For the first time, I’ve decided to do war tax resistance by withholding a percentage of the money I owe the Federal government. Below is the letter I wrote and sent to the IRS along with the taxes I did pay. More information about war tax resistance can be found on NWTRCC’s website. If you feel upset that our government spends billions of tax payer dollars on war each year, I hope you’ll research alternatives: you can resist by withholding a symbolic amount (even $1!), a percentage, or withhold all that you owe. You can also pay your taxes and send a letter voicing your dissent, if that is what works for you. There is not a wrong way to be a war tax resister. I hope my letter may inspire you to consider and explore this powerful and historic method of nonviolent resistance.
Dear friends at the IRS,
Concerning the Federal taxes I owe for 2015, I cannot in good conscience agree to pay this amount to my government which will use 45% of tax dollars to support current and past military expenses. As a conscientious objector to war, I do not support the violence of war, which includes the harm and killing of human beings and decimation of the earth and other living beings.
I am withholding 45% of what is due. I have redirected the money to the Peace Tax Escrow Fund, under the care of the Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. This fund will be released to the government as soon as the Peace Tax Fund bill (Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act of 2015, H.R. 2377, Congressman John Lewis) is approved.
I have come to know that all life is sacred, and I am heartbroken that our government continues to use violence as a strategy for safety and peace in this world. The violence of war appears to work in the short term. Yet it has high long-term costs on people, relationships, and the one planet we share. There are many methods of using nonviolence instead, even on the international level. Our failure is a lack of invested energy in the study and practice of nonviolence, not a lack in the capacity of nonviolence.
I am not opposed to paying taxes. However, I feel anguish to know that in 2015, $1,307 billion dollars were spent on war when there are so many needs in our communities.
What role does each of us have in perpetuation of war? My role has been silent compliance of paying my taxes. I am choosing to speak now: I will not consent to my money paying for the destruction of land or living beings. I cannot support the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. I have friends in these places; I do not need to know their names or faces to know they are friends. I know they are human beings with dreams, aspirations, and families. I know that while they may differ in religion and culture, these differences are not the cause of violence. Violence is not inevitable; it is a choice we make when we are desperate and do not know how to choose anything else.
I feel heaviness to know of the struggle of our veterans to return to civilian life after serving in the military. Addiction, PTSD, suicide, unemployment, and imprisonment are common realities. Our wars have destroyed the lives of many of our own citizens, of many of our own brothers and sisters.
I appeal to you, at the IRS, to remember the humanity of those abroad who our government is attacking and killing, to remember the humanity of our soldiers, to remember my humanity as a conscientious objector to paying for war, and to remember your own humanity. We can do better. It is time we ask our government to do better.
In solidarity for a peaceful world,
As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
There is more to life than increasing its speed. -Gandhi
“Were the people friendly?”
“Was the culture shocking?”
“How bad was the poverty?”
When friends and relatives inquired about my recent trip to India, their questions often placed me on a romanticized plot line common in white American culture: the challenging-yet-transformative adventure to an “exotic” destination. While I appreciated the curiosity and excitement behind people’s requests for details, I struggled to describe the beauty of my experience in a way that was both satisfying for them and authentic for me.
I went to Mumbai to visit one of my best friends from college, an international student from India who moved back to work as a French teacher after graduation. For four and a half years, she witnessed me lurch and fumble through the never-ending process of becoming myself. While she listened with care to my hopes, woes, and existential ramblings, she also wasn’t afraid to administer an emergency dose of Perspective when I needed it.
When I left to see her, I had been living in Rochester for a little over five months. I was settled, but no one around me was someone I had the privilege of knowing for years. Drifting in and out of sleep on my transatlantic flight, the internalized adventure narrative told me I was going somewhere new. By the time I was sitting on my best friend’s bed in her Mumbai apartment, I realized my trip was actually a return to the familiar.
When her father walked into the room, he greeted me with a hearty and definitive “Welcome home.” We took a rickshaw to Starbucks to talk about books and boys. Despite warnings about food poisoning, the digestion issues I struggle with in the U.S. actually improved on a diet of all Indian food.
This isn’t to say we didn’t do our share of exciting tourism activities. We visited Mani Bhavan, the house-turned-museum where Gandhi lived and organized during his Quit India campaign. We saw the Gateway of India and explored caves of ancient stone carvings on Elephanta Island. They were once-in-a-lifetime outings and I was lucky to have them. But the element that stuck out the most was not the newness of the country or culture. Rather, it was the startling ease I felt in an environment I hadn’t experienced before.
On one of my last days, we went to “International Night” at my friend’s school. Each grade was assigned a UN development goal. While a small army of feisty primary schoolers rattled off their perspectives on sustainable energy and climate change, I smiled at the way we are constantly, quietly, and often unwittingly tending to the future of others. I felt a surge of gratitude for the family, city, and culture that nurtured my friend long before she found her way into my life.
