By Ann Marie Davis
The whales. Let’s save the whales. And the rainforest. Species are going extinct with each breath I take. Did I mention that the world had gone mad? I am Gaia therefore I speak for her. So my heart breaks for all of those creatures and plants and communities.
Oh. What about the people who are less fortunate?
I don’t know what you mean. My continued existence is assured for now. Just don’t eat your brother, because I don’t eat my brother. I have the privilege of not knowing about how that proclamation reeks of privilege, I don’t eat my brother.
Maybe in a way you do. Eat your brother.
All of these petty arguments don’t matter. The polar bears are going extinct!
When I first heard Joanna Macy talk about systems theory, I realized that my circuitous way of walking through my life made perfect sense. I always knew that the universe was trying to tell me something. Joanna’s talk made me realize that the universe was speaking to me as the earth, and Joanna’s talk helped me to realize that I look out at existence as the earth. That I am the earth walking.
And what did the universe tell me? To leave my job. Before I even knew I needed to grow my own food in order to heal my soul, the universe told me that I always wanted to grow food. I even had a real desire to live in a straw bale house, in a way that had been done a thousand years ago, without central air. Air conditioning always made me feel like it was invented by persecutors of fresh air.
I thought I wanted to be an artist and throw paint in a live/work warehouse space, but the universe told me to tell stories. Not just any stories. When I wrote stories just to call myself a writer, I merely satisfied my egoist tendencies to indulge creative whims. Not that there is anything wrong with self-indulgence. I have just found that there is so much more satisfaction in being in alignment with a part of me that knows the knower, the universe, the earth.
To get here, I had to get to a place where my neuroses didn’t thwart my desire to write in this deeply satisfying way. And I did write in a way that is aligned with my inner knower, and it resulted in Joanna Macy reading my poetry book and inviting me over to her home. We drank tea and she told me, “You must keep writing! The world urgently needs storytellers.”
I spent many years not wanting to hear the earth’s voice, about how bad off the world was. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to handle the catastrophic news. So, no matter how much I desperately wanted the world to be a better place, I could not be of any help until I was no longer crazy-normal, or at least not as crazy-normal, with its neuroses that kept me in fear of losing what little bit of a my life (a job) that I had. Gaia doesn’t need me trying to save her from that crazy-normal place, from a place of delusion that I am all alone and that I am not enough.
The cultural momentum to keep me crazy-normal started in on me when I was extremely young, and that momentum keeps on going with the societal routines that have been here since the consciousness of the human race started its cultural ride to be as it is. The momentum started with my parents and geared up when I started school. I knew that my teachers didn’t like me or see me as smart or special. I didn’t know why. I knew that white people didn’t like black people. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why the white people who claimed to love black people made me feel as bad or worse inside as the white people who knew they didn’t like me.
I had to unlearn the crazy passed down to me from my parents who internalized the hatred passed down to them from the slave beaten to within an inch of his life, who only could respond remorsefully with self-loathing, “Ole Massa done wupped me good.”
It is taking me a lifetime to look at how other peoples’ hatred of my ancestors landed on me. But who cares? I just want the polar bears to stop being eaten by sharks. But hear this. I couldn’t even look at the whales and the sharks and feel anything useful toward their salvation until I had healed enough room to feel something outside of my tiny sphere of crazy-normal.
I once was at a temp job. A white woman, who happened to be less intelligent than me (yes, it happens. Black people who are not Oprah, who are poor can be smarter than some random white person whose job it is to tell them what to do) snapped at me when I mentioned a Spike Lee movie in passing. She snapped as though she was ready and waiting to erect defenses in response to me, this black temp saying something scary to her. She cut me off in mid-sentence, “I don’t watch those movies. They are just too brutal.” The movie was a comedy, and I wanted to mention something in it that happened in my childhood since she was talking about her childhood. I think we were stuffing envelopes. And I felt her fear barely veiled by her defensiveness. My existence was scary for her, so she didn’t want to know about my life. She didn’t want to go anywhere near the race place.
At the view from race place, everything starts to unravel. America the beautiful starts to unravel, along with America’s concurrent cultures across the globe. Even if we are not particularly patriotic, identity is invested in ‘I’m an American,’ meaning, ‘I live here in this house on this street with my family with my way of being able to call the cops if things get out of control and the cops will come. I’ll sue you and get justice. I’m an American, you can’t treat me that way. I work hard and get rewarded.’ And I think much of being white means not losing that privilege and power that comes with being American. For those whites without much, there is the feeling, that ‘I’m white, I’m American, I’m normal’.
How do you dare say that? It is so much worse in, for instance… Africa. At least you are here with that privilege.
I say that because before we were white people and black people, before we were a color and crazy-normal, we were people who came from someplace, the same way that Yoruba people are people who came from the Yoruba homeland on the African, and Vietnamese people are people who came from a place in Asia, and so on. When European says, ‘I’m an American’ it doesn’t mean their ancestors came from North America, Turtle Island, it means that your ancestors came from some place in Europe. It also means that if this coming to America took place before a certain time, being American meant being granted homesteads that by law, only Europeans were allowed to have while the people native to this place were exterminated. Which in turn means that Americans ate dinner and talked about how well the crops were doing while the people native to this place where on death marches to someplace that no one else wanted, or were being shot with Gatling guns. Their newborns and toddlers were being trampled by soldiers’ horses’ hoofs so that the settlers could come west across prairies and farm. Africans were packed onto ships and tossed overboard when the food got low or when they were dying because Americans labeled Africans as animals so that their labor force could grow the agrarian economy of this country and so that Africans could stay slaves and/or stay poor, as mandated by law. Yes, white people were and are poor, but there were never local and then federal laws that forbade them trying to better themselves to advance the agenda of the American way. Similarly, the state enacted laws to forbid other newcomers from just being Americans, like laws that forbade nonwhites from different parts of the globe. A part of crazy-normal, the condition which is killing the earth.
We are not taught this history in public schools. We are not taught anything that goes against the American mythology of America being the best country in the world. America has been so good at being itself, that even in 2018, it doesn’t let itself know where it is getting it wrong.
Saving the Whales
That same impulse to consume the whales for profit is part of the same impulse to consume peoples’ humanity, to consume the work of their bodies and to consume peoples’ land for profit. Where did that impulse of consumption start? With the invention of better whaling ships? If that is true, how did this practice come to fall under the definition of sane? Is it normal for a crazy culture to define what is sane? Where, in the course of western cultures did consumerism replace the impulse to love, be loved and empathize? Did it begin where Americans threw away their identity with their land of origin and banded together as white people against all other people for the gain of the ruling class in hopes that any average worker could one day be part of that class after dreaming the American dream fiercely enough?
To me, the answer is yes. And the deal, to not be Irish or Ukrainian or English, and instead to meld into whiteness and to never align with the people who fail at being normal, this sacrificed western culture its sanity in service to the cognitive dissonance that has us believe that our founding fathers were great and America is great. Because America is not in its right mind, or an American forefather would not have said he believed that someone like me is not human in order to justify his becoming rich by owning and selling slave children.
The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.
Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Chastellux, 7 June 1785 [Quote]
“I believe the Indian then to be in body & mind equal to the whiteman. I have supposed the black man, in his present state, might not be so. but it would be hazardous to affirm that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so.”
In short, if I were a male, I could one day be a failed version of Jefferson if luck were on my side. He founded this country, and got rich off of slavery, and according to schoolbooks, is a great man, as we still laud America as great and Americans as hardworking people who prosper under a constitution that protects all of its citizens. I believe that if people believe what the historians write in books and look at me, they would have to go crazy with the burden this lie brings forth, that all men are created equal in America, and that since this is America, some people can’t get it together enough to be normal like true Americans, and therefore live poorly and populate the jails.
And at the same time, please know this. As you strive to be a good liberal, nothing tangible explains my failure to thrive in this country except some personal character flaws, and you are not a good white person if you are racist. And this message, the messages of my personal character flaws are embedded in the culture and fed to you from the moment you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night. This message makes it hard for you to trust that my words that I am telling you right now, in this moment are as credible as if it were coming from a white man in a tweed blazer with elbow patches.
And this country has been swimming in so much disconnect since its inception. I suspected this much was true in my Kindergarten year, as my teachers did not like me. They didn’t want to know me as a black person. They claimed they didn’t see race. Or, if they did see me as a black child, it was when I wasn’t being normal enough, American enough.
Thomas Jefferson built tunnels around his mansion so that the slaves that served the house could come and go unseen.
The mansion sits atop a long tunnel through which slaves, unseen, hurried back and forth carrying platters of food, fresh tableware, ice, beer, wine and linens, while above them 20, 30 or 40 guests sat listening to Jefferson’s dinner-table conversation. At one end of the tunnel lay the icehouse, at the other the kitchen, a hive of ceaseless activity where the enslaved cooks and their helpers produced one course after another.
I include this link to the Smithsonian in my essay because it is my belief from personal experience, that most Americans, including liberals assume that if it wasn’t learned in history class, it must not be true.
What does that have to do with now? And why does the writer of this article and many of her people have such a hard time thriving in America like white people? Look at Oprah. She made it. Why can’t the rest of you?
What, be as special as Oprah? Do what she did?
Why did I let my third grade teacher, who, without knowing me, put me in a slow reading and math group, get to me? Why didn’t I brush it off and carry on in the eighth grade where I tested off of the scale for reading and above average for math? Why didn’t I go to an Ivy League school and become an American success story, and become a credit to my race, like Oprah?
