When and Where We Feel Safe
by Kokayi Nosakhere
The tiny town of Tidewater, Oregon where the twelfth Beloved Music Festival was held, boasts 600 persons. The Alsea River, named after the now displaced Alsea people, flowing through the Oregon Coastal Range is a feature attraction.
Four visionary women of color reached out to me approximately one month ago(July 2019) asking my presence to hold a Black Indigenous Person of Color(BIPOC) space at the Beloved XII Festival.
"What's a festival?" I asked. In 45 years, I have never attended a festival. The answer did not inspire me. Like many Black men and women, my knowledge with the woods and White-bodied persons comes from horror movies.(Think Friday the Thirteenth.)
Because the description of the BIPOC Sanctuary's intention is in direct alignment to my work in Ashland, Oregon, I said "Yes". I did not fully understand what I was walking into, however, I placed my faith in the quality of persons who choose to reach out to me. I know them to be engaged in their own personal growth and capacity to cope with the awesome reality of being human.
Of Microaggressions and Grace
I, Kokayi Nosakhere, struggle with engaging in spiritual practices with large populations of white bodies. A lifetime of programming - of learning how to be hypervigilant around White bodies searching for signs of distress or discomfort without appearing to do so - is difficult to override.
I spent several moments feeling anxiety flow through my nervous system as I sang to the mountain.
To cope with being surrounded by 3000 white bodies in a hard to leave location, I plowed my anxiety deep into the mountain.
Intellectually, my consciousness remained in turmoil, despite my practice. I could see the injustice of white-bodied persons leading a hunter/gather ritual indigenous to North America. I knew Native persons lived in Oregon. I knew one of them would accept an invitation to lead The Seven Directions ritual to open a sacred music festival. Or, even better, participate in the festival to the point where they were leading their own songs with the campfire musicians.
(You mean to tell me, Grandma Aggie wasn't available? Or invited?)
I knew, intellectually, my complicity. Afterall, I was choosing to participate.
And, it hurt.
Cold daggers of my Ancestor's disgust entered me when I learned, and sang, a West African earth-grounding song from an Irishman. Intellectually, I knew there were West African musicians perparing themselves to perform who could have taught all of us the exact same song - one they have sung since birth.
It felt like I was cheering Elvis Presley as he sang Hound Dog in the presence of Big Mama Thornton, who wrote the song.
In that moment, I felt fully the bittersweet paradox of being Black in America: the blues, the deep longing of looking for the good in every situation, no matter how incremental. I felt complicit in my own oppression. I knew what was happening. I was, and I am, conscious.
My mind was racing. The awareness grew. Even here, in an intentional healing space, I was battling the spectre of White Supremacy and colonialism's effect upon my mental health.
Sigh. I took all that anxiety and chose to drink "the medicine of the mountain". I chose to leave my conscious awareness of the paradox I found myself immersed in and plowed myself into the mountain.
Then, the mainstage exploded with the musical notes and vigorous rhythms of a Congolese band.
I left after two songs.
Repair and Renewal
I expressed my "buy-in" to the festival with the leadership of the BIPOC Sanctuary, but it came at a cost. Looking for the good in practicing White Supremacy comes with a cost-every time.
Twenty-four hours after the start of my Beloved adventure, as six Black and Brown bodies gathered inside the Sanctuary to discuss how we can heal from intergenerational trauma, I learned I was not the only one who felt some kind way about being in the festival space. Six of us began by processing our feelings. Others flowed in and out of the conversation.
A Puerto Rican Sister from Brooklyn caught a fire and start spitting some real truth.
"Do you see them nests? Them Ancestral altars?" she asked, emphatically. First of all, who is they getting that from? Stealing - let me just say that! Who is they stealing this nesting idea from as Ancestral alters. Second, whose Ancestors? Which ones? My Ancestors don't necessarily like all your Ancestors? So, let's not call all of them in. I need you (White people) to get specific!"
The Puerto Rican Sister from Brooklyn was preaching!
