Can we pause, and simply hear the truth of this statement?
Would you be willing to say it out loud?
I understand that all lives (human and non-human) matter, and we are living in a culture where systematic racism and oppression targets people based on the pigment of their skin. We are still aspiring for the “American Dream” of equality, and until we have it, we all suffer from a lack of integrity in our institutions. It is time for all of us, and I am especially speaking to fellow white bodied humans, to stand together and demand a just and fair system for all people.
My intent in writing this is to share from my own experiences and what I have learned thus far. I am not an educator in this field. I am a student. And it is my desire to educate myself on systematic racism in our country, to learn where white supremacy lives in my body and consciousness, and to grow with every one of you willing to do this work.
I am not interested in only appearing to be an ally, and I ask that you support me by holding me accountable. If ever you read, hear or see me do anything that feels like I am marginalizing, appropriating from or oppressing anyone through my words or actions, please let me know. I am committed to being humble in this process, and offer the same support to anyone open to receiving kind and compassionate feedback.
For anyone who find this to be too political for a yoga newsletter, I have this to say, social justice work is spiritual work. This connection can be seen in modern day leaders and saints like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Amma and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Many of you know me as someone who teaches yoga, offers Yin-Thai massage and works with festival production. What you may not know is that from the age of 17-20 I was an anti-racist skinhead. I know this statement may seem oxymoronic because of the way skinheads have been portrayed in the media. However, the roots of this movement came from the rude boy scene and the influx of Jamaican immigrants to the UK bringing reggae, ska and rocksteady music. If you would like to know more please view this short YouTube video, watch the film Spirit of 69 or read the book Spirit of ’69: A Skinhead Bible.
During this time, besides playing music and drinking entirely too much beer, I spoke out avidly against white supremacy and got into fights with peckerwoods and Neo-Nazis, something most people mistakenly took me for. Along with early adulthood angst from violence in my childhood, I was also angry at the notion of racism and infuriated at the injustice in our country. However, my rage and aggression did nothing to improve the situation and did not support me taking ownership for my privilege and part in dismantling institutionalized white supremacy.
20 years later, I find myself just as convicted and wanting to act in a way that actually creates positive change in myself and in our community. There is a song by British skinhead band The Angelic Upstarts called Solidarity. In 1983 they wrote this ballad to support the Solidarity trade union and working people of Poland fighting against communist oppression. As a white bodied person, I find myself again resonating with the lyrics of this song and wanting to stand united with the oppressed black bodied members of our human family.
One of the production teams I am blessed to be a part of is SoulPlay Festivals. With this team of incredible humans I have done deep work on many layers of myself. The following, from one of their recent newsletters, tells a bit of what we have discovered and some of what I wish to convey:
“Over the past several months, the production team of SoulPlay has been investigating how to move the SoulPlay festivals and community toward more Diversity and Inclusion, and how to institute practices, policy and ethos that create true and equitable belonging for all people. This has included such action steps as hiring Inclusion and Belonging co-leads Dereca Blackmon and Odessa Avianna Perez, and embarking on a several months-long in-house training of the staff around racial inequity.
What we have learned (so far) is that dismantling white supremacy is an inside and an outside job. It involves actionable steps, reading and educating oneself, and it involves doing the uncomfortable internal work of confronting our own unconscious biases and supremacist modes of thinking. What we have learned is that we have a lot more to do, and that sometimes the best way to be an ally is to know when we don’t know enough, to step aside, sit down, pass the mic to those who have the skills and willingness to educate, and listen.
We encourage everyone to be with what is happening right now. Feel it deeply. Unpack the layers of your discomfort. Amplify and center black voices. Learn what it means to be an ally.
With much love,
The SoulPlay Team”
I have learned so much in doing this work with the SoulPlay family. What follows are things I have gathered in this training and from other educators in the field of social justice. This list feel essential to practice for those of us who wish to balance power dynamics and become better allies to marginalized populations.
- Investigate where we hold unconscious bias in our thoughts and bodies
- Become aware of how these biases might cause us to pre-judge.
- Recognize that if we hold a position of power, like white privilege, this can be used or weaponized as oppression, consciously or unconsciously.
- Take action to counter the negative influence of implicit biases and prejudice.
- Recognize everything we know about a group of people is limited by our sample size.
- Name and address systematic oppression, even if we do not feel like we can do anything about it.
- Acknowledge white supremacy is alive in this country and in our consciousness as a result of cultural values and programming (this does not make us bad people).
- Educate ourselves, strengthen our emotional resilience and construct ways to address inequality.
- Accept there is no information that can inoculate us from offending people.
- Be willing to make mistakes and extend grace to ourselves and each other as we unpack generations of programming and trauma.
- Listen and validate feelings without arguing, defending, minimizing, excusing, running away, shutting down, getting angry, crying over how we feel, trying to “fix” the problem or trying to save someone.
- Look for situational reasons for a person’s actions, rather than stereotype about a person’s group.
- Connect with people you view with negative stereotypes.
- Invite people in rather than call them out.
- Learn to separate our intent from the impact it has on someone, and stay with the impact it has.
- Create cultures in our lives – at home, at work, and within institutions that support courageous risk-taking with humility, respect and accountability.
- Increase exposure to marginalized populations and center marginalized voices.
- Engage cultural humility as a lifelong learning process.
Educate yourself on Black History in the United States and consider watching the following films and clips:
- The 13th – documents the criminalization of blacks after the abolition of slavery and the US prison boom.
- I am Not You Negro – journeys through black history connecting the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter
- LA 92 – traces decades of police brutality leading up to the acquittal of Rodney King in 1992.
- Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man with Emmanuel Acho
- How Microaggressions Are Like Mosquito Bites
- White Fragility with Dr. Robin DiAngelo
- Fritz Pollard: A Forgotten Man with NAACP Town Hall
Educate yourself on what is currently happening in our country. If there are any names on the list below you do not recognize, please take a moment to do an internet search of them:
- Tony McDade – Tallahassee, FL
- Dion Johnson – Phoenix, AZ
- George Floyd – Minneapolis, MN
- Breonna Taylor – Louisville, KY
- Ahmaud Arbery – Glynn County, GA
For a more extensive list and information about black people murdered by police in the past 6 years, go to Know Their Name.
Please consider getting informed by, registering with and donating to:
- NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union
- Black Lives Matter
Thank you for taking the time to read this and reflect on how as white bodied people:
- We have benefitted from white privilege
- We have contributed to white supremacy – consciously or not
- We can work to deconstruct our individual biases and prejudices
- We can work to dismantle systematic racism and discrimination
We are being asked to be on the right side of history.
I feel humbled to live at such a pivotal time in our country’s narrative and grateful to change the course of humankind with you.