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  • Writer's pictureHannah McQuilkan

Why White Shame Will Never Move Us Forward

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

The current issues surrounding race and white privilege have, like many of us made me stop and reflect. I haven’t felt 100% comfortable with most of the narrative to date from any perspective as it all seems to miss large chunks of important information and the ability to see another’s viewpoint.

One morning in my meditation I felt a shift and was able to see perhaps - and forgive me anyone of colour for attempting to grasp what it is you might be asking those of us with paler skin…….what I heard and felt was a call from those of colour not just to be seen, given full equality and reparation from the past but actually a change in consciousness from the European collective. I believe underneath all of the words and protests and riots the request is really, ‘Please, white culture, this European dominated way of life is hurting us, please find a new way of being that supports all peoples and life on this planet’.

So for me, I see that what is really required is far bigger than just ‘not being racist’. The kind of shift that European peoples would need to make to actually deeply shift out of a destructive cultural way of being is quantum to say the least. So then what would it take and what is currently standing in the way?

I don’t believe its possible to heal something unless you’ve healed it in yourself first. So when we European peoples attempt to save another culture by berating our own and not taking the time to really look at why we are the way we are, its perpetuates the damage because the core is never dealt with. European peoples are a fragmented and lost culture, just as much as the very cultures we have wrought destruction upon. The privilege masks the devastation and makes it difficult to even discuss the hurt and pain underneath.

I understand this dichotomy as I grew up in a very privileged family environment that was also fraught with deep dysfunction. It made it so much more difficult to see and deal with the dysfunction because I didn’t believe I had a right to feel the pain of it! But privilege does not mean pain does not exist or that you don’t need to feel and heal. I understand that this may make it sound like I’m taking focus off the issues that people of colour face but that is not my intent. My intent is to draw attention to the core wound in white culture, so it can finally be seen and released, stopping the cycle of pain and abuse that can get reflected onto other races.

I believe that the single biggest thing that European peoples could do to bring about the shift in consciousness required to end racial inequality is to feel its own pain and to reclaim its own past. Its not enough to support other cultures to reclaim and heal the past - until European peoples reclaim our indigenous roots and remember our ancestral earth wisdom we will remain a damaged people. Discover what was lost, take it back, then support all people to do the same.

In facing our shame and deeply acknowledging the suffering white culture has caused, we must be careful not to make it about white people being fundamentally bad and wrong. This is a delicate balance indeed. Its powerful to take responsibility for choices our forefathers made, to make sure we learn from them to create an equal world for all. However believing that your whiteness is the issue, a fundamental flaw that you can never be free from is a terrible and untrue trap. White shame will never set us free or empower us with the transformation required to truly free another. We were all born into a body and life over which we had no control, the only control we do have is the choices we make each day. In a culture of shame there can never be true healing nor reconciliation.

Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly, which I highly recommend says of shame:

“But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us - that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough - and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame”.

She goes on to share why shame just doesn’t work:

“In fact, in my research I found that shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better. We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line……..Researchers don’t find shame correlated with positive outcomes at all - there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behaviour’.

Progressive and liberal white culture is seeped in shame at what our people have done and continue to do and I imagine the kinds of people who are reading this may carry such sentiments. We are ashamed and continue to feel a kind of agonising shame every time another act of violence occurs against one of our darker brothers or sisters. But shaming our white privilege is keeping us trapped, it means we never have to feel the vulnerability lurking underneath it, thereby never resolving the very thing that has been perpetuating the damage all along. Only an already damaged people would inflict pain and suffering on others, so I see it necessary to point to that damage, to undercover the wounding and seek to heal it.

So are you ready to heal the damage? Are you ready to find out where it came from and what continues to keep it alive?

The saddest part is that for most European peoples we are so far separated from our past that we don’t even know what needs healing, aren’t we the privileged ones after all? Its been lost in the sands of time so we imagine that our culture was this way forever. There was a time in the distant past when all European peoples can trace their ancestry back to an earth worshipping culture, who was deeply connected to the planet and profoundly in awe of universal forces and the great mystery of life.

