I plan to take this week to take a step back from “regularly scheduled content” not just on social media but also in my own life to reflect and reeducate myself on race, racism and violence, specifically in America. I invite you to join me, especially if you are a white person.
For white people, now is the time to listen, absorb and reflect. If you are uncomfortable with the call to silence your voice, remember: silence is the core of spirituality. It is only in silence that we can hear truth.
Before I do so, the following is a reflection that the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests and riots have stirred in me, a white person of considerable privilege.
I realize that I am a white voice speaking when asked to keep quiet. If you would not like to read these thoughts at this time and would rather tune your attention to the voices of POC, please do so.
If you do not want read my personal thoughts, you can also skip to the end – resources for art, writing, reflection and other content by POC to help in reeducating ourselves and developing compassion for Black people.
I have a lot of insecurity and discomfort about sharing these words: it smacks of virtue signaling, centering my narrative (so many I’s), and speaking about something about which I know very little. I feel like I should stay in my lane.
While these are valid reasons, I have decided to share my reflections anyway for several reasons:
I feel called to speak my truth, and I want to honor this intuition. I woke up this morning and felt strongly that this was the thing to do. I can’t just repost a graphic from the movement and move on with my life. I feel moved to do more.
I believe in the power of words and in the interconnectedness of us all, and I hope these words can have a ripple effect that will stir positive change.
I believe there are certain ideas a white person can share with other white people to help break down mental / emotional barriers to becoming active allies.
I hope to spark conversations with people in my network – of any color – that might help us all understand each other and this injustice better.
Sharing publicly will help keep me accountable to my commitment to spend this week (and beyond) reflecting and reeducating myself about race and racism, and hopefully inspire others to take similar action.
For a long time, race was an issue that I consciously pushed away. I thought I “got it” intellectually, but mainly, it just didn’t feel relevant to my own life. In my mind, I recognized the injustice, but on a deeper level, I felt it wasn’t my issue, not my place to speak, and even if I did, I could do nothing to change the situation.
A note about speaking out:
I spent a lot of my childhood feeling quiet, invisible, so unable to speak my truth that pretty soon I lost track of what it was. Eventually, holding in my thoughts and feelings became so second nature I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Even if I had something to say, I believed that no one would listen or care. In other words, I lost my voice. (Yes, I am white, but I too know what it feels to be voiceless – not in the same way, but in a way nonetheless.)
And yet, we are all born with a voice, should we choose to use it. Others may try to silence us; why help them by doing it ourselves? (I’m not blaming myself; I was a child and unaware of my conditioning. But now that we’re not children, we have the power to change these kinds of limiting beliefs.)
No matter your status, popularity or social media following, you can use your voice to create change.
We all have people in our lives that we can speak to: our inner circle. Believing yourself to be voiceless is a kind of masked complacency that is very dangerous to truth.
To be clear: I’m not saying this to equate my feeling of voicelessness to that of the Black community. The only reason I say this is that if you are a white person who feels this way, please use the privilege of your voice to speak out against oppression. You have more power than you think.
This week, this might look like keeping quiet and using your platform to amplify POC voices. But eventually, we will have to speak again. When you do, please don’t feel like race is an issue that you can’t touch, for whatever reason: you feel uncomfortable, it’s not your niche, etc. Speak out. Our words have incredible power.
Now, for an uncomfortable confession:
I have long felt I cannot relate to Black people. Of all of the races, ethnicities and cultures in the world, Black Americans felt the most distant. I am a white person from a country where white people enslaved other white people until four years before the abolition of American slavery (serfdom was outlawed in Russia in 1861; in America, slavery was abolished in 1865). Though vicious and insidious racism towards non-Slavs exists in Russia (spoken more openly, in a lot of ways, than in the US), American slavery and its legacy felt like it had little to do with me. Though my friend group is ethnically diverse, I have no Black friends (a reality of my own creation).
On an intellectual level, I have always asserted that all people are equal, but on a deeper level, I could not experience this reality because I could not feel the essential similarities between myself and Black Americans.
On a cultural level, I still find it hard to relate to Black Americans, and I did not know that there is another way, one that goes deeper than culture (which is learned): through the bond of common humanity. Because I did not realize this, I had a lapse of compassion towards this group (compassion = com (with) + passion (feeling) = with feeling, or feeling with someone). I could not feel the pain and plight of Black Americans inside myself. I did not realize that I could develop compassion through active effort.