"Call in your abolitionist Ancestors," she continued, "your rebellious Ancestors from Europe, who didn't like being slaves; call in your strike leaders; your labor leaders; them people who survived the Dust Bowl!"
We all roared with laughter and agreement.
"I don't know about all this white dread-dom and pseudo-shamanism." Again, we roared. Only Black people can coin phrases like that.
Pandora's box was open. The observations flowed like lava. We allowed ourselves the power to name our experience. Kujichagulia!!
"If one more white person tells me they love me after only knowing me for 15 minutes, I don't know if I am going to be able to remain nice."
"Or gives me sage, along with a lesson about sage! Like, I do not know my own shit!"
Accurate critiques of the Beloved community or no, these emotional currents needed expression - in our space. Our laughter was the metabolizing of the anxiety we felt. (Thank you, Resmaa Menakem, for that jewel.)
Having a space to acknowledge our shared reality and understanding of STILL being surrounded by White Supremacy created a healing atmosphere. It freed up psychic space within ourselves. A layer of energy used to remain hyper-vigilant in the face of White Supremacy was no longer needed.
The BIPOC sanctuary space became a healing space when we felt not just physically safe, but psycho/emotionally safe. We no longer had to justify the validity of our experience. The persons surrounding us knew what we were talking about because they were actively sharing in the experience. The freed up psychic energy was transmuted into vulnerability; we could process our emotions.
For those who have never felt such relief, there are no written words to describe the sensation.
Because this is a living document, your experience can affect further editions of the material. Please choose to be interactive with the publisher and author, Kokayi Nosakhere. The nature of the subject is such, it is an edge. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later, much later, when our hero’s story is complete and written down, you and I will smile at this moment in time and space. Look at Ashland. Look at the Rogue Valley! Here a certain mixture of medicine is forming, medicine crafted to soothe the American psyche and provide guidance towards a horizon where greater humanity is possible.
THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY HERE FOR YOU AND I TO PARTICIPATE!
My White friends and family keep asking me for guidance. They get there is a difference between the experience of 132 million Black, Indigenous Persons of Color (BIPOC) and the 198 million White bodied. The White bodied act as if what has happened here in North America did not happen (slavery and genocide) and social equality is the current reality while BIPOC are acting as if oppression has not stopped.
It is this gap in experience, where our White friends and family admit their shortcoming and ask for a way to glimpse what it is like to experience White people - them; their personality.
In response, I choose to answer the questions and put it down on paper.
I invite you to join me on First Friday July 3rd 2020 from 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm at ALAS Studios. 27 Main Street, Ashland OR 97520
TITLE: Processing Our Collective Trauma: Police Crimes Against Black Folk
Chapter One: Show and prove how systemic police brutality is by detailing a murder between a rookie Samoan cop and an angry Samoan father.
Chapter Two: Minneapolis has been bad for a long time. I spent time there in 2013 and participated in the Justice for Terrance Franklin campaign.
Chapter Three: Working with the Anchorage police department, my Elders provide a blueprint of how to provide a solution.
Chapter Four: In the face of continued horror towards Black people, a young white woman shares her journey towards acknowledging racism exists and is affecting her too.
Chapter Five: I share the lessons I was taught on how to survive a police encounter.
Chapter Six: After 401 years of being in North America, Black people have only not tried one solution. We will explore the potential of said proposal.
Lastly, in the Conclusion: I leave you with potent eight ideas, which I hope you choose to use. After all, I am an activist. I don’t want to spend all day and all night talking about a problem. I would much rather spend that time enjoying the solution.
The society we know we can experience is on the other side of this level of discomfort.
This book sells for $12.50. For the month of July there is a special to receive a 2 pack of both books, When and Where We Feel Safe and Processing Our Collective Trauma: Police Crimes Against Black Folk with shipping and handling for only $25.
Pre-orders are possible by using this link: https://www.paypal.me/KokayiNosakhere
If you choose to pre-order, please LEAVE your physical address that all books sold are physically printed books.