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Mutima Imani on Black History Month and the Need to Transition From Fear to Love

Interview with Mutima Imani by Phil Bolsta
 

Watch Mutima Imani’s interview:


 

Welcome, Mutima. Thank you for joining us today.

Thank you for having me, Phil. It's my pleasure to be here with you.
 

Allow me to introduce you. Mutima Imani is a social justice visionary, master trainer, facilitator, and global diversity specialist working to heal the heart of humanity by providing 21st-century tools for personal and professional development and transformation.

I’ve been looking forward to talking to you, Mutima, especially after you conducted a series of diversity trainings for The Shift Network team, which was eye-opening in a number of ways. The theme of this issue of Catalyst is Black History Month. in your opinion, why is Black History Month important?

Wow, that's a big question. It is so important because as for African American people, and especially for the young people, it's so important to know your history. We're at a time now where we are really telling a different story than we've been telling in this country about Black history. So I think you've heard and people are saying now that Black history is American history, and American history is Black history. So it's very important to be able to know your roots, what's happened in the past, all of the struggles and the triumphs, and all the things to celebrate in order to be totally present in the moment and prepare for the future.

So when you asked me to do this, I did a little research, and I'm so glad that I'm always learning. I think that it's time for the general public to begin to learn about our rich history, and that African Americans have such a legacy and it's greater than just slavery. So I did some research and I found out that in 1926, Carter G. Woodson came up with the idea to celebrate Negro history for two weeks in February with the Association of the Study of Negro Life. That's how it all started.

One of the things that was said was as Carter was going through his studies and he went to Harvard and he realized that there was no narrative or information about Blacks, African Americans. And so he wanted to begin to tell people about their historical roots and came up with, "Let's celebrate for two weeks." Then in 1976, President Ford declared that February would be Black History Month.

 
Really, it's an opportunity for African Americans and all Americans to really look at the contributions, the facts to celebrate the gifts that African Americans have brought to the country. What I want to say is that there is a new energy that's going on right now. There's a new curiosity. I just read something that said that when you know the truth, it will open your eyes to who you really are. I think I'm paraphrasing that. Pearl Bailey said something like that. And when I'm in high schools and working with students, they know a little bit about Martin Luther King, but they don't really know him as a social activist, as a man who was standing up for the rights for all people. They just know him as a icon, “I Had a Dream” speech, and they don't know any of his other writings.

So this new curiosity, I hope that it is taking fire in the hearts and lives of all people in the United States, because as we are beginning to understand that Black lives matter, as we begin to understand the reality that Blacks are living in, it's important not to just to be thinking about ourselves and others, other people thinking about us, as only the legacy of slavery. The history is so, so rich.

I took it upon myself to do a little looking at inventions, because I know that in some of the Black History programs that I've participated in in schools, and I did one last year for an organization that I was with, and it was the first time that they ever had a Black History celebration. It was a multicultural crowd. And people were amazed at some of the inventions that were created by African Americans that we use every day. We take them for granted. And we don't even know the root of that history.

So for one thing, the three-signal traffic light was invented by an African American. The refrigerator, the shoe machine, how to make shoes, the thing that helps people make shoes, the mailbox, blood banks, and the list goes on and on. I want to challenge the readers and the listeners to do a little bit of research, because it's really time for us to have a vision that everybody counts, and everybody has contributed, and face the fact that we have been bamboozled and been told lies, and those lies that we've been told, it limits the way that we think about people.

So a young high school student who begins to do their real work and celebrating Black History Month, and doing some research about the things, the contributions, there's so much to celebrate.
 

That is wonderful. There's a lot of surprises there because you never think about who was the inventor of some of these things. And to look at and realize, wow, there's a lot of African American inventors that created some pretty impressive things. What does that do for the Black community in terms of pride perhaps, or just knowing that history?

Yeah, you know, the stereotypes and the prejudices that have come out of the years of discrimination against Black and Brown people has been really devastating on the self-esteem. I'm actually reading Michelle Obama's book, Becoming. She's talking about in her book of this feeling of never being enough. It comes from not knowing where you come from. It comes from being in environments where everybody is operating from the stereotype that you're dumb, you're lazy, you're not able to do anything but sing and dance. It's those kind of stereotypes that comes from years and years of discrimination that actually eats away at self-esteem and self-confidence.

So I imagine... I'll say it this way, which is really true... when I have done my research, and I continue to do research because there's just so much to really learn, I'm amazed. I'm just really amazed. So a Black person actually invented the laser cataract surgery, the closed-circuit TV, the touch-tone phone. So those kind of things are things that we use every day that we don't know where they came from. I just think that it's really time to rewrite history.
 

You know, that's a really good point, because not only about rewriting history, and you mentioned American history is Black history, I interviewed Luisah Teish for this issue as well. And she said something that struck me as incredibly profound. She said, "My concern these days has to do with what has been labeled, quote unquote, fake news, which is just a baby brother of fake history. If we consider that the past 5,000 years, the story that we call history has been in the hands of, and told by, number one, the people who are conquerors, who are invaders, and number two, the people who had access to education and to printing and had various other kinds of resources." Then she says, "So the more I learn, the more I am suspect of the accuracy of what we have been taught as history." Can you speak to that?

Yes. Luisah Teish is a friend of mine, and she's so brilliant. Thank you for sharing that. It's kind of a rude awakening. What I'm seeing in the work that... in the field that I do, which is diversity, is that as people are awakening, there's a lot of anger and there's a lot of sadness and grief about the stuff that we've learned that really isn't even true. What we have to realize is that the system that we live in has had us on a trajectory that would keep us just being consumers. I do a lot of The Work That Reconnects, which is a body of work that is open source that was started by Joanna Macy and her husband, Fran Macy. Basically, they say that the industrial growth revolution has taught us to be disconnected with ourselves, disconnected with others, and disconnected with nature.

So in this disconnected with self, we just believe whatever we're taught. We don't have an original thought. We think that we are just pawns in a machine. And when we look at other people, we are feeling disconnected with them. So one of the things that it's important to know is that when you wake up and realize... and Robin DiAngelo says this in her book called What Does It Mean to Be White... that when she realized that she was living in a total White world thinking that she was privileged, that she had to grieve all of the losses, and then she was very upset that people hadn't told her how much she was losing by only living in a White world.

So one of the things that's happening because of the workforce and because of love, people are moving across cultural lines. Now in the workforce, it's the place where you're earning your living, and people are... it's the most diverse places, even though there are still a lot of places where it's only White-dominant, but where there's diversity, it's usually in the workplace. It's definitely not on Sunday mornings.

So people are crossing lines and beginning to deal with cultures, but they're bringing all of the biases because they don't know the real truth of the fact that America was built on the backs of African Americans.
 

Literally.

Literally. Absolutely. There's another book, an old book called Slaves in the Family, by a guy named Edward Ball. His family were slave owners. And they kept such copious notes that he could actually... they traced... they knew where the slaves were coming from. They went and got slaves when they wanted to raise horses that were horsemen. They went and got the farmers. They went and got the carpenters. So it just blows your mind to even think that slavery was organized in that way. It wasn't just like, "Oh, let's go get a group of people." They went strategically and got people with skills. That's like the proof that they brought those skills over, and those skills are part of American history, but it's also Black history.
 

Now, you said there are some cultural beliefs that just aren't true. Can you offer some examples of that?

Yeah. In a Diversity 101 Workshop years ago, we used to say, "Just finish this sentence, and finish it without censoring it.” This is a way to see the beliefs that you have inside of yourself that are just there because we live in a culturally pollutant society where we're picking up messages from media, from the newspaper, from television, from the atmosphere without checking them to see if they're right.

So it would go like this, “Finish this sentence, Black man are... Finish this sentence, Black women are..." And then you would do it with every other cultural group too, “Hispanic men are... Hispanic women are... Chinese men are…” So just allow yourself to finish the sentence by letting it pop up in your mind. We used to get all of this “Black men are lazy, Black men are criminals, Black men are dangerous, Black women are angry.” It's just a belief that's in the air. It's built upon the false premise that race is real, and the prejudices that were laid upon people to keep them in their place.
 

You talked about how the workplace is getting more diverse. I just saw in the last few days an African American commentator on MSNBC talk about how the workplace is indeed very diverse and everyone is more and more comfortable with that. But then he said, "Everyone goes home to segregated communities." Is that a problem or not?

Well, you know, it just really depends on where you are, where you're living, because segregation might be in each household, but like in a place like Oakland, the communities are pretty diverse. So we're breaking out of it just because of the urban environment. There's one reason why I absolutely love Oakland, because it is so diverse. And yet, even in the places where there's diversity, there needs to be these teachable moments, and it needs to be lessons to rewrite history, because even in the diverse setting, when you look at who's getting hurt the most or discriminated the most, or who's locked out of the economic engine, you see that it's minority people.
 

You mentioned the younger generation a couple times. Do Black youth today know more about their history than previous generations did?

I don't think so, unless it's a family that is very much into their Black pride. Growing up, my father had Malcolm X's book in the house and we had Black music. So he exposed us to things that I wasn't getting when I was in high school. So there are a lot of families who have a lot of Black pride who are teaching their children about their history, but they're not getting it in public school. Even with... they're not getting it in the way that it's really filling them with pride.

