Photo: Peter Forbes
I was one of a small group of facilitators invited to do a systemic constellation around racism. The facilitator, Judy Wallace, asked us to generate a list of what should be represented. With the group size we had, we decided on White Power, Black Bodies, Child, Earth, Poor White Person.
I was the one who named “black bodies”. It came out of a recognition that had been stirring for months – that the painful legacy of slavery and racism from its origins through today is defined by the dehumanizing practice of simultaneously valuing and fearing black bodies, but which in my experience was rarely spoken of.
Representing black bodies, I found myself circling the center of the room, while white power stood just outside my circle. White power had a calm but piercing attention on the other white people in the room. Both white child and poor white person were not eager to align with white power, though white power was happy to include them in his power.
As I circled the room, I felt numb, moving forward on a momentum that was not my own. White child tried a few times to connect with me. Their energy was curious and open, though white power tried to keep them away from me. In my representation, I could see the child, but couldn’t mirror their energy.
A shift occurred when a representative for LOVE came in the field. When love arrived, the numbness of black bodies transformed into rage. I felt it rise from my belly, and into my throat like a fire. It was at this point that white child became fearful of black bodies, and ran behind white power, who offered its protection.
When the child ran to white power, I didn’t want this, but the trauma and grief in this body simply could not communicate in a way that the white child would understand. It wasn’t that the desire to make a connection wasn’t there – it simply wasn’t available as a possibility under those conditions.
We most often see the systemic trauma expressed as rage. I had a palpable experience of rage in this constellation, but really, we can see it everywhere.
On Facebook, and came across this argument about Van Jones:
“The time has passed for Van’s “Love Army” idea. How effective, exactly, do you think such an idea would have been in the American Revolution? There is a time to fight. And sometimes, the fighting isn’t pretty. When there is a preponderance of evidence that the biggest root of the Trump Base voting choice boils down to “Fear of Diversity” HOW reasonable is that? HOW can you rationalize something irrational? Or address such a person with any fact based, reasonable argument?” – FB comment in response to an article about Van Jones.
This was part of a long stream of comments this same person was making. Her frustration and anger were palpable, and FB was a useful outlet. The comment was written by a white woman, but I have seen similar expressions across the media by people of color. They express frustration at the idea that “love” and “empathy” should be considered tools for change. I understand these cries, and could easily argue on their side.
But when I step back, I recognize deep in my heart that love and empathy are not burdens for me – unless I am carrying another burden that is asking to receive the flow of love and empathy first. That burden, I believe, is unexpressed grief.
Rage and grief live together – two sides of the coin. Both need safe places for expression. In this constellation, the presence of love was able to soften my representation enough to access rage, but in that moment, I could feel it still wasn’t safe enough for the deep release that the body needed.
Any reader of this article will likely recognize their own grief at the collective and systemic trauma that runs through American society. It affects us all uniquely, and I believe this is a combination of the way in which this trauma literally lives in our bodies, and how sensitive we are to the larger collective field.
I also see that if we find ourselves unable to extend empathy and love to someone, or a group of someones, it is because we are carrying a grief that still wants attention. Grief can also be a form of loyalty. We hold onto it, not letting ourselves become soothed, for it is the way we show our connection to what has been lost.
While I have been able to find some safe spaces for grieving, it is still far too rare. The grief of systemic trauma is a unique form of pain. It is subtle, it lives in the shadows, and it seems to hide when you turn to face it. This is why each new event can activate a new round of grieving – and it needs to find expression.
My prayer is that we add “grief rituals” to our self-care practices. I believe there is an alchemy in communal grieving, and, my friends, alchemy is required for the kind of transformation our hearts desire.
About Alison: Alison Fornés, MEd, is a systemic constellations facilitator who works with parents, educators and changemakers. Her mission is to introduce people to the power of their empathic intelligence: that you have within you the capacity to change complex systems when you unlock your ability to perceive hidden dynamics. You can find more about her work at alisonfornes.com