What I am about to write may sound insensitive, but I think the depth of grief and shock in the hearts of folks in Kalamazoo can provide an opening.
If we can pause and sit with the cognitive discomfort of what happened for just a moment before pointing the finger outside of ourselves, there may be an opportunity to feel our part in this. There may be an opportunity to see a way out of this place we have collectively found ourselves. Our instinct is to immediately find a reason: gun control laws, mental illness, one random sociopath who somehow developed in isolation among the rest of us perfectly good people…
The truth is we are not perfectly good. We are not innocent. We perpetuate violence every day. Our blindness causes incredible harm to our neighbors, both here in our own city and around the world. And because there is seemingly no end to our centuries of blindness, we are confronting our own nightmares closer and closer to home, trying to wake us up. What we put in the shadow of our collective psyche becomes part of our unconscious and shows up eventually as our worst fears. Like the shootings last week in Kalamazoo. Like the specter of President Donald Trump on our television screens. Like the terrorists we give away our privacy for, to allow our government to “protect us.”
We are not separate from our past. Imagine building your house on a foundation of toxic sludge and rotten boards. Eventually your house will become uninhabitable, and your family will become sick and you will be harmed. This is what is happening to us now, in America. In Kalamazoo. We do not know why this is happening because we do not remember our past.
America is built on a foundation of genocide and slavery. We have become so accustomed to hearing the word slavery that we don’t feel the sickness in our guts and the ache in our hearts when we think about the horror of what American slavery really was—rape, violence, unthinkable cruelty, children torn away from their mothers, generation after generation for 245 years in this country. It was not merely forced servitude. It was a legal institutionalized outlet for the sociopathic tendencies of our forefathers. We must reckon with our past or sociopaths will continue to haunt us.
We are not separate from each other. When I say each other, I don’t mean other people without our own race or religion. I mean everyone in Kalamazoo. I mean everyone in America. I mean every sentient being on this planet.
Elders of every indigenous culture around the world, or at least those who have survived the devastation caused by European invasions, teach that we are connected. We are connected to each other and to the Earth and to the ancestors and the generations to come. We are woven together as one cloth. In America, we are living so separated from each other that we don’t even know our neighbors. We compete in an environment of scarcity for every little advantage while pacifying our loneliness and isolation by mindlessly consuming more goods, and lies in the form of television, and whatever else we can find to ease our pain. This is the legacy of America. We are rootless. We are living on someone else’s land and we have lost our connection to our own wisdom cultures.
The truth is that we need connection. We cannot expect to live endlessly safe in our homes while children in cities all over our own country, in our own city, live with mindless gun violence every single day. Take this in for a minute. What happened in Kalamazoo happens every single day in communities in our own city, in our own country, and it never makes the news. Why do we deserve to just sit in our homes, watching our TVs, feeling safe when people all around us are not? Remember, we are not separate. Our own actions are integral to the reasons why this violence happens in America.
The white men who go on shooting rampages are festering in isolation all around us. The conditions are ripe, waiting for a trigger like a ticking time bomb. We need to look at that man and realize he is us. It is not individual pathology. Our culture is mentally ill. Our culture is sociopathic. What would have happened if there was an entire community around this man, or any of the shooters we have seen in recent decades, as he was growing up, across his lifespan. What if our values included the sanctity and dignity of human lives, healing the wounded places in each other? What if we lived in communities where family violence was not acceptable, where young men were not emotionally blinded? Where we lived in such connection that everyone around would notice, and take action, when someone was “off”?
There is no easy solution, but the first step is admitting we are a part of the problem. We will face our own nightmares increasingly close to home until we are shocked out of ignorance and complacency. Until we stop giving our military the majority of our tax money to go out and terrorize the rest of the world. Until we stop supporting companies like Target and Starbucks and Whole Foods who engage in modern day slavery in the form of prison labor. Until we stop consuming goods made by children working 16 hours a day in factories. Until we look into the eyes of the homeless people on our own city streets. Until we fight for our neighbors who pay the same taxes we do and receive substandard education and municipal services. Until we stand up to police violence. Until we open our hearts and our minds and listen to those around us about how we have participated in harming them. Until we reach out in connection everywhere we can, letting go of our fear and competition and scarcity. Until we stop being someone else’s nightmare.
We must make the unconscious conscious. We must remember.
Author: Bailey Mead
Editor: Travis May
Image: Video Still