Looking at Privilege
Constellation Evening Jan. 6, 2017
Harvest - Judy Wallace
Still working with the theme of understanding why there is so much turmoil in America. What are the hidden dynamics we are unwilling to see? How might shining the light in those shadowy places begin to illumine new ways forward together?
As a nation of immigrants (living on the land so long home to the indigenous), a kaleidoscope of ancestral lineages were embodied in those in the room, noticing much of this is present in the USA.
Some of the major ones:
Scots, Irish, English migrating to Canada and then to Appalachia and Southern Ohio with some French(Boucher) added in; Dutch from Holland into Michigan, as well as German, English and French; More Scottish, English, German, French, Eastern European, Hungarian, and Luxembourg; Hungarian and Polish Jewish, even a Vatican connection, English and Native American(Oklahoma); Jewish from Central Europe, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, including a grandfather who started with a push cart in New York City; Western Russian, Polish, Jewish, landing in Brooklyn; Irish, Scottish, some English and German from the late 1700’s across Pennsylvania to Eastern Ohio(and later homesteading in Oklahoma). The group noticed more Jewish heritage than in most groups, and the likelihood that other backgrounds were Christian.
Opening Circle: What is alive in you now as we arrive, sit together, and explore these deeper aspects of who we are as Americans and what is at work in our country and the world ?
Some expressions of what has been present since the Nov. election:
Make American Great Again – Improve Yourself!
Noticing more people wanting to help, to be kind, and some felt that in themselves as well.
Hope and dread at the same time.
Needing community, to reach out, to connect with others who are different, noticing increased polarization
Be an activist in a different way – with less antagonism. How to do that?
Conscious aging – be more alive
There is a flushing out and dying off – concern for climate change and seeing our country more as part of a larger global whole.
American exceptionalism – and the country has been humbled.
Wake up and show up
Constantly being shocked
Feeling worry, grief, and concern – more dread than hope; now appreciating the country that seems to be dying
Be in conscious “we” spaces
The illusion is gone
Noticing and acknowledging that all this is present in the room, in the field.
Intention: In the midst of turmoil, may we reveal and illumine the hidden dynamics at work in the USA, so we can begin to heal the wounding and find new ways forward together.
This harvest is my (Judy’s) recollections as a facilitator. More can be added or changed at any time by those present – 6 people with me on this very cold January night in Boulder, CO. This also may not be in the exact order but hopefully represents the energies expressing through each.
As facilitator (given many places to start) I asked for someone to represent a person of privilege. A woman stepped forward and went into the middle of the room/large circle. She looked all around and all she could see was herself in the mirrors, noticing how the world was her, nothing else really. She felt a bit alone, no one to connect to, having to be a certain way, like in a box. And she felt safe and secure.
Next I asked for a person not privileged or one who is marginalized. A woman immediately came in and went all the way to the very end of the room, and indicated she would climb up over stuff and out if she could. She just wanted to get away (likely from the person of privilege). There was quite a bit she had to say (and I won’t capture it all), but she was strong, standing in her place, her community, with her people, her family and children. She declared their jobs were important, and while they did not have a lot, they needed to be left alone and to do their jobs and the work that kept them busy. She had absolutely no desire to see or connect with the person of privilege. Wanted her to stay away and leave her alone. Privileged people had never helped her and why should they even want to help now.
The privileged person suggested to her (from across the distance) that she could get help from neighborhood churches or missions. There are all kinds of programs to help.
The unprivileged was affronted by that; felt demeaned. She and hers could take care of themselves. They did not need this kind of help.
Somewhere in the meantime I asked for an immigrant to come in. He came in and went to the opposite end of the room. So the privileged person was in the middle, the unprivileged at one far end and the immigrant at the other. When asked what he was experiencing, he did not really seem to be aware of the others but said he really liked being here in this country. He felt much safer than where he came from, his children could go to school and the family would be safe here. He was good to stay where he was (almost like at a distance from society but inside the country).
The privileged and unprivileged did not seem to much notice him. Or if they did, they were not drawn to be curious or connect. The unprivileged at some point indicated she was worried he and his kind would take their jobs. That was a threat. The privileged still felt alone and was not sure what to do; she was not threatened by the immigrant. She started to be named as white privilege. At some point white privilege said she felt safe because she knew the police would take care of her. She had no problem being safe; they were there. The unprivileged did not feel safe and needed their guns to protect themselves.
Since police were mentioned I asked for someone to represent police. At first he came in and stood at a distance from everyone – but closer to white privilege (on the middle and one side), and positioned so he could see both the unprivileged and the immigrant. He stood with hands out from his hips, like ready to take his gun if needed. Both the unprivileged and the immigrant did not like him being there. The immigrant felt threatened and worried that now he was not safe; so he wanted to keep his distance. The unprivileged did not trust him, felt like they were always looking for ways to accuse them of something. She felt like the police didn’t really care about them at all and weren’t there to protect them. That was just talk.
The policeman moved a bit closer to the Unprivileged. White Privilege was watching, she felt he protected her, but did not say much.
The unprivileged wanted the policeman to stay away from her. They could take care of themselves. They did not trust the police. The policeman expressed the wish of the police department to be more involved in her community, to get to know them. They have a new initiative around community policing and connecting and getting to know people there. He may have also expressed how sometimes he did not feel safe, and hoped they could work more together. There still seemed to be a stalemate here. The unprivileged did not really believe or care about this. It was just words.
I then said I felt something was missing and asked for the Unknown or Question Mark? to come in. She came in and positioned herself on the side but closer to the immigrant and looking at all the others that were more toward the other side of the space. She would eventually say she was the Unifying Principle, but didn’t know what that really meant.
