#Blacklivesmatter and Constellations
By Rev. Leslie Nipps, MDiv
I hope and pray that this is a special time in the unfolding of the U.S. story. The media have been filled with news about the very real impact racism continues to have on the lives of African-Americans in the U.S., and this movement has been graced with a most elegant, and technically-contemporary title, “#Blacklivesmatter.” As a white, upper middle class constellation facilitator, I’ve been touched by this movement, and I’ve felt strongly called to examine myself, and to see where I might be called to action personally and professionally.
One calling and hope I’ve felt intensely: that the constellation community joins in this conversation with our remarkable tools and systemic perspective. I hope we do not stand on the sidelines and watch; I also hope we do not limit ourselves (as important as this is) to working client by client for the healing of racism. How do we stand up as citizens and participate, whatever race we are?
So, I want to join the conversation, and I want to invite you to join the conversation, somehow. I know it will be messy. I want to share some of my learning and reflections and fears from a constellation perspective. I do not intend to “teach,” not really. I’m not qualified. But I do want this article, if possible, to be an initial attempt to join this national conversation as we prepare for our conference this November, where I hope the conversation will continue.
What do constellations, as handed down to us by our founder Bert Hellinger, have to contribute to this historical moment? Hellinger first applied what he’d been taught by Zulu elders (African teachers) to the post-World War II context of the reconciliation between Jews and Christians in Germany. This work was honed in the environment of a difficult conversation and the awareness that systemic realities were underlying untold human suffering. This “origin story”—with its reminders of Africa and colonialism and horrific ethnic cleansing—is a resonant one in this time.
A few months ago, I wrote on my professional blog about living and working in Oakland on the night of the protests (and some riots) that followed the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, who had killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. I was doing a constellation with a client at the exact moment the helicopters began to sound (a common noise in Oakland). We were uncovering layers of denied violence in her family, and as we did, her whole system began to relax and welcome her lost family strength. I felt the resonances between our national challenge and my client’s personal one. So, I wrote about how recognizing denied violence—our violence—is one of the much-needed elements for our own national healing. Read the whole article here.
A short while later, I was watching the news of protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere (and which are still taking place, although no longer so prominent in the media). I could see the conscious layers of division between the police and the protesters, so elegantly captured by both the protesters, and by many analysts of the tragic militarization of our police since 9/11. And, as a facilitator, for a moment, I saw the unconscious reality of how police and protesters are one system, one dance, part of one expression of national outrage, pain, loss, heartbreak and fear: the forced migration of millions of Africans, their years of enslavement, and the time since the Civil War as white fear continued to conspire, consciously and unconsciously, to prevent full equality of black and white in our nation.
And then, there was a story unfolding in Richmond, right up the bay from me (famous for being a center for shipbuilding during World War II, the Rosie the Riveter Museum, and the proud service of thousands of African-Americans at those docks where many died due to the poor working conditions during the war). For years, Richmond was known as the murder capital of the U.S. Not a big city, it was nonetheless “big” in terms of a complex array of impoverished migrant communities and gang participation on the part of disenfranchised and hopeless youth.
Police Chief Chris Magnus, hired in 2006, brought a new approach that has transformed the city’s crime situation. Under his leadership, they began to reach out to the most violent gang members and sought to enroll them into the community as leaders. Listen to the whole story on This American Life.
But in addition, when #Blacklivesmatter gained momentum last year, Chris Magnus stepped up, attending a local protest in his uniform, standing on the side of the protesters, with a sign that said “#Blacklivesmatter.” You may have heard how upset this made many across the country—a betrayal, some said.
The question is—where is the betrayal if you recognize you are on both sides? If you see how we are part of one system seeking justice, held back by fear and denial and violence? I believe Chris Magnus made this constellation movement. The one that includes, and does not hold back from “crossing lines” because there are no lines, not really. He was doing his small part in fulfilling the first Order of Love: “To honor and include and acknowledge what is.” As some protesters have noted, the current way we police in our cities isn’t any safer for the police than it is for the protesters themselves. There’s an “us” here waiting to be seen across the system.
This is very difficult business. It can be easily misunderstood (as it was in Chris Magnus’ case). When we say that the protesters and the police are one systemic reality, it can sound like we are erasing differences, transgressions and systemic oppression. But we are not; we are including those, too. We include and accept that #Alllivesmatter is not the same as #Blacklivesmatter. That living as white or as black in this country is not the same.
One of the most astonishing effects of Ferguson has been the profound, difficult, but real examination many of us whites are beginning to engage–looking at and acknowledging our white privilege. As allies to our black friends, neighbors, colleagues and community members, we are asked not to abandon our privilege, but recognize it and use it in the cause of justice—to see it for what it is. Have you seen the twitter trend, #crimingwhilewhite? An amazing display of honesty and solidarity. And entirely in line with other constellation moves, like when one person in a family has been identified as the perpetrator, but another representative finally raises their hand and says, “Y’know, it may not be all his fault…” and everyone, finally relaxes, the truth is finally being seen and included.
The resistance to this unfolding is, unfortunately, to be expected. How many constellations have we seen that show how, just when something seems to be reconciled, some element pops up to resist, deny, block? I don’t want us to be fearful (although we should be persistent). I can stay committed to the unfolding, to being an ally, a listener, a truth teller, a participant, a partner in the dangerous hard work that is still to come. Systemic Constellations work could play an interesting and important part in that.
There’s something else I’ve learned that has been so important—it’s important to follow the guidelines of the leaders of the #Blacklivesmatter movement and leave the megaphone in the hands of black leaders (especially women). Why? Again, constellation work teaches us: these are the voices that need to be heard, need to be included, need to lead. The problem here, of course, is that in the constellation world, we still have very few black leaders. I hope we notice this as the problem it is.
We can proudly claim a certain degree of diversity in the U.S. constellation community, but let’s admit we facilitators remain a pretty European-descended crowd. This will be obvious when we gather in San Diego this November. I feel the imbalance of this in a country as diverse as ours. The Orders of Love feel disordered among us. And, if we include and honor that truth, perhaps the movement of love can begin to do some work. Having said that, I need to find ways to be lead and taught by the people I am not usually led and taught by.
And, there are many ways that these issues are being addressed, directly or indirectly. I want to properly lift these up. The remarkable work of Francesca Mason Boring and the insights of the Indigenous Field. The work of Lisa Iverson and many others who are doing conscious post-colonialism work. The facilitators in Canada and Mexico who use constellations to support justice for First Nations people in those countries. And all the ways we, in our small groups, wherever we are, use constellations to address all kinds of historic systemic oppression in the family histories of our clients.
All of those are important. And, I hope we can acknowledge that #Blacklivesmatter is our historical moment in the U.S. and confronts us with a special challenge. Blacks and whites (speaking very simplistically) are profoundly intertwined, one system here in the U.S. Our fates are bound together. As we recover the truth of our history and we bravely take responsibility (one of the most beautiful and powerful of constellation movements) it will be possible for “right living” to assert itself, for the whole system to relax into the community we truly wish to create together.
How do you see constellations as part of this movement?
The Rev. Leslie Nipps, MDiv, is Co-Director for the 2015 Conference. She has been an Episcopal minister for twenty years, and has supported people in the most poignant moments of life. She has a private practice in Oakland, CA as an NLP and Family Constellations practitioner. She is especially focused on helping fellow “heart-based practitioners” to succeed in business. She also has a passion for ritual and contemplative practice. She presented and volunteered at the conferences in 2011 and 2013. You can find her practice at www.leslienipps.com.