It’s Impeachment Eve. There’s got to be a better way to get together during a pandemic than coups and impeachments.
Speaking of gatherings about whiteness, there’s been a few local arrests on the way to this Thursday’s TownHall Seattle conversation about whiteness. I wrote an oped piece for the Seattle Times. They declined. Here it is:
Last week brought more news about the organizing and leadership roles played by those from the Seattle region in the attempted coup at our nation’s capitol. I’m familiar with Capitol Hill. Thirty years ago I moved from Washington, DC, to Seattle for graduate school at UWA School of Social Work. My work since then has been in fields of individual, generational, collective, and historic trauma healing.
When the riot was happening I texted friends who still live in DC. “It’s a coup! It’s f***ing scary. Our block is quiet, but the Capitol is under attack,” they replied. Each day since, I continue to reflect on the individual and collective trauma that took place that day, the recent and long history leading up to it, and the complexity of post traumatic effects, both for our nation and individuals who experienced it directly or witnessed it virtually.
Some of the threats to our inseparable individual and collective wellness and national security in this aftermath are ones most deeply rooted in longstanding vulnerabilities we don't see. The shadow side of American emphasis on the individual is we are a nation created out of disconnection from family. Separation from family, by choice or by force, is embedded in immigration, colonialism, and slavery. The longing to belong, in combination with complexity of historic trauma sourced in whiteness, is a dangerous combination if left unattended.
In addition to being a tool for violence, whiteness has provided a surrogacy of belonging for white Americans. While in relationship with one another, whiteness and white people are not synonymous. There’s a societal assumption that the generational effects of slavery and colonialism leave no ill effects of these histories in white descendants. It’s not true. Whiteness is 360-degree dehumanizing. We’ve just been conditioned to suppress our inner knowing about these effects.
Our habits of war have continued since the beginning of our nation, on this soil and across the globe, visibly and covertly. We reflexively flex defensive muscles, relying on enemy, real or perceived, inclined to identify with victim or rescuer roles. Our national reliance on a self-image of goodness and innocence — synonymous with whiteness — perpetuates violence, disrespects the complexity of our humanity, and disables our democracy.
So while the capitol riots are described as domestic terrorism and violent extremism, these current expressions of violence mirror the same field of whiteness and belief in its supremacy that created our nation and democracy. Revolutionary? Patriot? Terrorist? Extremist? How about great grandparents? Ancestors? Our collective challenge to describe our past and present with congruency is pointing us in the direction of the healing we seek in our families and nation as a whole.
We need to shift our focus from the political left to right spectrum, a lens that deepens polarization, to prioritizing the influence of generational history in support of our place as future ancestors if we’re to be clear sighted in what we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. The good news for all of us is that our shared humanity, universally rooted in family, has existed much longer than the idea of whiteness.
The last few decades of working with families who are healing legacies of historic and generational trauma led me to convene a group of white women to write essays about whiteness. Stewarding this writing project is where I directed most of my energies in 2020. Seattle area essayists Anne Hayden and June BlueSpruce and I are in conversation with Dr. Bonnie Duran, UW School of Social Work and Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, online at Town Hall Seattle and Third Place Books on Thursday, February 11, at 7:30pmPST.
Ethan Nordean, the “sergeant of arms” for the Seattle Proud Boys, is a descendant and future ancestor.
Just like you and me.