The stalemate between the others was continuing. The policeman seemed to genuinely want to connect with the Unprivileged, but was not accepted.
I then asked for the children (future generations) to come in. She immediately went to the end where the Unprivileged person was, but not close, and lay down on the floor under a bench. When asked, she said she was not safe and needed to find a place to protect herself. She was always looking for a safe space.
Not sure of the order of these next moves, but something started to shift a bit. The Unifying Principle had gone to stand beside the Immigrant and invited him to come with her more toward the others. They still stayed back a bit; and I wanted them to wait to see what the reaction was from the others. At the same time the Unprivileged became seen as a mother by the children, and the children began to move closer to her. Coo; felt they wanted to help her, to be a support to her as she was doing her best to stand up to everything that could harm them and their family and people. (I want to note that in constellation this can be seen as a way a child feels a sense of responsibility for a parent and can grow up carrying this in a way that is not healthy for the child. If the parent can truly show love and responsibility as a parent to the child, this pattern does not necessarily prevail.) At some point in this process the Policeman also told the Unprivileged that he has children too and really cares about children. All this brings that up for him; he wants to protect all children.
There was an overall softening in the whole group. It seemed that the Children and the movement closer of the Unifying Principle had shifted something. They all seemed to see each other now; and did not seem so adversarial or threatened. It seemed to be a place where we could stop for now so that after re-roling, we could have some time to de-brief and share experiences in circle.
My (Judy’s) interpretation – or one of them.
It still was not clear what the Unifying Principle was. My own wonderings revolve around the Children – and the deep care each group – the Privileged, the Unprivileged, the Immigrants, and the policeman - have for their children, to do what is needed to provide so they have a good life, are safe and secure. And in the family system itself, the soul of the family so to speak, there is an underlying motivation and support for life and love. The family soul wants to make way for future generations, so that this unifying principle of love and life continues to grow into future generations.
I am wondering if this also underlies larger systems as they evolve, like the soul of America (like a bigger human family soul), always wanting to find a way - through the humans, and the land, and evolving customs, history, and traditions - American ways of being together. Is this American Soul continually trying to give life to the unifying principles that support life and love for future generations? In this the way the Soul of America continues to grow and be truly alive (including and embracing the diversity of an immigrant and indigenous ever-changing human population?
Circle / De-Brief and Closing
The Immigrant Representative – he felt like privilege was a white male. He has done construction and observed the 2 worlds – his and the immigrant’s. Immigrants have different priorities and ways of seeing their slice of America - what they have to gain and what’s at stake. He realized how much he does not know.
As the representative for the Unprivileged, she felt stressed, defensive, exhausted. Privilege did not even hear her. She was so focused on the family and community. She did not realize others struggled, like how an immigrant from Mexico or other war torn countries might not feel safe – there or here. And when the Policeman wanted to build a bridge, she was surprised. She also saw how being stressed does not help future generations – the children. Being in the situation she was did not feel positive at all. She felt like the child could take care of herself. She needed to be communicating with everyone else. (For me, Judy, this piece about the children feels key in the sense that children who grow up in poverty, marginalized from mainstream society, and have stressed and struggling parents, often take that on, and take the stress and fear with them into adulthood; and the cycle keeps repeating itself. Likely also an indicator of the failure of our economic and social systems to provide the equal opportunity that we say we value.)
The policeman felt like he needed to be a hard-ass. But he also reached a point where he did not want to antagonize or be antagonized. He was touched by the realization that the children are precious and treasured by their moms and families. It’s ridiculous to pretend we are different; it no longer makes sense. Then he was challenged; what authority do I have? I have to talk to the chief; he’s the boss. A hierarchy I am dealing with. As I looked around, I wondered what authority anyone had. Maybe a great charismatic church leader could come in, like a father figure could carry the day. Who will save us but us? He felt the helplessness of the fractures that were so apparent. He did not want to be a bullying cop. He wanted to be able to live with himself.
The Unknown or Unifying Principle – sitting on the outside she was asking myself what could take us beyond our separation. She is still curious what the unifying principle is. And to hold space for that intention and be the question, not the solution. Just open up energetically in the space with everyone. The immigrant was so far out. How close could we get? I didn’t feel like we could get too close. The immigrant could be seen, but the engagement was not there. Group softened when the immigrant talked about his children being in the same school with the others.
White Privilege – felt like there were silos; the constellation exemplified that. And white privilege was in a box, not able to expand or step out of the box. I don’t want that to be the only box I am in. Unprivileged kept surprising me. She was strongly saying, “don’t mess with me.” I just couldn’t believe as a mother she wouldn’t reach to the child cowering on the floor. The stance of the policeman was interesting. Hands on his gun and strong stand. Still he offered bridge building statements.
The Children – As a child, I felt my mother’s pain. Aware of the strain and heaviness. I was wondering how to comfort her. How’s mom? How’s the family? As the child I was scared at first, but when the policeman talked about his children, I felt better. The warming between the policeman and mom gave her a little comfort. There was tension clearly and she did not want to be in the middle of that. Before she came in, still on the side, she could see the dilemma in the country. Each group seems to be stuck in its own survival. A common enemy can unite people.
A couple of other thoughts from the group:
The way of parenting for people of different classes, or levels of privilege, or as immigrants, can be different than what white people might value. There was also a strong presence of class in the constellation, although not openly addressed.
What happened here certainly reflects the distance and lack of understanding for one another in the larger American system. Or not even wanting to understand one another, although that was beginning to shift a bit. And the softening when we focus on the children, that seems to open something in our hearts, but that does not seem to happen easily or naturally. And the concern over safety on many levels and how privileged people don’t have a sense of this fear and insecurity that many in this society have. The potential still seems to lie in the Unifying Principle and continuing to be in the question of how we can learn more about that.