The past couple of weeks have shone a light onto the glaring issue of the deeply embedded racism and white supremacy that define our systems. Those of us complicit in this system can no longer run, turn a blind eye or hide from it. Our ability to hide is the essence of our privilege. Our shadows are out and it’s not pretty.
The celestial bodies are going to keep bringing up shadow for us to look at, so we might as well get ready to look within.
The lunar eclipse of Friday June 5th, highlighted the impetus for change and introduced a new set of lessons coming in the next 18 months. The polarity of Gemini and Sagittarius teaches us lessons on when to speak and when to listen and how to bridge our ideals into the real world. Squaring Mars, we’ve been pushed out of our comfort zone in some way and tensions rose to the surface, awakening our inner Warrior.
Eclipse effects last for many months and years to come. As we are entering a series of eclipses over the summer, this is a ripe time to make changes that we wish to effect over the long term. If you wish to read more about the recent eclipse energy, I wrote a bit about it here, and also like Tanaaz’s delineation here.
In regards to allyship, the last couple weeks have been a great reminder to me that I had become perhaps a bit too comfortable. I have been spending a lot of time working from home, in my own little bubble over the last few months, and have fallen into a complacency that goes with my privilege. I can turn a blind eye to things that don’t directly affect me or my family.
This habit of hiding goes back generations. On my Metis side of the family, our ancestors’ light skin and silence helped them survive and avoid a fate some of their darker brothers and sisters could not. They could pretend a whole part of themselves didn’t exist. That comes with its own set of wounds that I am working on healing. But over time, it becomes all too easy to identify with the category that has the most privilege and forget about the rest. The silence and camouflage that were our safety nets have become part of the problem.
My other side of the family (settlers from the UK) likely never even thought about their race as an issue. My colonising ancestors lived in poverty, missed their homelands, felt uprooted and out of place- Their struggles are worth sitting with and doing some healing work on. But they cannot be compared to the damages of racism and colonisation, which still continue today.
Our ancestral history is key to understanding some of our unconscious biases and habits. I feel it’s very important to get curious about it. We all have an intergenerational inheritance to unpack. The unhealed wounds we carry- from being displaced, not belonging, living in poverty, as well as the biases conditioned into us over generations- could block us from empathising with others’ struggles because we have not yet processed our own stuff.
Questions we can ask ourselves are:
What beliefs did I inherit about race? What experiences influenced my perceptions of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black & People of Color)? What did my parents and environment teach me consciously or unconsciously? What were the stories of my ancestors? What wounding of theirs am I carrying? How did they benefit from the system? How do I benefit from it now? Did they oppose the system in any ways? What kind of habits did I inherit?
These are all big questions. They take time to truly reflect on. It’s worth taking the time.
I don’t think allyship is some quick one or two-week thing of posting on social media and then not giving another thought to it. Nor is it just about doing all the things on a checklist or indulging in a saviour complex, or jumping on a social justice trend. A lot of it is slow, committed internal work over our lifetime… and it won’t look the same for all of us.
What does it mean to be an ally?
There are many ways to do allyship. We are all in different stages of that journey. For some it will be around unpacking our inheritance, for some it will be about educating ourselves and our children, having difficult conversations with family, or showing up to protests. Or all of the above. Because I am a very introverted, reflective being, I tend to value the inner work.
I want my actions to come from an authentic and helpful place, rather than from ego or from unprocessed guilt. Do do that, I have inner work to do first.
So far, for me it has been about asking questions. To myself, to Google, and to other people in my life who care about social equity issues. It’s been about connecting with and listening to IBPOC, and all the diverse points of view (can we expect everyone to think the same? No!) and doing a lot of critical self-reflection. It’s also been about calling in the people in my life who say things I feel are racist and do my best to open their minds and hearts to the effects of their words and conditioning.
Mentally, it’s been about educating myself through courses, books, podcasts to learn about the history of oppression and resistance. Its been about committing to truth- uncovering it, understanding it- then feeling it in my heart and body.
I realised I need to get more engaged in this area again. I have spent alot of time learning about Indigenous history, but not so much on Black history. I also realised I have more work to do as a parent. Especially since my daughter has been out of school due to the pandemic (and doing some great anti-racist learning in the classroom, but not likely enough), I need to step up and fill in the gaps.
Emotionally, it’s been about letting in all the feelings- Fear, guilt, confusion, sadness, defensiveness, anger. Until we sit with our pain, and heal our unhealed wounds, we will be limited in our ability to see others’ struggles with compassion or clarity.