The true gift of my trip wasn’t the adventure. It was the opportunity to appreciate the people in my life who allow me to relax into their presence and feel at home wherever my feet are planted. Rather than gaining new relationships and perspectives, India allowed me to slowly and lovingly inventory everything I already had.
Two weeks ago, twenty-two community members from Monroe County traveled to join the men at Groveland Correctional Facility for a dialogue surrounding safety and prosperity. The dialogue occurred with roughly twelve men from Groveland, the majority of which are scheduled to be released to Monroe County within the next few months.
When reflecting on the few hours spent with the men at Groveland, numerous ideas, thoughts, and emotions were bouncing around in my head. The dialogue included several opportunities to speak in both small and large groups. The triads allowed for a more intimate setting, and also gave space for each person to share their views without monopolizing the conversation – their voices were heard, encouraged, and appreciated. Some of the men shared concerns about how Monroe County would respond to their release, opportunity to find jobs, and also if they would feel a sense of community. From community members, I heard mostly a loss of knowing how to help and to break the school-to-prison pipeline, and also a desire to support men returning to our community in a wholesome manner. And when I paused, when I could remind myself to take a breath and listen closely, I kept hearing the same two emotions beneath the myriad of messages: hope and fear.
What dissolves fear? What keeps hope alive? These emotions are two sides of the same coin. A significant factor in the success of our dialogue was continuing to connect with our humanity. The men at Groveland were appreciative of the voluntary nature in which the community showed up. The community group included one police officer and a few DOCCS members. To have these positions of power in attendance for this dialogue on a voluntary basis resonated with the entire dialogue group. As a community member, I was appreciative of the raw honesty in which the men shared about their personal lives, hopes and fears about their future. By creating a bridge of understanding where both parties were able to be honest about their fears, hopes, and worries, I am sanguine about our community growing closer and deeper through honest communication. It starts at the individual level, to personally share our experiences and interactions with the men at Groveland to debunk myths and redirect the conversation so often reported by the media. There is a lot of necessary work to push through in order to shift the paradigm around mass incarceration, but now I found a group of individuals who are also motivated in making that effort.
**My sincerest gratitude for the care and attention put into facilitating this dialogue, which was led by Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute and grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Shannon Richmond, a talented facilitator who also serves as our Associate Director.
**If you are interested in joining our next dialogue at Groveland, please contact Maria at Maria@gandhiinstitute.org so you can start the volunteer paperwork.
Ultimately, ‘history’ is, as many things are, a power struggle. A struggle over airtime and validation. Whether or not a particular narrative has basis in reality is irrelevant; the most profitable and seductive constructions of the past are meticulously chosen, culled into easily digestible pieces, and spoon fed to the masses. Sadly, and with cold-blooded intention from the upper echelons, most individuals constituting the masses are too preoccupied with surviving poverty, racism, wanton violence, and a web of other gauntlets to thoroughly regurgitate the venom we have all been nursed on.
The histories of people who were forced to act as a society’s soil often receive particularly vicious dismemberments. In the United States, Indigenous people and African-Americans have served as the nation’s soil; trampled upon, used as dumping grounds, riddled with venom and forced to sprout cane and cotton from blood-drenched land—these actions were an unjustifiably pyrrhic necessity for this nation’s fruition. Founded on the dual tragedies of enslavement and genocide; a historical examination of the United States containing a thimbleful of integrity must consider these realities unflinchingly—devoid of mock horror and sentimentality.
In this era, with our increasingly advanced and sophisticated communication technologies, access to knowledge discrediting popularly accepted narrations of history is more readily available than ever. Communities, organizations, and vast networks have been established to hasten the proliferation of revisionist histories.
Despite some people’s unwillingness to accept it, Black history is American history. While it is important to locate and differentiate the particular realities of Black people from those of others, this must be done in a manner which incorporates Black history into this land’s broader historical oeuvre. While never having been that syrupy ‘melting pot’ it is often assumed to be, making light of the cultural amalgamations that are the United States’ backbone would be, to speak with restraint, equally insensible.
Regarding Black History Month specifically, it has never shocked me that Black people in the United States have officially been given the shortest month of the year to celebrate our history. This fact, in tandem with narrations of Black history which expunge the long history of Black people’s painstakingly organized rebellions against remarkable injustices, have been the source of a private corrosive bitterness.
Seeing Black history characterized as little more than the accomplishments of a small smattering of charismatic, typically male, leaders from the Civil Rights era enrages me. As it currently stands, and has stood for centuries, an incautious parroting of celebrated articulations of the past are capable of rendering the contributions of legions, and geniuses, invisible. What of Fannie Lou Hamer? Dr. Dorothy Height? Bayard Rustin? Why are so many of our brilliant allowed to fade into oblivion?
