History is Always in the Making
Yesterday, January 6th 2021 on the Gregorian calendar, white supremacists attempted a coup in the United States.
I had to write that down because even though I watched it unfolding on the BBC newsfeed and followed folks on Instagram sharing memes and thoughts and dismay about it, it still feels unreal.
Not surprising. Not shocking. Not unexpected.
Despite the response of politicians, what happened yesterday is absolutely American and absolutely a lineage of all colonialist countries. White men (and white women invested in whiteness and their proximity to the power of white men) doing everything they can to enforce the idea that they are entitled to power regardless of the cost.
As a dharma practitioner, I study in a lineage that teaches that the past and future exist in the present. In the present moment, we hold with us the ideas and habits of our past, which will determine what the future holds.
There is no “fate” in Buddhism — the future is unwritten — although there is a sense of predictability. If you continuously sow the same seeds of karma, you will continuously reap the same results. But in the present moment, we always have a choice. We have a choice to do something different. To respond in a new way. And how we respond right now will determine the next moment which will determine how the past looks which will determine how the future can unfold and so on and so on.
Each moment is fresh.
Each moment is full of potential for something different.
Each moment we can make a choice that leads to liberation, or a choice that keeps us in the same habitual patterns we always default to.
Each moment we are simultaneously creating, participating in, and changing history.
The appeal of Buddhism for me was in how my teacher, Pema Chödrön explained that I did not need to get rid of or change anything in order to find a path to healing. Right here, right now, all the muck of our lives is exactly what we need to find freedom. The first step is to look at the muck, to really see it for what it is, so we can understand how our present moment came to be as it is. This is the only way we can make different choices for a different possible future.
I am as much a product of history as I am a player in it. My family lineage is one of French colonizers and people of the Ininiwok/Nehiyaw(Cree) Nation. It is British settlers and Métis resistance fighters. It is Mormon practitioners and holders of Indigenous ceremonies. It’s both/and. I am the assimilated result of years of colonialism and resistance.
I do not get free by denying the racist actions and beliefs of my ancestors. I do not get free by ignoring that Mormonism was founded on white supremacy (Brooks, 2020). I do not get free by pretending that the three unnamed Ininiwok women in my family tree had consensual relationships with the French colonizers who married them.
James Baldwin (1962) put it so clearly when he said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed without being faced.”
As white people we are being called, again and again and again, to face the reality we have co-created. We live in a reality where the organizing of Black people led to the historical election of Raphael Warnock and the organizing of white people led to the historical attempted coup of the American Presidency.
The attempted coup was not an accident or spontaneously arising event out of nothing. It was not surprising that the police did not respond to violent white male militias the same way they respond to peaceful Indigenous and Black protestors. It is not unexpected to see white supremacists taking selfies with cops and strolling around with entitled ease in a government building while displaying symbols of the hate groups they belong to. The President of the last four years told them they could and the media made out like their grievances were somehow justified and equivalent to BIMPoC and queer and disabled trans, non-binary folks and women fighting to survive.
As Ijeoma Oluo (2019) puts it in her newly released and incredibly valuable book Mediocre, “Works according to design.”
The system is not broken. The system is functioning exactly as it was built to function. We do not need to “fix” the system. We need to build a new one.
The violence yesterday was not new, it was not surprising if you have been paying attention, and it is not going to go away without a critical mass of us as white people making the deliberate intention to dismantle white supremacy.
Baldwin, James (1962, January 14th). As Much Truth As One Can Bear. The New York Times Book Review.
Brooks, Joanna (2020). Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and The Problem of Racial Innocence. Oxford University Press.
Oluo, Ijeoma (2019). Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Seal Press, New York.