Sunday, June 11, 2006

There is something gratifying about hearing the readers of your book tell you that they didn't like it because:

"I had a problem with the structure."
"It is too personal."
"There was no resolution."
"There was nothing I could connect with."
"I didn't like the use of "white (men, whiteness, white privilege)"; it felt like an objectification, marginalization of a whole group of people."
"How can you be married to a white man if you are so critical of whiteness?"

And they liked it because:

"You put into words the feelings I've had all my life but couldn't articulate."
"I like the collaboration you did with other writers."
"I like it because it's personal and yet also historical."
"I woke up at 5am one day and started making a list of things I've had to suppress. I am now recovering from cultural amnesia as a result of having read this book."
"I read your poem "FOrgiving History" 50 times because I liked it so much...after I finally got it."

Can you guess which group said what?...If you guessed that the first set of comments were made by white students and the second set of comments were made by students of color, then you are right.

Does one need to apologize for the use of racial markers for white folks when people of color have had to suffer and endure racial marking for centuries of "other-ing" under colonialism and imperialism? Will there ever be a time when our language will be free of racial markers? Perhaps. But we need to understand the resistance of white folks to being racially marked before we can move on.

A lively dialogue ensued following the above as I made the following comments:

* The word "white" has a history within the context of modernity when "race" was first used (around 16th century) to rationalize/justify the colonial conquests of non-white peoples. In the 19th century US, the word "white" served to consolidate and assimilate ethnic European immigrants into one group. As a group, they are able to protect their class interests on the basis of a racialized identity. Given this history, how does the continued denial of whiteness as a racial marker and white privilege as its benefit, perpetuate our inability to see ourselves as each other's KAPWA?

* Consider that the rise of modernity is only a blip in time when we consider the evolution of the universe. Based on scientific cosmology, we now know that the universe came into being 14B years ago and we are the latest species to evolve out of the creative processes of the universe. This species called "human" has been around for about 5M years. Early types evolved into hunter-gatherer societies and about 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers began to farm and domesticate animals. The production of surplus food created the need to protect the supply from being stolen by another tribe. According to the (first religion) Zoroastrian stories, the concept of evil emerged at this time; evil referring to the marauders and thieves who raid groups' food supply. Thus the need to construct a "supreme being" for protection.

* Classical civilizations (e.g. India, China, Persia, Mayan, Inca) came after hunter-gatherer societies and would reign for thousands of years until the emergence of scientific discoveries(Copernicus, Galileo, Newton) altered the cosmological views of ancient peoples. Science would wrestle Spirit out of Nature and begin the period of seeing Nature as an inanimate resource for the benefit of the human species. Elaborate theological constructions would lend credence to this belief. Secular science was used to serve the ideological ends of empire builders that resulted in wars, genocides, and atomic and nuclear bombs. Scientists shuddered at seeing the results of their work being used for these ends.

* The 20th century's scientific discoveries (big bang theory, Einstein, Hubble's telescope, space travel, etc) and technological innovations is now enabling some scientists to develop a reorientation towards a more cosmological view. Thomas Berry, a monk and the father of "ecotheology", began to challenge scientists to write a new creation story that would more accurately locate human beings as a species within this expanding universe.

* If the last 500 years are marked by increasing violence and destruction (most of it human-made)of the Earth's processes and support systems, can human consciousness abate, delay, reverse the course that we're on? Would healing the psychic split in the modern mind help us change how we see each other?

* How should we locate ourselves in this cosmic-scientific story if we have been educated to think of ourselves as members of a nation-state, an ethnic/racial group, a class or caste, or as gendered/sexualized beings? How do we begin to reorient our thinking when we are so deeply imbued with modernity's idea of the superiority of the human variety over all other species? How do we begin to reconcile our deepest longings for wholeness and rootedness and connection to Nature and to One Another with the cultural demand to be otherwise? to be nothing than mere consumers?

* Do the ancient shamans' intimate physical and emotional experience and knowledge of the universe have anything to teach our science-oriented consciousness?

* Too often indigenous peoples are dismissed as remnants of a useless past, in need of civilizing and modernization even as their lands and the mineral and water resources are stolen from them.

* The Filipino babaylan and the organic mystics of the Philippines face the difficult struggle for survival in these modern times. What is our/my responsibility as we/I listen?

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