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White Saviorism

I have been thinking about liberation.


Liberation from my own prison cell in my mind. The one none of us can see, but know is there. I can see similar cages around others. Liberation from new-old ideas that organize the society I was born into. I say "new-old" because the ways of being pre-Indo-Aryan are so old Indigenous people say "since time immemorial." These are the old-old ways of being: of honoring the earth, of giving to give again, of sharing power. This is simply remembering how we did it for tens of thousands of years. Remember?


I have been thinking about liberation, and about remembering. I have been thinking about how the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. About liberation as a model of behavior of being, of radically existing. About non-violence, consensus building, no guru leadership.


I have been thinking about liberation and persuasion. Convincing more people to make this choice for themselves. Neither I nor anyone can make it for them. I can show you the bars of your cell, but you must choose to believe me. I can meet you where you are, even if you will not join me where I am.


I have been thinking about liberation and the Earth. We have so little time left before she kicks us out for partying too hard. Making a mess she'll have to clean up after us. I have been thinking about liberation as vision. Like a great bird of prey spirals to get higher. Maybe it just feels like we're going in circles, when we are really climbing to that best vantage spot.


I have been thinking about liberation as healing. Inspired by stories of folks who take it upon themselves to heal their patch of Earth. It's not much; it's not policy; it's not advocacy, but it's something they can do, and it takes a lifetime.


I have been thinking about liberation as a white woman and recognizing the ties that bind. I couldn't see them before although I believe I always felt them. Raised in a spotlight of normalcy, feeling the presence of those in the dark around me, I want to light up the whole stage. Maybe if I keep spiraling I'll spot the light switch.*


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I was quite correctly critiqued for overt tones of white saviorism with this piece of writing. So I confess to myself and to any reader reading this: I feel pulled to save the world, and I don't know how to reconcile that with being a white woman. A white woman who has yet to do any real saving of anybody of any color. A white woman who is geared to help, to be of service, driven to be useful to the world, to contribute to the making of a more equitable society for everybody.


I am very conscientious of the fact that it is not my place to insert myself into any community of which I am not a part. My greatest fear embarking on this journey into the nonprofit world is to be a parachuter. Dropping in somewhere to "do good work," then being airlifted out without taking any responsibility for that work. I hope that I am asking the right questions about the ethics of any project I may take on. I hope that I am very clear about who is making the work, who the work is for, who is actually benefitting from the work, and being invited to do the work in the first place especially in cases where I may be working with traditionally disenfranchised communities. Nobody likes a white savior. The words leave a yucky taste. Blech.


So what do I envision? What does the bird of prey see in this new utopia we're all going to create together?


I don't know exactly. I can't tell you, nobody can, how this new world will look exactly. I was reminded recently that we can only take the next step, and we cannot know what that step will effect, and therefore what the step after must be, and so on.


I am very conscientious that as a white woman it may be easier for me to raise funds for this co-creation, co-envisioning work in an arts context, in a social or civic practice context, in a creative placemaking context, and that I have the privilege of movement. That I am in a physical body that requires only that I feed, water and exercise it to stay healthy. That I have a brain that mostly stays chemically balanced, that I have the power to talk myself off ledges of my own creation.


Like this one: the peril of paralysis that threatens the good-intentioned heart. The fact is no matter my good intentions my presence is not always welcome. My words are not always welcome. And it is imperative that I learn to discern when that is or is not the case. When is it important that I push back, and assert myself as a woman in this world with words, and when is it necessary to give way, to make space for others?


That is the essence of the idea of this work that motivates The Which House: to make space. What is space? It can be physical, literal space. Space conceptualized externally, maybe in a specific place or simply the space a person physically takes up. A displacement of other molecules with our molecules in this thinly wrapped bundle of science – of bacteria and water – we call a body. It can be internal space. Where do we feel energy in our bodies? Tension? Ease? We can practice opening our hearts and our minds and listening to our guts and feeling rooted on this earth and this is space, too, where ideas and emotions emerge and flourish. We need all kinds of space to make this new wonderful world where there is space for every body: all types, abilities, sizes, shapes, colors, minds. The diversity of this earth knows no bounds that our human cataloguing has yet to capture.


This is the work, and it starts and ends with ourselves. For we in fact cannot turn on the light switch for anybody who can't see that there's one on the wall right over there. Only they can find it and switch it on for themselves. Can we help make the space where they feel safe doing that for the first time? Can we practice empathy, compassion, listening, seeing, calling in instead of calling out?


We believe it will take all nearly-8 billion brains on this earth to accomplish this new wonderful world where we take care of each other's basic needs; where we recognize each other's essential fundamental humanity and afford them the respect and dignity and care we each of us deserve. Where our governments' policy prioritizes the well-being of each nation's citizens. Where citizens are not legal or illegal because people are not legal or illegal. Where there are no prisons in the sense of anything remotely close to what we think of today as jail. Where uniformed people are not killing people, are not oppressing people, but are in fact a source of comfort in times of conflict when an outside voice, eye, perspective is needed. Where people have access to the kind of healthcare, mental and physical and energetic healing they need. Where we break the cycles of trauma begun so so long ago that we carry with us in our DNA. Because my ancestors traumatized and murdered your ancestors and we each must reckon with that and heal the legacy they left us. Because my ancestors ignored the pain of your ancestors in order to gain a foothold in a society that told them not to care about anything except their own table for their own family, and we must change that.


I want to live in a world where caring is the norm. I want to live where emotions and gut feelings are recognized as valid and informative and helpful, not a hindrance or a weakness. Where how well you know yourself and how you model self-love for others is an inspiration, not a challenge. Where competition stays in the actual arena of sport. Where collaboration and sharing is the basis for our interaction with other humans, with other life on this planet, with the planet we all call home.


This planet we all call home...is not our enemy, is not our 'resource,' is literally our lives. We are inseparable as far as I know. Unless the billionaires have figured out how to breathe poisoned air, poisoned water, and poisoned food and are just waiting for the rest of us to die off either in war or in sickness while they reap the profits off of both, I'm fairly certain they need this planet to live as well. We need them too. We all have our roles to play if all the world's a stage.


So in the nonprofit world, what does this all look like? What do contracts look like? What do relationships with donors look like? What does our fundraising look and feel like? What are our business practices and management structures? How do we create a horizontal structure that allows partners agency and autonomy, and has all the appropriate safe guards and financial due diligence required by the IRS? How do we articulate all of this into a mission statement? How do we focus locally and nationally and internationally and keep the 30 and the 30,000 foot views in mind when thinking about these universal issues? What questions haven't we even thought of yet?


**I would like to acknowledge that I am descended from colonial-settlers who landed on the still-unceded territory of the Abenaki peoples now called New England. I am currently writing from the traditional territory of the Yuchi, Shawnee, and Cherokee peoples now called Tennessee who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. I am grateful for, and pay honor to their continued struggle against the oppressive empire called the United States that has tried to genocidally wipe them off the face of the planet, and arguably continues this policy to this day. Please consider donations to Indigenous organizations working to help the people who call this land Turtle Island including but not limited to: Seeding Sovereignty, Indigenous Environmental Network, Seventh Generation Fund or any of the organizations mentioned in this article in The Cut. Thank you.

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