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Word Maps for Contemplating Pain, Hope, and Action.

I often use word maps in my practice to brainstorm an idea or work through thoughts that feel too raw or challenging to express as complete thoughts.

The tragedy of George Floyd’s death (Amuhad Aubrey's, Brionna Taylor's, and so many other unarmed black people who have been killed at the hands of police) and the powerful protests that have been held across the world in response has been all encompassing and emotional.

I write this post from my perspective as a white woman and will offer a strategy from my art practice that has helped me reflect, heal, and take action in the past. I will leave sharing information about the current events, history, and political action up to the amazing content created by people of color who's voices need to be heard to be able to make changes that matter. I will link a few articles, videos, and podcasts that have resonated with me or that I hope to digest soon at the end of this post.

The fight to dismantle structural racism is an effort that has to be communal – but I was reminded by a very wise friend – that to be strong enough as individuals to attempt this we each have to process, reflect, and heal on our own as well. I hope these mapping exercises can offer one way to reflect on your own feelings, experiences and role within our very interconnected society that desperately needs change.

WHEN MAKING A WORD MAP: The maps I am sharing are the foundation for you to expand on - you can use them as they are - or adapt them so they fit for you. This is an exercise - and there is no right or wrong way to do it. When mapping - build relationships and create connections between the words that are meaningful to you, they don’t have to be logical to anyone else. Use symbols, lines, textures, color, to help you identify the different interactions, feelings, and or distance between the words and phrases that you discover. Write as much or as little as you'd like or use drawings.

PAIN -- The word that runs through my head the most lately is pain. I feel like you can hear it in people’s voices, you can see it in people’s eyes, you can witness it in their actions, and I can feel it in my heart.

I feel like exploring pain can be productive not only for yourself but to better understand others. To consider how it manifests or what it turns into, to understand when your pain is empathy so you can give space to others and listen, and to consider how to heal your own pain past and present. I developed this base map as a way to start writing and considering pain.

ACTION -- This word map comes from the cover of a workbook written by the Grassroots Policy Project. It expresses the interconnected relationships between the different facets of our society. The background of the image – a warped grid from an MC Escher painting – is explained to represent how “Racialization distorts all parts of the system”. This map is so simple and expresses so much. I think it's is a useful tool for brainstorming ACTIONS. Looking at each facet and it's impact on our society - consider your role and experience in that portion of society then think about examples of how that facet is distorted by racialization. Is there an action or change of your own life that you can make? Is there an injustice that needs to be called out? As a white woman working my way through this word map it helped me more deeply understand the privileges I knew I had and connect them to the bigger social picture - which helped me see the systemic racism at work - as well as identify changes that could be made.


*Try changing the middle word or phrase of the word map (the impacted system) – what words, connections, experiences, does the change inspire? In the book they give an example of the map with the word “Children” in the middle, I suggest if you work in the arts changing it to “Culture / Culture Producer” - how is the field that you work in distorted by the racialization of our society? What word or phrase could you change it to explore your world deeper?

HOPE -- In the same Grassroots Policy Project Workbook “Race, Power and Policy: Dismantling Structural Racism” they have a segment about “Worldview” and how the Dominant worldview perpetuates structural racism. They offer a diagram that explains the “Dominant Worldview” and how racism is at the center of it influencing how the core values are employed. They ask the question – How do we develop an alternative Worldview that better represents our values, experience, and wisdom? Using the diagram they provided I created my own – inserting the powers and values I would like to see shaping the dominant worldview. What would your worldview be? Play around with different ideas, build onto it, let your imagination run with what could happen if your worldview pyramid was what people built their value system upon. Are there some changes to the current dominant world view that you feel are shifting? Are there parts of your hopeful worldview that don't feel as out of reach as they maybe used to?

More Maps -- Earlier this spring I released a Newsletter called "Reading the Landscape" through the Lynden Sculpture Garden. An article in that newsletter I wrote was about healing trauma with Nature. It also includes a series of word maps that were created after walks aimed to help heal my own trauma. They were made years ago, but I think using nature and writing to heal trauma is a strategy that could be incredibly useful for so many reasons right now.

More Resources for Reading, Listening, and Witnessing:

An incredible list of resources, phone numbers to call, black owned business, causes to support, and more compiled by neighbor and artist Sara Caron.

A video that was posted through the Milwaukee Women's Art Library that was a true calling in by Janaya Kahn!

Leaders Igniting Transformation - Milwaukee Youth Leaders that make you feel hopeful about the future!

Dasha Kelly Hamilton (founder of Still Waters Collective and The Retreat) shares a prompt against anxiety through Woodland Pattern Book Center.

Rid Racism - working to dismantle racism through education, dialogue, and action.

Children's Book reading list to promote anti-racist activism .

Adult reading list to promote anti-racist activism. (this is one of many lists - keep looking beyond this!)

Also - the Milwaukee public library is closed but there are still ways to get free media from them - including contactless pick up at certain branches, apps for e-books, audio books, music, and movies, online news archives, and even free online courses you can take - check them all out!

Trever Noah - the social contract - I think about this idea A LOT. We need to re-write the social contract and we need to uphold it for everyone equally.

An article about Milwaukee's history and relationship to race

Seeing White podcast

1619 Project podcast

This is a very meager list - there is so so much more - it's overwhelming the amount of beautiful writing, content, and action that is happening right now. Keep reading, keep watching, keep listening, keep learning, and keep HEALING yourself so that you can continue.

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