A Bullying Culture
As someone who was raised as a middle class, heterosexual white female and who now lives a very small and secluded life, I have felt I have little of worth to contribute to the current threads of narrative around gender and race. I am too acutely aware of my privilege and in equal measure my ignorance of what it is to be on the other side of the cultural divide. As a sensitive human I am laying low, I am nursing my psyche through great gaping wounds of grief and shame, I am relentlessly searching inside to find an interface with something true and enduring, so that I find that I have come to a place where I feel I belong much more implicitly to something very much "other" to my culture, but something difficult to define or articulate with the language or the lens of our modern day world, something deeply personal and self-determined and largely at odds with the edicts of my society. I am listening to dreams and trying to discover what love really looks and feels like in the body. I am dancing through my shame and self-loathing to seek an acceptance of my awkward embodiment. I am trying to learn what it is that a child really needs to grow up empowered and free and whole unto herself, I am seeking to hold the full weight of this responsibility. I am trying to learn how to be gentle with this Earth upon which I depend so implicitly for my own survival. I am trying to bring forth into manifestation the creative nudgings which emerge from within what I discover about myself along the way, that might hold some clue of truth or meaning as to why it is that I am here at all. I am not versed in the current cultural narratives of gender and race and white heterosexual privilege and supremacy and so without a doubt I may well put my foot in it, but lately I have felt that there is something I want to say, and it is to my fellow white folk, it is to us, we of the dominant way that is so afraid to not be right, that is so hungry to be so sure and certain about the shape of things, we that are really just so afraid and so hungry.
As a child there were times when I was seen by my peers in the schoolyard, that cultural frontline of prejudice and brutality, as insufficiently aligned with the acceptable paradigms of the societal imperatives of my time, as seen and interpreted through the eyes of that societies most susceptible and perceptive of up-holders, its children. I was bullied and teased in the early years of my primary schooling. I hated school and it’s culture of bullying. At the time I wasn't really sure why, but in hindsight it may have had something to do with the Indian embroidered tunics that my mother dressed me in, or the old beaten up Peugeot that my parents drove, but I think it went deeper than that, it was my woundedness, my vulnerability, my sensitivity, my belonging to an unseen world that was not so easily understood, I was a little dreamer, I wrote poems about my own uncertainty and the vastness that I perceived in the spaces between things and in the world around me when there weren't any people around, in the vastness of the night sky through my bedroom window when I couldn't sleep at night. Please don't perceive me as positing this information in order to compare myself to those who have been outcast far more overtly and brutally than myself, for reasons of gender or sexual orientation or for racial or cultural differences, I deeply understand that this is another playing field altogether, that I will never truly understand, being myself so largely on the culturally privileged side of the battlefield that is life for some.
What I do want to speak to though, is a sense that the fear, the bigotry and bullying, the fascist brutality that operates against those seen as "other" to what is culturally acceptable to a rigidly gendered, homophobic, racist paradigm, also controls itself very brutally from within. Deep inside the dominant culture of my white Australian education, there existed an urgent imperative to suppress particular qualities and energies, that were seen as unacceptable to the powers that be in our acculturation and I feel this is something we need to address as white Australians, it is desperate and dire that we do so.
I remember at school it was the boys who didn't fit the rigid precepts of "masculinity" that were taunted with words like “poofter” and “homo”, they were singled out and named this long before they had become sexually active, long before they had chosen a mate for themselves. Similarly girls who didn’t innately comply with the pretty, pretty, vacuous precepts of femininity were equally labeled “dyke” or “lesso”. I’m sure the words change throughout time and location, it offends me to use them but I heard them enough, echoing around the concrete grounds of the institutions we were indoctrinated in. I wonder if what was being picked up upon as a marker of "otherness" was more than just the orientation of their sexuality, the gender of person they might one day choose to engage with in their own loving. Not to undermine in any way the significance of this life choice, I am also curious about what else is being shunned and shamed in conjunction with this more overt expression of our sexual orientation. It seems to me that there are often qualities of being that are primarily targeted, that are not exclusive to the colour of our skin or the nature of our sexuality. Gentleness, vulnerability, emotional intelligence, sensitivity, artistic/creative sovereignty, individuality, flamboyance, a sense of the numinous/ sacred/spiritual, empathic qualities, attunement to nature, nurturing tendencies, introversion, introspection, autonomy, empowerment, individuality, dancing to one's own tune. There is an exiling of these qualities and those who exhibit them too overtly that occurs within the dominant culture that is clearly amplified to an intolerable extent where there are additional factors of race, gender and sexual preference involved that distance the individual further from the apex of desirability, from the distortion of hyper-masculinity, or the objectified and domesticated feminine, the brutal cynicism, economic rationalism and materialism, fascist anti-sensitivity, colonizing mentality of the culturally indoctrinated imperatives of our time.
