The Dynamics of Survive Vs. Thrive
This past week was full with the buzz of Midterm Election season. In the business of voting and family and life along with the changing of actual seasons, I began to think about how these changing times affect all of who we are as human beings, but also as Native peoples. How do we continue to navigate through the trauma and shock of the cold of winter from fall, moving on into the birth of spring and the heat of summer and back again? Even if you live somewhere without four seasons, there is a marketable change to our sense of processing in the movement of time. We take our energy from the land, from the change, from the every flowing reality of life.
I realize and recognize that self care is broad and wide-ranging. This blog post is going to be about voting, accountability, community building, and moving through trauma as well as discussions of self care in its varying forms. If this is triggering to anyone, please practice self care. If that means you skip out on this one, then that’s ok! Self Care!
On June 2, 1924, Congress granted the right of citizenship to all Native Americans born on US soil. But even after this, so many Natives were not allowed the right to vote via individual state laws. Until 1957, this remained true.
On January 1, 1863, folx descending from Africans brought here for the express purpose of enslavement were “freed”, thereby giving them the right to live as human beings. Still, in many states, they were not allowed the right to vote. In 1966, this changed with the hard work, dedication and, in some cases, lives of many Black and Brown people dedicated to change; all states in the US granted black people the right to vote.
This affects me personally because this is my family, my ancestry, my past and present, and this will impact my future.
I remember going to the polls with my mom and she would let me pull the lever when she was done(this was the 90’s in NYC y’all). I remember my mother expressing just how important it was for us to do our “civic duty”, as she called it: for so long, our people were denied that right. Believe me, even in using absentee ballots for most of my voting life, I have always voted. But, I also realize just how many folx in Indian Country and across the black community...don’t.
I want to be clear that I am not writing this post from a high horse of “We Must Vote!”. There will be many questions and many of them will remain unanswered. These thoughts are for communities to engage, to think, to grow and to explore in and with. Now, let’s go back.
Pre-contact and pre-triangular trade, all across Turtle Island and the wide continent of Africa, matriarchal communities flourished. I’m not going to say that I’m an expert because believe me, I am not. I do know that with the arrival of Europeans on this landmass, also came the arrival of stolen land, murder, rape and the eventual displacement of many of our communities. African and Native peoples were forced to engage in practices foreign to us to survive. We began to occupy “survival mode” in order to continue existing in this new hostile climate. For example, many Pueblo communities in the Southwest have held onto Catholicism and it began with the need to survive while traditions were forced underground, only performed in secret. Then came the formation of colonial life, pre & post antebellum eras, forced removal, etc., leading to what we have today. A government of mostly white men, governing a vast group of people of color that were never even considered “human” in the eyes of the “Founding Fathers”. We walk around with the threat of possibly getting murdered by the police, being raped or assaulted, and losing our jobs because of who we love or the color of our skin- but I don't need to elaborate any more on this. It’s something we all walk around with daily. At the same time, there are more Native and Black womxn running for offices of government than ever before. In addition, more folx from communities of Queer and Trans People of Color are running and WINNING for offices of government. Change does seem to be in the air amidst the despair. Change in the form of womxn and Native folx in government, representation in various forms of media for black and brown queer and trans folx, and more. As the month rolls on into the end of 2018, I’ll be highlighting the stories of Native womxn and queer folx, artists, reproductive rights and more.
I continue to highlight Native womxn, Black womxn and Queer/Trans folx of color because there’s a difference in surviving, which is what we in these communities have done for so long and what so many of us continue to do. Thriving is a full process. The right to process trauma is a privilege. A while ago, I remember reading about trauma. My group of friends at the time-all of us queer folx of color- were obsessed with naming our “seemingly crazy” ways of reacting to racism, sexism and misogyny. I ran across the term, “Intergenerational trauma”. Intergenerational trauma has been proven by science to be real reaction to a trauma filled environment. It happens when across generations, a group of people go through particularly traumatic events, for instance, war, rape, enslavement, lynchings, the denial of human existence, etc. Without actively working to heal from these traumas, they go on to live in the bodies, minds, and spirits of the next generation. It’s PROVEN! The physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual reactions to trauma are varied. We each carry it in different ways and it expresses itself in different ways. There is no one description of what generational trauma looks, feels, tastes, touches or smells like. So how do we begin to unpack our truths, whilst still being exposed to the traumas involved in daily life?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the levels of participation regarding government issues in Native and Black communities. I’ve looked at the various tactics that folx in the realm of organizing work use to garner more votes and attention. Some of them range from shame, to scare tactics, to imploring hope for the future generations. Why? Why do we vote, participate in capitalism, and build up the democratic government if this society was built against rather than for us? Well, I’ve heard some say that if we don’t use it to create equity, that is, space for our communities to be represented, than what do we leave for our future generations? One discussion I had with a fellow radical was that unless we (all folx of color) grab guns and push the colonizers back on the Mayflower (There is a replica docked at Mystic Port, I swear it), then the work has to include varying levels of organizing.
What about building community in this world of trauma work? Isn’t that what this work is all for ultimately? Is it not for our tribes, our people, family, and selves? Cultivating community on the individual level doesn’t have to mean creating a huge event for folx to gather. It can be small. Have you checked in with someone that you love today? Send them a quick text, maybe a phone call or email. Just be present. Community isn’t just about loving someone when it is easy to do so. Community building is establishing your relationship with someone through it all, good, bad and the ugly.
I don’t know that I believe that there is one right answer to the process of decolonization. It happens in stages. In this very act of participation in a system that has caused us so much trauma, we risk inheriting more trauma. Reclaiming our lives takes time. Working through all of the trauma takes time and work and self care.
There goes that phrase again. Self Care. What exactly is “Self Care”. I’ve heard people say that it’s lovely moments such as a wonderful bath, a facial, words of affirmation and tea by the windowsill. I agree, it is. But self care is also the things that aren’t so pretty.
Self care is paying bills on time, creating budgets, reading up on what’s happening in health care, signing up for health care, breathing through an anxiety attack, voting, not voting, and more. Engaging in a self care practice is to engage in decolonization, no matter how small.
Who can decide my self care?
You. That’s it. No one else. You are responsible for your life and your own form of care in the variety of ways that it presents itself.
I implore you to take some time today after you finish reading this post and take 60 seconds to do one thing for yourself.
Then do a breath exercise. You can do this anywhere, at any time.
Take a full Inhale, hold the breath 4-3-2-1
Take a full Exhale, hold the breath 4-3-2-1
Inhale, hold the breath 4-3-2-1
Exhale, hold the breath 4-3-2-1
Take the next moment to see how you feel. What came up for you emotionally, spiritually, physically, psychologically? It doesn’t have to be major. But if it is, be kind to yourself. In this moment, you deserve kindness. You are whole. Your trauma does not dictate who you are. Only you do.
Until next week, I send you love, kindness and smudge smoke.