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By Brooklyn Payton
Reflecting on the plethora of suggestive social justice images in conjunction with a continual meditative praxis on desired results of social justice and healing, I have found the core desire of justice to be love. Whether it be through activism that rests within the thoughts of critical reflective minds (and their keyboards), community organizations assembling non-violent protests to workshops, or militant actions of black nationalists groups, the underlying motivating force of all these things is love. To love freely, or as M. Scott Peck defines, is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth;” it is the infrastructure of a true, or better yet, just world (Peck in hooks, p. 4). Western culture is cloaked in the act of productivity and we don’t genuinely know how to witness and empathize with suffering because it causes sensations of discomfort. The manifestation of productivity is our detachment from our own pain. We shut ourselves down and, in turn, we try to “fix ourselves” through others.
We are born knowing how to grieve. However, we are taught not to do so. Truth is, our global community is sitting upon so much grief. Not only is grief uncomfortable, it is also normalized. As a group, through generations, we have become separated from crucial visceral knowledge and practices of self-care, along with practices of nurturing and healing our communities. Due to the history of colonization and capitalism, we live in a social construct where pain and the process of grief makes us feel so uneasy that we bury it and are unconscious of the fact that we cause ourselves, our communities, and prospective generations more pain. We navigate a society that survives and thrives on the negligence of the emotional self and community, as well as the connection that they have to each other. We end up rejecting the grace that rests within that grief—the love that is on the other side. As we learn to build relationships with our pain and adversity, we will become conversant with the transformative power that lies within suffering.
In Change the World, Without Taking Power, John Holloway explores the power that rests within “the scream,” or the cries of rage, fear, and resistance. Holloway examines people’s innate action to invalidate the screams of the isolated and unseen through the dissonance of internalized racist logic and reasoning. As bell hooks argues, “Cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed or afraid heart” (p. xviii). Fear does not stop our heart from desiring love; instead it encourages us to look for love without vulnerability. However, love and truth do not exist without vulnerability. If we are working towards a true world, then we must understand ourselves as authentic human beings who hurt and experience suffering both directly and indirectly. To do so, we need to form relationships with the sources of our suffering. If we are to acquire love, we must acknowledge the lovelessness that is present in our lives.
“It is from the rage that thought is born” (Holloway, p. 1). Through the ownership of our scream, we begin to take the steps to suffer, or reside within the negative, gracefully.
In the past, and occasionally now, I have found myself in an internal battle trying to articulate my hurt and injustices in ways that are best, or easily digestible, for my perpetrators. In actuality, this action has never had anything to do with them—it was about me seeking legitimacy from them. As a result of my internalized oppression, I needed my persecutors to validate my suffering. For it to be real, I needed “them” to say it was so. But they continually dismissed and/or pacified me. The importance of acknowledging our screams is the empowerment that comes with starting from the self. Our experiences are valid because we have encountered and felt them holistically. We are constantly told to think objectively (which doesn’t exist) and view things from everyone else’s point of view, which only polarizes us from our own experiences, entitlements, and feelings of outrage, sorrow, or helplessness.
It is through the vilification and subjugation of the emotional and somatic responses to injustice, where the severing of human beings commence. No longer are we whole, but our mind, body, and souls become separate entities with disjointed roles—as if one could possibly thrive without the others. Additionally, systems of oppression, such as capitalism and religion, criminalize the human body and our intuitive ways of knowing. The internalization of criminality, along with a number of dichotomies present in Western culture, encourage us to live completely detached, untrusting, and/or solely in our bodies. This way of life causes us to have unhealthy relationships with ourselves and limits our understanding of how we see and know the world. The fragmentation present in Western culture fragments ourselves and all aspects of our relationships.
It is within this breakdown of the human experience—the dissonance between the physical body and the experiences encountered in addition to the normalization and acceptance of trauma—that it becomes difficult to locate, along with express, the emotions of anger, sadness, and grief as justifiable emotions. Consequently, what occurs is the search for the external approval of others who are often the beneficiaries of our very suffering.
Elaborating on the “polar self,” Holloway argues that
“The dissonance is not an external ‘us’ against ‘the world’: inevitably it is a dissonance that reaches into us against ourselves.”
John Holloway, 2010, p. 5
Claiming the rejection and negation that we witness within this world starts within an understanding of this dissonance. We own who we are, wherever we are, and often this is a process of discomfort. Again, to receive love, we must acknowledge that it isn’t there. This is a tender process. But we must allow our hearts to break open so that we can reveal and adhere ourselves to the vigor of our scream. In order to allow ourselves to heal and begin the practice of being loving, we must shed ourselves of assumed knowledge and face our lacks. Even if that means through the acceptance of love’s meaning—our scream—leads us to the awareness that at our present moment love is no where to be found. There is no stigma in that lack.
Healing begins with that confrontation.
Brooklyn Renee’ Payton, from Oakland, California, is a recent graduate from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Brooklyn is devoted to social and community change and to rethinking how that change happens, and who it reaches, specifically in the Black community and with regards to women and children. This fall, Brooklyn will pursue her MSW at the University of Southern California and expand her research on intergenerational trauma within the Black community, and its manifestations in building and maintaining intimacy within the family structure.