Looking at Bias

Tamarack Verrall
Posted August 29, 2020 from Canada
When World Pulse Sisters meet

We have been called to look at bias and as a white-bodied woman this is an important call. None of us want to be making mistakes. Racism, prejudice, bias can happen without intention. My ancestors came from parts of Europe, England, Scotland, France. They colonized many countries including Canada where I was born. My family now is white-bodied, brown-bodied and black bodied. The people I love come from many heritages, with differing physical abilities, different religions, different lifestyles. I know that I carry biases taught when I was young, some given to me as unasked for privileges, not yet all seen and recognized as I continue to learn and grow. 

I have a lot to undo, having absorbed the history of my country, and the history of the world in schools taught by white-bodied teachers, with books written by white-bodied people telling what I now know was a biased and inaccurate account of what took place, intentionally hiding the truth.

To undo this I am committed to listening and learning. Two books I am currently reading are: White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, subtitle “Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk About Racism, and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, a book which takes you deep into self reflection and understanding how to be active in undoing racism and the damage it has been doing to all of us.

The history we have been given in Canadian schools is woefully inadequate still. What I have learned, I have learned by listening and paying attention. In the 1980’s I was asked by some Indigenous sisters here why white-bodied women felt the need to appropriate Indigenous women’s culture. I wrote this poem after my meeting with them, and have read it to open discussion with my white-bodied sisters here. I still have a lot to learn, and am paying close attention to all of you here, my World Pulse sisters.

Search for Roots

When I look to my heritage I find

My ancestresses gone

The moon calendar destroyed

Medicine taken over by men

Matriarchies and amazons

Hidden behind a wall

Called pre-history

The single woman

Who met with her sisters in the woods

Shared knowledge of the earth

And magic

Gone

Tortured and burned

Her memory defiled

Called a witch for knowing healing herbs

Called evil, opposite of life, to be feared

As I am today,

A wild and independent woman

Free in my thinking,

Free of what I have been told is the way it was,

Searching for my roots in these wise, ancient women

Who followed earth traditions

Scorned for questioning

For refusing to believe

That my ancestresses were wrong

To each find her power, as a woman

In the woods.

I refuse to ignore

That there always has been

Another way, a different story.

And so, in our searching, we white women,

Descendants of murdered women

Have searched, and in searching fallen prey

To borrowing and taking, in our psychic famine

Without realizing that this cannot be the answer

To this void that we inherited.

Sweetgrass from the Earth but it is not ours

Though we have been offered invitations to take part

Sweat Lodges are not ours 

Though we have been given kind invitations in

We can find ourselves again

Through the woods

And the wild animals

By gathering sweet smelling herbs

Watching the skies change

Taking in the energy of the sun

And the moon

And remembering

Through our dreams and visions

Trusting the memories that we glean

Confident in ourselves when met with disbelief and hatred

And realize 

That we are the orphans of wise women

Who were murdered for their knowledge.

We are the granddaughters 

Of the women called witches who were not burned

And look with courage into this void forced upon us

Into this void that we inherited.

We can find ourselves 

And trust that 

Our roots

Our traditions

Our knowledge  

Are unbroken

Deep in the Earth.

We can find ourselves

And our original integrity

Then join hands, with respect

With our sisters of all nations

In changing the world

To the way it was always meant to be.

*Reflection following questions from Mi’kmaq women on why this happens and what can be done 1988

This story was submitted in response to Stronger Together.

Comments 18

Log in or register to post comments
Nini Mappo
Aug 30
Aug 30

Hello Tam,
What a thought provoking question the indigenous sisters asked you, and how unfortunate that there is no response sufficient enough to address it. Your poem reflects the trend of what happened in every place where colonialism sank its roots, and I am glad that it led you to such a holistic conclusion.

I think too of the many biases plaguing families between family members, or tribes within the different hierarchies in the tribal leadership, or nations in form of nepotism and tribalism in employment and political leadership_ making bias such a far reaching maze that is difficult to navigate or pin down.

It is good of you to share your journey with us. Thank you, for inviting us to question our biases too. This is crucial because an external world without bias begins with an internal world emptied of all bias.
May we all join in this journey, and at length, stand as one: human.

Thank you Tam, you add such great value, always :)

Tamarack Verrall
Aug 30
Aug 30

Hi Nini,
Thank you so much for your warm and deeply thoughtful response. Bias is a tough subject, but so important for self reflection and discussion together. I commend our World Pulse Team for the gentle nudge for us to write on this to each other. I so appreciate what you have added.