As I grow out of my juvenile years, and mentality, however, bitterness and rage consume decreasing amounts of my interior wanderings; rather, these days, I am more enamored with creation, excavation of historical archives, and the dissemination of information. Honestly, spending my personal time perusing the vast archives of Black history, of Black artistic and cultural production especially, is exhilarating. The sheer depth and range of Black people’s participation in our nation’s every sphere is simply breathtaking; militaristic endeavors, affiliations with the Communist Party, communities of formerly enslaved people who fled bondage and erected homeplace in the wilds—the range of Black people’s involvement in every sphere of our society is nearly unfathomable.
If Black history were to be taken seriously by educational institutions and communities in the United States, the myth of Black inferiority would no longer have basis to exist. In my personal explorations of history, time and again, I continually find evidence of Black people’s ability to endure, and even, at times, blossom, in a society dependent upon our living in a state of ignorance and servitude—akin to lotus flowers blooming from basins of poisoned mud. Extraordinarily durable; yet dazzling.
In September of 2015 I started Working on this 8 week project that I titled “The Community Peace Dialogue” basically to get the community to discuss and come to a conclusion on what we can do to decrease the violence rate in our neighborhood. I went door to door from Plymouth & Bartlett to Plymouth & magnolia interviewing residents on exactly what there ideas were regarding there knowledge of the amount of safety around them. the purpose of me interviewing 20+ different people with the same questions was to have them meet at the Gandhi institute and discuss. on the day of my presentation many people felt like they didn’t trust that there appearance would make a change therefore they did not come at all. there differences and simulates was something that I personally was fascinated in sort of like a hunger for change so therefore I didn’t give up , I presented this project to the board of the Gandhi institute in November of 2015 . it turned out that the board and I just happened to be working on the same project at the same time. me and some of the board members decided to partner which we came Together as the C.E.P team (Community engagement project)which included Kristin Hooker, Barb van Kerkhove, Veronica Howard and Audrey Sample . for about 3 months we have been meeting and doing homework on conflict I really wanted to see what caused violence in the community from there perspective. I grew up here and I know from experience that fear causes violence and in many other situations retaliation. this 8 week project has grown to what is still in the process now i cant wait until the real final Conclusion !!! HOPE IT LOOKS LIKE THIS.
On May 29, 2015, Hoody, Kit, and I left Rochester for the Gandhi Legacy Tour: South Africa, a two week long excursion to learn about the twenty-one years Mohandas Gandhi spent in South Africa, and the legacy he left. As part of a larger traveling group, we were led across South Africa by Arun Gandhi, Mohandas’ fifth grandson, and Lynnea Bylund, director of the Gandhi Legacy Tours. Hoody, Kit, and I were able to take part in the journey as a result of the generosity of Arun, Lynnea, and so many others who gifted us with funds for the flight.
Below are twenty-one short reflections from those two weeks we spent abroad.. While it is nigh impossible to capture something as rich and fleeting as personal experience, this is an attempt to represent my experience in a series of interrelated fragments.
May my experience move you in some way.
- The days leading up to departure were rife with excitement and anxiety. Some mornings, I would waken in near certainty that my heart would stop. I’d never left the boundaries of the United States before, the farthest I had traveled was from one coast to the other. But this was different; this was two weeks in another country. Two weeks on the African continent. A two week sojourn in South Africa.
- As tempting as it is to refer to Africa as ‘the Motherland’, I will resist that temptation. Growing up in DC taught me enough about tensions within the African diaspora that, upon setting foot on the continent, I didn’t expected to be embraced by anyone of African descent with broad smiles and warm arms. Being Black simply isn’t enough to bridge the gaping chasms plaguing the diaspora
- Our plane from New York City to Dubai included an on-flight symphony of languages, dancing from one end of the plane to the other; English, Arabic, languages unidentifiable to my inexperienced ear, whirled from any given direction. Wives speaking in hushed tones to husbands and children, bright-eyed flight attendants offering bites of food and sips of water to fatigued passengers, defiant children babbling to themselves, and each other, to ward off the insipid curse of sleep.
- What if told you I’d fallen in love with another country? What if I told you I crave the warmth of another sun?
- We were in Johannesburg for two days before departing for Durban, the city with the largest Indian population of any city outside of India. Durban— Arun Gandhi’s hometown. Arun speaking to our traveling group, upon exiting Durban’s airport, his face shimmering with buoyant light, ‘Welcome home everybody’.
- Umhlanga. A resort town north of Durban leaning on the Indian Ocean. Throughout the trip, Hoody and I shared rooms. Our room in Durban came with view of the Indian Ocean beautiful enough to question its existence as real or hallucination— how the ocean blushed a deep cerulean; how the waves grasped for the shore so passionately; how the sun in motion transfigured the water into a vast blanket of fire, benign and smoldering.
- Astounding people were sculpted within the gauntlet of Apartheid-era South Africa; Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Steve Biko, just to name a few. However, have you heard of the man who co-founded the first educational institution opened by Black South Africans, John Dube? The first African and non-European/American to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, Albert Luthuli? Men who, in their own ways, worked against The Powers That Be to carve out their own legacies in history- do you know of them? If not, will you now seek that knowledge out?
