3/31/18–I am breathing some life back into this blog and starting by publishing things that I wrote but never made public. This was written in February of 2017.
Last week, I did a deck trade with Alaina of Exploringly Yours and got the Animal Spirit oracle by Kim Krans of the Wild Unknown. I’d seen this deck when it first came out, but, while it looked nice, it didn’t look like something I’d want to shell out $60 for (the cost of the deck and guidebook, since I really felt like I’d need the guidebook with this one.)
However, I’m glad that I decided to bring this deck into my life. I want to talk about the first reading I did with it, which was pretty amazing. I’ve been sitting on this reading for a few days, thinking it through, although to be honest I got about 90% of what I needed to get from it right away.
The questions I asked were about whiteness, racism, and white privilege, but they’re not the same ones I would have asked 5 or 10 years ago. As I’ve said before, the question itself is as much of an indicator of where we’re at than the answers we receive. These questions crystallized in my mind in a more intuitive way. My four questions were:
What am I afraid of?
What vulnerability do I not want to be exposed?
How do I hold myself?
What do I have that can’t be taken away?
These might not be the questions that you would ask about the very same topic, and on the face of it, they don’t seem to have anything to do with race. Nonetheless, the Animal Spirit deck went really deep, really quickly. Note that this was pretty much my first reading with the Animal Spirit deck right out of the box, so when I saw this, I knew this deck and I would get along very well!
What am I afraid of? Eagle
In this deck, Eagle signifies truth–truth that just might swoop down like a giant bird and pluck you out of the river. The kinds of truths that we are learning are indeed scary and painful, as well as glorious and liberating. I’ve spent most of my life complicit in various systems of oppression, and pretty much every single minute of it living on stolen land. The beautiful old buildings at my undergraduate university were built by slaves. But beyond those facts, it’s painful to touch the rage and sorrow that I hear when indigenous people and people of color speak about their and their ancestors’ experiences living under white supremacy. There’s simply no way of denying that pain (although I’ve seen white people try like crazy to derail and minimize it.) It hurts to know that people have gone through such terrible things, and it hurts to know that they’ve suffered because of a system that’s ostensibly trying to protect people like me.
What vulnerability do I not want to be exposed? Panther
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a Black Panther showed up here. Panther performs the same function in Animal Spirit that the Tower performs in tarot: clearing away old structures and systems that don’t work.
But what this card showed me is where I’m still clutching my pearls–hard. Because here’s the truth: as a white person, even one committed to ending white supremacy, the idea of ending white supremacy still stirs up deeply conditioned fears. I don’t like to admit this; I’d like to say that I’m 100% down with the revolution. Intellectually, I am, yes. In my heart, I am, yes. But that doesn’t change the white supremacist conditioning I have been experiencing since pretty much day 1 of my life.
Conditioning goes deep, and I’ve long understood that undoing it is a lifelong process because conditioning is itself a life-long process. Once I realized that I would never reach a magical place where I’d never think or feel or say or do another racist thing again ever, I realized that undoing conditioning is about vigilance, being honest with myself, being patient with myself, and being accountable to other people. It’s not about hating myself, and it’s certainly not about this fantasy that I can become the perfect white person.
I feel like, I don’t know–white supremacy is like having asthma or something. It’s not my fault I have it, and it’s a result of my environment, but I still need to deal with it when it shows up.
What this card has also shown me is that I really haven’t spent enough time working with indigenous people and people of color and envisioning collective liberation to be able to address my fears. And speaking of fear…
How do I hold myself? Rabbit
If Eagle is truth and liberation is Panther, then I’m…Rabbit. In this midst of these big, bold, liberatory forces, I hold myself like a prey species. (Bald Eagles don’t actually eat rabbits, they eat fish, but I’m sure that makes no difference to a rabbit who sees the shadow of an eagle.) Like Rabbit, I’m very good at being alert and being a good listener. In truth, I learned a lot about white privilege by reading anti-racist blogs and forums, watching as white people stuck their feet in it over and over again. I’m really good at learning from other people’s mistakes.
But ultimately, a stance of fear isn’t all that helpful. A lot of aspects of the lived experience of white supremacy have revealed themselves to me over time, but I’ve got to say that one of the most insidious is fear. Fear is what makes people call the water protectors at Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter activists “terrorists.” Fear is what makes banning Muslim refugees seem totally reasonable. It makes people incapable of understanding that, no, the people shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, and water canons at nonviolent protestors are the ones to be afraid of; that the people detaining and subjecting refugees to “extreme vetting” are the ones to be afraid of.
There are also smaller fears that, as a white person, it’s easy to bring into social justice spaces–the fear of being called out, the fear of being rejected, the fear of getting things wrong. In activist spaces, I can very quickly start to orient all of my behavior around these fears. So much so that it’s easy to forget that experiencing and managing these fears is actually not even part of the work. A few months ago I found this great quote by the Black activist Maurice Mitchell on SURJ‘s website that sums it up perfectly: “Your individual anxiety about possibly getting things wrong has nothing to do with my liberation.”
What do I have that can’t be taken away? Sea Serpent
I’m not exactly sure why I felt I needed to ask this question, but I’m glad I did. Kim Krans’s interpretation of the Sea Serpent is about healing and forgiveness.
When the essence of this card is in balance, we express ourselves creatively and sexually without fear or shame. We know what we desire most. Our heart is at ease and our relationships are meaningful and enduring. We loosen the grip of self-judgment, and we let the cool waters of forgiveness in to heal our wounds. (From the guidebook.)
This message is powerful for me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the second kind of fear I mentioned, of getting things wrong as a white activist. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how white people who want to dismantle white supremacy need, not only psychological/spiritual resources for dealing with fear, but we also need to deliberately undertake a deep practice of self-love.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but I’ve really come to see the truth of this over the years. Without a foundation of love and trust in ourselves, we fall into white guilt. That’s the default mode, actually, because–hey, we’re generally a self-hating culture. (And note: if this white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy thing were working out for us, we wouldn’t be such an anxious and self-hating culture to begin with.) In my experience, when we fall into white guilt, our unconscious goal isn’t to dismantle white supremacy, but to be liked and forgiven by indigenous people and people of color. To be the good white person. The problem is, though, that this is asking indigenous people and people of color to do the emotional labor of making us feel good about ourselves, which they’ve already been doing against their wills for as long as white supremacy has existed.
So the forgiveness aspect of this card isn’t necessarily about asking others for forgiveness; it’s about having the courage to forgive myself and love myself when I’m afraid, when I mess up, when I encounter yet another nasty or embarrassing layer of conditioning, when I find yet another blind spot.
Once we get into the elemental aspects of these cards, there’s even more to go into, but I’ll stop here. Another question that I have for myself is: why was I able to access these insights so quickly from a deck featuring animals, rather than humans? (Also, there are some questions about this deck and where it may or may not cross the line from cultural exchange into cultural appropriation, but that’s another can of worms for another time.)