I do not know if the school ground is the same now as it was 40 odd years ago. Or if the modern day work place mirrors the school yard, I would certainly hope not. I cannot speak to the experience of those who suffered more brutally than I did in their occupation of the territory of "otherness". I do not put myself in the same strata of struggle that others have experienced, but I do know deeply what it is to be a sensitive, empathic, creative, emotionally vulnerable, spiritually leaning, deeply feminine human, raised in a culture that meticulously subjugated these qualities in the cruel interface of its school grounds and mainstream cultural narratives.
As a human being, I am endeavoring to address the shame that I associate with being born into a culture of white supremacy, because I know that it does not serve the evolution of my people, nor does it enable liberation for those subjugated by my kind. It robs me of the feeling that my voice could mean anything in the volatile soup of our cultural discourse, and I wonder if we might now just need all the voices to be heard. I carry within myself a deep fear that if I speak out I will reveal the ways I have not yet seen and taken responsibility for my own indoctrinated bigotry. I am so open to learn. I live a very small life, possibly because I heeded the messages given to me as a small child in a predominantly white, middle class Australian State School, that there wasn't really a place in the world for the qualities that came naturally to me, but for many other reasons also, not the least of which being personal choice. I do not engage particularly with mainstream media, I raise my children outside of the mainstream educational system, I am an introvert and a dreamer, an artist and a poet, my finger is not on the pulse of current social discourses, I do not hold a degree in these matters though I seek deeply to understand them in my own skin. Sometimes it feels very frightening to be so unhinged from the world of my own culture. I don't really know whether what I am fumbling to articulate has any relevance to anyone but me, and understand it may be most relevant to me in revealing to others that which I hide from myself as much as that which is understood within me.
But I feel from my place on its fringe, that as a culture, and I am speaking here of the dominant white culture of modern Australia, we need to learn to embrace and stretch into some of these qualities that are shunned in the psyche of its inhabitants. Qualities of emotional attunement, creative thought and expression, artistic imperatives, concerns of care and reciprocity and tenderness towards that which is seen as "other", or that which we are afraid of, within our own beings. Can we develop our capacity to be vulnerable and to gain some comfort in "not knowing" and "not seeing" what it is that must be done, surrendering to the greater mystery of life, coming to understand concepts of reciprocity and sovereignty and the primal matrix in which we are embedded, to evolve our receptive capacities to listen and to receive and to open to the unseen powers that be in the world around us and beyond us, and within us? We may need to come to embrace with a deeper capacity the qualities of fierce care, of heartfull compassion, of sensitive attunement, of empathic communion if we are to liberate our fumbling human world from its unimaginative and demoralizing shackles.
It seems to me there is an apartheid of consciousness within our culture that is atrophied and excruciatingly rigid. The little boys and girls within our own psyches may need to learn that it doesn't make you a wierdo or a freak, that you will not be jeered at, or pelted with stones or mocked and ridiculed, excluded and shamed, if you were to choose to feel a little more deeply, to risk being a little different, to be a little less certain of one’s own rightness and entitlement, and a little more open to how it might be to be a little more inclusive and a little less barricaded against that which might grow our compassion and our sensitivity and our universality as co-creators and blessed recipients of this cosmic gift of life in a body, in the gloriously diverse tapestry of humanity, on an exquisitely beautiful and life-giving planet, in a mind-bogglingly vast and magnificent and unknowable cosmos.
