Racism is alive and well. On this day that we honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am reminded that we have only just begun. Racism lives in me and in the domination structures of our Western civilization as surely as I write this. Yet, we are blind to this fact. The hardest sayings by Dr. MLK, Jr. are mostly left unspoken. Here is one:
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”— Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967)
The other day, my bees reminded me of how unaware I can be about the structures of colonization embedded in and around me. It was a visceral lesson.
I had just returned from a conference in Seattle, dealing with the direct results of racism and colonization (http://dofdmenno.org/). I went to feed my bees. I am a colonizer of honeybees, you see. Honeybees have been imported to this country over the centuries— from Europe, the Mediterranean, Russia, Latin America and elsewhere to fuel the New World’s agricultural machine. Over time, they have become the product of an industrialized model of agriculture. It is one that dominates, commodifies and eventually destroys the health of the very beings that provide the “fuel” for that machine. They become “throw aways”.
Though I like to pride myself on being a small time “gentlewoman” farmer, a backyard, urban beekeeper who doesn’t purport to “industrialize” my bees—I am not immune to using and manipulating them. I have been trained well by my culture to see nature and anything landbased as something to use to my advantage. I am out of tune. Alot.
I opened the hive without any offering of smoke or the usual preparation of observing the hive, slowing down, listening to the sights and sounds around the hive before going in. Opening a hive is always seen as an invasive act. My hope was to dump in the latest sugar loaf, pour a little honey and be on my merry way. I was in a hurry. My intent was to move quickly and be done. I had my agenda for the day in place. It left only about 10 minutes for my bees.
Needless to say, I was unprepared, impatient and careless. The hive exploded with thousands of bees—in my hair, stinging my hands, chasing me within an inch of my life.
I dropped my food offering on the empty platter like a hot potato. It fell like a brick on the bees assembled there eating the crumbs. This further enraged the bees—their hive mates crushed. I felt miserable. Feeling attacked and awful after this exchange, I retreated to lick my wounds. What happened, I wondered?
Land based peoples, creatures and the land itself have been destroyed, “controlled” and assimilated as fodder into the industrial machine for milleniums. The push of western civilization to acquire, dominate and control resources and people has been done without reflection, critique or listening to the those whose lives and lands have been destroyed. Domination continues to this day in a host of “isms”—racism, sexism, ecoism, classism.
These days I am thinking alot about race. Black lives matter is on everyone’s twitterfeed. Police violence, racial profiling, Muslim, Syrian and immigrant anti-sentiment are rife. I am a white woman of privilege. Though I feel the vulnerability of sexism as a woman, my peoples do not have centuries of discrimination and destruction based upon color. I have much to learn. Much to observe. Much to listen to and slow down until I can hear. I cannot right centuries of horror. I can only come awake and be present to ‘what is’ now.
Another little known quote by Dr. MLK, Jr.: “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” Where Do We Go From Here:Chaos or Community?(Boston: Beacon Press, 1967)
Waking up to this reality is painful. But wake up we must.