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  • Whiteness Anonymous

Cultural Humility

Updated: Mar 12

For those of us who have struggled with an addiction of some kind, whether it be to people, a process, or a substance, we know viscerally the pain of being humbled and shattered in this way and we know, because we survived it, that it gave us an opportunity to begin again on new foundations. In this place of rock-bottom, if we are to recover, we must meet humility - something we white-bodied people desperately need.

In doing our Step, Traditions and Concepts work, we can begin our study by looking up words in the regular and etymological dictionaries, curious to find the meaning and origins. The root word for humility is humus, or soil. It’s erroneous, but very telling, that this word evolved to be associated with being put to the ground, a lack of pride, and seeing oneself as lowly or less important. “American values” are all about pride, domination, and being number one; humiliate (which has the same root word) is what you do to someone to make them feel small and ashamed–and this punitive culture loves its humiliation! Humiliation lives and breathes within the context of racism and it is a chief tool of of any oppressor. Clearly, this word reveals to us the collective psychological split between the secular and the Christian of our North American white capitalist patriarchy. Actual humility is not a value in the US, but being able to perform it, is.

Actual humility is an amazing gift that we can find through recovery. It is not feeling less important or lowly or small, it is being “right-sized” as we say, a human being among human beings; we are not better or worse than anyone else. Humility is grounding and comes as a big relief to us and the people we interact with. The felt experience of humility, while perhaps difficult at first, is one of lasting joy and freedom. When we have been gifted with humility we are curious about other people and the world around us, we are not know-it-alls, idiots, saviors, or sinners; we recognize that we are all worthy of love and that we have love to give; we are grateful for what we have been given and we give freely; we do not exhaust ourselves trying to be somebody or be nobody, we can just be.

Cultural humility works and feels the same. It means that, in the Program, we proactively humble ourselves by starting with the ground of knowing about this country's origins, history, and the toxic patterns, behaviors, language, and ways of being that were set in motion and continue to this day. In WA we are reminded of these origins at each meeting through our Preamble:

We begin by acknowledging the historical and ongoing human and ecological catastrophes that are foundational to the North American colony in which we live, namely:

  • the genocide and ethnocide of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing theft of their ancestral lands, which we occupy, and the measures still being taken to erase their existence;

  • the historical enslavement of Black peoples, stolen from their ancestral lands, and used as chattel to fuel capitalism, an economic system rooted in intergenerational wealth, from which we benefit; the current policing and prison pipelines and systems that continue this enslavement and reinforce anti-Blackness.

The myth of race was created to justify these practices and is the cultural and structural framework for all of our institutional systems that all white-bodied people benefit from today, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Once we know where we stand, and have our feet firmly planted on the blood-soaked ground that covers the bones and screams of entire Indigenous nations and millions of African families, we can continue our work for personal and cultural humility. We do this by getting out of our white bubble, getting comfortable with discomfort, educating ourselves about what is similar and what is different from us, listening more than talking, and putting our racist thoughts in their proper place, naming them for what they are. We move from allies and saviors to co-conspirators and comrades. We take a step back or sit down when it is someone else’s time to shine. We share our gratitude and appreciation and acknowledge strengths. We create collaborations instead of hierarchies. With persistent practice, little by little, and one day at a time we may be given the gift of humility by a power greater than ourselves; and we soon find that we develop a taste for it, craving it more deeply than we have ever craved the inferior thing we’ve always gone to for solace.

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