- My 50mm lens perished at Mohandas Gandhi’s former South African home; I was attempting to capture scarlet flowers blooming on a tree branch. Suddenly, the motor that allows the lens to focus on subjects gave out. Instead of rotating around the circumference of the lens with a mechanical steadiness, the focus ring pitifully sputtered and refused to focus on the broad, silken petals. I didn’t want a blurry picture, I didn’t want some half-assed exposure and pass it off as ‘artsy’. I wanted those flowers in full glory.
- I pushed it. Pushed it beyond its limits. Eventually, the focus ring wouldn’t sputter. It wouldn’t make a sound. The focus ring wouldn’t move, wouldn’t do anything. My 50mm lens was— is, useless.
- Before my 50mm lens died, I took a photo of Arun standing in front of the room he had been birthed in. Of course, the room looks nothing like it did when Arun was an infant, or a teenager even. Arun’s old Durban home has been renovated into a museum dedicated to helping people understand the elder Gandhi’s path from middle-class lawyer to willingly impoverished justice seeker. The museum is extraordinary; brimming with easily missed influences and nuances of the man’s elaborate life.
- Eventually, I’d like to return to Durban to trail Ela Gandhi, Arun’s younger sister, with pen and pad in hand. I’d write down nearly anything she says, and archive her brilliance with the attentiveness required of such a task.
- In my first encounter with Ela, I lodged my foot into my mouth. Our traveling group ventured out to the Phoenix Community Centre to participate in her 75th birthday celebration. Ela met our group at the door. After giving her a hug, I exclaimed ‘Happy Birthday!’. After giving me a confused look, Ela said, with a startling balance of care and austerity, ‘Oh! My birthday is in two days dear.’. …Oops.
- There were mountains, trees, hills, expanses of lush vegetation for miles. Wind, shadow, and sun were in steadfast competition- which would gain mastery over the climate? Which would freeze, burn, or batter us into submission? We were in an open air vehicle, collectively failing to maintain a prolonged quiet. ‘The animals will not come if you are noisy’ our guide said.
- Luckily, our noisiness didn’t keep the wildlife away. In the expanse of brown and green before us were zebra loping across the grass; a herd of elephant, one of whom faced our vehicle and raised its trunk, perhaps as a greeting- more likely this was a gesture of warning. Gazelle! An abundance of females and a lone male with stunning facial markings. He approached the side of our vehicle and tilted his neck upward to peer inside, perplexed, perhaps, by the strange machine thundering across the terrain. The gazelle were very thin, seemingly frail, yet capable of surviving alongside leopards and lions.’They’re like French fries to the lions’, I wish our tour guide hadn’t said that…
- In South Africa, I am not Black. I’m considered ‘Colored’, a category which generally refers to people of mixed race heritage. But I’m neither Colored nor mixed. Both my parents are Black, both born in the United States.
- I tried explaining how race operates in the United States to two people in South Africa. Both people were Black. Both people were men. ‘…so, in the United States, you’re Black if you’re of African descent’. Both attempts at explanation resulted in my being laughed at, perhaps the mere thought of someone of my complexion being considered Black is cause for hysterics. ‘You’re not Black! You’re Colored!’, a very dark-skinned Ghanaian proclaimed after a scornful laughing fit.
- I decided to shift our conversation away from race, particularly, my racial identity.
- Are there etiquette manuals for people of color traveling abroad? I wholeheartedly wanted to feel connected to the people I met in solo ventures in a way that didn’t center my American-ness. I’m assuming that most people I met assumed I was an American with more privilege than I actually have. How would people have reacted if I had confessed, ‘No, I’m only here as a result of a serendipitous amalgam of luck, hard work, and generosity.’. Intuition tells me this confession may have been met with various levels of confusion and scorn.
- ‘Are you from Brooklyn!?’ ‘No, I’m from DC— Washington D.C! The capitol…’ ‘Oh! have you met Obama?’ ‘No…’
- There were so many beautiful, warm, welcoming people, especially in Sharpeville. Arun gave a workshop to a group of people in Sharpeville in the 90’s, and they have meticulously tended to those seeds Arun sowed. They now have a group of people dedicated to bolstering the Sharpeville community; the entrepreneurs, the bead-makers, the sculptor, the leather-worker, the theatre director who converted his garage into an acting stage and studio. They were all so dazzling—all so dedicated. I must to go back, eventually.
- Our traveling companions were wonderful as well! The laughs we shared, some awkward moments, nursing one another as we passed our ailments around. While in recovery from my own bout of illness, which resulted in me vomiting on the bathroom floor in Hoody and I’s Durban hotel room, I was resting constantly. On the bus, I sat beside Sheila, one of the older women taking part in the trip. After a long day of travel, I was unknowingly lulled into the balmy arms of sleep. I woke up on Sheila’s thin shoulder. Embarrassed, I began apologizing profusely. Sheila laughed it off and assured me it was fine. Later, on the tour’s final day, right before Hoody, Kit, and I set off for our departure flight, Sheila told me my sleeping on her shoulder was her favorite moment of the trip.
