living towards liberation: four tools to help us create collective liberation

[image description: "living towards liberation" written across the top of the image. below on the left there is a line drawing of a human gardening with a fertilizer bag and a watering can beside them. below on the right text reads "four tools to help us create collective liberation".]

this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.

hello, beloveds. i’ve been learning a lot lately about how my whiteness and the norms of white supremacy culture i’ve internalized from being socialized in it act as barriers that prevent me from living toward liberation. to counteract this, i am actively developing regular practices to guide me intentionally toward collective liberation. i’m sharing some of the tools and practices i’ve been using below, in case any of them are helpful to y’all as well. ❤

Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture – this list of the characteristics of white supremacy culture was created by Tema Okun of dRworks and is part of dRworks’ Dismantling Racism Works Web Workbook. collective liberation requires deep cultural shifts and a necessary and enormous part of those shifts is a turning away from white supremacy culture’s paradigms as outlined in this list.

in addition to outlining aspects of white supremacy culture, this list thankfully also offers antidotes to these cultural characteristics, giving us the jumping off points we need to live towards a better world. i deeply love this list and am incredibly thankful that it exists; it makes a huge difference in my life and really helps me see aspects of the culture we’re in that i have trouble seeing without guidance.

my partner and i have an evolving weekly practice of sitting with this list. we started out going through it item by item, examining where we’ve seen those characteristics in ourselves and in the organizations that touch our lives and where we’ve been using or experiencing the antidotes. now we target specific characteristics that we know are going to try to show up in our lives in the coming week and make plans together for how to live differently by implementing the antidotes. having that practice has profoundly shifted how i move through the world.

mindfulness one of the characteristics of white supremacy culture is defensiveness. without tools to recognize and defuse it, defensiveness can get in the way of learning new things and of changing what we believe and how we act when we need to. when we’re trying to create a new world by living it, this can be an obstacle. i’ve found that mindfulness — which for me is the ability to name what i’m feeling, sit with it for the appropriate time, and then make values-informed choices about how to act — is a great help in recognizing and defusing my own defensiveness.

being able to recognize that i am feeling defensive — or that what i’m feeling may be defensiveness — allows me to pause and examine that feeling and whether it’s serving me and my goals for right relationship and collective liberation or if it’s serving to uphold white supremacy. my defensiveness is always doing the latter. once i know that what i’m feeling is defensiveness, i can choose to act from a place other than it. mindfulness is the skill i’m using to slow my responses to my emotions down until i have recognized what i’m feeling and to give myself the time i need to choose how i’m going to act, instead of me acting defensive just because i have felt some defensiveness.

my education regarding mindfulness comes largely from Kristen Neff’s work, especially her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (which appears to sometimes be known by a slightly different title). it was a helpful resource for me, but i absolutely cannot recommend it without warning about the parts of the book where the author talks about her personal life. her narrative contains remarks that are likely to be triggering/harmful/hurtful/all thee above for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent folks. these parts are labelled and distinct from the parts that teach the tools the author offers and can be utterly ignored.

i also found the episode of the Queerology podcast that featured Kristy Arbon helpful and there are many other resources on mindfulness available that are certainly at least equally as useful as these two. (if you have favorites, please drop them in the comments!)

curiosity – several months ago, a friend of mine requested that i come into a space with curiosity. moving through the world with a lens of curiosity can radically alter how i show up.

there are a few things that curiosity does for me that i think might be helpful to others as well. one is that it decenters my perspective — if i’m approaching people and situations with a desire to know more about them, i’m automatically undermining the assumption that my perspective is the only perspective or the “best” perspective.

as a white person, i’ve been socialized such that my cultural norms appear universal to me, instead of culturally specific. this creates a sort of “water i swim in” situation where i often don’t even recognize that i’m assuming that something is true for everyone or that there is no other way of being or doing. relatedly, my cultural norms seem benign to me when they’re actually harmful. (this is why the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture list is necessary and important.)

what curiosity does is give me a tool for moving through the world that prioritizes considering the experience of others, knowing that it is likely different from my own. curiosity causes me to wonder about that experience, to position my own experience as just one of many, and to see other people as full complex beings who have valuable knowledge, experience, and perspective that i do not.

if i take curiosity on as a practice, it can help me negate the harmful behaviors that come from my former practice of centering my white self and it can help me learn about and imagine new ways of being.

rest – the system of capitalism depends on us believing that our worth is tied to our productivity. capitalism wants us to burn ourselves out making profits for the people who own the majority of the world’s wealth. keeping us busy is also capitalism’s attempt to keep us from being able to organize against it.

these cultural norms are also tied up in racism and ableism. Ibram X. Kendi teaches in How to Be An Anti-Racist that capitalism and racism are twin evils (think of how chattel slavery was put in place to generate wealth for white people).

also, productivity in this model is measured by an idealized version of human capacity that none of us can reach and remain healthy and that disabled people struggle to reach even more.

stepping outside of that system by slowing down and engaging in rest in its many forms disrupts these cultural norms and is an important part of building new, healthy norms. leaning into rest and developing a new pattern of thinking about the world that is not about grinding all the time, but about leaning into the fullness of the human experience can be really hard. i highly recommend checking out The Nap Ministry, which is a body of work by Tricia Hersey about the importance and breadth of rest and about rest as reparations and rest as resistance, centering the experience and liberation of Black people. i have learned and do learn so incredibly much from this project and am continuously challenged by it, which is always excellent because that shows me where my growing edge is.

if you have tools that you’re using to dismantle white supremacy and other systems of domination in your life, please drop them in the comments! i am desperately in need of more tools. the larger the library we have to pull from, the better off we’ll be.

want to support this project? donate to the Concord Families Rent Assistance gofundme.

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