You know, I don't want to say it's... That's a general statement. It depends on the school district. It depends on the teacher. I know a couple of teachers, and some of them aren't Black, who do a great job when it comes to Black History Month. So I don't want to generalize and say that Black students aren't getting it, but I don't think that the history books have been rewritten the way that they need to.

Many, many years ago, I was a consultant for the State Department of Education. And under the Title IX money, we... Title IX, which was a set-aside money to do some diversity work. We had the opportunities to do some curriculum rewriting. So we focused it on the Harlem Renaissance. We focused it on some of the inventions of African Americans, but I just saw like maybe eight months ago, that a family was outraged because their child was reading a textbook that talked about slavery as workers, like wage workers, which, you know, that's not true.
 

Wow. It's like the governor of Virginia just called slaves indentured servants.

Yeah. You know, the importance of Black History Month from the standpoint of understanding the legacy is that we're starting to look at intergenerational trauma. This is a reason for everybody to begin to look at history, your own personal history, family history, the roots of where your families come from, if you can actually do that, because you can discover why you have certain anxieties. You can discover where your healing lies based upon your behavior, your patterns. I think that when we tell the truth about the brutality that African Americans lived under under slavery, we can begin to see why the inner cities have some of the problems that they still have today.
 

In the last issue, I interviewed Marilyn Hollinquest about the Radical Monarchs. Have you heard of them?

The butterflies?
 

No. This is great. They're so awesome. You talked about the Black youth. This is wonderful. It's like a Girl Scout troop, except... and Marilyn co-founded this. It's a social justice focus group for empowering grade school-age girls of color. And they're going to start a troop in Oakland pretty soon, but it was so interesting. It was so wonderful to see these girls out and being activists and making their voices heard, and especially young girls of all races really, but especially I would think African American may feel powerless because of these cultural restrictions. So to have their voices heard at a young age, it was just really inspiring.

Yeah. You know, and that's going to be part of Black history in a few years when it's not present. I mean, look, it's part of history. I think that, you know, it comes from the place of curiosity. When you become curious about why you think what you think, you can trace that thought back to some point in history. Maybe it was an experience that you had that directly related to you or a conversation that you heard, or an image that you saw. So history itself is important. His story, her story, our stories. Our stories, what we tell ourselves about our stories really helps us move along on the path.

Right now, the whole story around how do we reconnect with nature and begin to understand how deeply our bodies are just like nature. It reminds me of a story that I heard a long time ago. When the first missionaries came over to Africa, and they asked the Africans, "Well, where is God?" "Oh, God is in the tree. God is in the sun. God is in the flower. God is in me." They were like, "Oh, you worship too many gods." No, we're talking about one God everywhere.

And that spiritual piece that is so important to build self-esteem comes from the place of understanding that we are sourced and fueled by the same breath. It takes the ability to stop and look at what you've been programmed, and who is “the other.” Where is the disconnect? There's so much pride in my heart when I think about the soldiers that have been on the front lines, the Black soldiers in all of the wars. There's so much grief in my heart when I think about all of the experiments that have happened on Black folks that killed so many men and women.

It reminds me of a story of... that's told when we start talking about the new Jim Crow laws, like after slavery, the new... the Jim Crow laws. After slavery, the Jim Crow laws were established. It was an opportunity for slavery to continue itself under a new guise. One of the things that happened is that anybody could come up to you and say, "Show me your working papers," if you were Black and you were out and about. And if you couldn't produce working papers, then you would be taken down to the court. And if you didn't have enough money in your pocket to pay the judge, and the clerk, and the person who brought you in, you would be sold to a mining company who would pay that bill, and you would have to work your debt off. And there were so many people who ended up dying in those mining businesses. And they're uncovering all of these graves where mines used to be... or just dead Black folks because the work was so hard.

You know, when we face history, we've got to be thick-skinned enough to actually work through the grief that's going to come up when we realize all of the things that happened that were just horrendous. But we are strong enough to do that. So Joanna Macy says, "You won't break. You're not glass." But it takes your willingness to know the truth to bear through all of the lies and all of the things that were done for the sake of us keeping this lie about race up.
 

I think that the movement to advance African Americans in this country is picking up steam, but there's an element missing that is really inexcusable, and that's White support. I mean, I look at Colin Kaepernick, kneeling during the national anthem. Dozens of players knelt, but they were all Black. And there were a couple White players that stood with their hands on the shoulders of kneeling teammates, but they did not kneel themselves. Some of the players were saying, "Where are the White players supporting?" And that really speaks to the whole movement of raising consciousness. We're gaining traction, but there could be so much more movement if more White people publicly helped advocate as well. Is that... am I off base on that? Or what do you think?

