Lola Medicine Keeper, Ancestral Detective
What could an ancestral altar have to do with racism?
Not much, it seems at first glance.
But, I have a working theory that unequivocally connects them…
Before I dive into that, let’s travel back in time. Imagine for a moment, that you are plopped squarely into a household in the middle ages. Pull images into your mind of the people you observe. Picture the everyday moments they are experiencing: perhaps they are cooking dinner together after a long day. Maybe the children are arguing over toys. Look in detail at their surroundings, their clothing… Perhaps even imagine what the world looks like through their eyes. How do they make sense of this place?
Now, let’s travel back even further in time…. To a home in a pre-Empire village of some kind. Again, you are given a brief, fly-on-the-wall view into everyday moments. Can you tap into the emotional state of these people in your mind? Can you envision how they feel about their partner, their children, their friendships? Can you feel the sharpness of their minds as they perceive the goings on around them?
Is it surprising to consider that these people are likely a whole lot like you?
As I work to heal my ancestral relationships, I notice a quiet story that I am somehow superior, more intelligent, or emotionally deep than my predecessors. It’s not all that surprising. Western Culture is a culture of superiority, and many people consider modern-day humans to be the most advanced species to grace this planet. Certainly this is a popular opinion when human intelligence is compared to animals and plants (as a side note, I disagree with human speciesism); but, we also measure ourselves as superior even when compared to humans in times past… Embarrassingly, I have even found myself somewhat dismissive toward people from long ago — my own ancestors… considering them more ignorant, rudimentary, simple-minded and somehow less than.
I know I’m not the only one.
After all, modern science has disproven many early scientific theories and ancient cultural beliefs sometimes seem ridiculous when viewed through a contemporary lens. The world is flat? The sun revolves around us? How facile.
“They” just didn’t know “better”.
What we don’t consider is that, many hundreds of years from now, we will likely be dismissed for the same reasons; for being rudimentary, one-dimensional, short-sighted… With much of our science disproven… Many of our beliefs ridiculed.
We forget that our ancestors actually were and are very much just like us: Humans with individual perspectives and emotional complexity. Our bones don’t lie; fossil records indicate that there hasn’t been a fundamental shift in our brain size since we became Homo sapiens, sometime between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago. Our ancestors weren’t simpletons; we humans have been thinking and feeling complex things for a long, long time.
This pattern of de-humanization doesn’t just end with our dismissal of the old world.
…It extends to everyone in the here and now who seems to be “different” in some fundamental way. In the West, we have a cultural habit of de-humanizing everyone unlike ourselves. Doing so greatly helps the objectives of Empire: to control, own, and hoard resources and justify the eradication of what (or who) gets in the way. Most of us are complicit in this de-humanization/superiority/inferiority complex to varying degrees. It appears as racism, ageism, sexism, ablism, and all the separatist -isms.
Let’s look at some circumstances/choices and how someone might label/judge them as being inferior or flawed when compared to their own circumstances/choices.
Here are some harsh examples… If they seem extreme, just take a look at Facebook after any big news event.
**These do NOT represent my personal opinions and feelings; they are extremes for illustrative purposes.**
Ohhhh, you voted for Trump?
Well, you’re clearly heartless and greedy. (Unlike me.)
Ohhhhh, you’re homeless?
Well, you must be crazy. (I can keep my house, why can’t you?)
Ohhhhh, you’re an angry white man with a gun?
You have mental health issues. (You’re inherently flawed.)
Ohhhh, you’re a black man?
Obviously you are dangerous. (Just comply with the cops and you won’t get yourself killed!)
Ohhhhh, you’re gay?
You don’t feel love and loss the same way I do. (It hurts me more than you when I have a breakup.)
Ohhhh you’re single, poor, and have 7 kids?
Well, it won’t hurt you as much to have a miscarriage or lose custody of your kids as it would for me. (You didn’t need one more kid anyway.)
You don’t know anything; the world’s different now than it used to be. (Let’s get you into a home.)
You’re differently abled?
I’m shocked to find out that you want and need sex and intimacy like the rest of us. (Let’s make it a reality show.)
You live in a different place than I do, in conditions that aren’t what I find tasteful?
