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The ideas in this blog are indebted to a number of people of color who have been writing, thinking, speaking and teaching about anti-racism much longer than I have. Here are a few links and resources that really influenced me this week:
- What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege by Lori Latin Hutchinson, publisher of Good Black News
- The American Nightmare by Prof. Ibrim X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, as well as an interview of the same name with him on Today Explained podcast and on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast.
- ‘Why Ta-Nahisi Coates is hopeful,’ an interview with author Ta-Nahisi Coates on by Ezra Klein on the Ezra Klein Show
- ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’ an interview with Therapist and Coach Resmaa Menakem on On Being with Krista Tippett.
- And here’s the website for The Movement for Black Lives. I particularly want to highlight the concrete actions outlined in their Week of Action that took place the week of June 19. (But it’s never too late.)
For about the millionth time, yoga saved me.
For more than a week I had sat down to write, only to have inadequate words haltingly spill out onto the page. Or, before any words would emerge, I would wiggle anxiously away from the keyboard to do something else. Writing, reading, learning didn’t seem like enough to match the moment. Though important to read and listen to the experiences of black people in this country, I also felt that it was crucial to join the protest against racialized police brutality in some way. Whatever that way looked like for me. I’ve participated in and witnessed the liberal white book groups that raise awareness about racism. It may raise awareness, I thought skeptically, but it rarely turns into action.
Wednesday came with my regular yoga class. My wise teacher, who cares deeply about doing her own work around racism, said that we were going to focus class on the things white supremacy does to white people for as long as we needed to do them. She preached, setting the stage for the class, that perfectionism is one tool of the patriarchy. One that keeps us silent, causing us to care more about keeping the peace than speaking up for justice.
Her words caused a wash of warmth to permeate my body that was both uncomfortable and relieving at the same time. This was not my first wrestling match with perfectionism, but the familiar and formerly manageable opponent seemed much larger as it related to dealing with my own racism. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. Afraid of not saying anything. This fear, felt most as a tightening in my throat, a wandering of mind, and dis-ease in my belly was squeezing the words out of my throat.
The awareness that practice brought to this fear helped me to breath again and ask the question, “What is my part to do?”
I still don’t have the full answer to that question, but I’m beginning to think it has something to with mindfulness and anti-racism work with well-meaning white people like me who still have so much to learn.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I felt the slight sting of rejection every time someone moved away or crossed the street for the purposes of physical distancing during our current COVID-19 pandemic. What I didn’t write that day, was that I know that physical distancing wasn’t invented just for COVID-19. White people have been distancing themselves physically from people with dark skin motivated not by the intention to prevent disease spread — but by blatant racism.
I may not yet know exactly what my work is to do, but I do know this: My calling as a yogi is to lean into discomfort of that reality and transform it. As a Christian I am called to love my neighbor as myself. To that end, white friends who are reading this blog, I am rejecting my perfectionist tendencies and I invite you into a mindfulness experiment with me: When someone crosses the street and avoids you these days, feel into the sting of that rejection before you rationalize it away. Feel into the distress of that moment and think to yourself, “This is what bodies of color feel. All. The. Time.” And they can’t rationalize it away as a measure taken against a pandemic. It IS personal. It IS about the hate and fear white people are taught to have for the color of their skin.
Mindfulness is ultimately about being able to be present to our thoughts, feelings, sensations and experiences in the present moment. Even the uncomfortable ones. Especially the uncomfortable ones. White friends – Let me know how this practice goes on social media or emailing me at email@example.com. I want to know your experiences so that I can create/adapt/change them for the better in the future.
And if anyone wants to spend some time contemplating what their work is to do, join me for my upcoming retreat, starting Monday, July 13, 2020: