“mama”, breathing, systemic oppression, and the long uncomfortable haul

This past Friday was Juneteenth. It’s a beautiful thing to see the movement happening right now on behalf of black lives. Never before have I seen so many people who have been silent or even of the more conservative persuasion speak out in new ways. I’m a little worried in all kinds of ways that because white-centering is our default it’s going to be magnified more than ever. There’s so much danger in this movement being attempted to be co-opted by our need to feel better right now by doing “something,” and getting swept into the wave; then when white people realize this is life-time, long-haul work some of the fire will fade.   

At the same time, it is truly a beautiful thing to see and the time for a true shift in our country is now. 

Since the death of George Floyd on May 25th, something has tipped in my soul in a way I can’t quite describe. I just know this—when I hear the word “Mama!” and know that he cried out for her, my heart feels like it’s going to stop.  And when I think about how often we say in our circles, “Just take a deep breath, keep breathing, notice your breath, breathe deeply…” it rings so hollow. 

Breath should not be a privilege.

And another mama shouldn’t have to get the call that her child was killed at the hands of police.

For the past several weeks I have been deeply processing some of what has been swirling around in my head and heart related to the current events on top of the grief we are still so fresh in on losing our son in October. Grief + Practicing + a global pandemic that is far from over + a crucial history-making shift in anti-racism work in our country and the world has been pretty overwhelming. My best words for it is are–I’m just impaired right now. And that’s perfectly fine. Now is not the time for more white words. The world’s not going to be changed by one more Facebook or Instagram post. There are so many people protesting for the first time, and that’s incredible. I am glad folks are getting their voice, speaking up and out—possibly for the first time–or maybe louder and stronger than ever. 

It’s powerful to see, and to know it’s not just here in the US but around the globe. 

My words have been few publicly, but I’ve spent the last several weeks listening to a wide range of black leaders in our city, across faiths and experiences, through a mix of groups I am part of in our city. Just listening. 

Listening to stories.

Realities.

The ravages of ongoing systemic racism from micro-aggressions to blatant discrimination. 

I’ve been reminded that our systems aren’t just “broken.”

These systems were intentionally formed to oppress.

In their very foundation, the lie of white supremacy and patriarchy and oppression is embedded into every brick, every window, every door, every steeple, every part of this house. 

This is why we can’t just make some tweaks here and there to get to a new place. That is why monuments can’t just be moved but need to be toppled. That is why our world is being up-ended in all of the ways it is supposed to be up-ended because it was formed on the backs of human beings, made in God’s image, with inherent dignity and worth of dignity and respect. 

And we all know that won’t go down easy. 

The resistance is great. 

The cries of white people will be loud.

But the dreams of black liberation will be louder.

Strap in, my friends, this is work for the long haul that requires far more than bursts of participation. This is about inner transformation not only in our own hearts but in every system we participate in. Hearts and guts and hands and feet and pocketbooks and ways of moving in our world. 

Which brings me back to mamas and breathing.

I believe BIPOC women are the forefront of this movement. There are lots of ways to mother, and this is what is needed in the days and months of years ahead. Mama power. A fierce nurturing, a powerful advocating, a birthing of new life, a deep sense of “knowing” what others do not know, a circumventing of the male patriarchy to get what’s needed done, an igniting of a fire that purifies and warms, an infusing of caring for the most vulnerable first, a rising and a reckoning that will be painful for a lot of us but what we most need. 

Women, bringing power and strength that has been sustaining for generations and we need now more than ever to get to the places we need to get.

I’ll be following every BIPOC voice I can, but the women most of all.

And I’m also trying to own that shallow breaths won’t sustain, and we all need every breath we can to do the work that needs to be done. I can use my broken, grieving and privileged deep breaths (and grounding to the earth) to help prevent other breaths from being choked off in the future. 

I can use my mama heart to advocate fiercely for change, rock the white boats that need rocking, humbly learn, and practice the work of healing, listening, loving, including, equalizing, advocating, mourning, failing, resting, and celebrating in my unique impaired ways right now.

The guiding questions I am asking myself right now are these:

  • In behind-the-scenes and not on social media ways, what is my work to do? 
  • What BIPOC voices do I need to listen to, follow, and be moved by
  • What local advocacy can I do that affects city and state laws in my own backyard?
  • How can I/we help sustain BIPOC leaders and activists in a tangible way?
  • What is beyond heartbreak, beyond book groups, beyond the bursts of good intentions? 
  • In 5 years, what do I hope for in the circles & systems I am part of? What’s the dream and how can I stay focused on practicing what’s tied to that and not the next wave of social interest? 

Keep breathing, my friends, and I’ll try, too. 

This is a marathon not a sprint.

Be careful of looking at others and comparing our work to theirs. 

Listen to the mamas.

Strap in for the long haul. 

And in the words of my son, Jared, who had a lot of wisdom for his short 19 years—“be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

#blacklivesmatter

Posted in

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

2 Comments

  • Thank you Kathy. Thank you for the questions, I feel like I can add those to my journey also. I feel like I have so much work to do, and it is easy to want it all to happen NOW! #initforthelonghaul You are right this will be a marathon. And white power will be upset. I am asking God to prepare my heart and strengthen my wobbly knees. I will now add the fierce mama heart that God has given me and channel it for the change that needs to happen. I’m so blessed to have you intertwined in my life.

    Reply
  • Kathy, thank you for this. I do believe the mama’s need to step into what they bring. Healing voices, building bridges and a work of understanding that not all of God’s children are okay. I’ve been called out in this and I am glad to read your post as well. As always hugs and love.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *