Editor’s note: This post is the third of a series from Rene Henery, PhD, Science Director with TU’s California Program, on the connection between ecological restoration and conservation and healing ourselves of the wounds of systemic racism and other societal and historical injustices.
Author’s note: Thanks to all of you who continue to to read, digest, reflect, and reach out. Following are some of your powerful and poignant responses:
(Note: The excerpts below are provided without attribution to maintain the privacy of those who vulnerably shared).
“…Like you, I am not shocked by recent racial unrest or the events that precipitated it. My emotions were sadness, of course, but really more of a sense of relief… I was relieved that, at least for a moment, people could not look away from the truth, which is that our society has been marinating in and building on top of racism and racist acts and structures for over 500 years. My relief is related to hope that, maybe, in this moment we can make enough change so that people in this country will never be able to look away from this fundamental fact ever again…”
“ [I am] trying to square the need for people to do the work to understand (discover for some) that we live in a deeply systemically racist society with the following passage…’My sense is that the medicine for this time of intense polarity, confusion, pain and fear, is not more attention to facts, prediction, and control, but rather… to the deeply personal’…”
“…I am mad that white people kill people of color in the street with impunity; I am mad that the genocide of this continent’s First Peoples continues to this very day; I am mad that people are willing to extinguish entire lineages of life. But what I am really *angry* about is that our society actively encourages people to look away from or straight up deny these very plain truths — people are even celebrated for their denial and persecuted for speaking the truth. I am angry that people think these truths are unrelated, like it’s not the same machine, built by the same psychosis, that chews up brown and black bodies the same way it chews up the rainforest…”
“…I have no “people.” I have no generational memory of any particular piece of the planet. I am a cultural orphan. I am an incidental product of haggard European refugees, most of whose names I do not know, except for my mother’s immediate family… Now I understand myself better and recognize the source of pain I have always felt but never before identified. I’m not sure how to heal that wound; in fact, I am not sure it can be healed. But knowing what it is helps me let go of the pain and move forward…”
Please keep sharing and I (and others) will continue to listen and to bring your words forward.
Symptoms of the colonial wound: Victim and Perpetrator identities
Increasingly, I experience myself as an assemblage of parts, each with their own identity and experience, each with their own gifts and wounds, and each integral to me. In my work to learn about myself, to heal, and to cultivate internal coherence, I have come to understand that all my parts share a common desire: to feel they belong. And yet the wounds they carry and the healing they need is often different because colonialism and whiteness have injured them in different ways.
My capacity to recover belonging necessitates that I understand my different parts, the different wounds they (I) carry, and the type of tending each requires to heal.
Though my parts are diverse and many, their wounds and how those wounds affect their identities (my identity) I can, broadly, bin into two categories:
1) those which are victim identified – parts whose wounding and associated identities are most tied to experiences of being mistreated, (harmed, abused, invalidated, not seen) or not valued (for example, much of my wound-associated experiences as a person of color fall into in this category); and
2) those which are perpetrator identified – parts whose wounding and associated identities are most tied to their experience of the mistreatment of others (harmful acts, manipulations, power imbalances, invalidations, othering) they have committed or been complicit in (for example, much of my wound-associated male experiences and identity I place in this category).
The wounds of the Victim
My victim identified parts have had their worth suppressed or oppressed in some way. They represent parts of my experience that have been treated as if they don’t matter (or don’t exist) and often told as much, that have been abused, that have been neglected. They know they exist, and often have cultivated a hard earned sense that they matter independent of what they have been told, but they wonder if there is a place for them in the world or if others will see them and their worth.
My victim identified parts experience the needs of others being prioritized and placed over their own. Understandably, their wounds primarily manifest as a lack of trust.
Those parts look at the world and see the ongoing injustice, long-standing systems of inequity in power and privilege, the continued mistreatment of people, the massive blind spots of so many with so much privilege preventing them from seeing and being with difference and other people’s experiences. As a result, they have difficulty trusting that world that seemingly can’t see and doesn’t value their worth or experience, and especially with the people that wield the power, privilege, and associated blinds-spots of that world.
The victim identified parts of me are weary from the energy they have put out in unsuccessful attempts to be seen, heard, and felt in the past. At times, in certain ways, they would rather endure the familiar wounded experience, than risk greater wounding seeking connection with people and parts of the world that they perceive as not seeing, appreciating, respecting or caring for them.
The wounds of the Perpetrator
By contrast, my perpetrator identified parts have been told they are separate from, different than, better than others: other people, other living things, other parts of myself than those the colonial world attributes value to (e.g. my male gender, my education) and that have behaved accordingly in some way.
The behavior of my perpetrator identified parts need not have been out of choice for it to be wounding. Nor do my perpetrator parts have to believe the valuation from the world to lose perspective. The system is organized to keep them blind, to default to their privilege, and to incentivize it, eroding their self-love and making their (my) sense of self-worth thin and dependent on external validation.
The wounds of my perpetrator identified parts primarily show up as shame, resentment, deep insecurity, paranoia, and guilt which collectively inhibit their ability to be with other experiences, to be with difference, and to experience belonging without sameness.
The shame and resentment they experience are connected. The shame comes in part from the belief that others have been hurt by things that I’ve done or am doing. The resentment is a reaction to that hurt not being something I feel I had control over, wanted to do, intended, or deserve to be vilified for. The resentment can also come from that part feeling that it was also hurt in the past and that it’s hurt was never acknowledged. The combined result is extreme fragility.
When those perpetrator parts encounter difference, a person who looks or identifies differently, a different system of belief, a different suite of perspectives, (especially one with a victim identity) they feel as though they don’t belong, it triggers their shame body and their resentment and turns the experience into an experience of themselves and their wounds rather than an experience of the other person. In that place they cannot experience their own inherent worth or that of the other and cannot experience belonging and connection.
In applying this victim/ perpetrator frame to understand some of my different identities and the different wounds that have shaped them, it has been important for me to remember that this is just a frame, a model, a description.
Many of my male identified parts, for example, also have victim identities from ways they have been misunderstood, wrongfully accused, or in some cases attacked and or subjugated for something related to their male identity specifically. In my professional work I have met many powerful, wealthy, white identified men who, I believe, genuinely feel like victims, especially given a worldview narrowed by their privileged and associated blind spots.
Related and equally important for me to be mindful of is the application of this frame with the specific intention of healing and belonging. Wounds are often pathologized in our culture. It’s easy for me to want to pretend that my wounds don’t exist, or to feel shame about having them. I sometimes fall into the trap of confusing the wounds of one of my parts or the wounding of another person with the essence that underlies it.
The opportunity of healing is to reintegrate the wounded part, release the perception of it as damaged or unwanted, and to empower the wounded part (or person) to be whole again and more fully expressed. Supporting this expression requires that I not judge or condemn the part (or person) based on their wounding, but instead apply my awareness of those wounds to see them more wholly, to grow my compassion, to support and care for them, and to build our experience our belonging.
Note: The resource list below is not intended to be comprehensive but rather, a partial introduction (in no particular order) to some of the concepts, work, and heart-centered beings that have been in my consciousness through my process of writing this.
- Men – from Scene on Radio podcast exploration of male domination, the patriarchy, gender bias, misogyny, and a limited suite of their broad implications for culture in the US and beyond.
To read the rest of Henery’s series, Recovering Belonging, click here.