Last night, I didn’t sleep much. Most of my dreams were about a black man, lean and strong, moving through dark, wooded places with speed and stealth. Or sometimes, he was tied down on a board in a basement or the cabin of a yacht. Or he was carrying huge logs by the end across yards. He was never smiling.
I had watched two hours of Roots before I went to bed, and Kunta’s vestige was haunting my dreams. . . as it should.
In the past week, I’ve had a few conversations with folks about the powerful mini-series Roots, a series I am watching because I believe it is my obligation to do so. Some of these folks are not watching the series because it is too much for them – too much violence, too much stimulus in the form of images. Some other folks are not watching because “it’s just too sad.”
I’m trying very, very hard to find my way to compassion with those of us who feel this way, but honestly, I’m not doing so hot at that.
On one hand, I do understand. I am a Highly Sensitive Person, so when I see (or particularly read) about violence or painful stories, they linger with me – sometimes for days. I have to monitor how much of that intense experience I take in because I – by nature – relate to it fiercely and can debilitate myself if I’m not careful. Me crying in a ball on my bed isn’t helpful to anyone.
On the other hand, I don’t understand. Part of me wants to dismiss these ideas as selfish, to charge out accusations about how “enslaved people didn’t have a choice not to live it, and you can’t bear to watch a recreation of it?” But accusations aren’t helpful either. They just push people away and build walls.
So today, I’m choosing to listen and asking this fundamental question:
Is our refusal to watch/read/listen to painful stories of the oppressed truly a way to be wise about our needs, or is it merely an avoidance and, thus, an exercise of our privilege to turn away?
Some further questions for us to consider.
- How do we come to understand oppression if we are highly sensitive people? What means can we use to delve deep into the experience of the oppressed without losing ourselves and our ability to act in the pain?
- What options are available for people to bear witness? Films? Books? Listening to first-person accounts?
- How can we call out the irresponsible use of privilege when we see it without alienating the people for whom this need to turn away is about health and self-preservation and not about avoidance?
- How do we hold space for people to come to these experiences and this oppression in a variety of ways, ways that allow for all the ways we as people operate in the world while also calling out white supremacy and working to eliminate white privilege?
I don’t have any real answers to these questions here, and I welcome your thoughts on any of them.
Always in love, folks. Always in love.