No. I think you're on base. I think that part of the “raising consciousness” things that is happening right now is that our White sisters and brothers, they're slowly, but they are waking up. One of the things that is the cause behind that and why it's happening so slowly is that they're having to face the fact that they've been bamboozled and colonized and acting only what they know, which is exclusive to White privilege, and they're waking up to it, realizing that being White and being privileged is not the parade. It's not something that should be celebrated or glorified. Actually, it's the very opposite. It's to be mourned. It's a problem.

You know, one of the things that you have to really tell the truth about is when you think about all of the tragic things that are going on... when we look at the mass killings, it's mostly young White boys. What I say is that they're looking at the world and seeing what is being done to people that are different than them, and it gives them a sense of totally hopelessness.

So it behooves parents now, if they want to save the lives of their children, to begin to think about a world that includes all children. We're moving away from the superior, inferior, that dichotomy. And one way... and one reason why it's important to celebrate Black History Month is that if someone is approaching you in a superior position, they can only do it if you're feeling inferior. So as Black people raise their consciousness about how much we are worthy and deserving of being treated right, and how many lies we've been told upon our own selves, when we eradicate those beliefs out of us, somebody can be feeling superior, but it doesn't make me feel inferior.
 

Right. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Yes.
 

And speaking of the privilege you mentioned, just a couple days ago, I posted on Facebook an article about that. It was called “What I Told My White Friend When He Asked Me for My Black Opinion on White Privilege. It gave some wonderful examples... by Lori Lakin Hutcherson. She started GoodBlackNews.org. I was really taken aback by some of the comments. There was a lot of support. There were some Latina women and a gay White man who said, "Hey, I felt this too, this White privilege, that's the same type of microaggressions," but there were a couple of people who went on racist rants and said they weren't racist. One said that White privilege is a racist lie. One woman said, in capital letters, "I am wide awake. This is all essentially a lie." It was just astonishing, the breadth of the ignorance. I think the problem... one of the main problems is that when White people hear the term “White privilege,” they think it's something that it's not, because some of them have said... well, just a woman the other day said, "Well, I didn't grow up privileged. My family was poor." And I was talking to her with a woman from Colombia and we both said, "No. No. No. That's not it. White privilege is not so much about attaining something or your living conditions. It's about the microaggressions you don't have to contend with that people of color contend with pretty much every day.

I mean just the... one guy who said there's no such thing as White privilege said that he was talking to a Black friend who told him that when he is stopped by the police in the car, he fears for his life. And my White friend said, "I don't feel that way." And I said, "That is White privilege. That's about as obvious as you can get." And there’s some barrier that, no, no, there's no such thing as White privilege even if they agree with all of that. I mean, what are your insights on that? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Well, that's what we call “White fragility.” It's the acting out, the emotional response, the defense, the not believing, not wanting to hear, the irrational response is the way that the body protects itself, because once you begin to see that we live in a culturally pollutant society, you have to face that you've been colonized too, that you're not your own person. You're not your true self. You believe that you're better than people just because of being White. That is... it's a hard pill to swallow.

So you know what I try to do is I'll just allow people to be where they are because some people are not going to get it in this lifetime. So where I am is like, okay. I feel like I'm in the middle straddling the old world and the new world. Now as I begin to look at where I want to put my energy, I want to put my energy in the new world. So I'm beginning to look at well, what are the patterns and the behaviors inside of myself that don’t support the new world? What are the beliefs that I have that keeps me locked into the pattern of being a consumer, or being afraid to face climate change, or feeling like it doesn't matter, this stuff that's happening, it doesn't matter.

Now what I realized is that it's a place of fear. And a lot of people are really, really living in fear. People don't want to hear about the legacy of slavery. But until we can actually clean it up, some people need an apology, some people need more than an apology. We need to see policies and programs to help those who are disenfranchised. There are going to be people who are going to say African Americans don't need reparations. Well, the Japanese [and the Jewish community], they all got reparations, so why not Black folks? It's still a part of denying really what's happened.

So I try not to fight with people anymore. I've realized that I'm a little bit too old to fight anymore. So I want to be preaching where... and talking and supporting where people are ready. So everybody's just not ready. It's like the hundredth monkey theory, you know that theory?
 

Yes.

The hundredth monkey theory, nobody talks about this part of the theory. Well, when the monkeys started washing their sweet potatoes, about 40 percent of the older monkeys never did. But as they died out, it became a phenomenon. So we're waiting... and some of us won't see it, but we're waiting for this cultural pollutant that we are different races to actually evolve out of that mindset, that paradigm. It's going to take awhile.

