Dunk, Dunk, Brew

Carol Harley

As I paddle through summer heat and humidity, the freshness of April’s workshop continues to reverberate. I cherish the people who showed up! (see Facebook pictures here) and the work we did together as part of the At The Crossroads of Environmental and Social Justice five-day immersion in the Work That Reconnects. I loved the leadership – both named, and ad-hoc. I smile at the memory of how it felt to be around healthy exuberance and also tears.

Friday night we dipped together into a vat of ritual. I think about this powerful Earth Day Passover Seder – especially the questions posed. These include: How shall integrity face oppression? What does honesty do in the face of deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? [and] How does virtue meet brute force? (from W.E.B. Du Bois). Loud voices in current public discourse prompt me to reflect on these and take action for the highest good. I am grateful that my first-ever Seder experience was a heart-centered portal into an unforgettable five-day journey.

What a journey! About 60 beautiful (and a bit sleep-deprived) hours after the Seder, Monday’s afternoon session – which was led very skillfully – began the crux of our time together.

Two more questions arrived in my life. I had just witnessed a “fishbowl,” in which a question was posed to the several participants: “ How does oppression show up in the Work That Reconnects?” Whoa! This was more like a vat of discomfort than a bowl full of fish. All the non-fishbowl participants (most of our entire group) witnessed silently as the conversation unfolded, and then shared our responses in small groups. What came to me was another question: “How do we address injustice without using labels?” I had seen an example, within my witnessing experience, of how problematic labels can be. No one I spoke with seemed to be holding this question. Perhaps I was on my own?

After the immersion came brewing. In early summer, Paula and I attended a wonderful anti-racism workshop with Kristin Wilson, MSW. Wilson defied her racist family of origin and is devoted to dismantling the White Supremacy Structure. She mentored those of us present, role-modeling pieces of the required practice. I was eager to find the book (recommended by a participant) for well-intended white people by Shelly Tochluk called Witnessing Whiteness: The need to talk about race and how to do itLo and behold! In Tochluk’s preface she directly addresses the question I have been sitting with since the fishbowl.

In four short pages Tochluk reveals her integrity by describing what she grappled with during her writing process. She confesses, for example, how “nowhere in this book do I treat the complex issues that face biracial and multiracial people.” About labels, she admits: “I find no other way to move forward except to use these imperfect categorizing terms until some new language or approach arises.”

I cried with relief when I came upon these words. Yes, I’ll have to use labels. But I can do it thoughtfully. It will be imperfect. My efforts will be imperfect. But how much better than not making an effort! I am seeking more opportunities to dunk myself into vats of discomfort as I continue to recognize and name white privilege and “unlearn” racism. These vats promote a healing brew. Thank you, Earth Leadership Cohort 3 and all the wise participants of our time together last April!

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