive, but we are thankful for the rich variety of things participants shared, some of which may be helpful to you!
- Consider what remnants of earth-honoring traditions you have access to right now – a holiday/s or holy day/s; nursery rhymes, “folk” or fairy tales; folk songs or a lullaby (especially those that are preserved in the language of your ethnic fore-bearers, before assimilation). These elements of ethnic, cultural, or religious heritage can be considered important links to older, earth-honoring cultural ways.
- A lot of baggage may have accumulated around these pieces of heritage through imperialism, colonialism, or capitalism (take Halloween, for example, which is based on a pagan holy day in which Celts honored their beloved dead as the harvest season ended; was co-opted as a Christian celebration when religious imperialism spread through Europe; and has now been further co-opted by capitalism as a consumer oriented event that prioritizes candy and manufactured costumes).
- However, we encourage you to look for links to older traditions wherever you can find them (brushing off accumulations that might not serve you), and honoring the mystery and beauty they contain.
As you work with the study portion of this window, we suggest that you review the activities from the past homework assignments, and continue to work with any of them that are helpful as you consider this window into your ancestry (of family, culture, or social categorization).
Notice, at the end of this section, we have another activity option that does not fall under your outdoor or altar categories. We hope that you review all of these activities, and engage with the ones that seem practical and helpful! 🙂
We suggest that your work in your outdoor spot build on the activities from the second and third homework assignments (which included: observing your outdoor spot through all of your senses; noticing specific animals, plants, and other natural elements in your spot, and asking “how can I be in right relationship with this place?”; leaving a gift, accepting a gift; breathing, scanning; and grounding). We suggest choosing one or more of the following exercises, as well, to tailor your time this week to the aspect of Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions that you are focusing on in your study.
Living respectfully in a multi-species community
As you spend time outside, reflect on Graham Harvey’s definition of animism as “a learned means of living respectfully in a multi-species community, most of whom are not human.”
What would it be like to live respectfully in the multi-species community of the ecosystem where you currently reside? To what extend is this possible, given the structure of today’s society and the current way in which your life is arranged? What would it look like if we changed society so that living this way was not difficult, but, rather, normalized and supported by broader social systems?
While the first set of questions are abstract and “meta” in orientation, consider working with this idea of being one member of a multi-species community in a more immediate way. As you are outside, once again notice the other members of this community you are in – trees, smaller plants, animals, and other natural elements. Rather than experiencing yourself as a “human” in “nature”, experience yourself as part of a community with each of these other natural elements or life forms. Spend time observing or reflecting the different types of intelligence these other natural forms or species have – the things they can do or perceive that you cannot!
As you integrate this part of our work together into your life over time, you may also want to learn the names of the different trees, plants, and animals who reside in your outdoor spot, or general location. Understand their function in the larger ecosystem, and learn something about their history – are they native to this region? If not, how long have they been here? How do these different community members relate to one another (such as who provides food or shelter or water or oxygen or carbon dioxide to who … etc). And consider what role you (and other humans) play in this ecosystem as well.
For future reference, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, and Stephen Buhner’s book The Lost Language of Plants, both have a lot to say about plants as the foundation for life on earth, and ways in which plants and animals (including humans) have evolved in relationship with one another in reciprocal, life enhancing ways.
Pronouns, and the aliveness of everything
Inspired by the portion of “Speaking of Nature” essay you read (by Robin Wall Kimmerer), as you contemplate the other life forms in the community of your outdoor spot, spend some time playing around with pronouns. Look at a tree and refer to the tree as “it”. Notice how this feels. Then refer to that same tree as “she” or “he” or “they” (using “they” in this context is a relatively new development, which addresses the need for a gender neutral, singular pronoun in the English language). Notice how this feels.
Similarly, use non-animate (“it”) and animate (“they” or he, or she) pronounces to reference several different plants and/or animals in your outdoor spot. Do the same thing with natural elements, such as rocks, or soil, or a body of water, or the breeze …
While you do this, you may begin to feel an embodied sense of being in relationship with a multi-species community. You may feel the presence of all these different forms of life around you that is different from how you usually feel. If so, savor this feeling. Soften the focus of your intellect, and pay more attention to body sensations and emotions, and allow this feeling to grow and take root in your being. See if you can keep this feeling with you – of the aliveness of all of life – as you leave your outdoor spot. See if you can call this feeling into being at other times, in other places, in your daily life.
