Ways of Seeing by Joanna Colwell: Love, and listen to, your neighbor

My friend posted a photo of two men holding up a sign that read, “Love Your Neighbor. Even if they don’t: Look Like You. Think Like You. Love Like You. Pray Like You. Vote Like You.” My thoughts kept coming back to this sign. Finally I had to respond, “Even if you are voting to take away my human rights, I still gotta love you?” My friend responded to my comment that he had it on good authority, based on most of the world’s spiritual traditions, that yes, I do have to love that person.
This got me thinking about power. When someone has power over, and abuses someone else, it’s not only bad for the victim, it is also bad for the abuser. Take the example of rape. My first concern would always be for the one who is harmed. How can I keep her safe? How can I help her heal? But I truly believe the perpetrator is also in need of healing. For his soul’s sake, (whether or not one believes in an afterlife, or in karmic repercussions) it is not doing this human any good to be allowed to go around preying on others. So the very best way for me to Love this person, is to prevent them from being able to harm anyone!
Millions of us are reeling from witnessing the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, before the Senate Judicial Committee. We watched a woman recount her most painful memory, in the hopes that the man who harmed her would be prevented from receiving a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. We watched her hold herself together, and speak in a calm, measured tone. We then witnessed the nominee belligerently accuse everyone opposing him of a conspiratorial assault on his good name, while yelling, crying, and repeatedly declaring his affection for beer.
People who opposed Trump’s candidacy on the grounds of racism and misogyny have seen some of their worst fears realized. A serial sexual assaulter rose to the highest office in the land, and has now appointed two Supreme Court justices, one of them a sexual assaulter himself. Victims everywhere are reliving their worst moments, and calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline increased by over 200 percent. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) had expected to see an increase in calls to their hotline, because when sexual assault is in the news, more people will tend to reach out for help. But the spike in calls during Dr. Ford’s testimony was unprecedented.
We all have a lot of work to do. Men, your work is to Listen to Women. Please don’t try to silence us when we try to express our rage and grief. White people, our work is to Listen to People of Color. Because the painful truth is that this wealthy nation was built upon the genocide of the Native people who lived here, and the stolen labor of enslaved people, kidnapped from Africa. Another way to put that is that our nation was founded on an abysmal lack of empathy, and a profound eagerness to declare nonwhite people inferior and subhuman. This willingness to inflict violence on anyone deemed “the other” proved extremely profitable. Plantation owners raped female slaves whenever they felt like it, and then sold their own offspring, routinely tearing babies away from their mothers to add to their coffers.
This willingness to overlook our shared humanity brought immense riches, not only in the slave holding states of the South, but also to Northern captains of industry who relied on the cotton planted, tended, and harvested by enslaved people. Newport, R.I. was a leading port for slave ships, and the early economy of all of New England was enmeshed in the evil business of buying and selling human beings. The quaint beauty, gorgeous architecture, and affluence in New England is a direct result of chattel slavery.
In spite of the beautiful words of our Founding Fathers, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” they really only meant white, property-owning men like themselves. But from the time that North America was still a colony of England, Black people fought for their rights to be free from the torture of slavery. There were over 250 documented slave rebellions in North America, and 485 recorded instances of kidnapped African people revolting on board slave ships. Of course the self-organized involvement of enslaved Black people in the Union Army during the Civil War represents a mighty force of people fighting for their right to be free.
Black women have always been at the forefront of demands for freedom and human rights. It was a Black Woman, Harriet Tubman, who in 1863 planned and executed a raid on Combahee Ferry that freed 750 enslaved people, many of whom went on to join the Union Army. It was a Black Woman, Ida Wells, who in 1892 initiated the nation’s first anti-lynching campaign. It was a Black Woman, Fannie Lou Hamer, who helped and encouraged thousands of Black citizens in Mississippi to become registered voters, and who co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races to run for office. But in our own state of Vermont, our only Black female legislator, Representative Kiah Morris, has recently stepped down from her elected office after repeatedly receiving racist threats.
“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to peel back the veil.” This beautiful quote, from Black feminist writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown is helping me get through these brutal weeks. May we all seek out every opportunity to center and uplift those who have been pushed to the margins. In a few short weeks, Americans will be voting for the world we want to see. Will we vote into office men who want to preserve their power at all costs, or people who believe in everyone’s right to be free?
Joanna Colwell is the director of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works District, and is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. Joanna serves on the Board of Directors of WomenSafe, and enjoys working with her allies to dismantle the Patriarchy. She lives in East Middlebury with her family, and welcomes feedback for this or any column at [email protected].

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