Light On Shadow

for A.R and T.L.

With the new administration bringing up the problem of our collective “shadow,” some friends and I have been asking ourselves about our own shadows, recognizing that our personal issues are true for the society at large as well. These are not necessarily easy conversations, to be sure, but when we can emotionally handle them without backing away, I find their candor and passion exhilarating!

One, a longtime friend and colleague, asked me the other day if I had any idea what it was really like to be a Black woman in our society? The fact is that I don’t, however much I might think I do, so she spelled it out for me – about being both a woman and a Black person - revealing her raw pain in one horrific story after another.

“You mean you didn’t know that was in the law?” she challenged me again and again. It was clear that much of the institutionalized racism she lives with every day was pretty much news to me, hard as it is for me to admit that.

Abashed, I am getting a late education as we speak.

Another extended conversation I’ve been having is about love and intimacy and sex, and how the society has defined what is acceptable and what is not. This friend is an adventurous fellow in his prime who wants to explore the ways love and longing get tangled up for him when the imposed social norms of our society go against his best instincts.

As you might imagine, this dialogue is quite a bit easier, not to mention more fun than the conversations on racism, but equally essential as we ask ourselves some hard questions about what is natural and healthy human behavior, and what is not.

In both conversations it feels as if we are committing a kind of heresy, outing subjects at a level of personal transparency long considered verboten. We are letting in light where shadows have covered things up, braving the dark closets of the mind and heart by asking hard questions about our own old, worn-out assumptions.

It’s a breath of fresh air and I love it!

I feel as if we’re probing for the Shadow behind the shadows for that deep source of angst that lies beneath the veneer of our self-images and approved desires.

So, taking a closer look at both male dominance and institutional racism, which are undoubtedly connected, the Shadow seems to really be about insecurity and the deep fear of not having enough. Not being enough. Men, mostly, have found their personal power by fighting for ownership – of women, of slaves, of property, becoming the ‘Lords of the Land.’

From that has followed social and economic hierarchies that define human beings as private property, and thus for sale at a profit, and the men have the power to write it into Law. This inevitably allows for legalized disrespect – also called ‘slavery’ - and its attendant forms of torture, in which whole segments of the population get defined as secondary or sub-human and are treated accordingly.

Thus it happens that greed and control have been protected by the rules of the privileged class, which in this country means white people. These rules are in virtually nobody else’s interest, but yet are accepted as the Law of the Land. The reality is that everyone suffers, the primary victims along with the rest of us who bear witness to their victimization.

Even the ruling class suffers, even though they may not cop to it.

The resulting horror is the sense of personal failure and self-hate so many in our society walk around with. Few of us are immune to it, whatever our class, gender, body-type, or skin color.


Taking a look at the subject of love, sex and intimacy, the Shadow behind the shadows seems to be a deep fear of nature’s wildness: the body, desire, sexual surrender, death, along with a powerful longing for physical connection with the earth and one another. Again, the problem seems to be about power and control, trying to tame the natural world through denial or defining it as a commodity to be mined for profit – raped, in other words - and calling the natural impulses of our bodies shameful sins we should be punished for.


The result is a disconnection from Nature, a fear of love, sexuality and death, and the sense of frustrated impotence that follows.

Again, self-hate running rampant!

I know another story that is about both race and love at the same time. It happened many years ago that a friend’s (white) mother had a secret affair with an African-American man who was a friend of the family, and she became pregnant as a result. This was before either abortion or mixed marriages were legal. She was terrified of what might be revealed at the birth of this child, and apparently was an emotional wreck during her whole pregnancy. Nobody had any idea what the problem was, my friend told me.

I remember that once the baby was born - a lovely honey-colored little girl with big black eyes - she was so entrancing she won the hearts of everyone who laid eyes on her. As if she knew her life depended on it, she played to her public from the very beginning, an adorable as well as totally adored little charmer.

I will never know what my friend’s father thought when he saw this newborn baby emerge from his wife’s body, but he took her as his own without missing a beat. The child’s probable actual father remained a friend of the family and often came to visit with gifts for all the kids, never forgetting the birthday of the child he must have known was his.

I’ve often wondered if there were ever confrontations between the adults? Did they seek counseling, separately or together; did they ever speak about it with their other children? Did the other man’s wife suspect? Did the girl herself ever wonder if maybe he might be…? According to my friend, the subject never really came up.

“She was our baby sister,” was what she told me. “We all were totally crazy about her.”

So there you are – that’s the power of new life and love.

New possibilities. New opportunities.

It’s good stuff to talk about.

So let’s tawk!…