Ancestors of place
Our last activity involves some research and preparation. Drawing upon the general study you did about who indigenous people are today, do some research online to learn about the Indigenous People of your home. “Home” could mean: where you are living now, where you were born or grew up, or where your family originally settled, if this is known to you. One helpful place to start is by searching your location on the Native Land site here: https://native-land.ca/
Once you know whose territory you are on (or grew up on, etc), see what you can find out about their story. Do members of this tribe still live in your area? Were they relocated? How are they doing now?
For the purpose of the following exercise, you will want to have an idea of who lived in the place where you are living now. If you live in your ancestral homeland, you can still consider the very different lived experience of ancestors who lived as indigenous people there, and interact with them in similar ways as we have outlined below, though the focus is on a settler experience
Considering how to come into right relationship with the Indigenous People of your home is beyond the scope of this class, however we do recommend (at some point) that you make this part of your work with healing lineage and building solidarity relationships. For future reference, you may find Lyla June’s Training “Forging Settler-Indigenous Alliances” to be a helpful.
For the purpose of this week’s work, bring your awareness of the human ancestors of place into your contemplation in your outdoor spot. Consider that you are in relationship not only with the plants, animals, and natural elements of this place, but also the humans who once lived a life that was deeply embedded in the ecosystem of this place as well.
You might bring a gift to these ancestors, and leave an offering just for them in your outdoor spot. You might call them to you in your mind, thanking them for caring for your current home. Please do not rush past this moment of appreciation … spend time in it, and notice how this feels. You may feel that these ancestors of place respond to you, and you may ask them questions such as: how can I help repair the damage that was done here? how can I participate in the restoration of the ecology of this place? how can I participate in supporting your descendants in the restoration and respect they need and deserve within today’s society?
Allow anything that is too much to contain to drain through you into the soil. Quite your mind, notice body sensations and emotions, and honor your pure intention for a life affirming society that addresses all the harms that have been done. Let the ancestors of this place know that you do not intend to forget them, in fact you need their help.
When working with your altar, we encourage you to return to the activities from the third homework assignment and adapt them to the work of this window.
As a reminder, these activities included: working with a protective companion; visiting a soothing, healing space; water & salt; and inviting your ancestors who are well in spirit. Rather than contemplating Harm Caused you will, of course, be contemplating Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions – we have outlined this activity separately, below.
Making additions to your altar
Finally, you may want to add new objects to your altar that relate specifically to this window. For example, if your research on where and when your ancestors were indigenous bears fruit – or you have a connection to an ethnic or “folk” tradition that is earth honoring – you might add something to your altar that represents this, such as a traditional grain, a healing plant, a picture of the land where your people were indigenous, or of a sacred site or meaningful symbol.
You may want to revisit the instructions in the activities for session two, as well, that provide very general guidance for building an altar. Remember that your ancestors may be from your adopted family or your family of blood; and that an object from your own childhood can be a potent way to call in your entire family line.
Inviting ancestors who are well in spirit
If you call ancestors who are well in spirit, we encourage you to specifically invite (or contemplate / reflect on) the ancestors in your lineage (of adopted family or of blood) who were indigenous, whenever and wherever this might have been. More detailed thoughts about who these ancestors might be are incorporated into the contemplation for the window for this section (below).
When you make a specific invitation like this, we recommend you maintain a receptive state of mind. You may want to quiet your more verbal thinking process and notice body sensations, emotions, and/or images, sounds, smells, or other sensory “thoughts” that arise.
You may have questions for these ancestors, or you may notice that you have something to tell them. We hope that you will hold these questions or communications in a space that is quiet and receptive, which can help you be open and receptive to yourself as well as the “other” (in this case, the “other” would be your ancestors).
You may want to light a candle while you do this activity, and then snuff out the candle at its close as a way of honoring and saying goodbye to the ancestors you have called. You might also want to burn incense, or create a pleasing sound (bell, shaker, etc) while you do this activity.
Contemplating Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions
We encourage you to pair this activity with at least one of the others (such as calling your protective companion to be with you, or imagining a soothing healing space, or using the water & salt exercise, etc). These other activities are designed to help you explore and/or discharge anything difficult that may arise as you contemplate with the window of Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions. They can also enhance your work with this window by adding another dimension to the work.
