Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Finding Our Identity While Honoring Others

This is a tough subject to address, but I feel it needs to be discussed. I've been thinking about this long and hard.

Most "white people" who struggle to talk about who they are and where they came from are not "white supremacists." It's not about being "white." It's about heritage. It's just that we are mainly northern peoples and therefore mostly have light pigmentation.

Our early history was all but obliterated by  various invasions of what is now Western Europe, and as we grasp for foundations to hold on to, we run into various challenges.

Our symbolism has been wielded by bad people, so if we want to use it as part of our identity, we are sometimes interpreted as being bad people. Some of our shamanic practices... the few that are remembered... are similar to practices of extant indigenous people, but we don't have the names of those practices in the indigenous languages of our forebears, so we use familiar words, and suddenly we are appropriating another culture.

For instance, cleansing with smoke has been practiced across the world for eons. As the practice came back in style, Wiccans and New Age practitioners called it "Smudging," a term taken from Native American practice. Now, when we use the word "smudging" for "cleansing with smoke," we are told we are appropriating a Native American practice. This English word probably replaced the original names that the members of the indigenous people of this continent called it in thier various languages. Those words were likely lost as the languages were taken from the peoples through violence and forced English speaking. So this word is theirs now. And now we know. I didn't understand this when I first learned of the technique. Now that I know, I'm left with the awkward phrase, "cleansing with smoke" rather than a word out of the practices of my ancestors.

You see, our words for it have been lost for hundreds of years. That's why we picked up "smudging." Things like this are not done with ill intent. These are things that happen when we struggle to find our identity as people with a history and come up empty.  We're trying, we really are.

As we do, we run into these challenges: lack of terminology, the historic appropriation of the words and symbols we have left by those who DO have ill intent. The attempts by governments and do-gooders to take away what's left of the tatters of our various heritages. And, we are challenged by our own fears of hurting those others who have been hurt by some of our ancestors, those whose wounds are still smarting.

Most of us understand the fight to maintain identity. We support those of other cultures in that fight. At the same time, we want the right to fight to regain some of our own culture. Those cultures are not "white." They are Norse, Scandinavian, Slavic, Spanish, Italian, Celtic, Irish, Scottish, Russian (and a lot of other names that represent the smaller groups of our Indo-European forebears).

I think it's time for us all to learn to ask questions, listen to the answers, and educate ourselves beyond the knee jerk reactions of today's media, social and otherwise. If we only respond to the fear mongering we are faced with on our timelines, we learn to only see enemies. Friends, let's step outside once in awhile. Let's look outside our timelines and outside our comfort zone. Let's give others the benefit of a doubt before assuming they are our enemies. Let's acknowledge that we can be who we are and still reach across cultures and honor others for who they are.

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