What would a world without racism look like?

Breathing is a radical act.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of an anti-racist yoga convergence, led by two social justice advocates, yogis, and powerful women:  Michelle Johnson and Patty Adams. The two hours began by each instructor sharing their Dharma talk with us – an emotional and moving grounding on why this work matters and how yoga provides a place to practice skills critical to movement building in the efforts to eradicate white supremacy.

Sharing from her experience as a person of color, Michelle’s words stirred within me feelings of shame, guilt, and fierce determination. She encouraged the white people in the room to be mindful on how we are waking up to being a part of the racial justice movement. She noted the tension between the budding excitement of white allies and agitators to the sheer exhaustion experienced by people of color as they have been waiting for us. It’s not as if this entrenched system of racism popped up overnight. Decades upon decades of systematic oppression, from the very founding of our nation, have fueled a society built on the backs of black and brown people. And as more folks, particularly white people, join this effort, it is imperative we recognize that while it’s great we’re here now, we cannot allow that to overshadow the everyday trauma experienced by people of color in our lives and in our communities.

The idea that ‘breathing is a radical act’ was new to me. Oppression succeeds only if people never reach their full potential – their space becomes smaller and smaller, essentially cutting off their ability to breathe and exist. Yoga is all about the breath. It allows us to practice discernment. It allows us to move closer towards full integration of our entire selves. We move in ways that re-negotiate our own boundaries, climbing towards that state of calm yet expanded and energized.

As Patty noted, yoga provides an opportunity to bring all of us in a place together. And we have to recognize the risk it takes for many people to be in that space. As a white person, I have to seek to understand what privilege to not have to think twice about participating in such a practice.

After the Dharma talks, we spent the next 45 minutes on our mats, moving from the floor to standing and then returning to our backs, maintaining the breath through each sequences. We sought balance and strength; quieted our minds; secured our intentions; and rooted ourselves in the power of healing and compassion. If we stopped showing up during that time together, we would let the rest of the people in the room down.

Finally, we ended by reflecting with a partner near us about what our next step would be to crate a world where racism didn’t exist. I talked about my need to let go of any inner fears of “rocking boats” when it comes to exchanging dialogue with people in my life, particularly white people, about racism in our culture, institutions, and within ourselves. I talked about the importance of asking my friends of color: “what do you need from me?” And I need to continue to grow and learn more about systemic racism and oppression; I need to listen – really listen – to what is being said and unsaid about injustices taking place in our world. And I need to always reflect on what impact my words and actions are having on dismantling racism. I cannot be a leader in this work if I am contributing to maintaining white supremacy.

I’m so grateful to Michelle and Patty for bringing us together in this anti-racist work. If you live in the Triangle area, there will be two additional opportunities in August and September to connect yoga with racial justice.

So, what would a world without racism look like? I’m continue to mull on this question. Some of my initial reactions include:

  • A place where no one fears being killed simply by existing;
  • A place where everyone receives the education to be successful, thriving contributors;
  • A world built on sharing and abundance, not on selfishness and scarcity;
  • Communities who care for each other, no matter what;
  • People, not systems or institutions, hold the most political power;
  • The idea of ‘silenced voices’ is inconceivable
  • Safety is a norm, not an exception.

I invite you, if you have not already, to envision what a wold without oppression, racism, and white supremacy would look like, sound like, feel like. If you are willing, I also invite you to share. Perhaps journal about it. Create a vision board. Our humanity is depending on us, and I refuse to let us down.

 

How can I be a part of the struggle for racial justice?

For those who lived in the United States, have the headlines over the last year made you feel like our world had turned into a movie? Let’s take it back to 1998 for a minute…

TrumanShow.jpg

Photo via IMDB

In all seriousness, it has been mind-blowing to me. The fear-mongering tactics undertaken by leaders, to pit people against people, is unraveling vital threads that many within our nation have put their lives on the line for – and even sacrificed them – to build. Our country has never been “the land of the free” for all. The policies passed and actions taken have been designed to ensure whites stay in power and people of color remain on the margins. [Note: I had the opportunity to participate in one of the Dismantling Racism workshops. If you have never been through a focused training on racial justice, I highly, highly recommend it.]

