for Moving Beyond Binaries
*Aboriginal Elder and Human rights activist
For us radical inclusivity is all about learning to love more of Life’s everythingness and its exquisite diversity. We believe that radical inclusivity, which points to Life’s holographic expression of itself beyond social roles and identities and even beyond the exceptionalism of human-ness, holds the keys to the deep and radical cultural transformation that these increasingly testing times demand. This is not because we start to see or expect everyone to be the same in order to be included, or differences as unimportant or even threatening, but rather, we begin to appreciate the beauty of uniqueness and particularity in the many voices of the human, and the other than human, as part of the fabric of Life. It allows us to move beyond the binary of right and wrong, gay and straight, black or white, man or woman into another kind of becoming-with.
Radical inclusivity requires us to do the co-liberatory work of revealing what and who we have been conditioned to make wrong, fear, reject, marginalise and oppress at all levels - from the personal (within ourselves and those around us) to the societal and cultural as rooted in the parts of ourselves we have been conditioned to reject. Radical inclusivity’s deeply loving perspective wakes up in us the need to learn how to welcome all those conditioned as ‘other’, so that we can start to work together, rather than sabotaging our collective transformative potential.
For a long time ‘justice’, ‘equality’, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ (JEDI) have been buzzwords which many have implicitly understood as being a desirable added extra - rather than at the very heart of any process of collective transformation. This is because the standard “individual” within power-over culture decision making, support and social law, is still the white-cis- male- able bodied person. All others diverge from this “norm” and have more or lesser degrees of “personhood” assigned to them by those that designate the “norm”. Therefore, only paying lip-service to ideas of inclusion that are based on quotas of race, sexual orientation or gender, keeps us within the very power-over dynamic we are longing to compost - and is not what we mean by radical inclusivity. It has been unfortunately necessary to pass laws to achieve a kind of relative inclusivity in institutions and corporations. However, this is not the generative radical inclusivity we seek to manifest. We long for folx of all colors and genders and sexual orientations and abilities to be interwoven throughout all disciplines and rules and regulations and all jobs and opportunities. We are looking at the roots of the problem, not the symptoms and their systemic manifestations - whilst wholeheartedly supporting the need for structural change in the immediacy. Our practice is to stop minimising differences on all levels for the sake of agreement, and to refuse inclusion as a tactic to fulfill a quota for funding, virtue signalling or other benefits. We are interested in the hard work of listening, challenging our own beliefs and the places we reject and refuse to allow difference to be heard within us, and commit to honoring difference as gift. How we do this alongside one another to create a culture that is relational and not punitive and control based, is exactly the question that we carry at Starter Culture as a core team of white privileged people as we, to quote Vanessa Machado de Oleivera, gesture towards decolonial futures.
Radical inclusivity can be misunderstood to mean saying Yes! to everything rather than holding boundaries around behaviours that may undermine the health of an individual or group. A healthy boundary is one that supports us to create the conditions we or our group need, to be able to learn to love more of what we currently resist, reject and marginalise. Healthy boundaries are also ways of embodying our values and ethics in the world. And they are also ways of saying no to behaviours arising out of trauma and power-over cultural patterns that are harmful to ourselves and others. Therefore, the capacity to hold healthy boundaries is essential for our health and embodied agency in the world, both at the personal and the collective level.
Many social and ecological change groups struggle or fall apart due to unexamined beliefs that holding boundaries (around certain behaviours) is bad and wrong. Internalised patterns of power-over culture, such as learned helplessness, codependency and extraction of human and other than human resources are enabled by lack of healthy boundaries. Relational Culture thrives on healthy boundaries, resiliency and the capacity for rupture and repair.
In order to create healthy boundaries, we need to know when we are “safe enough” and what our values and needs are, so that we find the sweetspot between our personal needs and wants alongside our broader values and ethics. We are asked to be radically honest about ways we might internally react because we feel threatened by someone (that is not truly a threat to us) based on trauma, a dynamic of privilege or a difference of opinion, race, gender, culture, politics etc. Many people do not have the privilege of having their boundaries respected, as they are continuously held within the oppression of systemic violence that is power-over culture. If somebody has the repeated experience of not having their boundaries respected, they do not have trust that they will be in the future. It makes sense then that they may struggle to speak and set their own boundaries as they may not have had the lived practice of declaring them.
Contemporary Western culture conditions us to push away feelings, experiences, ways of being, people, identities and dimensions of life that we find uncomfortable and have been conditioned to believe are somehow a threat to us, our identity, power, privilege and ultimately our very survival. This cultural conditioning gives rise to our polarized, and polarizing, states of consciousness, culture and politics. It also simultaneously deprives us of the key to understanding the origins of this polarized state of consciousness - and why it persists. What we resist, persists - and often with a vengeance!
Radical self-love is the antidote to this. It is the process of learning how to love each and every part of us - and especially those parts we have learned to fear, shame, reject, repress and hide. Needless to say these are the very things we tend to make wrong and marginalise in others. This kind of radical self-love is what patriarchy and capitalism are most threatened by, as their success is based on the separation and rejection of one another in order to fuel power-over and consumerist behavior.
