top of page
  • itzbethm

Diversifying a burning house

“I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.” MLK Jr.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. More than 60 years ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered the words above to his dear friend Harry Belafonte. Preceding those words he said: “I have come upon something that disturbs me deeply.” Today, I too am deeply disturbed. I am disturbed by the fact that today SCOTUS struck down protections against discrimination of LGBTQ+ people. I am disturbed that yesterday SCOTUS struck down affirmative action in college admissions. I am disturbed that one year ago SCOTUS stripped women and people who bear children of their reproductive rights. I am disturbed that in a growing number of states, books are being banned and conversations about race are being silenced. And I am disturbed that for far too many leaders who claim to be committed to equity and justice the answer seems to be more “diversity.”

Diversifying a burning house adds color to an organization’s brochure without addressing the toxic patriarchal white supremacist culture that at first excluded, but now harms women, harms Black, Indigenous, and other people of color/culture, harms LGBTQ+ people, harms people living with disabilities, harms people from religious minorities, and even harms men who do not subscribe to toxic masculinity culture. White supremacy culture harms most of us in the global majority. However, too many of us in the global majority are deeply invested in protecting that toxic culture because of the benefits it bestows on us in the ways of increasing proximity to wealth and power.

The United States has had so-called ‘affirmative action’ – a system of preference based on race and gender - in place since before its founding, with numerous laws, policies, practices that benefitted people based on their race and gender: white and male. Race-based preferences were not invented in 1965 when President Johnson signed the first executive order that prohibited discrimination. Race-based preferences were baked into the founding documents of this country, which considered the original inhabitants of these lands “merciless savages” and kidnapped and enslaved Africans as “property.” After the civil rights movements these white-only protections were finally extended to all, but white supremacy has been battling that type of progress for the rest of us tooth and nail, and has been through the current SCOTUS, scoring major wins to return to the good old American status quo. Trump’s promise and legacy to “Make America Great Again (for white people)” has been incredibly successful. And yet, too many who claim to believe in justice are working to “diversify” into a burning house, a house imploding on its own greed, violence, and manipulation. We could instead be naming and challenging the root causes of said exclusion, exploitation, and oppression.

I recently had the incredible opportunity of taking a significant amount of time to rest and heal. In our exploitative and extractive society something as simple as resting is considered a radical act, and sadly, it is. ‘Radical’ means “proceeding from or arising from a root” and returning to my roots has reminded me of what it means to be human. What it means to free myself from the lies of white superiority and Black inferiority. What it means to protect life above all. What it means to be a human born into a world where the global minority has robbed the global majority of their land and resources, and then called us lazy whenever we get sick and tired of being sick and tired, and decide to rest.

During my time of rest, I became very clear about a number of realities that have been twisted, hidden behind lies and false stories that I like to call colonial paradigms.[1] Falsehoods about how we got to where we are today and what lies at the foundations of this country and this continent. I was reminded that I incurred significant debt to attend a prestigious graduate program on international development to learn about how to eradicate the root causes of global poverty, and where they never bothered to point me in the direction of books and teachers that would have opened my eyes to the fact that global poverty is rooted in colonial violence fueled by white supremacy delusion and capitalism. In the Americas, where I live and breathe and where my ancestors have survived and even thrived through the violence of colonization, enslavement, and oppression, we forget that the borders, the countries, the institutions, the systems that benefit the few at the expense of the many were all invented by European settlers who claimed ownership to land stolen from Natives and built up with the labor from bodies stolen and trafficked across the Atlantic.

What I realized resting and spending time in cultures that value harmony, is that at the root of America’s DNA is violence. Shortly before his violent death MLK Jr named America’s triple evils of racism, militarism, and capitalism. These three are inextricably linked and are all deeply protected by the corporatocracy that we call the US Government, a system of governance by the wealthy minority to exert power over the impoverished and exploited majority. Without an arsenal of weaponry that could wipe out the population of our planet in seconds, would the “Americas” still be institutions that enjoy the support of the global majority? Is peace, wealth, power, and stability that is propped up by violence truly peaceful? How many more basic human rights should be stripped from us before we decide that enough is enough? When will we awaken to the true root causes of inequality, violence, exploitation, and exclusion that too many want to address with “diversity?” Will diversifying a burning house save the house or cause us to burn down with it?

The guidance I received in my time and space of rest and healing was that dismantling a system that is protected by so many people, of all different backgrounds, who hold so much power, wealth, and weapons is perhaps impossible. However, what is possible is consciously divesting from those systems and the harm they cause, divesting from our complicity with violence and exploitation, unlearning the behaviors that has any of us feel like we have to dehumanize anyone else for our own survival, and working to build the communities and societies that we want to live in. We should invest our time, energy, and resources in building our own house. We are the global majority, and we hold the power to revoke consent to be governed by the minority, particularly if that governance is harmful and dismissive of what we actually need to protect all of our lives and all life on our planet.

To that end, as I return to work in partnership with my communities in our ongoing principled struggles for justice, BridgePeople will be focusing its time, energy, and expertise on equipping the Global Majority for building People Power to confront and eradicate violence, injustice, and oppression through love and non-violence, as generations of movement leaders have worked before us. The Global Majority is composed of multi-racial, all gender, interfaith and no faith movement leaders interested in growing our movements to resist patriarchal white supremacy, Christo-fascism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and economic exploitation.

Our plan is to build on the work of those whose shoulders we stand on to build new ways of relating to one another and the land that sustains us. Our goal is to reclaim the values, traditions, and spiritual wisdom of our Indigenous ancestors across all lands. Those values point us towards the reverence and protection of each and every single life: human, animal, plant, and mineral, as we are inextricably linked in a web of inter-dependence and inter-being, as both MLK and Thich Nhat Hahn taught us. We plan to engage leaders in all spheres of our society to imagine and envision a future for all of us, not just the few. Will you join us?

[1] I advocate for the re-indigenization of our relationships and ways of being, thinking, and living through a concept called Afro-Indigenous futurism, which I describe in this video, and describes the prevailing colonial paradigms dictating how our societies are structured.

237 views1 comment

1 Comment

Cassandra Julien
Cassandra Julien
Jul 02, 2023

This article is breathtaking and is proof that Universe is here for us all. Our Ancestors did not leave the shell of the body in vain. Resiliency is the forward movement even while we rest.

bottom of page