And the younger people, they don't seem to have the problems of really interrelating with other groups when they have the opportunities, but they still have the nuances of the old. So it's going to take awhile but I think that we can't expect everybody to get it. I don't want to beat the people up who don't, but I don't want to continue to beat people up just because of the color of their skin. So I have this theory, I have this theory that if we are to move into a new paradigm about race relations based upon skin color, that we need to shift the paradigm with all the negativity around the color black. Because historically, through the media, through movies, “black” is associated with what?
 

Darkness, negativity.

Yes. And that paradigm is so deep in our subconsciousness… As people start to say, "Oh, I'm Black. I'm Black and I'm proud," it's almost like bringing another level of negativity towards yourself because people associate Black with darkness and negativity. I believe that if we could shift that paradigm and begin to look at the color black scientifically, which is that you don't get any other color unless you start with black, am I right? Think about it.
 

Mm-hmm, that's true.

All colors come out of the black. It's the source. So you know, part of our histories which people don't want to believe, is that all of us came out of Africa. So if you don't believe the original truth perspective or premises, every thought that comes out of it, out of your mind, is a false premise and it leads you down a path of disconnection. So what I'm trying to say is that if we could reprogram ourselves to understand scientifically that all color comes from black, that you can begin to look at Black as a source. If we could begin, and then we could actually heal our problems with darker-hued people, and with women, because the fear of women is about the dark womb, you know, that sacred place that is full of magic, so we could actually learn a couple of lessons about loving dark-skinned people and loving women and not being afraid. Because all of this confusion is just out of fear. And the opposite side of fear is love.

Then the other premise is that it's very important to begin... and I don't know when we're going to do this, Phil, I honestly don't, but to really rewrite history. If life started in Africa, and that's the original source of human life, then we're all Africans. But we've been conditioned for so long to have these divisions, and our society has been built upon these divisions, that... you know, I know even some Black folks that say, "I'm not from Africa." But we all are. So I have this idea in my mind about myself as an African woman, African American woman, that I understand the power of truth. So it gives me some relief to pull out the false premises, the false belief, because I realize that at the base of what we think and believe of the paradigm of the world we live in, we're not getting down or going back far enough in the truth to actually plant roots, and it's really time to do it.
 

I think you're absolutely right as far as things will get better with every generation. The young people are so much more comfortable with diversity. It's really encouraging to see. I've also learned, like you have, that it's smart not to fight with people who are hostile. I've learned from my own experience, as I'm sure you have too, that trying to reason with hostility only escalates the hostility.

Yes.
 

But there are White people who are trying who just don't get it yet, and it's worth trying to plant a few seeds in that case. And since the diversity training you did with Shift, I've learned a lot. It's been a wonderful journey. One of the things I would like to get your thoughts on is why it is so disrespectful to say to people of color, "Oh, I don't see color," because White people think, "Oh, that's really good of me, I don't see color," but that's not the case, that people of color don't receive it that way.

Right. Okay. So that's a really good question. When I hear people say that, I assume that they're trying to say to me that I want to see you as a human being, and I don't want to treat you through the lens of color because it is so discriminatory. So what I say is, "Oh, are you looking at me now? Are you looking at me now? Yeah. Okay. Do you see the color of my skin? Yeah? You do? Okay. And then you're saying to me you don't see color, then I'm saying you're not looking at me. You don't see me. Because I am proud of my color. So when you say you don't see it, then you're not really seeing me." So it's as simple as, “Look at me. What do you see?” Then you're going to say you don't see it?
 

That's really discounting a lot of identity, isn't it?

Yeah, a lot. Now the teachable moment is that you're trying to say to me you don't want to discriminate me. You don't want to lay all the prejudice and the stereotypes upon me, because of my color. So you have to say what you mean. I respect you. I want to support you. I don't want to treat you through the biases that I've learned about color. That's what people are trying to say when they say that they don't see color.


 
And along the same lines, I mean, you referenced “Black Lives Matter.” I remember years ago it was “Take Your Daughter To Work Day.” Then everyone was raising an uproar, "What about boys?" So they had to change it to “Take Your Child To Work Day.” I have a daughter. And I thought, "Are you kidding me? Boys already are the privileged class. We're trying to give girls this opportunity." In the same way, White people immediately tried to co-opt “Black Lives Matter” in saying all lives matter, which is incredibly insulting and disrespectful. Can you speak to that, please? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Yeah, I will, because I think that if all life matters, then “Black Lives Matter” wouldn't have come into existence. There wouldn't have been a need to say Black lives matter. It's the fact that Black lives had been diminished, and that the killings of Black people are like commentary, like it's normal. There's a reason why there's an emphasis on Black lives right now, because the Black community is saying, "Okay, enough with this. Enough with pretending that Blacks are valued." And it just comes from the ignorance, it comes from the socialization, it comes from living in fear and having Black be at the extreme end of it.