Why should I be under such superhuman requirements to overcome the disadvantage of being black in America in order to talk white people out of being racist? Why must I have to be Oprah in order to succeed while so many of my white counterparts, only need to be not incompetent to succeed? We are left with having to live under a constant, low-grade crazy, and that crazy has to permeate our sleeping and waking lives in order for it to beat down the discomfort of and cognitive dissonance that rebels against what we call reality.
Say you are a farmer settler. Or a shopkeeper. Or an heiress on a plantation. And people are on a forced death march after all of their buffalo have been killed by normal people in train cars who shoot into the herds of bison in order to exterminate the people whose lives exist around the life of the buffalo. Exactly what do you talk about first thing in the morning? America is the greatest country in the world. You pass the biscuits and you talk about crops, the lower back forty, and saving the farm, or you talk about the price of iron and brass. Or your new beau. You have left behind your English-ness or Irish-ness or Polish-ness in order to be American crazy-normal, and this is where you have landed. Why can’t a child being raped or beaten to death penetrate crazy-normal’s feelings? Because they are not like us, not our concern, are not quite human. And hundreds of years later today, they cannot get with the program. Look at Obama and Oprah. Some of them are better at being failed versions of us, but mostly, they are not good enough because and because and because.
Also, some of my people, myself included, can’t get past, “ole Massa done wupped me good” and somehow I am inferior and stupid and ugly like they tell me, and somehow, I deserve to be where I am. And now, in the dimness of all of this crazy that we have yet to unpack, let us go save the whales because they are god’s innocent creation and because they are beautiful and majestic and we can’t let this beautiful world go under to the forces of greed, capitalism, consumerism, and this culture that America is exporting to every corner of the globe.
I guarantee that anyone reading this, through reasoning can pick my argument apart. That picking apart through reason has gone on forever, and I submit to you that superior reasoning abilities have not made any human being any less inhuman. We live in, as you say, a free country, and we are doing well enough in a country where I am free to spout off horrible things about the country that tolerates my ungrateful existence.
And here we are. In that place of well enough. Trying to save the last polar bear and baby seal. We study systems theory, and when the conversation gets scary, we disengage, and suddenly we are not part of the system of American white supremacy, a system that renders us less than fully engaged.
If we are part of a system, if we are, for example, the nerve cells of the earth, or any part of the earth system, do we examine our own sickness that got us to the place of scrambling around, trying to outrun our own self destruction, or are we going to get arrested in a planned non-violent protest in the manner of Martin Luther King Jr. and tell ourselves that we are fine, that it’s not about race, but only about the earth?
How hard is it to remember that Martin Luther King Jr. believed in nonviolence because he understood we were all part of a system?
King wrote in a letter from a Birmingham jail,
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…
This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation.
You might believe that the above quote is true without my supplying you with a link because you may be inclined to believe that I might know something about King.
White America and Europeans and everyone across the globe influenced by western culture (if you know who Michael Jackson or Martin Luther King Jr. were, you have been influenced, and I really don’t believe that you are special enough to filter out the good and the bad influences) are influenced by American culture. We cannot be who we ought to be until western culture figures out that it has to save itself first, by not being afraid to see me, the darker hued, and by not being afraid to see what white western privilege had done to the global majority of non-Europeans. We will be who we ought to be when we see that what has been done to non-Europeans is just one symptom of the sickness causing the destruction of the Earth. We will not be who we ought to be until all of us realize all of the ways that we and our collective unconsciousness has out-pictured itself with the eradication of species and biospheres and people and cultures and viewed this as part of progress.
What if earth activists were healthy enough to feel more than just rage and bravado? What could we accomplish if we could feel the shame, guilt, remorse and uncertainty that it takes to continually discover who we are?
What if we really knew that we are part of a system and our part is mentally ill? What if we knew we can’t do a damn thing right without first healing?
I sometimes lament, ‘if only they could… not even love me, but see me, the way they see whales, or my people’s music, Jazz?’ Not that I really, truly want that.
I want the Biosystems of the earth to survive us.
I want the next species that replaces us after we are gone to benefit energetically from the healing work that we are doing on ourselves as we attempt to save ourselves.
Here is a talk on how to view racial bias. It makes this work easier. We must work on the cure for crazy-normal for the rest of our lives, along with whatever else we do.
Ann Marie Davis, whose pen name is A.M. Davis, was born and raised in Oakland, California. She is storyteller/poet, a speaker on behalf of the Earth. In 2007, she walked away from her job to devote her life to her creativity. Upon attending a silent meditation retreat, she found space of time in her racing mind, and discovered that she was not her thoughts. This led to daily meditation, retreats, and becoming part of the East Bay Meditation Center community. She recently discovered Joanna Macy’s work, and the trajectory of her life finally made sense. You can find more of her work at annmariedavis.com. Her collection of poems, “We Have Always Been the Universe” is available on Amazon. You can also become a patron of her work on patreon and get updates on her novel in progress: https://www.patreon.com/