Hello, dear Tam,

You keep surprising me. You write poetry, too! How glorious is that.
Reading your introduction before “listening” to your heartfelt poetry brought goosebumps and tears to me because I understand. I’ve worked with indigenous tribes in the past, and part of that is listening to their stories. How horrified I was to hear their side of the story that it made me question how history was written, too. It was written in favor of those who had and still have power so they can hide their abuses to the tribes.

How small this world is that my last development work was founded by a Mi’kmaq His father is a tribal chieftain in Canada. He came to the Philippines and fell in love with our country. He put an organization to ignite the dreams of the indigenous tribes and to embrace their culture. I was employed to write grant proposals for them.

It was from him that I learn about how the White People have indoctrinated our country by subtlety bringing their religion to us. And from him, I learn about the Mi’kmaq tribe and their struggle as First Nation.

From your post, I learn how important it is for us to let go of our biases and to take time to listen to stories, because in these stories, we will discover the truth.

Thank you again for always educating us, Tam, especially through a poem.

Andrace
Sep 05
Sep 05

You analyse and relate so well, Kaye. I'm learning, really. :)

Thumbs up always!
Love and hugs,
E. J.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Dear Karen,
Our world is both so large and small. I love that you have had the chance to meet and learn from a Mi'kmaq elder. Colonization and the insistence on only one way to live is finally being questioned now in so many countries. I am so glad that you can relate to my poem.

ARREY- ECHI
Aug 31
Aug 31

What a thought provoking post as always, Mama Tam.
Reading through this, we see the realities of our world. Distorted histories and the shunning and killing of those with different views and cultures.
The search for identity as depicted in your poem is a privilege man yearn for.
Thank you for sharing this poem with us.
It shows how deep seated these things are when 32 years after this was first written, it is still a topic of debate.
Unlearning and relearning to embrace humanity in all it's diversity is a journey we all continue to make.
With love,

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Dear Arrey,
Thank you for your thoughts and insights. Yes, the deep-seatedness is proving to be such a challenge, just as the same narratives of men having the right to control women continues to be taught. I hold out hope in the changes I see in now in my country as the voices of Indigenous peoples rise, and in what we are creating together here though a platform that is raising our voices as women with our vision of what is possible.

Andrace
Sep 05
Sep 05

Wow! Really? Thank you for sharing Maama Tam, and for raising your voice so loudly over the years. The piece is richly written, as usual. I love the "listening and learning" part and I think I should read the two books you are reading now too.

Unlearning, learning and relearning is for all of us because our biases are embedded as soon as soon as we begin to grow, since children are born innocent as it were.
Thankfully, we are not where we were then, though we aren't where we desire to be either.

Deep regards and love,
E. J.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Dear Andrace,
"Unlearning, learning and relearning", yes, you have said it so well. You are so right that these prejudices are held in place by the teaching young innocent minds. I hold out hope for the movements that have grown so large now, just as my hope has soared finding everyone here in World Pulse.

Minakshib
Sep 07
Sep 07

You analyse and relate so well, I'm learning, really. :)

All the best

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

And I have learned so much from you, dear sister.

Chinyere Kalu
Sep 08
Sep 08

Great story Tam! Most of us were raised to be biased.Bur the onus is now on us to learn,relearn and unlearn for a better world.
Your poem is beautiful and the action call at the end sealed the essence for me.T Great story , beautiful poem.Thanks for writing in

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Dear Chy,
I so agree, we have been taught such lies, and the hope in our continuing to unlearn. I am continually learning and unlearning here thanks to our connections on World Pulse. I am so glad you liked my poem.

Kabahenda
Sep 18
Sep 18

Sister Tam,
I love your reflections and your analysis of the problem that plagues and divides the white world from the rest of the non-white world.

Indeed racism, prejudice and bias happen without intention, unfortunately, because of the their long history, we have all internalized them to a certain extent, and getting rid of them is a conscious effort.
Listening, learning, understanding, confronting and challenging our own internal bias is an important first step to breaking free of our biases.
Thank you for sharing the poem which is as relevant today as it was in 1988.
Thank you for reminding us to listen and to learn, and for the call to action.

In joining our hands with respect with our sisters from all nations we can change the world. This is what I am learning at World Pulse. Always in awe of you Tam.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Dear Kabahenda,
Thank you so much my dear sister. It has been a special gift that we live in cities not far from each other and have been able to talk about these things in person. Hopefully travel will be more possible again soon. All the best to you.

Kabahenda
Sep 23
Sep 23

Good to know that all is well with you.
It would be nice to meet again, but that may not possible until next year.
I do not want to imagine what winter is going to be given the context of COVID-19. Have a good day.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 23
Sep 23

Yes, I hold onto the luck that we have had the chance to meet. May we all stay safe through this. all the best dear sister.

Minakshib
Sep 23
Sep 23

Nice work