Black and White Feather [Photo by Cathie Bird]
My inner call to an anti-racist journey did not come at some immediately recognizable, definable point in time, wasn’t really in the realm of epiphany. It was almost more retrospective, and maybe even more of a renaming or reframe or focusing on a narrower segment of what I’d been calling spiritual path.
In my spiritual tradition, the Biblical story of Cain and Abel is viewed, in part, as an allegory that reveals early spiritual history of the race of man on Earth. In particular, it encodes some specific information about ancient patterns of relationship that became anchored so tightly into the fabric of human life that we, as a human race, struggle with it yet today. This relational pattern is — for the human collective — as enduring as what we might call a personality trait at the level of individual development and expression.
We know the pattern by many names: master-slave relationships, caste systems, haves and have-nots, privileged and oppressed — these are the coarsest terms for it perhaps, but I think there’s a wider arena of re-enactment than we think in 21st Century America. Not that this hurtful relationship doesn’t operate elsewhere on the planet, but some people involved in anti-racism work say that the situation in the United States is unique. For this and other reasons I’m focusing on what I see and experience here in the United States.In the society in which this pattern became entrenched, an experiment to explore the denser material dimensions of Earth had gone very wrong, leaving a certain segment of that society unable to access powers and talents that we all have as spiritual beings. For those who retained access to these powers, there arose a question of responsibility to those who had lost them. Some believed there was obligation under spiritual law and principle to help their brothers and sisters find their way out of their entrapment. Others apparently were enjoying “privilege” and became more interested in maintaining the status quo.
This is where the “brother’s keeper” clue comes in. We have brother’s keeper questions all over the place today, one of the most urgent and visible of which is fair access to quality, affordable health care. And it’s not only about being brother’s (and sister’s) keepers — if we decide we are keepers, then how should we “keep”? Mighty questions, indeed. And harder to answer without getting deeper into the roots.
The ancients had eventually managed to structure their society so as to exclude the “have-nots” from any meaningful participation. I wonder sometimes if the brother’s keeper question can become a distraction that never really allows us to take a hard look at the larger problem of how our institutions are structured. If that structure serves one segment of society to the exclusion of another, then we can keep our sisters ’til we drop, but may fail to re-empower anyone to truly share in the adventure of nation-making and keeping each other.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the earliest structuring of institutions in the United States gave privilege of citizenship only to white males. Those ancient battles of the privileged Cains and Abels took place geographically on land that is now within the borders of the United States. We are at ground zero for prototypical systemic racism. What our society and its institutions reflect today is a re-enactment of a civil war that we will do over and over until we get to the old history, the hidden truths that will explode the delusion of privilege if they can be spoken.
So this is the spiritual history of Earth, as I understand it, that fires my enthusiasm for an anti-racist journey. It also fuels my interest generally in work for social and environmental justice. I thought this was an important piece to document as part of the journey because for me the spiritual dimensions are of utmost importance.I don’t remember what side I was on back then but, today, I’m casting my lot with the Abels, the ancient ones who argued on behalf of helping their fallen brothers and sisters back into full spiritual consciousness. Part of my anti-racist journey is about raising Cain — first and foremost, that of Cain consciousness that still lives in me. I don’t think it’s ever about killing some part of yourself off, but raising it up to a higher level of expression.
I hope to get back soon with more blogging on how I see Cain and Abel alive and well in the 21st Century USA.
I wrote in a little more detail about the historical Cains and Abels on another blog. If you are interested and open-minded, you can read it here.