Visual artist, educator and activist Nikesha Breeze joins our conversation this week on In the Valle: Prejudice and Reconciliation in Taos. Breeze works with various organizations throughout Northern New Mexico, mostly teaching and sustaining social justice and change. Breeze is also an art teacher for the Taos Academy.
"I do work. I teach. And I call Taos home," said Breeze.
Breeze did not hesitate to make her understanding of systemic racism known. "I think it would be erroneous for any place to say they don't [suffer from systemic racism] - at this point racism has infiltrated its way into almost every system of our society," said Breeze. In particular to our valley, Breeze said, "racism has played its way out, I think, into all of the structures, from you know, land rights and treaties and failed treaties, and all of the ways that people have integrated themselves into this place, into this land. It's in everything," said Breeze.
As a 21-year resident of Taos, Breeze has encountered her share of prejudice, albeit unique. "So I've always felt very much on the outside as a Black body here," said Breeze. Despite having roots in New Mexico dating back to the 1800s, Breeze still experiences what many newcomers to Taos often do. "I get questions all the time about me basically not belonging here, like, where do you come from, like why are you here and how are you here. I walk into places and I'm a celebrity because I'm the only Black person. People all know me when I walk around or they've all seen me before. So, there's an isolation that happens just being Black," said Breeze.
When reflecting on our country's past struggles for equality, Breeze said, "Often it feels like a repeating, bad movie." Throughout history, the United States has progressed in some ways with regards to social justice and equality: the abolishment of slavery, women's voting rights and even the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.
Despite these accomplishments, social injustice has been able to continue to thrive in our country. "One of the things for me that I like to point out is that as much progress as, particularly African American, Black, individuals in the United States have progressed, there has been, racism, anti-Black racism that has equally progressed, and only become more entrenched and more sophisticated," said Breeze.
Breeze feels that before the healing of our nation can begin, the perpetuation of pain must stop. Breeze references Malcolm X's famous 9-inch knife quote ("Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven't even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound") and sets the tone for the remainder of the conversation.
"We have to stop hurting, we have to stop the perpetuation of racism, in every one of its forms and end oppression. Then, we need to grieve the loss, which is immense, and then we begin to think about what healing looks like. Like any wound, you know, the wound has to bleed, too, and then the wound has to stop bleeding," said Breeze.
As the conversation progressed into the subject of mental health, Breeze dove deep into the subject of defunding the police. "We need a [police] force that is there to help support the dangerous things that are happening in our society, like when there is violence, there does need to be, sometimes, somebody who can know how to deescalate the situation, somebody who has the skills and the training to be able to come into a place and not be afraid when violence is coming toward them," said Breeze.
It is clear from Breeze's compassion for those who suffer from mental health issues that she is not against the law enforcement itself, but rather the methodology some police have exhibited when dealing with people suffering from mental health problems.
The invaluable wisdom shared by Breeze during this conversation has shed light on some dark areas others hadn't touched on. And yet, in the end of our talk, Breeze's words are reminiscent to those of Arroyo Hondo teacher and linguist Larry Torres.
"Embrace the difference, and actually want it, like desire it. So, if I desire your difference and you desire my difference and you wanna know more about it and I wanna know more about yours then we both end up being sharp, and specific, and unique and we have a larger organism that grows and we're all happy because [we're] getting supported in ourselves," said Breeze.
Tune into the Taos News YouTube channel for the full video of Nikesha Breeze and her views on prejudice and reconciliation in Taos.
• Support In the Valle: Prejudice and reconciliation series
• Part 1: Interview with John Nichols
• Part 2: Interview with Larry Torres
• Part 3: Two Taos Natives have one crazy conversation in the Couse House
• Part 4: Anita Rodriguez talks systemic racism in Taos
• Part 5: Writer Bill Whaley goes full disclosure
• Part 6: Interview with Nikesha Breeze
• Part 7: Anne MacNaughton gives a thorough schooling
• Part 8: Iris Keltz expounds on our multicultural bonds
• Part 9: David Fernandez de Taos speaks of blending faith ways