It’s important to take the time to sit with our feelings and let them show us what needs to be looked at within ourselves. We may not like what we see or feel. This is shadow work.
But the feelings are what anchors meaning in us. They are what help us stay motivated to change. We must embrace our discomfort and get intimate with our shadow self.
Guilt or shame will inevitably come up. That’s ok, acknowledge and accept it. Get curious about it. I felt guilt this week for being complacent, for indulging in my privilege. For not speaking up enough. Moments of shame for my whiteness and selfishness. But, we never chose to be born in the skin we were born in, and shame doesn’t help anything. Neither does guilt.
Instead, I invited guilt in and let it become a call for accountability. It brought me into deeper self-inquiry, and as I let it move through me in waves. I realised my guilt had nothing to do with how I really felt about race and equity. It was tied to my identity of being ‘a good person’ and childhood authority issue stuff. I had to separate it out from the real issue of racism and let my compassion be felt.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes. We can always learn and change. Allyship isn’t about us and our ‘good person’ complex. It’s about those we want to be allies to.
Fear is another one. I often fear saying the wrong thing and making things worse. I fear conflict. Again, the fear of not ‘being a good person’ again takes hold. But there is a difference between fear that freezes us up and the healthy discernment that encourages us to think before speaking.
I lean towards silence sometimes when I feel overwhelmed. I take my time before speaking. Sometimes, I take too long to think about it and don’t speak at all. Sometimes my fear of not being a ‘nice person’ silences me when I should speak.
It’s up to us to figure out if we should be more discerning, listen more, or speak up more. Calling in friends, relatives or co-workers can make a big difference. Even small acts of bravely speaking up can make a big difference in someone’s life.
‘Is it kind’?- well that may depend on who you are talking to. But if it’s necessary, true and improves upon the silence, then it may be the kindest thing to those you are standing up for. Generally, calling someone in, for a conversation, rather than out, for behaving badly is a way to engage people in more meaningful ways. But every situation calls for its own approach.
Anger or defensiveness will likely come up too. I find myself feeling anger at the injustice, but then at the same time overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness. Sometimes I get defensive when I am summoned to put forth effort to create change when I am tired. The voice of the part of me that has her own struggles, who sacrifices herself too much and is too hard on herself says ‘but what about me? I have enough on my plate!’ Of course, we need to acknowledge our limitations, our mental and physical health. Feed our families. But remember, IBPOC are struggling with the same and then some. If we can just share the burden in a small way, it is better than doing nothing at all. Even just one small step, like reading about Indigenous or Black history rather than our usual bedtime reading, or support a Black or Indigenous-owned business, taking some time to reflect and observe how white supremacy is embedded in our daily lives is better than nothing at all. We can’t do all the things, but there is enough to choose from that we can do at least one.
Physically, we can be mindful of the actions we take in our daily lives. This includes how we spend our money, what businesses and organisations we support, who we network with, how we walk in the world, how we take up space, our relationship with our body and those of others. Over the years, I have noticed so many racist unconscious biases in me about beauty and bodies and women of colour. I realised how harmfully white washing the media is. I complain about fat-shaming (which is terrible) but that is just a slice of the whole nasty pie of media when it comes to bodies and race.
Those of us working in a holistic health or fitness industry can ask ourselves what has conditioned our idea around health and fitness and how white supremacy may have influenced those ideas? How can we amplify IBPOC voices around health and fitness?
I will never fully understand IBPOC experience. I have internalised white supremacist programming and allyship is a process that I am fumbling through.
I don’t feel its my place to tell one how to be a good ally, but something I do sometimes to help me understand allyship ‘do’s and don’ts’, is to think about types of oppression I have experienced, and what type of support I would like from someone who doesn’t experience it.
For instance, as a woman married to a man, I have had my share of gender wars with my partner. Not only are we different genders but different generations. He is 22 years older than me, straight, able-bodied, healthy, grew up in a wealthier time in a wealthier family. I am bisexual, have experienced chronic illness and temporary disability, and grew up with much less than him. He is a product of his time and place, as am I. I have experienced the frustration of dealing with his guilt and defensiveness over equity issues. I call him out (and in) often.
Sometimes I want him to speak up more- to his friends or people who say shitty things. Sometimes I want him to be quiet and listen more- like when we’re together or in a social setting. Mostly, I want him to try to see, understand and respect our differences and level the playing field whenever he can.
Being female and white isn’t the same as being IBPOC, but in terms of allyship, I can sometimes relate to what is annoying behaviour from someone who wants to help but hasn’t done the internal work.
I love my partner and am amazed at how far he has come in terms of his inner work. