- The Role of Psychedelics in the Midst of a Pandemic and the Fight for Black Lives - October 12, 2020
- Psychedelic Privilege: Report from the Women and Psychedelics Forum - February 7, 2019
The collective heartbeat feels faster these days as we navigate the anxiety of sheltering-in-place, the fear of a disease that might kill us or that we might accidently pass to someone and cause them to suffer, and as we take to the streets to mourn the murder of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor and to fight back against the massive violence Black people are faced with daily. The heartbeat is faster, the hands clenched in fists, the eyes open wider, the need for healing is greater than ever.
I wonder, seven months into this global pandemic and hundreds of years into anti-Blackness and the epidemic called racism: What is the role of the psychedelic community and movement at this time? Immediately upon asking that question, I realize, with pain in my heart, that there is not one unified community. Those that feel connected to psychedelics range from partiers who want a good time to PTSD sufferers seeking healing to Indigenous people using their ancient medicine to scientific researchers to spiritual journeyers to people looking to expand their mind. Added to that mix are those seeking to profit and those seeking to regulate. Then you have the psychedelics themselves, especially the ones that are natural; they are their own beings with their own lives that intersect with humans. Like any medicine, food, or substance, psychedelics can be used to bring joy and healing or can cause great harm. How we as humans choose to engage is really the defining difference. Each group named has their own needs, agenda, and desires, creating a lack of unity and leading to separation. Certain communities, therefore, receive access to psychedelic healing and others are left on the margins. This gets into the term I coined, “psychedelic privilege.”
Psychedelic privilege is the idea that those in the dominant category (for example: White people, cisgendered men, straight people, owning class, Christian, those holding power) will receive access to the healing benefits of psychedelics first and will be punished the least if caught.
Psychedelic privilege is the idea that those in the dominant category (for example: White people, cisgendered men, straight people, owning class, Christian, those holding power) will receive access to the healing benefits of psychedelics first and will be punished the least if caught. For example, Black people are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of Whites; yet, both Black and White people consume marijuana at roughly the same rates. Psychedelic privilege also means that the system is set up to prioritize the dominant category of people. For example, many marginalized people are not comfortable in a clinical therapeutic setting because of how those settings have, in the past, harmed marginalized people. An example of this is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) classifying homosexuality as a mental illness in the past. So, the fact that the first FDA-approved trials using MDMA to treat PTSD are occurring in clinical therapeutic sessions means that certain groups of people, based on identity, will automatically have more access and be more comfortable with the model and others will not feel safe. The system of mental healthcare was designed for White people, and often does not meet the needs of people of color, so placing psychedelic healing into this already- broken mental healthcare system means that all the unfairness of racism will remain. Yet another road block to access is financial: The most marginalized people often lack healthcare and we can foresee they will also lack the monetary resources necessary to access therapeutic psychedelic healing.
In the recreational use of psychedelics, privilege shows up in terms of who feels safe to take larger doses versus who has to worry about physical safety from the fear of sexual assault or police violence.
Outside of a clinical setting, people often look to spiritual, ceremonial, or recreational experiences for psychedelic healing; psychedelic privilege affects these areas too. Many Indigenous cultures were stripped of their ceremonies by colonization and White supremacy only to have White people come to them seeking to use their ancient medicines for healing, yet not doing any work to end incarceration or return Native lands. In the recreational use of psychedelics, privilege shows up in terms of who feels safe to take larger doses versus who has to worry about physical safety from the fear of sexual assault or police violence. Women, trans, and non-binary people are faced with higher rates of sexual violence, and people of color, especially Black people, are faced with higher rates of police violence; so, how can people with these identities feel safe to fully let go and explore in a recreational setting? To end psychedelic privilege, we need to end the root cause of it, which is racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and all institutional and systematic oppression.
COVID is bringing us together and causing us to learn what it means to be in a trauma space, and that trauma healing is done together in community. Black Lives Matter is showing us what is and is not working in this world.
