I’ve been meaning to update my blog with my reading goals, but I took awhile to decide what to read this year. Part of this is because I had to establish where I stand in relation to my healing journey, my spiritual journey, and my social justice activism.
I also needed to build up my strength and resilience, to better engage the mindfulness and loving-kindness, and to do more research so I can cultivate social justice activism and the setting of boundaries in a firm but kind way, where loving-kindness is paramount, but at the same time, I hold those who cause harm accountable. To do this, I needed to examine my own view of accountability and loving-kindness, and establish questions to guide my research.
What is accountability? It is a form of justice and growth. This feels simplistic, and I know I need to dig deeper into the teachings of leaders within the social justice movement. Understanding requires openness to diverse perspectives on the applications of accountability, justice, and growth.
Context to my Journey
I admit, for a long time in my life, I struggled with this question and how it related to justice and forgiveness. From a young age, it was grilled into me to forgive others who cause harm to me, but what that actually meant in application, I struggled to understand. Most people described it — this view is prevalent in many Christian sects as well as other religious sects — as forgiveness toward the perpetrator, to continue to seek healing with them, to not give up on them.
Forgiveness has often been used as a weapon against victims of sexual assault, of domestic abuse and violence, of racism, or transphobia, or homophobia, of sexism — this weaponized forgiveness places all responsibility and accountability on the victim to let go, forgive, and “forget” what the aggressor has done to them. Hardly ever is responsibility to seek forgiveness or atonement for the harm done placed on the perpetrator.
This past year in therapy I realized that “forgiveness” within the healing journey is not forgiveness toward the perpetrator. Until the perpetrator accepts accountability and actively shows how they are changing their ways to not continue the harm, then forced forgiveness may increase the trauma the victim endures. “Justice is what love looks like in public” as Dr. Cornel West wrote, and if we are to live lives of love, then we must seek justice. The person who caused the harm cannot learn from their actions if they are not held accountable.
Then, what is forgiveness? How does it work into the idea of accountability and justice?
Many pair forgiveness with “forget,” which I’ve found to be quite dangerous. Forgiveness doesn’t erase the harm the perpetrator did — that trauma is still imprinted on the brain. Worse, “forgetting” what they did gives the perpetrator more power over the victim, and hinders the healing process. This saying is often weaponized against the victim due to society’s conditioning all of us to shame the victim and not the perpetrator.
Realization that Refined 2018’s Questions
What the victim/survivor needs is not to place forgiveness in the hands of the person who caused them harm. Instead, the victim needs to find their footing:
- Name the harm, which takes away its power.
- Address the core belief that formed due to the trauma from the harmful/awful actions.
- Acknowledge what happened. Do not seek to understand the why of it as this hinders healing.
These three steps leads the victim/survivor toward healing and peace within their self, and it allows them to properly acknowledge what happened and file it away so that it no longer holds power over them. This is true forgiveness, which assists with healing from the trauma.
True forgiveness was never the “forgive and forget” approach. Instead, it is an acknowledgment:
“This awful thing happened. This is what it was. This is who did it. I acknowledge they did it, and they are responsible for what they did. I am not responsible for what they did. My pain and experience is valid. They are accountable for their own actions and must go through their own journey toward healing. I am not responsible for their healing.”
True Forgiveness is an acceptance of the situation and our role, and allowing ourselves to feel/experience the emotions and to let those emotions flow out of us. It has nothing to do with the perpetrator, and it took me a long time to realize this.
The “forgive and forget” phrase instead seems to be a gaslighting tactic in order to stop the perpetrator from being held accountable for the harm caused. The weaponization of forgiveness perverts various religious scriptures and practices to force the burden on the victim and to shame them and re-traumatize them. It was specifically designed so the perpetrator does not need to face consequences. This approach needs to stop being used.
I recognize there’s a lot more to learn about these topics as well, but that is the basis of where I currently am in my understanding of accountability, the weaponization of forgiveness, and how to identify and work toward true justice and healing.
My Questions for 2018 Thus Become
- How do we hold those who harm others accountable?
- How do we address the injustice and discrimination rampant in our communities, but still hold fast to loving-kindness?
- How do we heal the gaping wound racism, transphobia, homophobia, abliesm, and sexism has caused to our fellow human beings, so that we can all move forward toward a more loving, equitable, equal, and just future together?
To grow in understanding, I’ll approach these questions from several angles.
One angle is race. Ijeoma Oluo writes in, So You Want to Talk about Race:
Look at any discussion of race and racism only, and you’ll see an argument pop up over who is racist, who isn’t and who has the right to claim they are suffering from racism. The most common definitions of racism (in my summation) are as follows: (1) Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race. Or (2) Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power.