Keep in mind that many groups of people held on to older, indigenous practices even after colonialism or empire had begun to encroach upon their lives. For example, it can generally be assumed that the majority of the peasants in Medieval Europe practiced “folk traditions” that were the remnants of former, indigenous ways of life.
We invite you to spend with your ancestral altar and simply contemplate the fact that, at some point you have ancestors who were indigenous to a place. You may know something about where this place (or these places) was (or were). You may know little to nothing about who these indigenous ancestors were, or what disrupted their former way of life. However, as we mentioned in your previous assignment, Katrina Messenger reminds us that: your ancestors know who you are, even if you do not know them. Conversely, if this doesn’t fit your way of understanding human experience beyond death, you can consider the simple fact that these ancestors existed, regardless of what we know about them today, and you are connected to them through blood and/or kinship (ie, the members of your family of origin were raised by people who were raised by the people before them, who were raised by the people before them, etc).
As you contemplate these ancestors, you may feel sadness or grief; you may feel a sense of curiosity, wonder, or comfort; whatever you feel, or whatever comes to you as you contemplate this window, we invite you to accept it with care and curiosity. Everything that moves through us brings information and the potential for insight, however expected or unexpected it may be.
Making something by hand
One of the biggest differences in the lives of our indigenous ancestors and our lives today is that virtually all of our material needs are met by the industry, and accessed by the market (ie, we earn money and then use that money to buy something that was made via industry). Our ancestors who lived in an earth-centered way made everything they needed themselves, working closely with the plants, animals, and natural elements around them in order to live and thrive. It could be said that this fundamental dependence on the community of our ancestors were embedded in, and their close relationship with it, lies at the heart of their honoring and respecting the larger web of life – as well as seeing themselves as part of it, not something different or “better”.
Consider what you might be able to make with your own hands, and use this as an exercise to have a more embodied connection to this window of Earth-Honoring Traditions and ancestry. The goal is not perfection (ie, if you bake bread, you will likely purchase flour that has been milled elsewhere; even if you mill your own grain, you likely didn’t grow it yourself). The goal is to immerse yourself in the process of “work” that generates a product you “need” (like food, clothing, or shelter) in a mindful way.
Cooking may be the most accessible activity for most people, however you might find that you are able to do some early spring planting, or build a small arbor in a garden or yard that will provide shade later in the summer. Or, you might have experience with sewing or creating a small, practical item from leather, or making your own soap or lotion. Likely you won’t have time for a big project, and you might simply set your intention to work with this window of ancestry in the manner described here at a later date.
Our intention and hope is that you build on your work with animism (being in community with the many life forms around you), and also deepen your relationship with your own physical body, by making something that you can eat, wear, or use for health or comfort. While you make this item, see if you can call to mind the sensations you experienced in your outdoor spot when contemplating the aliveness of everything around you. Notice the elements you are using to make this item (such as ingredients for a dish of food, or fabric for an item of clothing). Reflect on where the raw materials came from, and consider them as living beings with whom you have an important relationship with (cotton; clay; corn; the skin of an animal; the truck or branches of a tree; etc).
Reflect as well on your indigenous ancestors as you do this. Can you imagine they are with you, guiding you in some way? Or might your actions in some small way mimic theirs? Making food for your family, building shelter with your hands …. If you know or have learned anything about some of the daily tasks, or important sources of food, clothing and shelter that your ancestors relied upon, reflecting on these things can enrich your experience with this activity – though this knowledge is not necessary.
Homework Assignment for Session Five / March 8
RECORDING OF SESSION FIVE here
Chat log from Session Five here
Four questions from Katrina’s exercise:
- What are your major concerns?
- What are your primary sources of satisfaction?
- How do you understand your position within your society — its limitations, privileges, and responsibilities?
- If you look to a nonhuman authority to explain human destiny, what is its nature?
Authors referenced: Marija Gimbutas (multiple works) & David Feinstein (Personal Mythology)
KATRINA MESSENGER is a radical feminist of African, Cherokee & Celtic descent, and a refugee from the communist, labor, feminist, and black nationalist movements of old. With over fifty years of experience as a grassroots activist and community leader, Katrina is a full time Wiccan mystic, an ordained minister, and the founder of Reflections Mystery School.