The role of psychedelics at this time is to inspire us to co-organize across diverse cultural backgrounds to end systemic oppression. “People say it takes crisis and trauma to open up and realize and shift your consciousness, and we are at this moment where the whole world is experiencing the crisis at the same time, so our compassion and empathy is there for one another in a way it hasn’t been before. COVID is bringing us together and causing us to learn what it means to be in a trauma space, and that trauma healing is done together in community. Black Lives Matter is showing us what is and is not working in this world. We are being forced to look at the foundation America was built on. It was built on dysfunction and inequality. How do we right that wrong? It is about privileged White people taking the time to listen to marginalized peoples’ pain and trauma. Literally, just sit back and listen. Understand the systemic trauma that has been traveling through generations of ancestral suffering, starting with slavery. We need to let people of color and marginalized people do their own healing, whatever that looks like. We don’t know what that looks like for other people, and for us to pretend like we do and create a system without listening is unacceptable and harmful. Healing looks different for everyone and we need to listen and create legal frameworks and models that will support what the most marginalized are saying they need. Right now is the time to be quiet and listen,” said Nai Kaya, community organizer, sound healer, and liberator of plants.
I think we need to ask: What is our psychedelic community? Mine is super Black, queer, working class, artistic, small, global, loud, and in the making.
The role of psychedelics at this time is to disrupt the system. We need new creative ways of thinking that are rooted in our ancestors’ wisdom. If you identify as part of a psychedelic community or movement, work inside that community and movement to dismantle and disrupt the web of oppression.
All vulnerable people need healing/psychedelics/goodness first, so all these sexy-looking ketamine centers or educational certification programs are doing it wrong if they’re appealing to anything other than healing the vulnerable.
“Any tool discarded or deemed unorthodox by White supremacy should definitely be looked at again because we know what that dis-ease is about. There’s always something there. The mysterious and the unwanted: that’s where we need to be as a psychedelic community. I think we need to ask: What is our psychedelic community? Mine is super Black, queer, working class, artistic, small, global, loud, and in the making. And with this understanding of who my community is, who they want to be, and what they want to see in the world, we will co-create our liberation by any means necessary, and psychedelics is one way. To me, its role is to frighten, tenderize, and expand our consciousness towards healing. My apprehension with legalization, and all forms of institutionalization, is that there’s a lot of gatekeeping going on and we’re all talking exclusively about healing. So, it feels violent to see a lot of White folks and White-led institutions taking ownership and using the language of the oppressor in business plans, websites, educational materials, etc. Not surprising, but violent and not wanted by me, at least. Our attempt at solidifying the perception of our beloved psychedelics as worthy into the larger society creates exactly this problem. All vulnerable people need healing/psychedelics/goodness first, so all these sexy-looking ketamine centers or educational certification programs are doing it wrong if they’re appealing to anything other than healing the vulnerable. What I’m seeing is more like Manifest Destiny than liberation,” said Sabrina Frometa, Director of Equity Operations and Culture at SPORE and founder of YAYA.
As we do the work of healing and liberation, our collective heart swells with love, joy, and inspiration. “I’m super excited to be working with SPORE because liberation in relationship to psychedelics will not happen without dismantling and decolonizing our hearts, minds, and souls. Cutting corners is not going to get us anywhere different than corporations in America have to date. YAYA, being an organization for Black and POC liberation, is always incubating Black, brown, Indigenous and queer ideas, so now we’re powering a Psychedelic People of Color monthly gathering to do just that: repair, build, and define community for ourselves, without the bullshit,” said Sabrina Frometa.
in solidarity to realize that none of us are free unless we are all free.
As the many different parts of the liberation movement continue to be turned like puzzle pieces, my hope is for a unification that allows our identities, narratives, and unique realities to shine: a unification that acknowledges our traumas, pain, and suffering, rooting the work of liberation in our collective joy, and working in solidarity to realize that none of us are free unless we are all free.
Art by Marialba Quesada.
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