In other words, while speaking out against racism in college classes and social situations, I took a passive stance on the issue. In not taking action through my words or deeds, I was complicit in their oppression, their suffering. I suspect that many white people are in the same boat. There’s no need to carry guilt or make this into a show of self-flagellation; let’s just realize this fact and calmly take steps to change it. This is the meaning of the Buddhist concepts of right action and right effort. Guilt is just another way to be trapped in your ego. If you feel white guilt, leave this past behind and focus on responding to the needs of the present.
How do we take right action on racism?
There are many sources providing practical steps to take right now: showing up physically to protest; speaking to your friends and family; donating to funds to bail out protesters; offering food and water and other basic essentials to protesters; contacting government representatives. These are all wonderful examples of external action to take right now.
I want to offer some internal action that we (white people) can take right now to reeducate ourselves and develop compassion.
Why is compassion key?
Because, although we may mentally stand against an injustice, until we feel the connection between ourselves and others, until we recognize that, in some way, we are all interconnected and all one, there is no chance for true change, true healing, true justice. Spiritual teachings will tell us that reality is created in the mind – our personal reality as well as social realities.
On some level, all of these realities might be just a dream, but on this plane where we live, they are very real and cause very real, tangible suffering. The permanent way to eliminate this suffering would be for everyone to become enlightened. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, so in the meantime, we can create a more just, compassionate dream on this planet.
For every rational argument against racism, there is an equally rational argument for it. Just think of the Victorians and their skull measuring experiments. That seemed rational at the time. A more permanent way to end injustice is to cultivate the ability to feel another’s suffering as your own. Instinctively, we don’t want to hurt ourselves; when we can perceive others as extensions of our very own being, we will automatically stop creating situations that hurt and oppress other beings.
The role of art
I believe the best way to cultivate compassion (apart from spiritual practice) is through art and literature. My immersing ourselves in others’ experiences, we can begin to feel what they feel. Thus, we have co-feeling, compassion.
And so, I plan to spend this week immersing myself in the art and writing of Black Americans.
What about theory?
Reading theory and non-fiction is wonderful for grasping the issue intellectually. If you’d like to know about the history and scope of racism in America, by all means, go for it. I plan to dive into The Great Unlearn. A note of caution, though: in my experience, I’ve found that reading social justice theory tends to spark anger and righteousness within me rather than compassion. I feel so mad and bitter that I want to reject the world for all its cruelty. The goal, however, is to soften enough that we can hold the entire world, with all its suffering and cruelty, within ourselves. Seek not to evaluate arguments with our heads but to feel the suffering of others in our hearts. Only then can we take truly compassionate action.
Resources for the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices challenge
This week, I will be sharing quotes, excerpts and images that have sparked understanding of and compassion for Black Americans within me. Here is some of the art / writing / content I plan to explore:
- Adrian Piper
- Betye and Alison Saar
- Toni Morrison
- Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough (has been on my shelf for too long)
- Maya Angelou
- Straight Outta Compton
- Malcom X
- Kendrick Lamar
- Kanye West
- The Great Unlearn by Rachel Cargle
- Kimberly Drew (@museummammy, great source for exploring contemporary art by POC)
- This podcast by spiritual teacher Ram Dass (*NOT POC*) offering a model for spirituality that reconciles acceptance of the suffering of the world with compassionate action to alleviate that suffering; touches on privilege and social justice, not at all “love and light it away”
Reflection prompts (provided by Jessica Wilson and Alishia McCullough:
- What is it like to see/not see yourself reflected in your feed?
- How does the body liberation narrative sit differently when it comes from lived experience rather than from white analysis?
- How has predominantly white analysis impacted your understanding of world events?
- In taking on this challenge and when sharing the content of POC, have you noticed any white content creators still find ways to center themselves? (I am absolutely doing this right now, but I plan to stop!)
- Having muted white content, are you worried that you’re missing out on something that’s happening for them? Why?
- How is muting white noise influencing what doing better looks like for you?
This is just a tiny sketch of all the art and content out there. I realize my grasp of Black culture is woefully shallow, but I seek to deepen it. If you’d like to see the POC content I am sharing, check @thisisprojectbloom posts and IG stories for updates.
If you are a person of any color, I would love to hear from you! I realize that many are experiencing news fatigue, and I am not asking for any more emotional labor, from Black folx especially. (Feel free to look at these tools for self-healing.) I will take responsibility for my own reeducation and reflection. That said, if anything said above sparked a thought you feel called to share, or if you have any suggestions for art / resources / content by POC, I welcome any and all responses.
Thank you for reading this! Now let’s be quiet and #AmplifyMelanatedVoices.
May all beings be happy and free.