Choose connection & devastation over silence & a hollow life
The privileged really are not okay
Last February, after 8 years of being away, I returned to my father’s village in South India. My Dad was the kid that got out, the one that left to make “something of himself”, the first to get an education, taught himself English as an adult, moving country to country, crossing oceans for a better life. I was their kid’s kid that went even further eventually finding myself here in the US. I thought coming here would save me. Hell, I naively thought it was “progress” for our community. So there I was, back on the island, feeling like a foreigner on my own mother-land, sitting under the swaying palm trees, at the edge of the water, with my cousin, kelp tangled between my toes, the monsoon winds carrying the salt of the Indian ocean towards me. I saw our fishing boats across the horizon making their way back to the coast, with enough to feed us all for the days to come until they go back out again. My hands are buried in the sand. Home. We sat there, quiet, for a long while, hearing the waves crash against the jagged rocks, the critters, peacocks, & other beings in the forest. There was so much life, even in the silence. It was like the land wanted us to always know we are held. Finally my cousin says “Was it worth it? The journey?” I knew what she meant. I can’t bear the magnitude of this question. I sigh. She says “America, is it everything you thought it would be? Or at least is it better than what you left behind?” A boulder was buried in my throat. I had no words but tears streamed down my face.
At what cost?
This piece is about the humbling and hopeful answers to my cousin’s questions that came to me in the last 3 months. If you’ve been struggling to face the magnitude of the suffering that is around you like I have, I hope this helps.
Quick housekeeping aside: I’m back to doing heal in community sessions next month! Zoom registration link is at the end of this newsletter. Recording will be sent out after.
PS: It was originally scheduled for 2/4 but it has been RESCHEDULED to Sunday, February 11th at 12 pm Central Time (USA)
At what cost?
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We are not okay. Our privilege comes at a cost. We may not be on the frontlines in occupied Palestine, facing the worst forms of colonial violence but we are not “free”. The sooner we face that reality, the more action it inspires and the more accessible freedom becomes.
Fighting for a free Palestine, may actually free us, but it will require us to let go of of the illusion of safety & comfort. It will require us to face the struggle together, rather than run from it, ignore it, or numb ourselves to it.
I see privilege as a gradient, as rungs on a ladder where someone could be above or below you. It is relative. Most importantly, privilege within capitalist/ colonial systems is not just a “good thing”. There is a cost with climbing each rung on the ladder that inadvertently puts a boulder on someone else’s back.
People living in western/ hyper-capitalist societies may not have bombs raining on them & may have better access to some resources but they are also the loneliest, most isolated people in the world. Here, people are structurally more severed from many things we need to survive & thrive— community, connection to land, culture, & a strong foundation of diverse ancestral traditions to root into. Living in the belly of the beast, gaining proximity to the colonizers, to the 1% running these empires, comes with a set of different struggles. Here, people often overlook oppression at their doorstep or even paint it as “freedom”.
I was born into poverty, carrying several boulders of marginalization on my back. I’ve seen the many faces of colonialism— from the wreckage in South Asia to growing up under US imperialism across the Southwest Asian (Middle East) & North African region. Today, I have some of the things I desperately wished I had as a child, the things I was led to believe would make me happy— a degree, a rental apartment & a temporary job in the US which has “allowed” me to send more money back home. However, this little privilege has not made me “happier” or “safer”. It came with it’s own set of nightmarish problems that I spend an exorbitant amount of energy navigating everyday. It distracted me from everything that mattered. Me speaking my colonizer’s language, wearing their clothes, getting educated in their systems, living closer to their power centers, is part of the reason why you are reading my words and not my grandmothers. So I get it. I get what this privilege has given me but I also know the life-sustaining resources it took from me & is keeping from us all. We have much to learn. It’s humbling.
A lot of people in the west, even well-meaning, approach Palestine thru the lens of pity or saviorism. This exacerbates harm & also keep us from accessing the life-giving, life-sustaining lessons that Palestine can teach us. Or any liberation struggle for that matter. We are not “saving” anyone. Thinking we are simply “better off” on all fronts keeps us from learning how to live— something that the most oppressed, collectivist communities know best how to do.
Privilege may buy us some time but it also requires us to sell more parts of our souls to the empire. Privileged people may materialistically HAVE more stuff, especially in the west, but this has not freed them, it’s created more stealthy, well-disguised chains. Being honest about these chains & how they’re connected to someone else’s is the first step towards freedom.
Regardless of where you are in the world, one thing remains constant- you need community, connection, culture to be happy. Even in the US, community has always been a source of happiness for me but there are SO many more barriers to accessing that here. Every aspect of this society is designed to enable, exacerbate & encourage isolation, self-centeredness, competition & disconnection. Here, the frequent lack of communal infrastructure & networks of interdependence leaves people ungrounded, unanchored, unsupported and untethered to real meaning & purpose, leaving them to chase happiness in all the wrong places, seeking contentment in consumption & commodities. Many people are fixated on accumulating resources, wealth, power, status, recognition, accolades, buying more, doing more, HAVING more… hoping it’ll eventually fill the that void in them. But no amount of privilege or stuff can buy community. Hoarding & privilege are not the key to happiness.