- And, here, I will end the reminiscing. So many details left untouched. So many stories, upon stories, to tell…
The other week I had the privilege of sitting across the table from author and collaborative facilitation consultant Miki Kashtan. Despite her revolutionary presence in the realm of collaborative decision-making, I hesitated when Kit invited me to join a few guests downstairs to discuss Miki’s work over coffee and burritos. I was interested in the unique opportunity, but did I really deserve to take a break and engage in the conversation? How many sent emails and updated website pages earned me the physical and intellectual nourishment of the luncheon? Remembering the handful of extra hours I had worked the week before, I calculated that I could afford to wander down and listen in on Miki’s collaboration advice.
I was soon immersed in a rich discussion of everything from the downfalls of compromise to the distant possibility of a post-privilege society. Miki made one comment in particular that nestled into my mind for the rest of the afternoon. “Many people talk about equal access to opportunity,” she remarked, “but few talk about equal access to resources.” In other words, even the most level of proverbial playing fields is still a space of competition. Given that most media and educational curricula contextualize far-left economics within the dystopian experiments of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR, the topic of equal resource distribution in mainstream America runs on a scale from utterly taboo to moderately contentious. But in the context of our highly competitive society, I realized that every time I had advocated for “equal access to opportunity,” I had really been saying, “all people should have a fair shot at winning what they need.” There was some part of me that wanted others to prove that they were worthy of resources necessary to thrive, instead of simply wanting the best for them as fellow human beings. I left the discussion acutely aware of my own deeply internalized “survival of the fittest” mentality. Why was it so radical to believe that all people equally and unequivocally deserve to have their needs met?
The political scientist in me had an answer regarding scarcity, but as I went about my day post-Miki, another line of reasoning began to surface in the quiet moments of mulling between tasks on my to-do list. I had long been aware of the pressure I put on myself to “earn” my space in the world. I was even pressuring myself to earn the right to have lunch and learn from Miki. Originally, I thought of it as a common but personal issue. However, if I didn’t truly believe that I was inherently worthy of having my own needs met, how could I advocate effectively for the needs of others? If I assumed I had to fight for the validation of my own humanity, why wouldn’t I drag others into the ring with me?
In my experience, one reason many people are afraid of dismantling the systems that bestow their privilege is that they view themselves in competition with others and fear that sharing their resource pool will threaten their stability. This anxiety indicates that people crave external, systemic recognition of their own competitive prowess because they have been socialized to believe that they wouldn’t be entitled to live in dignity otherwise.
But what if those in power understood their own humanity as truly inherent, instead of something to be won? What if they perceived their self-worth as stable and independent of the social and economic growing pains that will accompany the creation of a more just and sustainable society? I’m willing to bet that if more people were genuinely connected with their own intrinsic worthiness, they could more easily connect with the intrinsic worthiness of all. Such an understanding would move more people to create socially and economically equitable systems that honor the truth of universal human value.
It will probably take a lifetime for me to stop equating my productivity with my level of worthiness. But as a professor of mine used to say, “We’re human beings, not human doings.” While there is plenty to be done in the world, our very existence entitles us to our humanity (whether current power structures recognize it or not). If I spent less time criticizing myself for how I am earning my space in the world, I would have more energy to advocate for equitable systems that recognize inherent human dignity and worth and respond by supporting people to meet their needs. So I’m challenging myself to trust that no matter what I do or do not accomplish in a given day, I am a person with inherent value. And no matter how your day is going or how much you’ve accomplished, so are you.
by staff member Shannon Richmond.
“When did you first become aware of race?” the facilitator asked. My mind was blank. When was it? How old was I? Why don’t I remember? Growing up white in this country and being raised in nearly-completely-white suburbia, my story of lack of awareness around race is not unique. Not having to think about race and believing I was “normal” have been results of my white privilege from the earliest parts of my life. I did not need to question if I was welcome at the majority white church my family attended when I was young. My private school experience only separated me further from spending any significant time in racially diverse groups while growing up. The few students of color who attended my school were exotic to me—from far off places such as Egypt and Africa (yes, the whole continent was sufficient to reference, according to white supremacy). No one talked about race or racism to me when I was young. I was insulated. I was systemically protected. I belonged, so why question it?
I was confronted with all of this anew when I attended Metro Justice’s Racial Justice workshop on October 17th. I was reminded that I have a choice whether or not I’ll do the work of examining how race and racism have shaped my life; my choice exists because of my white privilege. I could remain comfortable and rationalize away why there weren’t families of color in my neighborhood growing up or more students of color at my school. Or I can choose the journey of educating myself: learning about the exclusion laws which prevented people of color from moving into the state of Oregon (in the 1840s), understanding the connection between race and poverty which no doubt was part of the reason more children of color didn’t attend my school.