In order for a culture to name such a vast array of human traits and leanings and embodiments as "wrong", there must be at its heart a deep fear and insecurity. I see the way that we police our people to comply to a paradigm of shame and suppression and compliance to an authority that is sourced outside of the self, outside of the heart and the soul. It is a small place we are given in which to be free, in which to love, it is full of punitive conditions and rules and imperatives to comply, that make us in turn small and mean and violent. It is a way of being that is in truth heartbreaking, and that is destroying the paradise of this planet we call home. We become barren and broken and cruel in the wake of what we are told we must be, to belong to this culture.
I am trying with all my heart to choose another way, and for me what that looks like is to listen to the parts of myself that my culture has made other, the wild edge of the interface of my soul with the mystery of creation. What does the dream tell me I am? How do I unearth my intuition and instinct from my own acculturation? What does the earth ask of me, the ground that we so brutally stole from our indigenous brothers and sisters, how can I learn to speak its language? What do my fellow humans ask of me, how might we all come to find deep rooted belonging in the skin which we inhabit? How do I help others belong more deeply to themselves by belonging more deeply to my own self? How do we come home to love? Who are my ancestors, to what did my people once belong? What is mine to atone for? How can it be that the more mytho-poetic and archetypal realms of life may offer us allegiance and assistance rather than be seen as a threat to the narrowness of either our hyper-rationalist, dogmatically scientific vantage point or our archaic and annihilatingly outmoded religious perspectives?
I am so very full of questions and have so few answers, but I wonder if there might be medicine in this for those of us who dwell within a chrysalis of cultural privilege. Medicine to be received in choosing instead to be the ones who don't know, who don't have the answers for everybody else, maybe we need to become less of ourselves before we can again become more. Maybe we need to seek to know all of ourselves, not just the culturally condoned parts, in order to feel less afraid and less hungry and more willing to be the one small piece of the vast puzzle that we were born to be, rather than to try and tell others what piece they should be. We miss out on so much beauty and colour and magnificence and glorious heartfull human love when we insist that others fit our own strangulating imperatives.
It is a long journey to come to know oneself as the wounded and to seek to heal, I know because I have taken some excruciating but liberating steps down that dark and tangled path. It takes such tremendous courage to own the ways in which our beliefs have done harm to others, who were innocent, it takes courage to perceive the violence that dwells within our own gaze. I know we can make more room for otherness, I know we can come to celebrate and receive the precious gifts of a world of diversity, but first we must do it inside of our own selves. To take the journey we will need all the tools we can muster. We will need to be very gentle with ourselves. We will need to be very soft and tender, it will probably feel very vulnerable. We might often feel lost and uncertain. We will need to learn a fierce inclusivity and a great compassion. We will need to learn how to be loving and kind to ourselves, and radically accepting of our own differences and desires. We will need to call on spirit. We will need to learn this journey cannot be made alone. We will need to connect deeply into our loving mother, the earth. We will need the help of all of our fellow humans, they will have much to teach us. I know we can do it though. We might just need to be very gentle with ourselves and try not to be too harsh when we judge ourselves. We might just come to realise that there is a place for us, beyond the one we have so brutally claimed, a little human sized shape just for me and one too, just for you, as you are unique, no better or worse than any other.
It feels imperative that at some stage we come to recognize the dire trauma and displacement and persecution that lies at the heart of our culture. We are a deeply wounded people who have been robbed of our capacity to grieve, ourselves torn, at some long ago point in our ancestral history, from our own place of belonging and cultural cohesion and thrust into this headlong imperative to homogenize and colonize and rationalize life into a bleached, eroded, wasteland of progress. As someone who is ready to admit I know nothing and have no idea what the answer is, I wonder if we must somehow own our woundedness, address the severity of our own intergenerational trauma, the millennia of it, and begin to learn how to grieve for what we have lost in our compliance to a colonizing wave of violence and power. We are at the crest of that wave, perhaps it is time that we let ourselves be drowned, so that we can find a deeper inhabitation of what progress and advancement might look like. By drowning I mean to maybe allow the engulfment of the feeling realm, surrender to the primordial oceanic consciousness of the bigger, more inclusive aliveness of the world.