STUDY – for the window of Harm Endured
Below are resources for you to read (or watch) as you work with this window of harm your white (or white-preceding / European) ancestors endured. We want to emphasize that – in the context of early, European empire, the transition to capitalism, and the ongoing exploitation our current economic and social system is based on – this harm has a long and varied history that continues to the present day.
We know that most people will, at some point, have ancestry that was instrumental in working harm upon other groups (including other white or European people). The purpose of this window is to narrow our focus around the harm our ancestors endured, while being open to your own intuitive response to the study and activities of this assignment.
Note that, while we have attempted to touch on a wide variety of experiences, the study portion is not exhaustive, but rather relies on you to make some adaptations between the material shared and your personal ancestral story. Note as well that we are equally interested in the ancestral story of “white people” as a collective, which involves history that influences anyone who is categorized as white, regardless of what pieces of this story their ancestors were (or were not) directly included in.
European Roots, Colonial Migration & Early Immigration
Boudicca (short summary of how Boudicca united Celtic tribes against the Roman invasion of the British Isles) / (7 min)
- Boudicca’s story illuminates some of the earliest forms of colonization in the British Isles, itself an example of early colonization processes in Europe
- What ancient empires may have disrupted your ancestors older ways of life?
Wanting to be Indian – excerpts / Myke Johnson (10-15 min read)
- Johnson’s essay is one of the strongest resource we can recommend on cultural appropriation, particularly as it relates to Indigenous or Native American spirituality. We whole heartedly recommend reading the essay in its entirety at some point! For the purpose of this class, we would like to highlight some aspects of Harm Received that Johnson’s addresses in the piece.
Wales: the first and final colony / excerpts from a lecture by Adam Price MP (15 min read)
- Price’s lecture illustrates how patterns of British imperialism abroad played out and were even perfected in their colonial projects at home.
- What intra-European colonization projects may have impacted your ancestors, confronting them with assimilation and/or cultural genocide?
Roots Deeper Than Whiteness Review & Exercise (minimum 30-45 min)
Review Roots Deeper Than Whiteness and make note of harm that our ancestors (of kin and/or blood, or simply as early ancestors of our social position of whiteness) endured. There is no need to watch the embedded videos or pause for reflections where indicated; we hope you will simply refresh your memory of these themes:
- enclosure of the commons
- suppression of women & the burning of “witches”
- urban poverty, the criminalization of vagrancy, incarceration, exploitation in early industrial jobs, and the bondage of indentured servitude (which often accompanied forced migration to a British colony abroad)
- continued exploitation in colonial life along similar lines as the above
- the Americanization programs through which European immigrants assimilated (who themselves left because of the devastation of capitalism and/or feudalism in their homelands)
Having looked back over Roots, spend time with the following inquiry:
- Where do you see your ancestral story, in relationship to these events or patterns?
- For those of you who do not have a direct relationship – through blood or family – to any of this history, you might consider both how this history influences the social category of whiteness that you have assimilated into, as well as what general patterns represented here might have played out, in different ways, for your family.
- How did you see the patterns of: 1) violent displacement of communities from their land, and 2) the replacement of traditional, ethnic culture with identities designed to uphold the new economic order, playing out in your family story?
- Keep in mind that displacement does not have to mean migration to a different continent; this story includes the migration of peasants to cities after the loss of access to the commons.
How manipulation, exploitation and harm continue in modern times
I Ain’t Got No Home / lyrics to Woodie Guthrie’s popular song (5 min read)
- As you read these lyrics, consider what you know about the Great Depression, and how this time period may have impacted your family line.
- You might also consider the theme of “tension between those who live off of work and those who live off of money” (Grace Blakeley / Stolen). How has this tension continued through the 21st century into today? How do these tensions impact you today?
C.P. Ellis Why I Quit the Klan (20-30 min)
Blood on the Mountain Official Trailer 1 (2016) – Documentary trailer / (2 min)
Roots Deeper Excerpt (7-10 min)
Wealth Inequality in America / 6 min
- Regardless of where you fall on the graph represented in this video, consider the exploitation that is taking place by the people who are at the very top, and the way in which the entire system is untenable and destructive for all involved.
- Folks who are not from the United States might look for resources to consider wealth inequality in their country of origin, and/or consider the way in which the inequality in the U.S. reflects larger, global trends.
Costs of Oppression to People from Privileged Groups / 5 min read
Now that we have completed four sessions of the course, and are preparing for the last two, we suggest that you consider all the activities assigned so far to be a repertoire from which to draw as we explore these last two windows.
