Things We Don’t Talk About Part 5: Racism, Spiritual Bypass, and Healing the Whole

mlk-quoteWalking through the Austin airport last week all I want to do is hug the stranger next to me, weep on his chest, ask for forgiveness, tell him how precious he is, pray for his safety.

He walks on, unmolested by an emotional white woman. I wipe tears from my eyes and send him a prayer of blessing and that he may be well. That all black men may be honored and supported and loved and truly seen without the eyes of discrimination. And that all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion age, ethnicity…. may be honored and supported and loved and truly seen without the eyes of discrimination.

But dear ones, we have such a long way to go.

This blog post has been one I’ve sat with for months. This last (for now) in the Things We Don’t Talk About Series is close to my heart, but has felt really big to write.

Recently, two more black men killed by white police officers within 48 hours. A retaliation shooting in Dallas. More grief, more sorrow, more senseless murders.

We talk about racism often as a disease other people have… the blatant racism uncle, the person in our office who tells racism jokes. Especially in spiritual communities, where our mantra is often “we are one” and we consider ourselves beyond separation.

Except we are not. We are all touched by racism. And we must start talking about it and stop spiritualizing the issues by whitewashing them in light or pretending they have nothing to do with us.

Let me see if I can explain.

This blog was first conceived months ago, when I was on a phone call with a friend.

She was sharing how as a woman of color she felt that no one in our predominantly white community understood her struggles, and how isolated and minimized she felt.

I could sense that she was referring to a recent event, so I asked her, “What happened?”

Her response had me in tears, and made me want to call everyone in my community to talk about racism, privilege and spiritual bypass.

In a nutshell she was talking to a Toltec friend about her struggles with racism and not feeling she belongs anywhere. To which her white friend replied in this fashion: “Oh, get over it, you know we are all one.”

This conversation touched on what I feel is one of the flaws in how we interpret spiritual teachings that causes a lot of senseless suffering and a lot of false superiority.

Yes, it true at essence we are all one. I am constantly reminding people that there is no separation, that we are all connected, and that we are creating this reality.

Which is all true. Except when it is not true.

It’s what a friend of mine calls the 10,000 foot view. From 10,000 feet there are no problems, we are all one, and the earth looks like a beautiful, calm patchwork of greens, brown, and blues.

It’s when we come closer that we see how messy things are.

We can try and live from the 10,000 foot view all the time to avoid the suffering and messiness of being human. But I believe the real spiritual work that is needed right now is not to live on the mountaintop meditating and staying safely distanced from the chaos below. It’s to bring our compassion, our presence, and our love to ourselves and to hold this same doorway open for others.

Which brings us to the ‘isms and spiritual bypass

Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia are all very real experiences that can cause deep pain in the psyche. They are not imaginary obstacles but tangible experiences. I do believe we all have the same inner capacity for freedom and healing. And I know that it can be very different to find my inner freedom as a white, middle-class woman whose ancestors came to Canada seeking a new more open homeland then if I was a black, low income woman whose ancestors where stolen, beaten,  enslaved, and brainwashed in lies of inferiority.

My friend Makenna addresses this in a recent Facebook post:

White privilege does not mean ALL white people’s lives are EASY.

White privilege DOES mean that by being white, your life is VERY LIKELY DISPROPORTIONALLY easier when you consider ALL FACTORS OF LIVING, BREATHING, EXISTING, MAKING MONEY, ETC than the average person of color who is trying to do the same exact things.

I’ve had a tiny taste of the fear and hesitancy and closed doors that can come from discrimination, and it helped me open my heart more to how different our experiences can be. I spent most of my life as a straight woman, and took for granted being accepted in public with my partner. And then years ago I fell in love with a woman and discovered what it is like to be in public and feel discriminated against in subtle and obvious ways. I felt the sense of being afraid to tell others about my relationship for fear I’d be rejected. I felt how some people did not see me and my partner but only saw their own projected hatred.

Now, I use that experience not to say, “Oh, see I’ve been discriminated against, see, we are all in the exact same boat!” We are all not in the same boat. But I can use this taste to remind me to soften and open to the pain and struggles of others, to be more compassionate, to stand up when I see discrimination, to listen deeply, to lend a helping hand where I can.

Why Black Lives Matter is Not Racist

When we say “Black Lives Matter” we are not saying “Only Black Lives Matter” or “We Don’t Support Anyone Else” what we are saying is: we need to put our attention on the disparity and racism in our culture, and the power dynamics that allow blatant and subtle abuse to happen to people of color, and notably at this time black men.

What we are seeing right now around white people in authority abusing their power in relationship to black men and women is not new. It is not a sudden occurrence, or a few random acts that have been caught on film. Because of phones with video and social media institutionalized racism is being documented and widely shared in an unprecedented way in American history. Think of our past: Northern America was founded on Europeans first taking land from the indigenous people of this continent and then in many areas using people stolen from their homeland in Africa as slaves. By saying this I am not saying I don’t love America, or I think all white people are bad and wrong, or  anything else — I’m putting our current situation in context.