While at the workshop, hearing about the legacy of slavery and the multiple structural barriers which followed (Jim Crow laws, immigration quotas, redlining, predatory lending, to name a few), I felt familiar guilt creep up. How do we as white people deal with these feelings of guilt? It’s painful to look at this history of oppression. How do we not become silent and frozen in shame? The Metro Justice facilitators spoke about understanding racism as something white people inherited from our parents and grandparents which does not fit us anymore. We can understand how everyone starts to acquire biases from the moment we are born: from what was seen and said and what was unseen and unsaid. As a white person, I internalized the idea that black people are either dangerous or exotic. I internalized the idea that Asians are smart and Latinos are drug-dealers. Did you internalize similar stereotypes or other ones? Whatever they are, these ideas live unquestioned within us as the platform upon which our brains build mental associations. Our unconscious is running the show, whether we admit it or not.
If it’s unconscious, what can we do about it? We can start right now by challenging biases whenever they arise. Just a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to do this: I went to go see a new doctor, and I was surprised when a black woman walked in to treat me. I felt shame about my surprise; I recognized it to be connected to a hidden bias that a black doctor could not be as qualified to take care of me as a white doctor. I felt appalled uncovering this, and yet I also saw the opportunity to challenge this old story I internalized at some point in time I do not remember. Instead of spending time trying to feel better about myself and convince myself or others that I’m not racist, I want to use my energy to notice when these biases arise and challenge them. That’s what we all can do, starting in this moment.
What else can we do for racial justice as white people? First, we need to educate ourselves, rather than falling into the common white person trap of asking or expecting a person of color to inform us about their suffering so we can learn. Other things that have supported me in my journey: attending the Conversations on Race, reading books by bell hooks, checking out the website Black Girl Dangerous. As one participant in the workshop mentioned, let’s use the term white supremacy rather than racism when we speak about these issues. So many times racism is narrowed to only mean personal exceptional acts of hate, whether burning crosses or drawing a swastika. White supremacy recognizes the systemic way people of color in this country have been oppressed and treated unjustly throughout American history.
Doing this work requires that you tolerate discomfort, one of the facilitators said. As white people, we can work with our white fragility by not expecting this examination to be easy. Yet it is our work to do. I didn’t put the system of slavery into place, and yet my ancestors benefited from it. I have the opportunity to step into my power to change the course of history for white people by working for racial equity and justice. How can I be a part of a generation that changes our trajectory around racism? How can you?
We, as white people, need to acknowledge ourselves as racial beings. The only part of racism I can truly understand is my own experience as a white person in this country. So how can I become more aware each day of how I may glide through the world on the privilege of my whiteness? How often do I not get pulled over, even as I may be speeding or run a yellow light? How often am I in spaces which are majority white and I can relax, knowing these spaces were created with me in mind? Asking these questions is a part of my education around race.
Wherever you are in your journey of understanding race and racism, I invite you to see the daily steps you can take to living toward racial equity. It starts within us. It starts with our implicit biases when we walk past a young black man on the street. We move the world toward racial equity by questioning our biases as we become aware of them. We move the world toward racial equity by examining how our whiteness protects or helps us on a daily basis. We move the world toward racial equity by educating ourselves about historic and systemic white supremacy. We move the world toward racial equity by learning from our mistakes and staying on the journey, even when it may be easier to rationalize and escape uncomfortable feelings. If we are going to transform our systems, we must not neglect the transformation of our own hearts; for our systems are built from that which is within us.
 I highly recommend Metro Justice’s Racial Justice workshop. Here is more info about Metro Justice: http://www.metrojustice.org/
If you’d like to find out when the date is for the next Racial Justice workshop and register, please contact Pat: email@example.com
 The Conversations on Race are free, facilitated conversations about race and its impact on all of us. Dates and times can be found on the web calendar at gandhiinstitute.org. The next conversations are November 18th at Fairport Public Library and November 23 at Winton Branch Library.
 The Gandhi Institute staff is about to read bell hooks’ killing rage: ending racism together. Gather friends, neighbors, or coworkers and start your own book group!
Last Wednesday, I tagged along with two members of the Gandhi Institute as they presented a workshop on Restorative Justice for forty Rochester AmeriCorps volunteers. As a volunteer at the Gandhi Institute, I was excited to learn more about Restorative Justice and the everyday use of this practice. This was also part of a healing process for me.
In mid-August, my grandmother and her sister were rear ended by an eighteen-year-old who pulled out of a driveway without looking to see who was ahead of him. Apparently, he only had his license for three days. While my grandmother has now made a full recovery, my great-aunt remained in the hospital for roughly three weeks before passing away. I held her hand while she took her last breath.