I’m very clear that the mission of my work with my business Tree Mystic is to heal this fragmentation and realign anyone who feels called with a rich cultural legacy grounded in earth loving values. And I might add that this reclaiming can occur for anyone who has any European heritage, independent of skin colour. Why on earth would a person who identify’s as non-European want to reconnect with a culture who wrought destruction on their people? Because if they have any white ancestors its part of their heritage too. And in denying that, denying any part of our DNA, we remain unable to heal, unable to move on.

I was profoundly moved when I attended a hui (meeting) with the venerable Rose Pere, a Maori Taonga Elder and her statement that she honours and loves her European ancestors. In this lifetime she chooses to identify as Maori but honours her whole lineage. She told us a story of how a male family member was having a health issue, I can’t remember the details but that she told him it was because he had an angry Scottish ancestor who wanted to be acknowledged and until he did the issue would get worse. This man refused to acknowledge his Scottish heritage and his illness got to a critical point. Rose stated that day, only a week after the horrific Christchurch shootings that ‘We are all one.’

We all live on Planet Earth and we are all indigenous to her, every single one of us. The native American Rainbow prophecy is told by several Native American groups and refers to the keepers of legends and rituals and other myths that will be needed when the time comes to restore the health on Earth. They will be known as the Rainbow People. The Rainbow refers to the different skin colours of the all the different peoples from around the planet. It states that there will come a time when European peoples and culture will have to decide between two paths - the path of oneness or the path of destruction:

“At this time the light-skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. One is the road of greed and technology without respect or wisdom for life. This road represents the rush to destruction. The other road is spirituality, a slower path that includes respect for all living beings.” Grandfather William Commanda ‘Circle of All Nations’.

When I stop and breathe that in I can feel the deep truth and significance of it. In so many ways we are being asked to make this choice right now - from how we treat other cultures and races, to how we treat the environment, animals, the planet herself. Its a collective cry from millions of voices shouting ‘enough’.

So I do believe we need to listen, to not take it as any kind of personal attack but to listen to it as an opportunity to be something greater. To take the ‘other road’ the ‘slower path’ because the the well being of the whole planet depends upon it.

The amazing thing is that the distant voices of our indigenous ancestors can take us here. Deep in our bones we know the way home. We lived this way for hundreds of thousands of years. As I stood on the sacred land of Glastonbury UK, the home of my ancestors I was extended an invitation to rediscover a part of my cultural legacy I had forgotten. They tried so hard to take our voice, to Christianise it, sanitise it, erase it and they succeeded in an extraordinary way. But all it takes is to remember who we were once and can be again. I extend the invitation I received to you.

I hope with all my heart that I have managed to convey that I stand for peace on earth and equality for all. To achieve this white people must go further than just token gestures on social media and shame reinforcement. True healing for all starts when we are prepared to get real about our own damage, our own pain and seek to resolve it. By reconnecting with the essence of our humanity, we can take our place among the Rainbow people and become a force for healing in this world.

Coming up…..

My next article will go into tools and suggestions on how to begin this journey of healing and reconnecting to our indigenous roots, however I do not wish to leave you without some hope or steps to begin right now. Firstly, I suggest researching your ancestry, so you really know where on this planet your ancestors hail from, then research those ancestors and the events unfolding in their part of world right back at least 2000 years or more. I suggest connecting with nature as much as possible and spending time in contemplation about your deep connection to the earth under your feet. I suggest reading books that explore the lives of your ancestors, their way of life, beliefs and worship - observe how similar all ancient cultures were at their core. I suggest a practice of forgiveness such as the powerful Hawaiian Ho’oponopono. I suggest committing to end blame of any kind and instead putting the focus on your own healing.

Blessings on your journey, kind questions and comments are welcome.

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