 

Yes. I am just amazed again at the ignorance that whenever I put something out, say on Facebook, in the comments, it's very common to hear people say, "Well, racism isn't as bad as it was 30 years ago. It's still there. Yes, I acknowledge that, but it's not going to affect people's daily lives." I’m just astonished that the ignorance and... it's just I don't even know where to begin. But this urgency to address these issues, is that why you chose the work you do? You felt a calling and an urgency to make a difference in this way?

Well, that's an interesting story. I'd love to tell you it. My father was in the service. So I spent like the first eight years of my life outside of the United States. My parents never talked about race relationships or racism. I was seven before I even heard the word “nigger.” And a little White boy called me and my brother nigger on the playground. I was like, "A nigger, what's that?" I'm like, "You're a nigger too," and just kept playing. Then that night at dinner, I said, "What is a nigger?" And my dad got visibly upset. My mother called him out from the kitchen table, they went into their bedroom, and they came out, and that evening was ruined, but nobody said anything about what that meant.

It wasn't until a few years later, being in Apple Valley, [California], the second Black family there, where the KKK came at night and wrote the word “nigger” on the garage that I got, "Oh, it has something to do with the color of my skin." But there was this unwillingness to talk about it. My parents thought that they were protecting us. And in a lot of ways, they did. In a lot of ways, they did.

So I went to Chico State, and they used to say there were 250 Black students there. This was like ’73. And we would get together and we would count. There were only 50 of us. It took awhile for the Black students to actually let me join the group, because I wasn't Black enough for them. And the White students, of course, I was too Black for them. So I was like on the edge. It took awhile. And when the Black students you know, like after about two months really started to let me hang out and saw that I was okay, they would say, "Oh, well don't take that professor because he never gives anybody Black anything over a ‘C,’" but I just already took him, or was in his class, and I was pulling an ‘A.’

Then I would think about that professor... and one professor, he would say, "Oh, Mr. Jones and Mr. Anderson and Ms. Smith," but when he'd get to me, he'd go, "Uh, uh, uh." He never said my name. So I just did what he did. When I wanted to address him, I would say, "Uh, uh, uh," and then he stopped doing that to me. He said to me, "You're really ambitious,” but what I had learned is that you treat people the way they treat you.
 

Wow. I wonder why he did that. I don't understand.

Well, first of all, oftentimes I was one of the first Black students White teachers had. And they were coming from this place that I wasn't worthy of their attention, or that I was dumb, or whatever.
 

Wow.

So I remember one time, I had a '69 GTO with mag tires, and a tire blew out. I was trying to get the tire fixed. I had some Black students with me, Black friends in the car with me. And we went to one gas station, and the guy said, "No, we can't do it for you." Went to another one. The guy said, "Uh-uh, not now." They said... then there was like, “These racist blah, blah, blah.” I'm like, it didn't dawn on me. The first guy, when I drove up, I could see all the cars he had, and the second guy just said, "Not now." He didn't say he wouldn't do it.

So I realized that my parents not talking about race and racism put me in the position where I wasn't looking for it, but when I realized that it was out there, I was able to maneuver even better. I mean, it was like sometimes I would hit this blank wall like, "Why is this not working out for me?" I did not understand the fundamental lines of discrimination.

So I have a brother, my oldest brother who married his high school sweetheart. They met in seventh grade. So he was the first African American student in that school. So she's a White woman, my sister-in-law. They had three sons. The first son, may he rest in peace, when he was getting ready to... in his senior year, all of a sudden, they've been in this small White community and everybody... he was a part of the community with kids that he went to kindergarten with. All of a sudden, as he was turning into a man, it was like, "Oh, you can't hang out with him because he's Black." In his senior year, he was the star basketball, football and baseball player. They got a new coach, and the coach wouldn't play him at all. And he committed suicide.
 

Oh, my God.

Yeah. Take a breath with me, because this is my story, and it's a hard story. This is why I'm committed to the work. So as soon as he did it, the youngest boy started saying, "I want to go with my oldest brother," and my brother and my sister-in-law got him help and support. And 12 years later, he did it too, the same way. When I realized... and then at the first... when the first son did it, I'm a Religious Science minister, they asked me to speak at the funeral, and I was just like furious. Like, what the hell do you think I'm going to say? I just sat there and I prayed, prayed, like, "Oh, use me, Spirit." I called my nephew's name, "Please, please speak through me." And whatever I said calmed everybody down. It was on Martin Luther King's birthday. That's the day that they had the funeral.