As you work with the window of Harm Endured, we hope you will visit your outdoor spot and notice the aliveness of everything around you; breath, experience the more-than-human elements of this place directly through your senses; ground anything that is feeling ungrounded; and leave a gift, noticing if there is a gift to receive in return.
It may be beneficial to take time outside to consider the long line of harm your ancestors have endured, including the separation from their original relationship to land, animals, plants, and natural elements of a place where they once had deep roots. You might consider the circumstances under which they migrated (if you are living in a settler-colony), and how these circumstances – as well as the original disruption of earth-honoring traditions – influence your own relationship to place right now.
As you spend time outside, see if you can experience (through your body and your emotions) the degree to which you are not alone, to which humans are not alone. Notice if anything occurs to you that you would like to take action on, and notice if there is anything you would like to release by letting feelings / emotions flow out into the ground below you, where they can be stirred and purified, before returning as a purer form of energy and intention.
As you work with your altar between session four and session five, please draw upon (or build upon) the work you have done so far. You might want to read back through the altar activities listed under the past four sessions, and notice any exercise (or different way of approaching an exercise) that catches your attention. In addition, you might notice if there is anything you would like to add to your altar at this time – or anything you would like to remove and, if so, where the object you are removing might want to go.
As you spend time contemplating your ancestral story (and/or inviting ancestors who are well in spirit to spend time with you), we encourage you to set aside time to focus on the harm they endured and the ways this harm impacted them. Some or much of what you consider may be purely from your intuition or imagination. We encourage you not to censor yourself. We hope you will light a candle, or stick of incense, or use some other item to appeal to your senses and quiet your mind, or ground your body, and then consider these ancestors from a quiet, receptive place.
As you consider the harm your ancestors endured, you might explore the following questions: Did they resist? If so, how? What options were open to them? What options did they choose? To what extent did they have choice in how to respond? How did their life change as a product of different events? What aspects of this harm have you inherited today? Is there anything you can do, now, that your ancestors were not able to do in the past? Is there anything you can carry forward on their behalf? Is there anything that one or more of your ancestors are communicating to you now?
Remember that ancestors can be related to you biologically, or by adoptive family, or they can be related to you via a social position you now inhabit (such as whiteness, gender, sexuality, etc.) If you feel grief, sadness, or other strong emotions, you might want to consider working with the water and salt ritual, envision yourself entering a soothing place, and/or inviting your protective companion to be with you as you consider the stories you’re working with in the study portion of your homework.
Homework Assignment for Session Six / March 15
RECORDING OF SESSION SIX here
Chat log from Session Six here
Eleanor’s Window of Resistance meditation text here
In our final class, we will focus our time on three different themes:
1) Resistance & Self Determination struggles that our ancestors engaged in, including ancestors of kinship and ancestors of cultural or collective belonging (i.e., our “white” or European ancestors)
At any time in which harm is being perpetrated, there are always people who resist. For our ancestors this includes resistance to harm perpetuated against them (such as European tribal peoples who fought incorporation into ancient empires, or coal miners striking and fighting coal company bosses,) as well as resistance to harm being done to other groups (such as early abolitionists, military officers who refused ot participate in the genocide of Native people, or allies in struggles happening today).
2 ) Intentionally joining a legacy or ancestry of resistance, whether we find these stories in our personal family line or not.
The concept we will be working with here is that of “The Other America” – a legacy that William L. Patterson encouraged Anne Braden to claim, and thereby change her life. Obviously, respect should be given to your particular social position, and the descendents of the leadership you align yourself with, but we hope to close our course with the encouragement to not only look back, but to claim your belonging within a lineage of multiracial solidarity (in this country, and elsewhere) as you look forward at your own life and actions.
3 ) Application of the work we have done in the course, which includes: a) building on personal ancestry work, as well as b) integrating this work with outward focused, solidarity-based action.
Our focus here will be on ways in which white people and folks of color have banded together as natural allies in the fight against economic exploitation: solidarity-based struggle that has happened over and over again since the earliest of colonial periods, and that you can join and contribute to today.