I feel a bit hopeless about this situation. An eighteen-year-old made a stupid decision that ended up costing my family in a serious manner. I also feel a sense of loss for this young man, who must live with the fact that his reckless driving resulted in death. Originally charged with failure to yield, I am unsure whether or not this will be reassessed as vehicular manslaughter. The potential charge could be up to a year in jail, which is not a sentence I would want to inflict on this young adult. Our current justice system does not try to rehabilitate offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. Instead, it further divides one another from mutual understanding. I would like for my grandmother and this young man to meet, to discuss why he was distracted and rushing that day, and the emotional toll it has had…on both of them. Unfortunately, the court system has not provided this as an option. How much more suffering must occur? So, this opportunity to learn more about Restorative Justice was one that I was eager to engage with and could approach with a curious mindset.
Attending the presentation was very informative, not only to understand Restorative Justice Practices but also how we can use these methods in daily situations. A few key principles of Restorative Justice include a holistic approach, where participants voluntarily engage with one another to create mutual understanding, and this transforms the negative experience into deeper healing. Even those who are deemed ‘at fault’ have a voice and are heard. From my understanding, there is also an intersection between Restorative Justice and Nonviolent Communication. This approach is crucial because it defuses potential hostility when people are open with one another. It brings people together and furthers mutual understanding rather than continue to tear our communities apart.
The AmeriCorps volunteers are assigned to schools within the Rochester City School District and are facing challenges of how to engage students who are disruptive in their classes. What are the needs of these students that are causing them to act out? How can we, as adults, demonstrate our humanity and give them a voice? Are we capable of feeling vulnerable, to take the risk and advocate in ‘radical’ ways for our students? I say ‘radical’ because our current institutions – schools, court systems, etc. – are unwilling to engage one another in this manner. Instead, we throw the disruptive student out of class; we write off the eighteen-year-old as a horrible person and when we do this, we cut off a piece of ourselves: our humanity, our ability to communicate and understand one another. And the outcome is that we are unable to truly heal. For me, this workshop was a beginning step of restoring hope and balance to broken systems by shifting the manner in which we operate and interact with one another.
I often receive questions and comments from people who have heard something about Gandhi being a racist and asked for my thoughts. It’s easy for me to see why that perception exists. When I typed “Gandhi Racism” in Google, 493,000 hits came up (for comparison: 110 million hits come up when I entered the word Gandhi only).
And yet… from visiting S Africa, I learned of Gandhi’s connection with his closest neighbor, African National Congress (ANC) founder John Dube, who established the ANC as a nonviolent organization after being influenced by conversations with Gandhi. I have spoken directly with civil rights hero Dr. Bernard Lafayette, who during his days of activism and 26 arrests proudly wore the nickname “Little Gandhi” for his depth of knowledge about Gandhi and his approach. These are the affects of Gandhi’s life on two black leaders, among many others. And while travelling in S Africa, learning about nonviolence, I heard a popular sentiment several times: ‘India gave us Mohandas, and we returned him as Mahatma’. South African leaders, most notably Nelson Mandela, have lauded him as being part of the epic battle to defeat the white regime and prepare the way for a non-racial country.
Like so many leaders, Gandhi’s history is complex. For myself, I’ve decided that I don’t need my teachers and heroes to be perfect. Nor do I blindly emulate them. I pick and choose. MLK’s systemic understanding of the ways that race, poverty and war intersect offers me, for example, a far more relevant model of understanding current social forces than Gandhi’s thinking. And still there are ways in which Gandhi’s life and thinking move me still, from his thinking on sustainability to the important of local economies to interfaith. Finally I wonder…what is it that makes us want/need our leaders to be perfect?
After venturing to South Africa with Arun Gandhi, to learn about his grandfather’s life and legacy, the veils I placed upon the elder Gandhi’s humanity fell before my feet and the image I held of him became more vivid and clear- like watching wildflowers blossoming in Spring.Ela Gandhi, Arun’s younger sister, spoke with our traveling group about her grandfather’s disparaging sentiments toward the Black South African, which he held during his early years in South Africa. Her serene voice still rings in my head when I reminisce upon that sojourn, a voice I associate with crisp, cool water.
Ela spoke with us about her grandfather’s transformation: from a man who believed Black South Africans were of little use beyond menial labor, to a man who came to understand that, to obtain true peace, justice must be waged for everyone.To be transparent, Gandhi’s sentiments toward the Black South Africans were a great source of pain and anger for me prior to my journey to South Africa. And, to a lesser extent, it still is.
However, what is more hurtful and rage-inducing is our collective unwillingness to engage with Gandhi as he was; a human, another one of us heartbreakingly beautiful and tragically flawed beings. Enmeshing Gandhi in the chains of a romanticized sainthood, as though he left the womb with such an immense dedication to the world and all beings in it, we devalue Gandhi.
Challenging one’s worldview to consider and work to alleviate the suffering of others is difficult; doing the same for a person, or group of people, one once believed less than human is excruciating.Placing Gandhi on pedestal of absolute piety is a disservice to him, as well as ourselves.
On the eve of Gandhi’s birthday, let us all take a firm look at our flaws, our prejudices, our actions that inflict violence upon ourselves and others.
As Gandhi did multiple times during his lifetime, let us all walk the arduous path of peace, justice, and transformation.
