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Author: Dionne St. Hill

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Zora Neale Hurston

They struggled to find the perfect word. In that moment, no vocabulary felt expansive enough… no expression deemed accurate—as they searched for a term that somehow captured the invisible pain that oppression triggers.

As we sit in our circle – a reflective moment during class – the emotional labour that comes from exploring therapy through a lens of decolonisation gradually becomes clear.

Words hang in the air, impotent and ill-fitting… it has to be right, suitable… exact, for in that moment, it felt so important to honour the grief that hovers around both our experiences of oppression and that of our ancestors.

‘Insidious’—a quiet offering is cautiously offered and lands, falling gently into their heart on its way to their soul.

‘Insidious’, they repeat, as if checking the description for size, making sure, before they left the room, that it would not have to be exchanged for an alternative—catching its reflection from every angle.

Yes, ‘insidious’ is the word – ‘spreading gradually or without being noticed but causing serious harm’.

For oppression is an unwanted and often invisible inheritance. No Will reading required, no Probate limbo. Oppression clings to our DNA, forcing us to be custodians of a system of control designed to silence us.

Oppression feels like the toxic mortar holding together the fragile architecture of our lives. A formulation of colonialism, imperialism and systemic racism that seeps through dividing walls determined to weaken our structure.

Spreading in hidden and usually injurious ways, systems of oppression are historical and organized patterns of mistreatment designed to intentionally disadvantage groups of people based on their identity.

These systems, we know, can manifest in economic, social, political, and cultural systems and entangle race, gender, class, language, and sexual orientation.

When writer, radical feminist, and activist Audre Lorde wrote, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.’ She was clear that this fact was only threatening to those who still defined the master’s house as their only source of support.

She offered this statement as a powerful call for independence, a reclamation of self and a blueprint for the collective to recognise our power, engage our sacred rage and transcend oppression and sorrow.

‘What you hear in my voice is fury,” she once said, “not suffering’. Audre who described herself as ‘Black, Lesbian, Mother, Warrier, Poet’ was a fearless individual committed to the collective and the power of words to inspire and activate change.

When we are in our Decolonising class, we are finding a way to feel safety in the collective. It’s not always easy, there is so much energy in our space, Black and Brown members of the global majority sit alongside individuals who present as White.

Despite their commitment to show up and learn as allies, advocates or even accomplices to the activism that is decolonisation, it can be hard for Black and Brown survivors of oppression – even when part of a magical and, yes, temporary majority – to work through their pain, amid a sense of assumed contemporary and historic privilege.

We hold the space for individuals and the collective with deep care and empathy, but blank pages of familial history can be filled with fantasy, accuracy and horror, when we know that our ancestors join us on this voyage of discovery and reframing.

Our felt senses and our so-called common senses tell us that not all ancestors in the room are benevolent, so how do we hold a deep relaxation and inward focus inspired by Theta Waves, without the risk of being disturbed by the anxiety of emotional and energetic intrusion.

As we explore and travel toward empowered reflection, are we all consciously or unconsciously holding our breath—awaiting the interruption of spiritual oppression?

It is a lot to hold. Yet we try to remember to breathe and gently move through vulnerable spaces, even when it hurts.

Writer Joel Leon captured the importance of the collective in the move against oppression with this reflection: ‘All we got is us’, is not a cute slogan. It is a paradigm shift. It is a call to action for community to stand together against the oppressive systems that are bombing us to death.

That means divesting from the things that harm us, that means investing in the things that free and heal us, that means fighting against all things not in line with our liberation. Everything you do, and don’t do, matters. Everything

Audre Lorde wrote in an essay reflecting on issues marginalised and minoritised people face in certain oppressive spaces: ‘Without community, there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression,’

She knew and understood the weight of using intellectual and emotional labour to address oppression instead of any of our other intellectual interests. Pushing back always on the idea that the marginalised are only equipped to talk about their marginalisation.

As the writer Toni Morrison so aptly put it: “The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being.”

It is often said that ‘silence is the voice of trauma’, so when we draw close as a collective, we feel we cannot be silent. Or risk our stories being distorted by the words of the oppressor.

But Nap Bishop, Trisha Hersey, encourages survivors of subjugation to reclaim the power of silence – ‘the deepest part of oppression lies in the theft of our imagination’, she writes in Rest Is Resistance, ‘I love when someone says. ‘I’m speechless. I am without words.’

In our culture we live in our heads always ready to theorise, analyse, and make sense out of everything,” she continues. “In rest and dreaming, we surrender to the unknown. We can allow a moment of freedom. We can test what it feels like to be without the limits of capitalism.’

When we resist the urge to fill the space with tentative offerings. Silence offers us the opportunity to dream and to conjure – magically building alternative futures saturated in surrealism and dazzling joy rather than the toxic swell of the myth of White supremacy.

Our responses to oppression, I’ve come to understand, can be found in silence AND perfectly crafted words. Dazzling choice is embedded in our liberation.

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