Resistance to intra-European imperialism (15-20 minutes total)
Return to the study portion of your homework for Session Five, and refresh your memory of the content of the first four selections (Boudicca; Dancing in the Streets; Wanting to be Indian selections; Wales: the first & final colony). Consider this content now, from a different angle. The Welsh language still exists, despite hundreds of years of attack. Folk customs in many parts of Europe have maintained ancient forms of community celebration, despite the repression described in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book. Boudicca and the Celts who banded together did not ultimately repel the Roman invasion, but neither did they passively submit to it.
For Session Five you considered these stories, and where you might see parallels in your own ancestry or family line, from the perspective of Harm Endured. This time around, consider them again from the window of Resistance in the face of this harm.
- What have you inherited from these struggles?
- What might you draw from them today?
- How would you like to honor or remember the fights for physical or cultural survival some portion of your ancestors must have engaged in?
U.S. Resistance stories – white folks resisting harm to their communities or harm to other peoples (45-60 minutes total)
Again, we offer these selections as examples of the types of stories you might look for in your own family line, your own country, and/or your particular ethnic or geographical belonging. What we share is in no way comprehensive, and folks outside the US will want to consider similar stories in the history of their own location.
- Remembering the US soldiers who refused orders to murder Native Americans at Sand Creek (10-15 min read)
- Trigger warning: this story includes descriptions of and reference to the horrific violence of the Sand Creek massacre
- Grimké Sisters (5 min read)
- Mother Jones (5-7 min read)
- Community defenders vs. corporate gun thugs / 4 min watch
- clip from 1987 movie Matewan
- Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976) / 3 min trailer
- Emma Goldman (5 min read)
- Read introductory section
- Consider reading other sections on this page, as you have time or interest
- Film trailer for Southern Patriot, a documentary on Anne Braden (3 min watch)
- Harvy Milk (5-7 min read)
After looking over this short list of stories, what comes up? What stories do you know of – about social movements, and/or individual who stood out in these movements – who sacrificed and championed justice and equity in the face of oppression or exploitation?
There is no need to limit your reflections to race related struggles – you might consider Judi Barri, or members of ACT UP!, or the protests against the war in Vietnam War, or other, more recent, mobilizations against imperialism and endless war.
You might also consider counter-cultural movements, such as the punk scene (which often expresses a working class politics), the creative, courageous expressions of gender and sexuality among LGBTQ people (a form of self determination that flies in the face of mainstream expectations, often at personal risk), or the mountain music and culture of isolated Appalachian communities (often shaped by direct resistance to capitalist exploitation).
Consider that anywhere exploitation and oppression exist, there are people who oppose it, and that throughout history and up to the current day, many of these people are white (or were the ancestors of those who today are classified as white).
- What relationship might you have – or want to have – with these movements and/or courageous leaders?
- Do you feel differently about “white folks” (or even yourself) knowing that leadership for genuine justice and equity can be found, throughout history, among our ranks – despite the purpose of our social classification as white?
Multiracial coalitions (estimated 60 min total)
- David’s talk: The Other America (17 min watch)
- Because the theme of this talk is central to our last session, we hope you will prioritize watching this video even if you can’t get to all the homework.
- While this talk is U.S. focused, if you live in another country we hope it will inspire you to look for information about resistance struggles where you live, and ways in which diverse groups of people worked together across social lines meant to keep them apart.
- Sailors, Slaves, Pirates Revolts in the 16th-17th Centuries (15-20 min read)
- From The Many-Headed Hydra, by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
- King in the Wilderness documentary: Clip on building the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign (2 min watch)
- Watch from the point this video is cued to (1:19:39) until 1:21:37
- Trailer | The First Rainbow Coalition (1 min watch & read)
- In Freedom Seder, Jews And African-Americans Built A Tradition Together (5-7 min read; embedded video optional)
- Cowboy Indian Alliance (5-7 min read)
- Jesse Jackson, Bernie Sanders, and the Rainbow Coalition: AOC speaks at a rally in Ann Arbor, MI (7 min watch)
- Full rally here; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks directly to the parallel endorsements of Jesse Jackson (who just endorsed Sanders) and Bernie Sanders (one of the few white politicians to endorse Jesse Jackson in 1988), a review of history that demonstrates ways in which the history of multiracial solidarity is alive today
- Optional: for a more detailed account of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign, see Ryan Grim’s article “Rainbow Coalition Comes Full Circle”
- Optional: you may also be interested in watching this footage of Bernie Sanders addressing a Rainbow Coalition Meeting in 1986
Engaging in Solidarity-Based Work – Personal Assessment (15-60 minutes; could complete after final session)
You may want to spend only a little bit of time on this now, and then return to this exercise after the course is over. We will be discussing and using break out time to “workshop” these questions and assessment of your involvement in the work of social change during our last session. For this reason, giving a little attention to these question (and the resources we share here) before you attend could be helpful.
