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Planetary Citizenship and Healing Calls for

Building a Multicultural, Anti-Racist Foundation

by Natalia Bernal

When I arrived at San Francisco's Ocean Beach for the Lammas 2000 ritual (my first with Reclaiming), I noticed that I was one of only a few Latinas. Although I felt a strong desire to participate in the ritual, I felt paralyzed by a voice inside that panicked, "Nobody sees that I have a different cultural background than most of the people here. These circles honor community so much, but how come I don't feel it? I feel invisible."

I am a 24-year-old Uruguayan immigrant, new to the Reclaiming community, although not new to the practice of Earth-based spirituality, honoring indigenous wisdom, or feminism.

I have been to several Reclaiming rituals since Lammas. Thus far, my experience with Reclaiming has been one of both discovering the beauty and potential of our common values and of uncovering the pain of being Latina in a predominantly white community — yet feeling stifled by cultural alienation.

Around Winter Solstice, I went to a ritual in Sebastopol with Luisah Teish. Seeing Luisah Teish leading this ritual was a big turning point. I felt that I had a mentor who had already worked through a lot of what I was going through. Seeing her overcome the cultural barriers in order to priestess, yet in no way compromising or diminishing her practice, made me feel like it was possible. I don't have to compromise who I am to be in the circle.

Now when that voice appears I tell myself to act instead of being paralyzed and leaving altogether. It is better to take the risk to challenge the circle and individuals than to be just another sister that walks away.

So, I offer my experience. In this article I will first hash out some of the theoretical discussion around multiculturalism and then offer eight points for what white allies can do to begin deconstructing racist patterns within and without.

Multiculturalism, as a new paradigm from which to work, live, and interact on the Earth, has had to push itself into progressive, alternative circles under the resistance and blindness of the dominant culture. Different cultures have literally been shoved out of the dominant, white culture's space: Native communities shuffled forcefully onto reservations, Blacks and Latinas/os quartered in ghettos and prisons, Asians cramped in urban blocks. Few in the dominant culture want to examine and much less take on the responsibility for reconciliation.

In time, organizations under the dominant culture have realized that indifference and silence are not the answer. This is not just an issue but a reflection of our pained and broken ancestry. We, as humankind that desperately needs to unite to heal, cannot keep repeating and blindly perpetuating the injustice of racial and cultural oppression that afflicts us all. The marginalization of the underprivileged must be shifted in all aspects of our lives, our organizations, and our planet. People of color can no longer be seen, referred to, or treated as the national or planetary minority.

Multiculturalism calls for a radical transformation in perspective and in interacting in the world. Multicultural initiatives that are born in the dominant culture's terrain are lopsided and will still have the dominant construct of a hierarchical society. As the new, permanent lens through which we construct a vision of planetary justice, multiculturalism requires shifting in the way we approach empowerment, spirituality, communication, healing, environmental issues, education, sexuality, gender, leadership, community, time, space, race —inevitably, everything.

In contributing to the discussion on creating diversity within the Reclaiming community, I offer a few answers to the question that I am often asked by my white friends: "What can I do to support you?"

  1. Ask instead, "What can we do to support each other?" Oftentimes, people of color are further diminished by being seen as the only victims of racism when it is a planetary wound that needs to be healed within both the oppressor and the oppressed. Guilt-ridden apologies and pity are merely condescending. One must genuinely show and prove the call to become an ally.
  2. Be honest about one's internal process around race. Acknowledge one's ignorance surrounding racism rather than denying the existence of it is a huge step. Defensiveness and/or feeling threatened is a symptom of the denial disease. Racial healing requires one to be able to sit with the discomfort and internal struggle that leads to change. Safe space can not be guaranteed when dealing with racial healing because it inevitably alienates those in the minority. People of color rarely share a safe space with white people to be able to talk openly about oppression. One must be able and willing to identify one's prejudices towards members of a different culture in order to deconstruct acquired biased views.
  3. Acknowledge one's power and privilege and use it to reverse racism. There is a tendency among white progressives not to acknowledge one's power within a group. Upheld by an obsession to control, in multicultural groups this often leads to blind domination and tokenism. Blind domination happens culturally through placing an emphasis on structure, schedules, logistics, and agendas rather than having the needs of the individuals in the circle as a priority. When people of color are invited into a preexisting structure without having an equal input on the structure, they often feel tokenized and dominated. Showing genuine curiosity when reaching out to people of color, not just inviting them in as tokens, and making intentions clear will pave the way to creating more equal situations of power.
  4. Accept different cultural forms of communication. Domination through language has been a legacy of racial oppression in the U.S. People of color have had to accommodate their speech and still do just so they can communicate with white folks. Constructive confrontation and "being real" is valued within non-white cultural contexts because it shows the level of authenticity required for honest communication to occur.
  5. Educate oneself on culture and race by spending time in communities primarily of color. Submerging oneself in the racial reality of people of color, through personal relationships and experiences, re-educates one's racial lens. Doing the research rather than expecting people of color to teach is crucial. The burden of multicultural education should not lie solely on people of color's shoulders. Sharing personal stories and accounts has the remarkable effect of transforming our views and hearts.
  6. Make a commitment to having an anti-racist personal, professional, and spiritual practice. Rather than seeing multiculturalism as just an issue, allies to people of color do not see ending racist oppression as a choice. They are entrenched in the struggle to end racist oppression because they are aware of it constantly.
  7. Look honestly at our ancestral past and heal it. The pain of racism resides in our genetic makeup and primordial memory. Ancestral healing is a huge component to ending racism and creating a multicultural movement for the Earth.
  8. Examine the meaning of whiteness. Identifying and embraciing the positive aspects of whiteness and attaching positive meaning to typically white traits is empowering. Guilt and self-loathing attitudes are not. Building a culture of solidarity through reconciling broken ties among white people instead of perpetuating the diseased individualistic, competitive lifestyle that keeps our communities fragmented is crucial.

The path to reconciliation starts here. If those in positions of power do not take multiculturalism seriously, then a monocultural and fundamentally racist organization and society is being upheld. Sowing the seeds of a multicultural vision of planetary healing requires a multicultural foundation. We are not expected to do the work of deconstructing racism within ourselves or on the planet in isolation. We need each other in this work because the trials of both ancestral healing and disrupting the patterns of racial oppression in our lives is one of the biggest challenges we can take on. This requires a commitment to having a loving yet real dialogue about the aforementioned issues in the context of anti-racist organizing to build a multicultural movement for planetary healing and justice.

Natalia Bernal, as a student of Long Island University's Friends World Program, has lived and traveled throughout Latin America and India in search of alternative forms of education that encompass the mind-body-spirit connection. She is currently writing a thesis on Ecopedagogy: multicultural education for planetary healing and citizenship.