By standing up for one group of people we are not disregarding another, simply pointing a flashlight on a current problem that needs attention. Some of the backlash we are seeing now also happened in the Feminism movement: people began to erode the potency of the movement by saying “Oh, it is all about women wanting to be in charge, or those women hate men.” But feminism at its core is about one thing: that women are equal to men and deserve equal rights, recognition, and resources.

That’s pretty clear. And I think the idea of Black Lives Matter is pretty clear, too. Black Lives Matter. Period. We don’t have to say but other lives matter, too! Of course they do. By supporting the exposure of blatant abuse of power or saying Black Lives Matter I am not saying I hate the police or all white people are bad and all black people are good. I am saying Black Lives Matter. Period.

All we are saying is give peace a chance by addressing the truth and working together to correct it: this country was founded on the idea of equality. For everyone. And as I see it, we have a long way to go. We start by naming the context we are in: it all starts with awareness. And then we can explore new solutions, together.

Here’s another way to look at it that broadens the context:

I recently met a woman from Canada who works with the First Nation people in her community as a therapist. Her program focuses on sex offenders and incest. Instead of isolating the offender and punishing them, they see sexual abuse as a ramification of these native people’s history: their land being stolen, the government banning their ancient rituals and language, children separated from their families and forced to attend schools where sexual and mental abuse was staggeringly high. This is not an excuse for the current behavior, but a context to allow healing to happen on a deeper level. Instead of focusing on the individual as the problem, they focus on strengthening and healing the family system. The entire family is brought into counseling. Rituals and ceremonies are performed to bring balance back to each person in the family unit. It is not easy work: punishing someone for their isolated actions is much easier then looking at the causes of their behavior and taking action to heal the whole.

Can you imagine the many creative ways we could approach racism in our society if we stopped looking at isolated cases, remembered our history, and began to explore healing the whole?

I know it can feel overwhelming to face the many ism’s that surround us and that are within us. What I’m inviting is a shift in perspective, an opening of our hearts, a widening of our vision, a stand for compassion, a gentle holding of the larger context, a willingness to listen to individual experiences. A commitment to keep doing our own inner work and to live our lives dedicated to healing the whole.

Let us be super aware of where the media or politicians are using fear to create separation: whether this is around African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, strong women, transgender…Watch inside of yourself for any places you categorize people based on their religion, country, or any other stereotype. Remember none of us is born racist or sexist or with any other ‘ism, it is something we learn and is fostered by the dream around us. To change this we must be honest with ourselves and explore where we are falling into learned, often unconscious behaviors and attitudes.

At core we are all precious, vulnerable, wise, creative, equal in the eyes of the divine. May we attend to our own hurt not as more important or less important than anyone else’s hurt, but as a way to bring in more compassion, presence, and recognition of this tender dance of human form.

So what can we do as people of many colors?

Name where you have privilege that others do not

Get tools and support to heal ancestral trauma

Learn to really listen to each other. Ask questions. Don’t minimize, and watch out of the traps of: I’m the same as you or you shouldn’t be holding onto this still or just get over it or as spiritual beings we are all the same

More resources (please share any you have, thank you!)

Five Stages to Intercultural Competence

10 Simple Rules for Being a Non-Racist White Person

How To Be An Anti-Racist Activist

And finally, an article from an African-American writer that reminds us: Your pain and struggles are precious not because they define who you are, but because they can free you. We all suffer, we all have joys. This and the red blood that runs through all of our veins connect us to every other human on the planet. May we learn to bear witness to pain as a way to heal the whole:

The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity

Baldwin considers the essential survival mechanism by which the artist bears his or her burden of bearing witness to the unnameable:

Well, one survives that, no matter how… You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. Then, you make — oh, fifteen years later, several thousand drinks later, two or three divorces, God knows how many broken friendships and an exile of one kind or another — some kind of breakthrough, which is your first articulation of who you are: that is to say, your first articulation of who you suspect we all are.

6 thoughts on “Things We Don’t Talk About Part 5: Racism, Spiritual Bypass, and Healing the Whole

  1. Thank you Heather, for publicly addressing this very important topic and movement that affects every living person on this planet: Black Lives Matter.

    I believe spiritual (and religious) thought leaders have a responsibility to address white privilege and social injustices stemming from racism & discrimination in our country. To overlook it is indeed spiritual bypassing, and it fuels the divide in this country on a spiritual and energetic level.

    We as a nation will never truly heal if we aren’t willing to have these uncomfortable but vital conversations in our spiritual communities.