Ah, you’re used to things being tough – pain is normal for you. (It’s not normal for me, so I feel it more.)
This last one is especially insidious, because there may be some truth in it.
I can imagine that marginalized and abused populations ARE at least somewhat hardened to pain; it’s a measure of self-protection against the immense amount of loss, death, incarceration, appalling conditions, racism, judgement, fear, and perceived inferiority that is their everyday reality. Of course, this is a generalization and individual experiences are widely varied.
But, think about how you would cope with circumstances if you were faced on a daily basis with being seen as less-than-human!
NOTE: I can’t pretend to know what this reality would be like (outside of being a woman), so if you ARE coping with this at multiple levels on a daily basis, then I am honored by your presence here and welcome your thoughts and reflections.
It seems to me that a majority of us in the West don’t truly consider—beyond superficial outrage-as-a-trend—WHY marginalized people may be hardened to pain. It just becomes another way for those in the middle and upper classes to feel superior. We have the “choice” to “do our work” and excavate our traumas. The Law of Attraction works for us. We can work for a better life AND have a good shot at that better life actually happening.
We judge those who are different from us as being less driven, less able, and maybe even less deserving of our privilege. Somehow, “they” are less human than we are… and so, we can justify treating them like shit; from the full spectrum of invisible judgement + fear all the way to outright murder and genocide.
I am calling bullshit on this pattern.
It’s time to see each other as fully human.
The Law of Attraction isn’t a ”law” if it doesn’t work for everyone, equally (like the Law of Gravity).
Hmmmm… Another post for another day.
Anyway… to conquer the beast that is re-humanizing all people until we regard them as brothers and sisters is a HUGE task.
And this is where Ancestral Healing can come into play.
If we can regard our own lineage as being peopled with… people, we begin to heal the disconnects we feel between ourselves and ALL beings.
We can connect with our ancestral worldview; we can try and understand their perspectives and how those lenses were informed by circumstances, traumas, failures, and cultural norms.
We can imagine that our ancestors were whole humans… The complexity of their experience forever lost in the tides of time; just as ours will one day be.
We can be humbled as we remember that we are forgettable, that we are not so different from each other.
This is one of the ways we heal our ancestral shame AND begin to see all humans as people just like us. Yes, we are each individuals, AND we also share the human abilities to feel, love, grieve, fight, innovate, adapt. Some of us are more prone to empathy. Some of us are trapped by greed and ignorance.
But none of us is inferior or superior to any other.
We are ALL humans, equally.
So… I am making a radical suggestion…. Even if you don’t think you are racist, overly judgmental, or intentionally harm marginalized populations in any way…
I am suggesting that you take a look at your own lineage and begin to honor your ancestry. This is a way to help you re-humanize your own heritage and make peace with the people who literally made you who you are.
Your ancestors are still alive in your bones. Isn’t it time to find out who you really are?
In this way, you can begin to ferret out the hidden ways that you feel superior or inferior to others. You can create deeper levels of humility and empathy. You can begin to erase your assumptions and get curious about the lives and perspectives of other people who are just like you in many ways AND oh so unique in others.
To take action on this call:
Begin by uncovering your ancestry. The process isn’t perfect and may not give you specifics; but can point you in a general direction of where big pieces of you come from. We have used ancestry.com‘s DNA test, and are considering 23andme for more/different information.
Talk to your family (if you are able to) about the ancestors they remember. Find out their stories. What made them tick? What were their strengths and weaknesses?
If you don’t have living relatives or otherwise don’t have access to your genetic heritage, then consider shamanic journeying or meditating with the intention to meet some of your ancestors. You might be surprised with who you meet and what they have to share with you.
Set up an ancestor altar in your home. Place photos, skulls, and other memorabilia that honors your ancestry in a special place. Watch for a post in the next few weeks from our dear friend and ancestral healer Owl Moon Priestess (AKA Dawna Matthews) about how to create and powerfully work with an ancestor altar.
What other ideas do you have on how to re-humanize both your own ancestry and others who—in appearance, values, or belief systems—don’t seem to be very much like you?
We would love to hear from you and have a dialogue… Seeing each other as fully human is a HUGE step toward healing our relationships with all beings and returning to our proper place amidst (and not at the top of) the circle of life.