• Whiteness Anonymous

Cultural Humility

Updated: Nov 22

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 the 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, the saviors, or the 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:

Before we begin, let us acknowledge that this experiment called “America” was made possible first through the genocide and ethnocide of this land’s Indigenous people. For an estimated 14,000 years, and before the arrival of European settlers, Indigenous people cared for this land, developed sophisticated societies, and possessed a staggering wealth of diversity. Scholars estimate an Indigenous population of around 15 million before the arrival of Columbus with 90% being decimated before the arrival of the first slave ships. Genocide and ethnocide continue, as attempts are still being made to erase the history and presence of these people, their culture, and their relationship to their ancestral lands.

In the Seattle-area, we are settlers on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish People, specifically those from the Duwamish Tribe, who were not only forced to sign a treaty but who are having to continue to fight for federal recognition to be restored. May all Indigenous people and nations be granted respect, reparations, and sovereignty, and may we all learn to see ourselves as stewards and agents of healing and solidarity now and into the future.

Before we take a moment of silence, if you know the name of the tribal land you are on, you can call it out now.

Moment of silence…

Let us also acknowledge the 400-year-long obsession with the enslavement, exploitation, and destruction of the Black body in this country. Nearly 11 million people were stolen and used as fuel for our capitalist system that has created obscene wealth for a few and obscene poverty for many. Race was created to justify this practice and is the cultural and structural foundation for all of our institutional systems that all white-bodied people benefit from today, regardless of their socio-economic status.

In the U.S., the state-sanctioned practice of abusing, enslaving, and exploiting human beings continues through our policing and prison system, made possible by the 13th Amendment. Reparations have never been granted and are owed now as part of a life-long practice of amends for this legacy of anti-Blackness, violence, apathy, and inequity.

Let us hold silence now as an act of acknowledgement for these crimes...

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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