David and I (Eleanor) each strongly advocate for involvement in solidarity-based organizing and activism as a regular part of your personal life. We have collected the following list of initiatives (or resources) as a way of sharing examples of what this type of solidarity-based work might look like. We hope you review it, and find some things useful! Again, this list (like everything else we’ve shared in the course) is far from comprehensive.
- An Organizing Basic: Keep Self-Interest in Mind (David McDowell)
- If Progressives Don’t Try to Win Over Rural Areas, Guess Who Will (George Goehl)
- People’s Action
- Down Home North Carolina
- see their 2020 Impact Assessment Report for stories of DHNC’s latest accomplishments!
- Our Revolution
- Hear the Bern
- Justice Democrats
- Democrats can win by tackling race and class together. Here’s proof. (Ian Haney López, Anat Shenker-Osorio, Tamara Draut)
- Oakland has a school-to-prison pipeline. The teachers’ strike is our best hope to end it. – (Shane Ruiz)
- While many of these resources emphasize electoral politics, which is where a lot of multiracial, solidarity work is happening right now, this article highlights the most important lever of change everyday people have within the capitalist system: the withdrawal of our labor.
As you look over this list, and consider other types of solidarity-based work we didn’t include here, we encourage you to make a personal assessment of externally focused work that you are engaged in (or want to be engaged in). You can do this by writing out each question on a sheet of paper (or digital document), and then making a list underneath each one of everything that might apply.
What work are you already involved with? Or what type of work might you want to be involved with?
What unique interests, passion, skills, or sphere of influence do you bring to this work?
How much time do you give, or how much time to do you have to give? If you are looking to begin work you aren’t already engaged in, what times are you available for additional activities you aren’t already involved in, or how might you integrate the work of social change into something you are already involved with? If you are already active, do your activities feel sustainable, or does anything need to shift?
What type of interactions or experiences do you need to have in order to be nourished by your work for social change? in order for you to stay involved?
How can the work of this class (related specifically to ancestry) feed, deepen, influence, or ground your work for social change?
The activities portion of your homework will emphasize not only this window of Resistance, but also exercises to bring closure to the work of this class. You may want to look over the entire assignment, but save the activities designed to bring closure to the work of the class for after the final session is over.
We also invite you to consider whether there are practices that you might want to continue or draw upon after your work with course ends, and how they might be integrated into your life going forward. Finally, we ask you to consider the solidarity-based movement work you may be doing, or want to be doing, as you bring the energy of this course out into your life. Notice that at the end of this section is a new a third activity, focused specifically on the outward focused work of social change.
Feel free to work with the activities listed here in whatever order works best for you. Keep in mind that we never intended for everyone to engage in all of the activities we listed – but rather tried to give multiple possibilities, such that each of you could find something that would resonate and support your work in the course. Once the course is concluded, will send you all a PDF document that compiles homework assignments and follow up resources (minus links to session recordings, which you can access via this participant page for a minimum of three months following the final session). This compilation could be helpful if you want to consider activities you didn’t engage in during the course that you might want to consider in the future.
In this final week of the course, we hope you will visit your outdoor spot and work with whatever activities have been most meaningful to in this place: experiencing this place and its inhabitants through your senses; grounding, such that you release what feels too much to contain and receive back the pure, vital energy within it; deliberately reflecting on the aliveness of everything, and your position within an intra-species community; offering a gift and leaving a gift.
Resistance & Self Determination
Given this theme of Resistance & Self Determination, you might return to the activity in Session Three in which we encouraged you to consider the human ancestors of this place. How did they fight for their own survival and self determination? Are there any concrete steps you can take to further this struggle? How can you acknowledge their efforts, honor them, or even build upon them in your own life? What have they preserved that you, today, benefit from? How can you give back?
It can also be helpful to take time, in this outdoor spot, to recount stories of your own ancestry (whether general, cultural ancestry, or a specific family story) in which the people who came before you struggled against oppression (their own or others), and for self determination (their own or others). You might consider the different species, and natural elements, as a small community who can bear witness to these stories, and encourage you in building on their legacy in your own life.