I have always chosen the later definition, and I’ve lost friends over it. But the truth of the matter is that the dictionary definition was written by the oppressors, often white cisgender men, and they do not put that word into the context of the entirety of American (and world history), so the context is lost and the word is flattened to be just about the minds and hearts of individuals. It limits how we are able to discuss the problems of racism within our society by restricting the words we use.
Again, from So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo writes:
When we use only the first definition racism, as any prejudice against someone based on race, we inaccurately reduce the issues of race in America to a battle for the hearts and minds of individual racists — instead of seeing racists, racist behaviors, and racial oppression as part of a larger system.
The larger system is the institutions within our society and the socialization our society instills within us, which is the cancer that we need to address. The first definition is like treating the symptoms of cancer, but ignoring the actual cancer itself. The second definition acknowledges the symptoms and the actual cancer and seeks to find a way to combat cancer, so that the individual symptoms can be cured as well as the original cancer.
Also, as Ijeoma Oluo points out, the first definition dehumanizes those who face discrimination, placing, again, the pressure on the victim to defend their experience, rather than holding the system which caused the oppression and racist socialization to be held accountable.
Further, this approach puts the onus on me, the person being discriminated against, to prove my humanity and worthiness of equality to those who think I’m less than. But so much of what we think and feel about other races is dictated by our system, and not by our hearts.
The system of white supremacy weaves its way into how we are socialized and all the varied institutions of our society — such as the police, educational systems, prison systems, socioeconomic conditions. This isn’t to put blame on any white person. Remember, having privilege means simply: That they can still experience hardships, but it won’t be because the system is set up to deny them or cause their hardships due to their race.
This is a very hard topic to understand because of all the layers, history, and nuances to it. So these are books I will read to dig deeper:
- So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- I have started this book, and will be carefully studying it’s topics to better understand and equip myself with tools to be more fruitful in my discussions about race, especially with fellow white people.
- White Rage by Carol Anderson
- Provides a good contextual history.
- Writing Beyond Race by bell hooks
- I started this book in 2017. It is written in the form of essays, each chapter a different essay. I plan to finish it this year.
- Resource Rebels by Al Gedicks
- This is specifically about the indigenous tribes plight around the world to fight against oil companies and companies that pollute the environment. How these movements are treated is rooted in the power system of White Supremacy.
Part of my healing journey is a spiritual journey. When I made my realization of the way Christianity has been weaponized in America and in many Western Nations, I realized I needed to better understand this. I’ve read books from various Christian sects, but only recently did a friend recommend me a book that seems to dig deeper into this topic.
- Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee
Another book that may help me in this aspect of my healing journey is a book I’ve had for awhile and never quite finished.
- Jesus for the Non-Religions by John Shelby Spong
- This book strips away the myths and religious mysticism to dig at the heart and humanity of Jesus, to truly see Jesus as he was within the context of his time. I’ve read random chapters in the book, so now I hope to dig deeper.
These two books in this section seem like a good pairing for the Christian side of this discussion. I want to be able to separate in my mind the False Christians that weaponized the religion to support the systematic oppression within our society from the Christ-like Christians that seek to assist marginalized demographics (or are of the marginalized demographics) to dismantle the oppression.
These last two books are more to assist with my healing journey, and to help me truly live out my goal of living a life of love.
- Kindling the Native Spirit by Denise Linn
- The Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron
Finally, I find understanding of topics and tackle hard questions through writing. Many of my writings explore the questions I mentioned above, and in order to further my ability to write about these topics in a flowing and concise way, I must continue to practice my craft.
Thus a final goal is to further my writing ability this year. I hope to finish a few writing books that I started, and was either gifted to me by friends or suggested as a good book to read.
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King
- Gifted to me by a friend, this book should assist with my ability to edit what I write, especially my prose.
- The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein
- I read through most of this book in 2017 when I checked it out at the library. I had to return it before I finished. So then I bought myself a copy. I hope to study some of its chapters in depth as I practice my writing.
- The Wonderbook: the Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer
- I have started this book and am about halfway through it. It’s already helped me immensely as I work on some short stories this year.
Finally, I didn’t want this year to be nothing but hard wrestling with questions and practicing craft. I wanted to have some fun stories to read and dig into as well. The following is a list of fiction works that I will read, and I tried to keep it fairly diverse author-wise.
- The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisen
- I need to properly finish this series. It is amazing, and gorgeously written.
- Binti: The Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
- It is finally out! I need to buy it!
- Word of Mouth edited by Catherine Bowman
- This is a poetry anthology of the poets featured on NPR
- On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds
- The Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
- Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
- Everfair by Nisi Shawl
- A book by Tomi Adeyemi (not sure which yet)
The goal is to try to read as many of these books I can this year. I’ll do my best to update this blog occasionally with my progress.