The older I get the more I realize how short, precious and fragile life can be. Environment, genetics and lifestyle choices impact my overall health and well-being. As an African American woman parenting a growing daughter, I’m all too aware of the lack of healthcare in my community and how it leads to chronic illness and premature death in my own family and community. Illnesses related to high-blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, breast and cervical cancer, high cholesterol, and obesity to name a few are often preventable, if detected early and lifestyle adjustments are made.
This isn’t easy and sadly I’ve attended too many funerals and made too many hospital visits to strong, black women who took care of everyone else except their own health. All the money in the world can’t buy health and once it’s gone people take extraordinary measures to get it back. Prevention is key. Proper nutrition through a healthy diet with regular exercise are choices most people can tweak every day to not only extend their lives but improve their quality of life.
Although M.K. Gandhi was a non-violent activist who at times used fasting as a political strategy, throughout his life he also experimented with diet to find the healthiest and simplest ways to eat. It doesn’t sound like he consumed processed foods but consumed a diet filled with vegetables and fruits. He once said, “it is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” No matter how busy his schedule was, he chose walking as his mode of transportation. This resonates with me because I live in a super-sized, microwave culture.
Yet, I can’t blame my culture for my lifestyle choices. For instance, when I make fresh vegetable and fruit juices, I know I’m infusing my body with the micro-nutrients it needs that may prevent illnesses later in life. Plus, I feel better so my quality of life is improved. The community garden at the Gandhi Institute serves as a wonderful resource for fresh produce within a community with healthcare disparities. I’m still working on being empowered not to allow the pursuit of anything, including material wealth, to overshadow my making healthier lifestyle choices. I want to live a long, healthy life. Audre Lorde said, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”. As a mother and as an African American woman, this is the legacy that I choose to pass on to my daughter and those in my circle of influence.
The older I get, the less I am able to identify where I end and the rest of the world begins. Thanks to advancements in science, I now know that my body is composed of more microbial cells than cells with my own DNA. I am aware that I am always mixing with and molding against my surroundings, and that every interaction with another person changes me in some way. For better or worse, it seems we are constantly leaking into one another. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence utilizes this sense of oneness to push back against powerful and deeply rooted systems of oppression. His life and work spread the notion that violence against another is violence against oneself. This understanding remains imperative to enacting social change in a way that does not implicitly reproduce current systems of hierarchy and domination, but rather deconstructs the perceived “other” into a valued embodiment of shared humanity.
Despite its capacity to promote nonviolence, “oneness” can be dangerous if not tempered with an understanding of humanity as a collective entity composed of distinct individuals with unique experiences. Given the deep interconnectedness of human life, it can be easy for me to assume that I understand the experiences of others and therefore have the authority to judge or control their actions. Gandhi acknowledged that the novelty of each individual experience renders it incommunicable, and therefore unknowable by other people. He harbored a deep respect for each person’s viewpoint, boldly stating that “relative truth is all we know.”
By using empathetic and nonviolent means to reclaim India from British colonial powers, Gandhi proved that effective social, political, and economic change can arise from a simultaneous reverence for unity and diversity. Ultimately, Gandhi has taught me that to value diversity is to have faith in oneness. When I view people as beautiful, autonomous, and ultimately unknowable parts of myself, I can release the fear of the “other” that society has so powerfully ingrained in my thinking and truly embrace their unique and invaluable presence.
Since Arriving at the M.K. Gandhi Institute in late August, I have been able to further understand the importance of Mahatma Gandhi and all the good he did for those he came in contact with during his life. My work at Wilson enables me to put into practice the philosophies and concepts that Gandhi preached about, such as nonviolent communication, as well as conflict resolution. There are a number of outside influences that students at Wilson have to face and it can be difficult not to bring some of those hardships with them into the school building. Being a Restorative youth educator has allowed me to reach students on a deeper level after a conflict, and ask some of the questions that their immediate teachers may not necessarily have the time to ask or deal with it. Once students settle down and highlight who has been affected by their actions, it is amazing to see how much they open up.
Gandhi believed that violence oftentimes begets violence, unless another voice of reason can intervene and present ways in which others can better handle conflict so everyone involved can coexist with one another. I take pride in being that person who young people feel comfortable coming to whenever conflict arises, and offering solutions as to how they can have more peaceful days whether it is with other students or staff members.
As the year progresses, I will continue to be inspired by Gandhi’s work and search for different ways that I can implement his practices by doing Restorative Justice. It is amazing to think that I have already been at the Institute for over a month but with the help of dedicated colleagues and support from the Rochester City School District, we are able to participate in Wilson High School’s pre-established restorative processes.
- June 11, 2016 9:30 amTransforming Conflicts: Nonviolence 101
- July 16, 2016 9:30 amTransforming Conflicts: Nonviolence 101
- August 8, 2016 10:00 am2016 Summer Nonviolence Intensive
- October 2, 2016 2:00 pmOpen House