And whatever I said, people were just coming up and hugging me. But as soon as I got out of being the role of the minister, I went right back to my anger. So I realized that I was so angry because I felt so helpless. What could I have done or said to help this young boy that I loved? And then when the second one committed suicide, it almost killed me. My blood sugar was over 500 for three weeks. My body completely shut down. And I promised myself and my boys that I would be a champion in this world around race relations.

So it really came out of my pain and my grief. And for many years, every time I told anybody this story, I would then have to take care of them instead of grieving myself. Then I went to a grief workshop with The Work That Reconnects. And the way that it was designed, I was able to grieve for real, finally, and I got my juice back.

So I've really been committed from that deep, personal wound to really having people see that the other side of fear is love. And we have to work out the fear that the dominant world has given us about the color black. We have to work out the images that are seen day in and day out and the stories that are told that reinforce that fear. So my commitment is deep. And I wish that everybody would just... even if you're only going to do it for Black History Month, take a pause out of your conditioning, reach across cultural lines, learn about Black history, because Black history is American history.

We've all been bamboozled. We're all colonized. We're all perpetrators of hate and fear. And we are the bearers of light, too. And it's like, which one are we going to choose? Now, there's a whole group of us who've come on the planet for this very time to be the light, and I just am inviting people to don't hold your light and your love behind a bush. Come out of the fear and allow yourselves to reach across cultural lines to see the beauty that is waiting for you, to see the love of connection and heart. So thank you for asking me that question. It's a very powerful question.
 

It's a very powerful story. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and grief and anger that you felt and your brother and his wife felt. I can't go there at all. But then on top of that is the prejudice behind it. That just takes it so far down the road. I mean, it's beyond my understanding. And I know that's something that African Americans have dealt with on a regular basis for 400 years.

Yeah. And one of the things is that the resilience and the brilliance and the gifts that we bring are countless. They are. And for people not to know that, it's such a shame. It's a shame. And we want to come out of any blame, shame, or guilt. No, the people who are alive now didn't participate in slavery with your hands, but if you're still in the concept that “I'm superior because I'm White” and you don't even know it, it's your responsibility to unlearn that paradigm. And you know, if you don't have anybody in your personal life that's a person of color, the global majority, then you're losing out. You don't know what you're missing.

So you know, I think that when people say, "Well, what should I do?" I said, "You should reach across cultural lines. There's somebody close to you that you could begin to respect and understand." And sometimes people are like, "Well, I heard this one guy say, 'All you people want is reparations.'" I said, "Well, if we're going to ever equal the playing field, we’ve got to start somewhere."

We need a new Bill of Rights for the 21st century. Housing, shelter, which is housing, food, clothing, education, water, lights, all of those are rights now. Because if you are living next door to somebody that doesn't have that, then you're in danger too. So you gotta want for your kids what you want for all kids.
 

Yes. The history is so important because I just read recently about, I think after World War II the housing inequalities and the zoning that forced... Black people weren't allowed to buy homes and therefore could not create wealth during that period when White people, through house ownership, increased their wealth. So Blacks were kept in a lower class. And if you don't know any of that history, for you to say now, for someone to say now, "Oh, we're all equal now. Let's not look in the past," you're just not getting it.

Yeah. Just not getting it. And you know, Phil, we said earlier that some people are not going to get it, but those are the people who are unwilling to actually look at the housing laws and all of the discriminatory practices around the G.I. Bill, and why the flight from urban to suburban had happened, and how people... a global majority, Blacks, were denied the right to own those homes and to get those loans.

And then when you look now at all of the predatory lending and who's losing their houses now, it's the same... it's the same piece. It's the same piece. It's just almost unbearable. There's like over a thousand people's homes that are in foreclosure now in Oakland and like 85 percent of them are Black.
 

Well, along the same lines, it's the voter suppression too, taking away power and viability and the voices of the Black community. It’s astonishing that this is going on and that politicians don't all say, “Every person in America should get a vote.” How can that be a controversy? I just don't get it.

Yet it is.
 

It is.

It is. You know, the thing that... I think that you know we're in a time when all of this stuff is being revealed to us. So it's coming out in the open to be aired and be clean and to be able to work on it. So in that way, we are moving in the right direction, because there was a time when we weren't even talking like this. And it makes sense that there would be some White fragility because we're really shaking the core, we're really moving the paradigm around, we're really standing up in a way that hasn't been done before. So it feels very tense and tight. And some people are going to be fighting tooth and nail to keep things the way they are, or to roll back the clock. But you can't roll back the clock. You just, you can't.

The past is the past. If we do our work on clearing up the mistakes of the past, the present will shift and the future will be what it's supposed to be. Now, there's too much consciousness awakening to go back to some dark ages. You know, that fear is a waste of time as far as I'm concerned.
 

