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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Racism and the Rainbow Gathering

As many long time gatherers know, the gathering has always had a small percentage of participants who are people of color.  I've sat in many a circle where this has been discussed and you may have as well.  The basic premise of the rainbow is to be inclusive of all peaceful people. Yet we are falling short of what I believe most gatherers would like to see (Just an aside, I don't speak for anyone but myself).

For the last 2 months I've been participating in a series of conversations on race and racism at San Diego's Peace Resource Center on some Saturday mornings. We've watched films such as Women Talk About Race in America, Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, and Cracking the Codes: the System of Racial Inequality. We've had small and larger group discussions on the film, various talking points, and even how how the format of these get together have fostered or subverted racial inequality. If you haven't seen these films, I encourage you to watch them, get the study guides and work towards building a just society for all humans and this beautiful planet we call home.

As I have been participating in these sessions where we tackle hard issues, I've been trying to examine the gathering for racism and racist behavior by gathering participants. We all know the gathering is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds and differing beliefs and we sometimes see less conscious behavior than many people would like to have present at a gathering. That being said, there are some situations built into the intrinsic nature of the gathering that can be very challenging for people of color and I am hoping we can all gain consciousness on how to mitigate these issues.

One of the big challenges I see is the need to run the gauntlet on the way in. As a middle aged, currently middle-class, woman of European ancestry, I'm one of the least likely people to get hassled by the cops on the way into the gathering or once on site. I try to us my position of privilege to protect those more likely to get hassled, like my younger family and my family of color by keeping my body between the cops and my family. But I am only one body.  Given that cops are more likely to shoot and/or arrest people of color trying to come home, how to we create a safe space for people to get from the outside world into the gathering?

I've also been thinking that my ability to live outside of mainstream culture and to exit and enter as I wish is a privilege of the color of my skin. Even when I have been living far outside of mainstream culture, I have the ability to take a shower, put on appropriate clothes, and enter places of power like court rooms, city council chambers, and banks and be treated with respect. This is the privilege of being able to openly defy mainstream culture.

Living in a major city in Southern California where winters are quite mild compared to the rest of the United States of America, we have a very large homeless population  -- and a very large percentage of people living outside are of European ancestry. I often think about how few people of color live on the streets and how people of European ancestry can survive on the streets, while those of color are jailed or much worse.  So even among the homeless, I can see white privilege in action.

How do we address our relative impunity at sharing herb and the very differing rules the powers that be apply to those of color?

How do we create a space that feels safe to people of color without treating people differently. How do we address the way the outside culture responds to the gathering in an often negative fashion/ This negativity is impacts individuals differently depending on age, gender, race, and abilities. In other words, when we gather, we create a situation of open rebellion to the society around us. Rebellion has consequences, but individually, we do not experience those consequences equally. During the time of intense conflict between the Forest Service and the gathering, we had to navigate who was willing to go to what lengths to stand up to the Forest Services -- there were no easy answers then and there still aren't any easy ways to address a system in which the gathering is embedded.

Since I don't have any answers, I'll leave you with the voices of some powerful women who can speak to the issue far better than I can..



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