From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Soothing the Soul of Racism

It is critical that we take charge of our own destiny and stop waiting for some unknown being to come along and wipe racism from the face of the Earth.

David Wilson

As an activist, someone who is constantly on the front lines for racial equality in the world, my spirit was tired, overwhelmed with the work, hopeless that a real change would ever manifest. In an effort to recharge my spiritual battery, I registered for a cultural retreat, Moonsisters Drum Camp for Women in Northern California.

I believed being around the sacred instrument would renew me, connect me to the ancestral energy I needed to continue my work. I’d be around other black women who were doing similar work. Perhaps they could offer some suggestions on how I could serve my community without depleting myself on every level.

When I arrived, I became immediately resentful. Over 70 percent of the participants were white women. Here I was in my late thirties, and this was the first opportunity I’d had to develop a relationship with a major part of my ancient African heritage: drumming. The term “white privilege” spun in my head until I found out that in order to attend the camp, white participants had to attend a special antiracism training workshop. I was impressed that these women were willing to do this, to pay for it even, to ensure that they wouldn’t bring overt racism into a sacred healing space.

The white women offered to help with my bags, show me to my cabin. Although they were kind and welcoming, I wore a scowl on my face: a mask for the fear and mistrust I felt.

We each went around the room introducing ourselves, explaining why we had chosen to attend the drum camp. I told the group I came to try to find a spiritual solution for the race problem in America. After the introduction, two white women approached and said they wanted to support me in any way they could to end racism in America. I was moved but not convinced.

I am what my ancestors called a “seer.” I have always had the ability to hear the voice of spirit. This is not a 1-900 kind of connection with the spirit world; it is a gift from God to help me in my journey. During a drumming session, a young woman asked me to do a spiritual reading for her. I’d never sat in spiritual counsel with anyone white. But I intuitively felt led to work with this woman.

She came to my cabin at the arranged time. During the reading, my ancestors directed me to wash her feet with sage and holy oil. I thought I was hearing things. They couldn’t be serious. After what her ancestors had done to mine, she should be washing my feet! I followed the directive, reluctantly. Later it was revealed to me that her ancestors were among the whites who helped free the slaves through the Underground Railroad. My lesson was in motion. The spiritual reason I’d been brought to this retreat was steadily being revealed.

The camp workshops included various drumming sessions and collective healing circles. We built a community altar, and each woman placed a sacred object on the shrine that represented her vision for personal healing. It was a powerful altar that embraced practically every religious belief system and cultural background. Our altar was a bridge to healing across the races, a bridge we would all cross before the weekend was over.

The closing ceremony was a culmination of the stories and lessons we had exchanged throughout the retreat. The woman whose feet I had washed was giving her testimony on how the retreat had changed her. Suddenly, she looked over at me and apologized for what her ancestors had done to my ancestors. In all my thirty-four years, no white person had ever acknowledged my pain as a black woman in relationship to the enslavement of my ancestors. I fell to my knees and sobbed uncontrollably. So did every black person in that room. One by one, each white person apologized to every black person in the room for what their ancestors did. We hugged each other, linking arms and bodies. I felt a white light surrounding us. And for that moment, we were no longer white or black, Christian or Yoruba; we were human beings united under one God.

There were ten watermelons on the shrine. The organizers cut and distributed slices to refresh us from our intense healing session. The woman I’d bonded with over the weekend brought over a slice to share. When she handed it to me, the watermelon slipped from her hand. We caught it just before it hit the ground. However, it split open in the process and when it did, a perfect heart fell out and sat between our fingers.

The entire group sighed in awe of the way that spirit recognized the healing we had brought about. We cried again. The healing was complete. I took off a beloved cowry shell bracelet that I’d been wearing the entire retreat and placed it around her wrist. Cowry shells are a symbol of African wealth; worn to symbolize the return to our original greatness.

“Sisters forever,” I told her as I fastened the bracelet around her wrist.

We smiled and parted, connected forever by the drums, our human hearts and the spiritual soup of God. And today, I don’t assume anything about a person because of their race. I wait for their spirit to show me who they are.

Ta’Shia Asanti

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