living towards liberation: 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.

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living towards liberation: visioning

i wake up when my body wants to. there’s a collective care circle tonight where we’ll think, learn, and grow together around how best to take care of ourselves and each other. we’re learning how to hold space for trauma, for healing, for mental health issues that disrupt our relationships and well-being.

i am eager to put myself into the gentle hands of my loved ones and to hold them in return, but right now i have time to make a thai tea and sit on the back deck of my house, watching the earth heal. i sit and sip and write scraps of poetry until my need for quiet and slowness is met.

across town, at a fully and easily accessible community building, my partner teaches his class of students. they’ve all chosen to learn biology today and my partner works in collaboration with them and with educators who are people of color. education is voluntary and culturally responsive. students create their own goals and partner with those who teach to assess their progress. my partner is full of joy.

i get a text from my friends — a polycule of trans folks my sister knows are moving into a house of their own today! with the time i’ve had to tend to my health and with free, accessible, responsive healthcare, i’m the healthiest i’ve ever been. i can lift things again. setting aside the writing i’m doing on what i’ve been learning about transformative justice with my community, i hop on the train and head over. we have a great day together, laughing about the unexpected effects of HRT — widely available without gatekeeping to all trans and/or non-binary folks.

we grab food at a cooperatively owned restaurant. my partner, with his flexible schedule, joins us, as others do as well. the food is delicious beyond words. we grab some of the free zines on the shelf near the door when we leave, several of them include tips on gardening and one of them is a superman comic. with our biggest pop culture icons in the public domain, the number of stories about them has exploded.

the art in the comic is extremely detailed, obviously time-consuming work. in it, superman is a Jewish man of color engaging in mutual aid in areas where natural disasters have struck. while the number of natural disasters we experience has reduced dramatically as Land Back meant we lived into Indigenous wisdom around caring for and living with the earth, we still experience some. mutual aid networks are stronger than ever though and folks pre- and post-natural disasters create the supports they need together.

i go home and devour the comic, resting in bed to have stamina to go to circle tonight. my time is mine to use as i want and my work on recording what we’re all learning together to share our experiences with others can wait until i’m able to do it. all of my work can wait until i’m able to do it, because i share all work responsibilities with others. together, we get the necessary labor done and make sure we’re all able to attend to our health and happiness.

circle is beautiful. we share deeply about how we’re doing and what tools we’re using to engage in self- and collective care. i learn so many new things. i am lovingly corrected when i misstep or fail to see how the vestiges of the white supremacy culture i was born into are still affecting my perspective and actions. tomorrow, i’ll talk it out in our circle for white accountability where other white folks can do the labor of moving me through these things rather than the people of color present in this circle. i’ll make the repair i need to with them individually and collectively, using tools and communication strategies we’ve developed together. our relationships grow more intimate and authentic. i feel more whole.

after, my partner and i crawl into bed excited for tomorrow. we share stories about our days and laugh together. worn out in the best way possible, we fall asleep in the middle of talking about how we’d rewrite xena warrior princess, smiling and holding hands. we have sweet dreams about community dinners, dogs, and the smell of lavender from the community garden that is our front yard.

~|~

hi beloveds. the above is a visioning of one way collective liberation could be experienced. there are so many ways collective liberation could look and they are all deeply exciting to me. i’m finding that when i don’t spend enough time envisioning the end goals for all my organizing work, i lose hope. so i hope to keep this practice up here. maybe it’ll help all of us. i think a vision to strive for is imperative in the hard work we’re doing. ❤

~|~

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

some thoughts on apologizing too much

hi, loved ones. the pandemic is awful, full stop. but as i’ve been self-isolating in a house with my partner for, shit, nearly a year now, i’ve noticed that this time is a time of really deep-diving in that relationship. we’re the only people we see in person right now and that’s created an opportunity for us to have conversations about a lot of things that might otherwise have been overlooked because of time constraints. one of the things i’ve been thinking about is how much i say sorry.

while over-apologizing is not a behavior limited to folks who are marginalized, i think it can be especially prevalent among our communities because of how society has conditioned us to believe we should not take up space or, in many cases, even exist. i’d love to see us move away from apologizing when it’s not the time to apologize because i think doing so can free us from a lot of unneeded and harmful shame.

so i have some thoughts on apologizing too much/inappropriately and i hope they’re useful to you.

(this post is also available as an instagram post, if that’s more your speed!)

for folks who apologize constantly, like me, can be a hard habit to replace — even if the folks around us reassure us that we don’t need to apologize for xyz thing(s).

i think sometimes we say sorry when we mean or need something else, but haven’t had the practice saying it or find saying sorry easier. i think that identifying — and saying — what we really mean can deepen our relationships with others and with ourselves.

one thing i think we might sometimes mean instead of sorry is “thank you.”

instead of “sorry i’m such a mess.”

we might actually mean and/or be better served by saying something like “thank you for comforting me.”

instead of “sorry i’m talking so much.”

we might actually mean and/or be better served by saying something like “thank you for listening.”

saying sorry over and over throughout time spent with loved ones can be very taxing for them as they do the work to reassure me that i don’t need to apologize.

apologizing repeatedly implicitly asks for more work from them. reframing to gratitude is a more mutual approach. it reminds me to appreciate my loved ones and their care for me and lets them know their care is seen and appreciated.

another thing that i think we may sometimes mean when we say sorry is that we have a need or feeling we don’t know how to express or don’t have practice expressing.

i say sorry sometimes when i mean “i’m feeling insecure about how much attention i’m receiving right now”

or “i would really appreciate some reassurance that you love me and want to help me”

or “i feel self-conscious about how emotional i am”

there may be more work to do when i express those things, but at least when i’m honest, my loved ones and i can choose to do that work together.

saying how i’m actually feeling gives them the chance to engage with me about it and to meet my needs if they can and are willing. it deepens the intimacy of my relationships.

if y’all have thoughts on what apologizing constantly means for you, please share in the comments! i am definitely in the market for other ways to replace “sorry” with what i actually mean and/or need. ❤

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.