It sickens me to even write those words, but to try and paint a rosy picture of an inclusive or compassionate past would be outlandish, if not dangerous. As a white person, it is my responsibility to learn, understand, and recognize the oppressive nature of our systems – and then take action. Whether it is public education, incarceration, the media – all of these outlets help to feed into the narrative that white is good and black/brown is bad.

Again, it’s ludicrous – so we (white people) need to be standing in active solidarity with our fellow humans, acknowledging that #BlackLivesMatter, abandoning silly notions that “race-neutral” policies will somehow “fix” diversity. We must seek to listen first. We need to be aware of our privilege that our skin color allows us to be treated differently in this world and opens doors that remain sealed for too many – pigment is powerful in the United States.

White liberals and progressives have a responsibility to organize their communities for social justice using an explicitly anti-black racism frame. There is no need to hide behind black or people of color organizations. Commit yourself to organizing poor and working class white folks. We are capable of organizing our communities. Our children need everyday white folks to work harder to ensure that black women don’t have to worry about dying after failing to signal properly, walking while transgender or trying to protect their children.” – Charlene Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100

Black people don’t need to be convinced that anti-black racism, structural inequity and skin privilege are facts; white people do… White people have to do the hard work of figuring out the best ways to educate themselves and each other about racism. And I don’t know what that looks like, because that is not my work, or the work of other black people, to figure out. In fact, the demand placed on black people to essentially teach white folk how not to be racist or complicit in structural racism is itself an exercise of willful ignorance and laziness. – Darnell L. Moore, senior editor at Mic and co-managing editor of The Feminist Wire

Recently, Stephen Colbert invited DeRay Mckesson to “The Late Show” stage. Mckesson is a Teach For America alum and is on the frontlines of activism for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. McKesson’s visit to the program made waves as Colbert brought up his own privilege during their conversation, which turned into the two literally swapping seats for a dialogue that we don’t often see on mainstream television programming.

I’m embarrassed and at times filled with shame at how late I am to being willing to recognize my privilege. I’ve admitted this in front of various rooms before. In reflection, I believe that was rooted in guilt: guilt for being White, guilt for having an upbringing where I could take part in pretty much whatever I wanted, guilt for the understanding that not attending college was never even a question or thought. I could do wherever I pleased without question. It took me nearly 30 years to begin unpacking these realizations – and it’s not over yet.

So, when I hear phases like, “we need our country back,” it sends me into a tizzy. BACK FROM WHAT? Really? I will not claim to know the circumstance of all white people, but I have to scratch my head when I hear political candidates use this phrase during speeches. Similarly, the “we’ll make this country great again” is a head turner. To make our country really great would be to NOT go back into our past that was constructed on violent extremism – denying civil liberties and access to resources. There are fragments of greatness, in principle, but these pieces have not been available to everyone.

Each day, we have an opportunity to recreate the narrative and to dismantle the structures rooted in white privilege. So I am going to do my part, whether it is writing blog posts that may make you and even me feel uncomfortable; seeking out media from sources like The Root, and getting involved in groups like Standing Up For Racial Justice.

I won’t ever claim to be an expert. I won’t ever claim to be perfect. But this is me – trying – to work towards a just, loving world where no pyramid power structure exists. I believe this can exist – but it’s going to take all of us to be a part of the movement.

You may not get the validation you hunger for. Stepping outside of the smoke and mirrors of racial privilege is hard, but so is living within the electrified fences of racial oppression – and no one gets cookies for that. The thing is that when you help put out a fire the people whose home was in flames may be too upset to thank and praise you – especially when you look a lot like the folks who set the fire. That’s OK. This is about something so much bigger than that.

There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them. 

– Ricardo Levins Morales

I’d love to hear about resources, outlets, etc. that have informed or enlightened you on this topic. What are you doing to for justice? What would you like to be doing that you are not already?