Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mama's Tamales - Beautiful Community Support

When we think about how businesses can really serve people, this is what should come to mind. What a beautiful example of people supporting one another. 3 minute video. Watch it and be inspired! Then, pass it on to others.

Mama's Tamales helps homeless people start their own businesses.

I should also disclose that I am proud to know the mother who developed Gorilla Life, the product highlighted in this video!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Witnessing - Second Edition and Workshop Series

Announcing two new resources to support diversity and racial justice initiatives. More information at www.witnessingwhiteness.com

Just Released - WITNESSING WHITENESS: THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT RACE AND HOW TO DO IT, 2nd edition, by Shelly Tochluk

This new edition, revised for a general audience, offers a comprehensive look at why white people need to pay attention to race, what we will see when we look closely, and how to respond. Written in an easy-to-read style, the book describes how to develop an anti-racist white identity. Perfect as a first introduction to issues of white privilege, this book also includes practical suggestions for the creation of an effective and sustainable anti-racist practice.


An 11-part workshop series aligned with the book is now available for multiracial or race-caucused groups interested in exploring their relationship to race and privilege. Detailed, chapter-by-chapter agendas allow local facilitation teams at schools, organizations, or businesses to augment their leadership capacity as they lead book groups through 2 1/2 to 3 hour workshop sessions.

Topics include:
• Why Pay Attention to Race?
• Culture, Tradition, and Appropriation
• Authentic Relationships
• History of White Anti-racism
• Racial Identity
• Privilege and Multiple Social Identities
• Transformative Relationships
• Racial Scripts
• Self-Evaluation and Goal Setting
• Cultural Change
• Group Goal Setting

Workshop agendas and resource documents required to implement the series are available at no charge for download at www.witnessingwhiteness.com. Also, visit the website for more information regarding the workshop series’ development, book orders, and author’s contact information.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bail for Alex Sanchez!

It can take a long time, but sometimes moving through the system and keeping hope and faith alive brings great results! Alex Sanchez was granted bail yesterday.

This will allow him to remain close to his family while he prepares for the trial, which will begin in October. (His family lost their home in all of this.)

After being admonished by the 9th Circuit court, Judge Real reopened Alex Sanchez' bail hearing and this time, listening intently and following up on important questions, the judge saw fit to grant bail. As I was unable to attend this session, I don't know any more that that.

Many thanks to those who kept Alex in your thoughts during this time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Justice for Alex Sanchez?

I went to my first bail hearing the other day. What drew me to this one is that I know the man charged with multiple serious counts, including conspiracy to commit murder. I don't believe the charges for a second. I have a letter on file with court expressing this opinion and my understanding of the character of this man.

The man accused is a former gang member, yes. His name is Alex Sanchez. But, I've know him as a gang intervention worker and community advocate and supporter for over 10 years. He has been the Executive Director of Homies Unidos since I've known him, and he's fought to stay in this country for years, even going so far as to apply for political asylum from his native El Salvador - which he was granted after a long fight.

Based on how the police scandals broke around LA a number of years back and the people involved...I have come to believe that this case is about retaliation at worse, and misunderstanding and competing viewpoints at best.

My father was a police officer. As a fairly mainstream sort of person when it comes to law enforcement, I don't immediately assume the criminal justice system is always unjust. This case is one of those, however, where even staunch supporters of the system should rightly question the judge in this case...and keep their eyes wide open and focused on how this unfolds.

Here's how this began: Judge Real in Alex Sanchez Case is Surreal This is a post written by former California State Senator, Tom Hayden, and published by The Nation about the first bail hearing, to which I WAS NOT present.

Here's what happened a bit later: Victory for Alex Sanchez Appeal, But... A follow up regarding a rebuke by the 9th circuit court...a hopeful development.

Here's where things stand now: The Judge Gets Real, But Why? A post describing the second bail hearing, to which is WAS present. This pretty much sums it up.

The real question is, what is going to happen next? Having sat in that courtroom, hearing the evidence presented, it makes no logical sense to me how Alex can be denied bail. I know I'm just one person...and that's why I hope many additional eyes will start to follow this with me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sonoma, AZ - Sweat Lodge - James Arthur Ray

New shoots sprang up in the meadow the first day I entered the sweat lodge. The evening was crisp, hawks hung on the breeze, and the fire crackled. A peace I'd not known previously settled upon me as I waited, watching. The elder prepared the prayer ties, arranged objects on the alter, and filled the pipe with a mixture of sage and tobacco.