Bringing closure to the work of the course (could save for after the final session)
Finally, an important piece of bringing closure to your work with this outdoor spot in the context of this class would be finding a way to meaningful thank this place (and the inhabitants there) for supporting your work in the class. Whatever relationship to this place is, going forward, we hope you will bring a special offering (whether object, song, or bird seed! ;)) to commemorate the role this place has played in your work in this course, which is coming to a close.
You might also note whether there are any activities you have engaged in here that you might want to continue, as part of a regular practice going forward.
Window of Resistance & Self Determination – our white or European ancestors
Drawing upon the trance we did with Katrina Messenger during the fifth live session, we encourage you to start with the stories you’ve explored in the study portion of this assignment. For the purpose of this activity, we are encouraging you to connect not just with your specific family, but also with larger groups to which you have a connection (by region, ethnicity, or as part of the general category of folks who are or whose descendants would be categorized as white; in this regard, this activity is different than the meditation Katrina led us through, which specifically relates to your family members.)
Pick a few of the stories or facts you’ve learned about specific individuals, or groups of people, at different points in history. Pick that individuals or groups that you feel an affinity for at this time, for whatever reason that may be. One by one, use your imagination place yourself within a group, or an individual, and notice the motivation you perceive. What did they resist? How did they defend or assert the important of self determination (for themselves or others)? What fueled this activity? What sustained them? What can you learn, or draw strength from, today?
Window of Resistance & Self Determination – multiracial movements
You may choose to expand upon this portion of your study by reflecting upon multiracial movements for social change which compose the “Other America” that David described in his recorded talk (if you are in a different country, you will want to considered parallel histories from where you live).
Pick 2-3 leaders of groups who you look up to. Consider how William L. Patterson encouraged Anne Braden to join “The Other America”, or what Chris Crass expresses in this portion of a talk we’ve archived on the White Awake blog.
What does it mean for a person of color to say “our leaders are your leaders, too?” Are there leaders of color you want to be in relationship with as teachers or role models in your life and in your work for social change? What shifts when you allow yourself to see these folks as your leaders, “too” – rather than (perhaps) as being a source of guilt or shame (that you have a relationship to white ancestry that oppressed them and the groups they represent)? How can you be in a relationship with diverse leadership that respects the differences between their social position and your social position, while maintaining a healthy sense of solidarity and common purpose?
You might want to light a candle, burn a stick of incense, or place a gift of food (or other object) onto your altar specifically for these ancestors of resistance & self determination who represent a larger legacy larger than that of our white (or European) ancestors alone. You may ask for their help and direction as you integrate the work of this class into your personal life, and consider how you are best positioned to continue the work of resistance and self determination in these times.
Bringing closure to the work of the course (could save for after the final session)
In addition to work with the window of Resistance & Self Determination, you might simply want to reflect what you have put together, what your experiences with this altar have been, and whether or not you want to keep this altar in place after the conclusion of the course.
If you decide you want to dismantle the altar, we invite you to consider the date and time you will do so, and carefully prepare. What will you do with the objects? Do photographs go back into an album or memento box? Can natural elements be returned to an appropriate outdoor location, or placed into a compost? How might you “bless” them as you remove them and return them (or release them) to different places? Can you sing for them, burn incense or smudge them with an artemisia plant? Something else?
You might also find that you want to keep the ancestral altar in place, but it would refreshing or support closure for you to change something about it. We invite you to trust your intuition in this regard – some objects you may want to remove (in which case you might look to the guidance above about doing so ritually and with heart). Other’s you might want to dust off, otherwise purify, or rearrange.
As you consider the altar itself, we hope you will also reflect on the activities you’ve engaged in with this altar as well. Are there things that resonated with you, that you might want to continue, repeat, or otherwise deepen your relationship to? Are there activities you didn’t have time for, or didn’t feel ready for, that you might want to try out at some later date? If so, when? or under what conditions?
Overall, we hope you will approach your altar space with thanksgiving, also making time to thank your protective guide and/or any ancestors who you’ve been able to commune with via this practice. You might want to prepare a small meal for your ancestors and leave it for them on the altar overnight. It might occur to you to offer some other type of gift, and/or have engage in some type of activities that celebrate the relationships you’ve cultivated here. You might also ask yourself, how can these relationships be nurtured or maintained?