How Do We Forgive Historical Pain Caused by Racism?
BY: Patrice Gaines
Let me be honest. I am having difficulty being the spiritual guru of forgiveness that I envision myself as. I have been searching particularly hard this summer for a new way of thinking about forgiveness, a magical element to add to my longtime studies; something I can say or think and “Shazaam” forgiveness is mine.
I don’t want to die with a hole in my heart. As I say, “Forgiveness is for giving yourself a new life. I want a new life!
Let me explain.
Since the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, I have realized that I personally am not as good at forgiveness as I thought I was. I have studied forgiveness, taught forgiveness, prayed for and practiced forgiveness. Yet since the Zimmerman verdict, I have been angry at white people.
Okay, I am not angry at all white people and I have managed my anger, as a “civilized’ person does. But I am being honest. I am telling the truth, something we are not encouraged to do in our culture, especially when the truth has to do with feelings about race.
Yes, even a spiritual teacher and lifetime seeker of the truth can get worn down occasionally by the burden of history. Trying to be a sane black woman in America is more difficult some days than on others. When a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of the teenaged Trayvon Martin, I was immediately angry and hurt and while I have worked on both of these feelings with prayer and meditation, the fact that old anger resurfaces whenever an incident I deem "racist" occurs says to me that I still have work to do.
Indeed, when I think something is racist I should be angry. Anger at what we consider injustice can serve as a trigger to spur us to work toward a solution. But what hurt me most and made me furious this time was the familiarity of the pain. I am too used to this pain. I have cried many times over the death of black men I believe were slain by acts of racism and people who saw them as worthless. I do not want this kind of pain to be familiar to me. I want to forget the memory of it, want it to leave me once and for all.
My anger as a black woman does not come simply from my belief that Trayvon Martin was a kid stalked because he was black. My anger goes back to when I was in kindergarten and my white teacher refused to teach me; back to age 10 when I watched on our black and white TV news flashes of young students marching for the right to vote only to be knocked down by white police officers swinging clubs or white men holding powerful, gushing fire hoses aimed at them. I could go on and on, list racist remarks I've experienced, disrespect for my parents, instances when my friend have been ignored and disregarded because of race. I could list the names of other black men killed by racism. But why...
The fact that each new incident reignites past pain and anger tells me true forgiveness has not occurred. And I wonder, "Is it possible for me to forgive the group I label as 'white people, the particular group of white people I believe are racists and have no respect for me or any black person? Is it possible to forgive a political system I believe does not fight hard enough for my right to live, safely?
Obviously, forgiveness is not working for me; not the way I thought it would. Yet, it is no cop-out when I say I believe I am doing the best I can considering the culture I live in. I feel I am working against the grain, trying to forgive in a culture that does not teach forgiveness, respect it or encourage it. Sure, we have religions that tell us to forgive. But in reality, especially as a society, we forgive what is easiest to forgive—and refuse to talk about the rest.
Recently, an acquaintance knowing my interest in forgiveness told me about an ancient practice in Hawaii known as "ho'oponopono," a ritual once used mainly in families and led by priests to help put things back in order. Hawaii also celebrates International Forgiveness Day, which includes a ceremony in the state capitol, discussions in schools and workshops in communities. People tell their stories and there is mutual respect for each story. Stories told by the indigenous people of Hawaii undoubtedly include some that illustrate the horrors of discrimination.
So often we do not speak of our country's obsession with skin color or the pain caused by racism. And whether we believe it or not, we all suffer--members of every race--when the people of any race are disrespected. I like the idea that Hawaiian author Ihaleakala Hew Len writes about in his book "Zero Limits." Len says 100% of the people should take 100% of the responsibility for everyone's actions, not only for their own actions. In other words, we are all responsible for creating the collective consciousness that allows and accepts the conditions with which we all live--good or bad. (I want a culture where it is shameful to be racist.)
Len says you can reach "zero" where there are no memories, limits or identity, which sounds to me that this is a state of being where we are all One; the consciousness where we remember that we are the same.
Of course, for true forgiveness to occur between races, it will take more than talk. But history has shown us it also takes more than laws. We must each change at the core of our being—and talking and listening are a different place of beginning.
In researching ho'oponopono, I came across the late priest Mormah Simeona, who emphasized prayer confession, repentance, mutual restitution and forgiveness to correct harm that has been done. Part of the purpose of her work, she said, was to help remove and resolve trauma from the memory bank.
God, I long for such a state of existence. My memory bank runneth over.
Simeona had participants end each prayer with "And it is done." This phrase, she said, marked the end of man's work and the beginning of God's work. At this point, she said, there is a transformation of the painful part of the memory of the wrong actions of all participants.
God, I pray: Let me know that place where all trauma is removed from my memory bank. And it is done.
And it is done.
Patrice Gaines is an author, motivational speaker, spiritual counselor and intuitive. Please visit her on the web at www.PatriceGaines.com, on YouTube at TheLightChanneler or on Twitter, @PatriceGaines.com.