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Beyond the Binary: Unraveling America's Complex Legacy of Power and Healing

In the tapestry of American history, woven with threads of hope, struggle, and freedom, there exists a stark contrast between the first European settlers and their later practices. Many of the earliest Europeans who arrived on North America's shores were escaping persecution, seeking to build lives free from the weight of oppressive systems. The Puritans fled England with hopes to purify the Church of its Roman Catholic practices; the Irish were escaping a devastating famine, and the Germans were running from hardships of their own. The stories of these early settlers, stories of resilience and determination, are tales of people who experienced oppression first-hand. However, it's crucial to recognize that these early Europeans, though ethnically similar in their homelands, did not emerge from societies devoid of persecution. Oppression is not exclusive to racially diverse societies and contrary to a long-held belief American’s are not all that special. The European countries these settlers came from might have been racially homogeneous, but they were rife with religious, social, economic, and political turmoil.

America's preoccupation with race began to crystallize in the late 1700s, as a racial hierarchy was constructed. This hierarchy, determined primarily by skin color, was directly tied to opportunity and power. Europeans arriving during this era, and thereafter, found themselves compelled to identify within this racial construct, inevitably finding themselves elevated to a dominant societal role simply because of the color of their skin. It should be noted that this was all occurring during a time when people of African descent were being captured in their native lands, transported across the Atlantic and forced into perpetual servitude.

For many, especially those with a basic and rudimentary understanding of socio-cultural-economic dynamics, the natural assumption is that America's problems stem primarily from racial issues. There's a belief, sometimes unspoken but always underlying, that if we "solve" racism, we solve all systemic oppression. This notion, as comforting as it might sound, is a dangerous oversimplification. The real challenges that this country faces are far more insidious: a deep-seated belief in scarcity, that there isn't enough for all; an enduring notion that power is the right to wield cruelty without consequences; and a collective inability to heal and simply be human.

Ironically, those who set the foundational systems and hierarchies of America were descendants of individuals who had experienced their own victimization. These architects of America’s systems perhaps believed that the best way to ensure their safety and prosperity was to build a system where they maintained control. Control, after all, often arises from fear – and a fear-driven society tends to operate within clear binaries. It would appear that the assumption, as might be common to people that have adverse experiences, was the notion that what had previously transpired was inevitable if drastic and decisive action were not taken.

In today's America, there exists a group of well-meaning “white allies” who strive to distance themselves from having any resemblance of the oppressive systems of the past and present. Their desire to be seen as the "good White people" sometimes overshadows the deeper, more challenging work that needs to be done. It's not enough to declare oneself an ally; the real work is introspective, transformative, and at times uncomfortable. It should not be the burden of the people to whom one is an ally, made a show of, or done under duress or without deep reflection. This healing process, much like grieving, is multi-faceted. White allies must navigate through stages: Denial, a phase where the historical truth seems too grim to accept; Anger, a place where many “allies” find themselves stuck, channeling rage without focus or direction; Bargaining and Depression, stages marked by attempts to negotiate their way out of the painful truths and the paralysis of overwhelming guilt but struggling to move or take action; and finally, Acceptance, where healing is possible, true understanding and transformation can begin.

Only through this acceptance can there be genuine mourning for the past and its wrongs and this mourning is an essential part of moving forward. It is from this place of acceptance that White allies can begin an honest, collective process, free from the shackles of performance and deception. This mourning is for the humanity that was sacrificed in interest of power and the wickedness that it requires to maintain it. The mourning should serve as a catalyst for the kind of empathy that is needed to remove the arrogant label of “Good White Person/Ally” and the courage to assume the rightful responsibility to do the work within your community, including with those “not-so-good White People” that need their own process. The hyper-focus on race means that people that have been oppressed must continue to do the work of surviving while simultaneously being healers, helpers, and teachers. In essence, America's fixation on race, while crucial, has a tendency to blind us to the multifaceted roots of our societal challenges.

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