Later, having crawled inside the dome-shaped lodge, supported by willow branches and covered with tarps and blankets, I sat in a community circle. Warmth filled the lodge as glowing stones were brought in one by one and placed in the center. After the first seven stones entered and prayers were said, the elder offered an explanation.

"This is the safest place on Earth," he began.

"It's a return to the womb of the mother," he continued.

We enter the sweat lodge as a purification ceremony. It is where we pray to be reconstructed, made anew. It is where we acknowledge the gifts of our ancestors, pray for help and health, both for ourselves and our loved ones. It is a place of healing, where medicine envelops and toxins are purged.

Sitting on the earth, feeling the fire from the stones, seared by the steam that arose each time the elder poured water, longing for the coolness of the night air outside, I felt the sacrificial nature of this ceremony. Choosing to sit in this place to pray reminded me of the essential elements of life: fire, water, air, earth, interconnection, and humility.

In this place we pray for the creepy crawlies, the four leggeds, the winged ones, as well as our two-legged brethren. The full circle of life is honored in this place. We sit in the lodge so that when we re-emerge we are better able to offer ourselves to our community.

Exiting the lodge for that first time, crawling out with an acknowledgment of "all my relations", a centered, although exhausted, gratefulness overwhelmed me. The moon shone above and we dressed slowly, silently, each incorporating the medicine offered in that symbolic womb.

The sweat lodge has become a sanctuary for me, one that I've returned to on a monthly basis for the last 14 years. It's my home, it's a church, and it's sacred.

And, my practice has been a source of tension for me. As a white woman trying to be diligent about disrupting racism and dismantling privilege, I have recognized the need to interrogate my participation.

"I was invited in", I'd say, thinking about my elder, trained in the Lakota tradition. I'd recall his words, "You are doing what your ancestors should have done when they first arrived on this land." "You're praying to make the way clearer for us all as we move forward."

Any yet, I'd hear people talk about "cultural appropriation" and what it meant that white people participated in traditions not their own.

Yes, it's true. I found solace in the sweat lodge in ways not found through my American customs.
Yes, it's true. My various European ethnic heritages did not provide me with a tradition that resonates with me and offers me this level of community.

"But, I'm not trying to be what I'm not," I'd console myself, knowing that I don't try to claim that the fullness of my life represents Native American religious practices.

For years, I wondered, I struggled, I sat, I sweated, and I admitted what felt like a contradiction. I am committed to this practice, and in doing so I've adopted another's cultural practice as my own. Is this cultural appropriation? Is it wrong what I'm doing?

To some, they do see my participation as problematic. For others, my level of respect and devotion satisfies. From my elder's point of view, this practice is for everyone, regardless of cultural origin. But, not all people of Native American descent share his perspective.

For me, I remained both devoted to the practice and simultaneously a bit self-critical.

I then read the newspaper in October 2009.

Sonoma, Arizona. A white man named James Arthur Ray charges people upwards of $9,000 to participate in a week long initiation journey that utilizes various spiritual practices and trials to help the individuals find their warrior within...or something like that.

The culminating experience is a community sweat lodge. People died.

That lodge was not the safest place on Earth. Instead, it was rendered deadly.

The ego and hubris of a white man turned a sacred ceremony into a money-making venture.

A purification ceremony within mother's womb was turned into a trial to be overcome.

A sanctuary space for prayer was turned into a prison from which people begged for release.

We spoke about the tragedy the following week in our lodge. We prayed for the victims. We prayed for those responsible. And, we prayed that there would not be a reaction against those who participate regularly in this ancient ceremony.

For that is also one of the dangers. Cultural appropriation often distorts the beauty of the original form.

Worse, blind appropriation and defensive egos shield people from recognizing the harm they perpetuate on others. Within weeks of the deaths, the white man was busy offering workshops and lectures, telling audiences that he prays for the families of those who died. At not time does he publicly recognize the role he played, his lack of humility and use of privilege to take and modify what he had no right to desecrate.

Weeks later, I sit, I consider, I write...

Must I still question myself regarding how my life might involve cultural appropriation?

Yes, of course. It's a healthy question to ask, repeatedly.

But, can I speak out, as a white woman, against a white man, charging him with an offensive and deadly form of cultural appropriation even though I am not part of the culture from which the practice was taken?

Yes, of course. It's my duty.