  2. In my Warrior Goddess book club and workshop I have had several women of color. I live in the Carolinas, and so there are many African Americans doing the same things that Caucasian people do everywhere. This is true within art and spirituality especially in the bigger city areas. Certainly it is true of Charlotte, N.C.
    What I’ve seen is that it is much more often and possibly much easier for the white women to smile. They black women normally don’t smile, but they get the lessons the same. They are able to repeat back to me what I explained, and they are able to add new insight to things we discussed. So, things hit them spiritually just as much, but the reaction is not the same. It looks like the white women look at me and see things in common with me, but when the black women see me they know that our lives are not the same. Nor have our ancestors been the same as mine and I feel they are acutely aware of this, though they hold no grudge toward me. They are very mature and developed in their outward actions and speech. They must have had to be super aware and self disciplined and trained themselves for different action than many other African Americans they maybe grew up around etc. When I see this I gain a new level of respect for them everytime! They are still interested, participate, and add themselves in with Warrior Goddess-ism but it is more of a straight I respect your wisdom, truth, and I hear and see you, without the common witty, smiling joy we often see coming so freely and automatically from the white participants. I feel lucky to be in an area where I am reminded of the multi-layered warriorism that these darker complexioned ones have to carry just to make it through and do the things that my white friends and I often take for granted that we are able to do and enjoy. These often smile-less sisters are such a gift! They stick me in to my lessons of my heart purely without a break or a landing place to loligag or laugh for a moment of uncertainty. Through them I have trained to become more sure of myself. Impeccable speech training. What does my soul really want to say?- no bullshit training 🙂

    1. Hi Leah,

      Your post was very well-intentioned and I appreciate that. If you will keep an open heart and mind, I would like to share with you how harmful it is to the Black women you wrote of, and the Black, Indigenous People of Colour who have and will read it. They do not owe you their labour, but as a white person, this is my responsibility.

      The major problematic Thing I’m reading in your post, is how in awe you are of these Black people in the class. How these ‘smile-less sisters’ (read: Angela Y Davis’ Women Race and Class to learn how white women absolutely are not sisters to Black women and femmes) are a gift to you, a white woman. No, they are not. I hear your intent; I want to be clear on that as a white person.

      But intent is never more valid than impact. If I hit you with my car, and you are hospitalized, does my apology negate the hospital bills, lost time, disability? You may be a forgiving person, and we may resolve this personally, nonetheless there was impact.

      So: the impact. It’s condescending, it says that you are surprised that these Black women, who are very mature and developed in their outward actions and speech, are just that. You are surprised that they are articulate, receptive to the spirituality, even though their lived experiences are so different than your own, than that of your white or non-Black People of Colour patrons are. It’s got just the right hint of spiritual bypassing and white saviourism to it. And you know this, because even though white people as a whole may be generally ignorant to history and how we oppress as a whole, we DO know that Black people are oppressed. We just don’t want to admit that we have a hand in it personally.

      I’m glad you have learned from your clients; teaching isn’t a one way thing. I really hope you will consider your impact more when writing about those that have a different lived experience than you (for instance, I’m non-binary, and most people are compelled to misgender me). This is in no way meant to be a slam to you or judge; please feel free to email me if you have questions. I’m new to doing my inner work (1 year! I used to have dreadlocks and all sorts of harmful bs), and am happy to be of use.

      1. Hi Jael.
        Thank you.
        I actually was not surprised by the black women understanding and empathizing in class. And I do not feel that they are a gift to me. I was noting that they do not smile as easily. I noticed in that class what I’ve noticed before, the cultural differences, the taught behavior not to smile so easily and freely to me (a white woman) when I say something that we all feel or can relate to or is funny or taboo to say in other settings or is deep etc. when I get a reaction.
        I honor the real ness of the black women in my class being not so quick to smile. To smile quickly or agree quickly to me I believe sometimes is a quick way to to show support, approval, commonness etc. and these black women were respecting themselves, whether if it be their struggles, their often misunderstood wisdom etc. They were honoring their truth by way of not just simply doing the normal cultural thing and smiling quickly when the speaker says something funny as the white girls. The black women had come in a group together. Hopefully I wasn’t just another white privileged girl gives a speech about Warrior Goddess Training that day for them.☺️
        Thank you again. This is a topic that I feel if broken apart like this and talked about like this can break further separation between all people. Much separation out there from what I’ve seen are the individual’s perception of what the other probably believes based on looks, cultural setting, subjects of interest etc.

  3. Jael,

    Thanks for your words. Education is ongoing for all of us, and as you are saying it is so important for us to continue to explore the subtlety (and blatant aspects) of racism. I just finished the book White Privilege: Why it is so hard for white women to talk about racism and it so deepened my understanding of the insidious nature of racism and how aware, and willing to learn and reflect and grow, we must be. Thanks for all you are doing to educate yourself and share with other white women, and may we all continue to deepen our understanding and part in perpetuating racism (and all ism’s) so we can continue to work towards consciously eradicating separation and repairing damage. Blessings.

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