why i don't divide the world into black & white



I grew up in Germany, living there from the age of 3 to 11.


It was the 1960s. Twenty years after the Second World War ended.


We all know the horrific genocide that occurred at the hands of the Hitler regime.


And, if I think about it now, all of my neighbours - all of them German families - would, of course, have had a direct connection with that regime.


But as a child, I was blissfully ignorant of that fact.


I knew all my neighbours and the kids on my street as good, kind people. The kids were my friends and play-mates.


Attending a progressive international school, with other children of all colours, religions and nationalities, I was also blissfully ignorant of race.


I did not distinguish between my friends according to their colour. I did not see it.


I never heard it mentioned, either in public or behind closed doors.


I never witnessed anyone being treated differently based on their colour, race or religion.


And it was normal and natural for me to have friends, who spoke different languages and ate different foods.


One of my favourite girlfriends was Persian. The first boy I kissed and had a school-girl crush on was Nigerian.


Did I, as a child, differentiate between children and do mean things sometimes? Yes! But it had nothing to do with colour. Since that had not been introduced to me, nor did it occur to me, as a way to differentiate between people.


When we came back to live in the UK, other white children in my class did the frog-march and Hitler salute to me, because I had lived in Germany.


I discovered there was an ingrained dislike of and racism towards Germans in the UK, because of the war.


These children, brainwashed by their parents, condemmed me as guilty of... what I'm not exactly sure of... by association.


Of course, this is ridiculous.


Coming back to a suburban area in the UK from that more international background, I found perspectives on life and identity to be far more narrow than I was used to.


I noticed that people identified with their nationality and held prejudiced views about what was foreign to them. I did not feel the same.


I was made to stand alongside everybody else and sing the National Anthem on a school outing to a public event once. I did not understand why. I did not want to. I had no allegiance to this Queen or country. I simply happened to be living here now.


I married a German and worked internationally. After that I moved to London and completed a Masters in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies.


Studying there was like coming home. Every creed, colour, race, religion, language together. Questioning. Exploring. This felt natural to me. A place where my sense of otherness fit in and my innate capacity to be both comfortable with and curious about cultural and social differences was a strength.


I learned things there that opened my eyes to colonialism, gender, power dynamics, ideology, politics, media manipulation. I focussed my studies on the intersection between gender, the media & war. I got a Distinction.


Having grown up bilingual, then studied German, Russian, Italian & French, I now learned Burmese, so as to conduct my PhD fieldwork in Burma & Thailand. Speaking these languages, living and travelling in these countries & more, I understood that you can't learn another language without also learning about another culture. And language and cultural sensitivity are key to communication and connection with "others".


At a graduate course on Peace Research in Norway, I was the only Brit amongst a cohort of students from war and conflict zones around the world.


I noticed how the groups there arranged themselves in tribes of colour and nationality at meal-times. This felt unnatural to me. I sat somewhere different every day. My best friends were Cuban, Korean, Australian and Ugandan.


Living together for a month, having to work and study together for a month, I witnessed the deep pain and ingrained hatred amongst opposing racial, ethnic or religious groups. Jews and Palestinians, Croatians, Serbs and Bosnians, Basque and Catalan etc.


As you know, untold violence, atrocities and killing have been experienced by all these peoples.


This deepened my belief, that it is only when we can recognise and experience the humanity of "the other", that conflict can end.


Arguing about right and wrong, saying who did what, projecting blame. Citing ethical doctrine. It doesn't end the violence.


Cooking meals together, dancing together, laughing together, having to write essays and make presentations together - that was the healing.


And when you see another as human - just like you - you are more disposed to hear them. And more likely to express remorse.


Only then, can there be a chance for peace talks. Because both sides are listening.


I went to live in the US for 6 years. Charlottesville, VA as it happens. Coming from London, I was shocked at the overt racism and segregation. And I experienced for the first time a distinctly hostile energy coming at me for my whiteness.


I didn't take it personally. How could it be? But it gave me an insight into the distinct nature of racism in the US. It's different there.


Just as it expresses differently and diversely around the world. One of my daughter's closest friends is Sri Lankan. She doesn't get picked on by white kids. She gets teased by other Sri Lankans for being so dark-skinned.


