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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Letter from Publisher: When Worlds Collide

Feb 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Paul Chen

Johan Swanepoel /

“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

When Worlds Collide

For me, this is the hardest issue we’ve ever done, by a magnitude of maybe 20. While Diane says we “stretched boundaries” in her letter, for me, the experience has been more like worlds colliding. We didn’t stretch boundaries; we obliterated them.

Natural Awakenings has always been about healing and personal evolution. Our style is journalistic; our perspective, relentlessly positive.

But in this second effort to shine a light on African American issues that intersect with our editorial scope, every one of those characteristics has been compromised. Nevertheless, I do not question whether we should have published this package or not.

The main article, written by Diane, was supposed to be all about healing, but you will find that it speaks more to the causes of the condition rather than its mitigation. To a large degree, that’s because— much to our chagrin—healing the trauma of slavery is in its infancy.

More to the point, however, is the fact that the more we learned, the more we were forced to conclude that the story we tell here is the story that needs to be told in this moment; a principle of readership engagement is that you must meet people where they are.

One perspective that Natural Awakenings adheres to is that one’s healing, while it might be assisted by others, is wholly an “inside job.” But, as Diane states, the perceptions of the people we interviewed were that healing the trauma of slavery must involve white America.

I understand that, and I also agree that without such involvement, precious few will heal in the way most humans understand the term. But I ultimately disagree with the premise because of my spiritual beliefs. Buddhism and yoga posit that the world we wake to every morning is no more real than the dreams we dream at night; indeed, my tradition uses the terms “conventional reality” and “ultimate reality” to make the point. It is the purpose of our precious human lives to fully realize the infinite and eternal Spirit within, which is our true nature. Society cannot do this for us; our spiritual communities can assist, but in the end, we must do the work.

Finally, we are a journalistic publication with a limited budget, and as such, we have never published an opinion piece before. Until now. Given the subject matter, it seemed appropriate and necessary to provide a direct channel for a Black voice to conclude our presentation.

Ta-Nehesi Coates’ words at the top of this letter are clearly at odds with our “relentlessly positive” focus. So, let me end with an uplifting excerpt from “The Hill We Climb,” a poem by the star of last month’s inauguration, the incredibly talented Amanda Gorman.

The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished

Paul Chen, Publisher

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