Is it controversial to say that the same restrictive, punitive, punishing, shaming sentiments that we inflict on those "others" to our conventional, white, heterosexual profile, we also inflict upon ourselves collectively and most insidiously from within the acculturated self? We are all brutally impacted by this regime of rightness and wrongness, of goodness and badness, of polarising dichotomies of blame and shame and punitive narratives of manipulation and control. It does occur to me at times that actually no one feels safe to be exactly who we are in this modern world of ours, we all live to some degree in a state of hyper-vigilance in regards to how we inhabit our bodies, our skins, our desires. It doesn't really feel safe for anyone to deeply incarnate into wild embodiment in this artificial world we have created for ourselves.
I have felt great shame and hungered to find a way of enacting some sort of radical restitution or atonement for all the wrongdoings of my kind, the genocide and slavery, the rape and pillage, the medicalization and institutionalization of otherness or neediness, the hideous prejudice and dehumanization of those who fall outside of the creed of dominance. At the very least I have tried to live a life that seeks to minimize the harm done, whilst engaging with the process of seeking to discover in what ways one can do good or contribute something like unto a balm upon the wound to the soul of our shared humanity on this planet. But whilst I am so deeply sorry and so willing to engage with a process of atonement, I have always fallen short of knowing what on earth one would offer, of finding anything that could remotely touch upon the injustices inflicted by my people. What is there that one can do to make up for all that?
Perhaps now it seems to me that the greatest gesture of atonement we can enact, as those embedded in the dominating paradigm is to take the arduous path of becoming self-determined. To come to truly see the dire severance we embody from the unified field of creation and the extent of our own woundedness within the family of our humanity. Perhaps we need to do less, to do nothing, to get out of the way and to look very deeply inside. Perhaps our work is not with the other, perhaps it is with our own selves, the formidable work of coming home to ourselves, our true primordial origins, our vital roles in creating a new paradigm of unity and acceptance. Perhaps our job is to heal our own separation, so that we no longer require others to be demeaned in order for us to feel powerful. Whilst this is a mythic journey it happens in the minutia of our mundane existences. Part of this journey might be learning to look and listen, to hear and see, that which is behind and beyond and between. Learning to seek and to know what is true, not because the mind has been taught, the identity instructed, but to know from the living animalness of your bodies, through the fertile interface of our embeddedness in the Earth, from the blood pumping thirst of our own hearts and the finely filamental tendrils of our dreaming souls as they span the cosmos as we sleep.
I remember a moment from my life in the school yard so vividly. It was at a point in time when I had finally and momentarily secured a precarious position of friendship that had temporarily alleviated the intensity of my conspicuous invitation to be teased. I remember how fragile I was, how broken and how I would have done anything at that point to just fit in, to belong, to not be seen as other, to have relief from the torment of that mantle. Some of the girls who had somehow inexplicably befriended me began to taunt and tease another girl, another outcast, herself seen as a threat to the indoctrination of normality. Was it her weight, her fear, her clothes that had marked her out? As the girls teased I stood at the back, behind them, engaged in my own torturous battle. I knew exactly what was happening, not a week before it had been me on the other side. In that moment I said nothing, I did nothing, I stood back as silent witness, but something vital took a blow inside me that day. I had somehow suddenly been included, become that which I had abhorred, I had finally come to belong, belong to something that did harm, not just to those who did not comply but also to the soul of those who perpetrated the punishment of not belonging.
There is much work to do in repairing the warp and weft of the soul of those of us who have done harm, either through our violence or our silence. I wish I had known then, as that traumatized little girl, what it was that I truly belonged to, how truly brave my soul could be, how little I needed those girls, to know that I deeply belonged to a web of creation that embraces all, and can find a tender perch for even the most strange and peculiar of us. I wish I had known the importance of sisterhood and kinship and inclusion, and the healing that comes when truth is spoken to the false and the way that all the forces of the universe are behind us when we work to reconcile that which is outcast, and home the gifts of our own exile. Needless to say, my belonging to this group of taunting girls was very short lived, and actually my schoolyard salvation came not long after when I banded together with enough misfits to become a formidable enough formation to be left alone to our own devices. But I do wish, all these years later and with all my heart, that I could reach across time and move my body towards her, that persecuted girl in the school yard, Christy was her name. I wish I could reach out my hand to touch her skin, palm to palm, to make of her my friend.
Text © Lucy Pierce 2017