How did we get here?
What’s to come?
Should I be moving to another country??!
The last question may seem a bit extreme (or maybe not, for some of you), but these were some of the questions that ran through my mind as I watched the election returns. I had been off the grid, and so coming back to this spectacle was surreal—it felt like our own lives were being filmed for a reality television show.
Now, with some time to reflect and be in community, it is now probably more surprising that I was surprised.
A colleague of mine from South Carolina who is of African American and Native descent, remarked on a call with other national advocates, “We are entering unfamiliar territory, but for some of us, these are events we have faced in the past. We can and will withstand this. This will require us to be very vigilant; to organize; to reach out to partners we haven’t thought of engaging. A lot of us in this work may have overlooked a constituency that was suffering.”
A native Hawaiian elder exclaimed to a group of community members at a retreat: “Why are you so shocked? The system has never worked for our people! Now is the time to assert ways of being that truly work for us!”
Taking these and other's words to heart, I realize that the election was an embodiment of the frustration of families across the spectrum with the current system, and its ignoring of them for too long. Granted, there is a vocal minority who are deeply prejudiced and feeling emboldened to act in violent ways, but there is a prevailing frustration bubbling up among many people who have felt unheard, and it stretches beyond political and ideological categories.
I can think of family members, friends, and neighbors who voted the way they did because they were frustrated and had felt unheard. These are not monsters or bigots or even the fabled “other,” but rather loved ones who have been struggling to no avail; loved ones who have a certain perspective in specific areas and were feeling demonized by the polarized public discourse and media. These are people with whom I have trouble connecting with, knowing our nation's history and the social system that was built on continuous injustices to Native people and others, and continues to discriminate against those who do not (or cannot) conform to a certain way of life.
How do we both grapple with our history and work in a way that is forward-facing?
Perhaps it begins by creating a judgement-free space to ask the tough questions of ourselves: What are my privileges? How do I define my identity? How do I define wealth? What is the connection that grounds me to this place? Am I truly putting myself in a place of discomfort such that I am being personally changed through my work?
For me, as a person of Japanese descent in Hawai‘i and the fourth generation in my family to call Hawai‘i home, I know that at some point, my family was involved in some way in the displacement of a native person or family from their ancestral land. I am born and raised in this place and know no other home, but here, my privilege has been to be born to family that “owns” the house I grew up in (on arguably another’s land) and was able to send me to college and support me through graduate school—all leading to my current position and capacity to function well within the system. But being in this work has also given me another privilege, which is being invited into different communities and learning firsthand of the pride and struggles of marginalized communities. It pushes me to work harder to lift up their voices so they can be taken seriously and considered.
In the process, I am constantly grappling with my feelings of guilt about how I came to this place. I am slowly able to better articulate those feelings and better understand how I can be of support to this place and all of the people who call Hawai‘i home.
As I acknowledge these feelings of guilt within myself, I can help to create judgement-free spaces for others and have compassion for them as they grapple with their own questions. Perhaps, together we can begin to collectively and compassionately care for one another to see our different privileges so that we can be more self-aware in our work and create solutions with our immediate family and the family that is our surrounding community. Together these efforts may help to humanize and shift the systems we live in now to expand the definition of wealth (mahalo to everyone who reached out–I was blown away by the response!) and restore and respect the abundance that exists in all of our respective cultures.
Image: By Oliver Quinlan via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)