Radical self-love is an ongoing process that requires us to strengthen our muscles to tolerate the discomfort of the shame, fear, grief, sadness and rage that tend to accompany this process of learning to love all parts of ourselves - and one another. It requires developing curiosity about how and where these feelings and beliefs around what and who are to be welcomed or rejected, are held within our bodies and within our culture. Radical Inclusivity rests on our capacity for self-love.
Support around this co-liberatory work is increasingly becoming available within the the field of cultural somatics, or somatic abolitionism, as Resmee Menakam calls it, and Internal Family Systems work, with its banner of ‘no bad parts’ - as well as within various approaches to shadow work and embodied awakening.
Collaborating across Difference
Genuine collaboration relies on embracing difference; building relationships, trust and skills across our inherent uniqueness. True collaboration requires us to cultivate the tools and safe-enough-ness (within ourselves and supported by practices, processes and structures within our groups) to transform arising conflicts, that tend to manifest in the face of difference, into potentially transformative breakthroughs. Without this, the shadow sides of collaboration tend to flourish. For example, through cultural and political appropriation and/or by perpetuating systemic injustice by centralising power within normative practices, identities and approaches to change that dilute our radical potential by colluding with a neo-liberal agenda.
In our experience, for collaboration across difference to support co-liberation and Life’s evolutionary intent, those involved need to have an awareness of, and care about, how their behaviour impacts others and how they are being impacted by others. We can call this emotional attunement, or the ‘we space’: the threshold within which what is arising in me meets what is arising within others. Without access to this ‘we space’ (that manifests through the felt sense of our bodies, hearts and minds) collaboration across difference is limited to an unconscious playing out of the power-over dynamics within drama triangle consciousness.
So many of the approaches, tools and practices needed to transform our current crises already exist, yet may not be visible or accessible to everyone. Collaboration across difference can help reveal, amplify and co-create common cause with others who are aligned with inner-led approaches to social and ecological change. It can increase our confidence to centre and amplify these approaches to enable greater visibility, leverage and traction within the wider process of cultural transformation. It can reveal blind spots and shadow that we were previously unaware of within our approach to change. And it can incentivise us to find ways to help make inner-led support more accessible to those who most need it and yet whom the market economy excludes from it.
"Advocating the mere tolerance of difference … is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.
Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged."
Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”
A note on Fragility (including and beyond white fragility)
Collaborating across difference offers an opportunity to learn the vital skill of being with the visceral discomfort that different perspectives, approaches and ways of being can activate within us. When we are confronted with these differences but do not have the inner and outer resources to respond from love and compassion rather than react from our own wound, we can call it “fragility”. The discomfort and triggering that we tend to feel in the face of difference, triggers the existential fear and pain we all hold around being not enough, wrong or rejected, which to part of us means not belonging and ultimately being and even dying, alone. When this happens, we close ranks and dig our heals in to the normative, the one shared “right perspective” rather than being curious about the gifts the other carries into the situation because of their difference. Our fear or judgement then can cause us to defend ourselves and/or be unkind, racist, classist or sexist and stop listening to the impact we might be having on someone else. Those who are more marginalised end up having to do the emotional labour because those with more privilege lack the same levels of incentive to address the impacts of oppression and systemic injustice.
Radical Inclusivity and Collaborating across Difference invite us to embrace our inherent state of interbeing that includes everything, everyone and all perspectives, no matter how opposing they may seem. Through this embrace, we create the possibility to go beyond these conditioned fears and taste our intrinsic belonging to the wider web of Life, thereby easing our existential fear of not belonging to one particular group. This approach to what we could call ‘normative fragility’ centres compassion for the very real nature of our human need to belong alongside recognising the fragility that tends to accompany all things normative. For us, it is imperative to use whatever privilege we have to actively go beyond normative fragility to create space for that which we marginalise.
Note: The term ‘fragility’ can be extended to all the other identities that our mainstream culture systematically marginalises and oppresses. For example; male fragility, able-bodied fragility; hetero-normative fragility; gender-normative fragility; neuro-normative fragility.
White fragility refers to the tendency for those racialised as white to resist acknowledging racism especially when receiving feedback about our actions because it generates feelings we don’t want to feel (shame, blame, fear, empathic pain) in relation to the role our white supremacy has played in the systemic oppression and abuse of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
It is the centering of our own emotions and needs when made aware of microaggressions or racist behavior we have unknowingly embodied towards another. However, how we receive feedback from those we have impacted is crucial to building friendship and community across differences of all kinds. Our capacity to feel true regret and act more and more in accord with our values and ethics of radical inclusivity creates more resilience and love towards ourselves and others. It gives us the motivation to learn, listen and change our behaviour according not only to the intention we have, but also the impact we have on others. For those of us committed to co-creating inner-led change and the relational cultures that support this, we need to be inquiring into where we may unconsciously be imposing judgement on others in relation to their identities and ways of being as a result of our own cultural conditioning. Which means, we see our own conditioning, rather than the person in front of us. It is not easy or comfortable work, but the kind of vulnerability needed to show up together is what will shape the kind of future we are longing for.