Athena the goat

Belonging, republicans, and whiteness

Yesterday I went on a hike with some friends. We encountered a woman on the trail walking a goat on a leash. We asked how this came to be.

“She was rejected by the herd. So now she spends time with our dogs.”

We’re not unlike goats and dogs.

The phrase 'rejected by the herd’ triggered an immediate reflexive chorus of “Ohhhhhhs” from all three of us. Such is the life of empaths.

Groups are powerful. They all have guidelines, rules, that guide membership. Sometimes these are explicit, written. Often they’re invisible, unconscious, embodied. We’re wired in ways that incline us to both protect our membership in and serve the sustainability of the group. Family is our first group of belonging. This group includes ancestors. True belonging through the eyes of the soul knows that everyone belongs. We can’t not belong. This belonging we receive in birthright as members of our shared humanity is not the same thing as the feeling of belonging, nor is it synonymous with approval.

Depending on a variety of factors, we may be inclined to identify with the one who’s been rejected by the herd vs. relate to the ones in the group who did the rejecting. Both of these inclinations are influenced by what makes us feel innocent. Groups, like people, are complex in so very many ways. We are also hardwired for survival. There are some circumstances where rejection from the group is truly life threatening. Better to hang with others than go it alone. How we function in and experience every group is deeply influenced by family and ancestral histories. How could it be otherwise? It speaks to the wisdom in our bodies that knows we wouldn’t exist were it not for our grandparents passing life on from one generation to the next to our parents who did the same with us.

In the U.S. there’s a fair bit of confusion about belonging and joining. Joining refers to a temporary group created for whatever purpose that can be disbanded. Political parties are something we join — or not. This group membership carries a disproportionate depth of meaning in American culture. In our elected officials, the underlying question what’s going to maintain my membership in the group? is often prioritized over public service that is responsive to needs of citizens and democracy as a whole. This dynamic is often called identity politics. I see it as confusion about belonging and joining.

Only a few hours after our nation experienced an attempted coup, 147 Republicans chose to continue prioritizing membership in political party over valuing human life and preservation of democracy. They continue to cling to membership in this group as if their lives depended on it. How much are questions, such as where will I belong if I’m not republican? who am I if I’m not white? and how disloyal will I feel as a descendant if I admit to the violence of whiteness? underlying this insecurity and confusion about the source of our humanness?

Regarding the very real, basic human needs that American citizens are currently relying on elected officials to address, the Reverend Al Sharpton illustrates: “People don’t sit in cars, as he (President Biden) said, for hours to get food because they’re trying to beat the system. They need the food…We’re talking about citizens versus eviction. We’ve got to frame this as it is. You know, in my work for National Action Network, we worked giving out a million bags of food last year. As I help do it twice a week, I’m looking at people who are really hungry. They don’t care if a Republican or Democrat fed them, they need food. We’re looking at people who don’t know if they’re going to be able to stay in their homes from one month to the next.”

“What’s her name?” I asked the kind woman about her goat. “Is it OK if I take her picture?”

“Yes it is. Her name is Athena.”

I’m a Capricorn. Another goat. Speaking of herd immunity for COVID-19, we’d do well to realize that there’s no vaccine for whiteness.