Ferguson: Transforming Pain, Addressing Racism

Some of you may have been on the public call last week that NVC Academy organized to address recent events in Ferguson—it included numerous NVC trainers and almost 200 participants, including those who have focused extensively on diversity issues and responding to racism. If you missed the call, you can listen to it here.

I love the point that Edmundo Norte makes–that it’s important to collectively mourn and grieve in a community–this can give us a different vision and hope to then transform the world. Otherwise, as Nancy Kahn points out, it’s easy to move into anger (and even rage) which can then impact our capacity for being in choice about how we respond, especially in challenging situations. Recent events illustrate this.

Overall, the call focused on the power of empathy, including in responding to social change. And we lived and modeled this on the call–Jim Manske, who moderated, began by asking each trainer to share their vision: what would each of us like to see come out of it? This is a powerful way to support focus, in my experience–via setting intentions. At my request, we then had an opportunity–with nearly 200 of us on the line!—for group/community empathy. Each of us was invited to share needs that were up for us–around recent events, and for our time together. Some of the needs were moving for me—around community, healing, grieving, support, hope and movement–and safety of course, and respect and inclusion. For me, a key need is/was accountability—in a way that’s free of punishment or blame (out of compassion for all involved/impacted–and out of a desire to create genuine change–rather than repeating cycles of violence and further harm).

Connecting empathically, it’s been in my consciousness this week and especially since the call: In light of Ferguson, what is it like to be a person of a color in the US -and especially black, and if you are a young black man? I live in an area of Brooklyn that is predominantly African-American and Caribbean. Each day as I walk to the subway and meet my neighbors, this is on my mind–and also was poignant and brought home for me on the call when Roxy Manning shared that she fears for her two sons. I know what it was like for me growing up as a girl, watching the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) move across states and then and not pass (What does that mean: to live in a country where I don’t have equal rights?). It also was disheartening for me, as queer person, when DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) passed, allowing states to not recognize same-gender marriages (the way straight marriages are). Each time I hear of an incident of “gay bashing” (including in NYC) it is chilling for me. I can only imagine what it is like to be a young black man and to have–somewhere in your consciousness, constantly–that something like a cell phone in your pocket could be mistaken for a gun…and, if you are in the “wrong” place and the “wrong” time you could be, unarmed and innocent, be shot and killed. This has happened in New York City. Cleveland. Detroit… across the U.S.

“I know I have racism in me. I am a product of my culture, as much as I want to see myself as conscious, intelligent and unique. To name and acknowledge this, in my view, is the first step towards changing it.”

I believe we all, on some level, put these concerns and events out of our minds to function and get through our days—including the impact and continued reality of racism in the US. Yet it affects us– all of us. For me, I noticed how it stirred up “old” needs (accountability the primary one)–needs up from earlier in my life when I experienced harm and longed for awareness and my needs to matter, and shared reality/understanding about how these hurtful events impacted my life. I long for honesty and openness, for all of us—and healing. Nancy Kahn mentioned this on the call too—about the truth and reconciliation process that took place in South Africa, post Apartheid. Here in the US, I don’t think we have ever (since the Civil War) had a national space for mourning and reconciliation. I want to live in a country and a world where I am confident that all lives matter—and where we can, collectively, acknowledge and take responsibility for choices we have collectively made (even if on our behalf, via our elected officials and government). This kind of mourning and accountability I believe would be a tremendous contribution for all of us in the US, allowing us to move forward with a different awareness, possibility and freedom. For me, it would be a relief.

I know I have racism in me. Just like I have internalized homophobia (keeping me from coming out for years), and also internalized misogyny (that still, I find, can get in the way of doing things I may want to do in life). I am a product of my culture, as much as I want to see myself as conscious, intelligent and unique. To name and acknowledge this, in my view, is the first step towards changing it. Awareness. Acknowledgement, Naming. Grieving. And from this, movement (action, clarity) will come. I find this on a personal level when I’m triggered. I also see it played out on a large scale, in the world. It is the huge and tremendous contribution that NVC, and those with some skill with NVC, can bring to the world.

If you haven’t already, I invite you to take a moment and self-connect: What feelings and needs are up for you regarding recent events in Ferguson? If you are having judgments, what feelings and needs are driving those judgments? And given your values– your needs and intentions–what is one thing you are willing to commit to, to see your needs/vision manifest in the world?

One thought on “Ferguson: Transforming Pain, Addressing Racism

  1. Pingback: On Ferguson and the Need for Raised Awareness and Dialogue on Social Justice | Peace Circle Center

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