I don't know who my ancestors are. I never met my Dad's parents. I barely saw my Mum's parents. Neither of my parents spoke about their family. I don't feel curious to know more. I am living in the here and now.


I hated my father for much of my adult life though. I saw him as a bigot, misogynist, racist and abuser. A classic patriarch.


Did my judgement of him help me? No. It messed with my relationships. Which have been with men of all colours, ages, religions and races.


Just like my family, friendships and client base.


Do I state that to virtue signal or as a badge of honour? No. Please spare me. Simply to denote that a person is a person is a person. Cunts come in all colours, shapes and sizes.


When a woman walks into my workshop space or contacts me for a session, do I think "oh, here comes a black woman". NO! I think "oh, here comes another beautiful woman."


Do I assume to know her life history or her pain. No. That would be arrogant, profoundly patronising and presumptuous.


One of my cardinal rules is: never assume.


Another is: look without labels.


So back to Germany and my formative years there.


My Dad was telling me just the other day about how his best friend's house (with his best friend in it) was bombed during the Blitz. How his family was so poor, he had to steal apples from the farmer's orchard & sleep top-to-toe with his brothers in one bed.


He also told me about how, as a rookie in the RAF during the post-war Berlin air-lift, it was too dangerous to go out without a military guard, because of the risk of being attacked and killed by angry, hurting Germans, who had had their lives, cities and families bombed to oblivion by the Brits.


When we moved to Germany in 1967, my parents could have taken a shit-load of hatred and prejudice with them and passed it on to me. They didn't.


And so I didn't know to judge or be afraid of those around me because of a label.


The other day I received an email from one of our former neighbours in Germany. She was passing on her condolences for the death of my mother. After almost 50 years. Those bonds of friendship run deep. They transcend nationality.


This is a part of my life story. It makes me who I am. It explains the lens I see through. Which I readily admit is partial. Even as my daily practice - for the past 17 years - has been devoted to recognising my Self beyond all lenses, labels or identifications.


Since I know that all suffering begins with identification.


I feel very humble in this, although sometimes I'm also arrogant. Yes, I'm human. And that marriage of the heavenly and the earthly is my ongoing dance and teaching.


As I look around right now, I'm aware of a proliferation of events, (social) media stories and stances, which have provoked polarisation and separation.


Many are saying they have been designed to provoke.


And I just want to say - Look guys! Life is complicated. People are complex. We are all doing our best. And it's ok to have different perspectives.


But when you start judging, shaming or attacking others because they have a different perspective or are choosing a different response to you, you are shutting down healthy debate. And you are being violent. Tyrannical in fact.


This is no different to the violence of racism or any other divisive behaviour you are decrying!!


Remember 1984. All Animals Are Equal, until the game changes and the oppressed become the oppressors. Same same.


Creative artist & changemaker Chris Patterson offered a useful insight the other day, in suggesting that this kind of reaction stems from the toxic combination of the simultaneous attachment to personal wounding and an ideology or belief system.


As he said, this has been "the cause of pretty much all mass atrocities in human history." I agree.


And: "Every time you project pain onto people, you are psychically punching them in the face."


I experienced this just the other day. Ouch. Luckily I have the tools to process it. But if I didn't? Off would go another cycle of violence and separation.


Life isn't black and white.

I don't divide people into black and white.

I mean, heck, if you look at our actual skin colours, there is nobody who IS actually black or white.


Rather than pass judgement on who of my friends is doing what or putting an emphasis on colour or any other label as an essential difference or the biggest baddest basis for injustice, for me the calling is first and foremost to stalk my own shadow and be aware of all the ways and places I judge, blame, make assumptions about or attack ANYONE with my thoughts or actions.


This is not an excuse for inaction. Nor synonymous with complicity.


I condemn all violence and injustice perpetrated by anyone anywhere towards another fellow human being.


And I own the violence and injustice I myself am capable of.


That's why imho, true change will only come, when I take full responsibility for every pain, wound, reaction and thought under my yellowish, pinky-brown skin, master the full integration of flesh with spirit and authentically embody love.


It's a work in progress.

Sat Nam 🙏💗

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© 2020 Shakti Sundari.