Yes. And this white fragility is very analogous to male fragility when the Women's Movement started.

Yes.
 

And there's a great quote, which I'm sure you're familiar with: “When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That is so well put. I saw another note on Facebook, it said, "Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it's not a problem to you personally." That's why it's so easy for White people to not think about such things.

Yeah. I saw in the news the other day that a Black woman was calling a Black man privileged. And there is class privilege. You know, one of the things that I felt is that in the Civil Rights movement, the White women sold the Black women out. And we see that some of the Black preachers sold the community out as soon as they got stable and got a little bit in the mix, they forgot that they needed to be feeding the masses. And so all of us are part of the problem, unless we're part of the solution.

So my question is what does each one of us need to do to be a part of the solution? And it's different for each one of us. When we stop and be centered in our place in the universe and begin to look around about what's happening, there is something that each one of us can do to help move us towards a future where the playing field is going to be leveled.
 

Amen.

Yeah.
 

Are there any particular issues you're giving your attention to now?

Well, I'm giving my attention to developing facilitators for The Work That Reconnects, so that people will have a space to do their grief. I think that anger, fear, emptiness, and despair are the emotions that rob people of their innate ability to come up with solutions that we need to have in the community, which includes the solutions for climate change. I think that people are so afraid that we have destroyed the earth, that they're... “So why not just throw trash everywhere? Why do I need to be recycling? Why do I need to be composting? I don't need to be raising my own food, because, oh, it's going to be over soon. We're on countdown.”

You know, that kind of thinking goes against what I know about myself as a faith worker, as a peacekeeper. So I'm working towards helping The Work That Reconnects get out in the community so people can let go of their emotional stagnation, isolation, depression to be a part of the movements that are going to really... that are surfacing now that are going to be what's going to save us.

I also believe what the native American Indigenous wisdom says, that, “Let us not to be so egotistical to think that we could destroy the earth, because we're only visitors.” So that whole relationship with reconnecting with nature and understanding the intelligence of nature. Yes, we have impacted nature, but I don't believe we can destroy nature. So I think that it's that reconnecting with nature, seeing the beauty of nature all around, understanding how much our bodies are made of nature. I think that we're moving towards reclaiming ourselves, reclaiming relationships with other people, and reclaiming our oneness with nature. And that's all part of The Work That Reconnects. So I am doing some facilitation work.

I'm also doing some personal coaching to help people get to see what are the roots in their consciousness that they need to work on in order to be free and joyful. Because even in this time of dire social and climate chaos and tragedies, we can be grateful for our breath. We can be grateful for flower. Gratitude takes us a long time — and it's a revolutionary act, Joanna Macy says, in order to be grateful. So I'm committed to the diversity work, to coaching, to spiritual development as one of the 21st-century tools for transformation. There are so many tools we can use. We can use our breath. We can use tapping. We can use dreamwork, vision boards to actually motivate ourselves to look at ourselves.

I love that song, Man in the Mirror, by Michael Jackson. We really need to look at ourselves, because we are divine expressions of this thing called life, individually divine. And if we do our work like you're... the work that each of us needs to do might even be very small. It might be forgiving your mother. It might be talking to your sister who you haven't talked to for 20 years. It might be forgiving your own self for the ways that you're condemning yourself for whatever stories that you made up, but the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and others, we need to rewrite those.

And I'm here to support people to do that work, to get back to joy, to juice, to playfulness, to dancing, to singing. I want to celebrate this thing called life, even in its condition, because that's me taking my foot off of the old world, turning towards the vision of the new. I'm a visionary holder. And part of that vision is to be happy in the body, and to be moving, singing, dancing, grieving, crying. When's the last time that you cried about the pain in the world? If you're not crying about some of the pain in the world, then you're stuck, and you can't see the beauty because you're stuck. So, yeah. Thank you for asking that question.
 

Well, I am an optimist at heart too, so I hope and pray you're right. Thank you so much for doing the work you do in the world. And thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with us today, Mutima. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights.

Thank you for interviewing me, and especially during Black History Month, because Black history is American history. American history is Black history. Thank you, Phil.
 

Well said.
 


Mutima Imani is a social justice visionary, master trainer, and facilitator working to heal the heart of humanity by providing 21st-century tools for personal and professional development and transformation. She is a global diversity specialist who understands and inspires people to think locally while planning globally. Highly skilled at bringing diverse groups together to resolve conflicts, Mutima conducts Civic Leadership training and Restorative Justice Circles. She has a master's degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Phenomenology. Mutima is passionate about how all things work together and what humans can learn from the natural world.

To learn more about Mutima, just Google her. You can email Mutima here.
 
 

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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 4: Black History Month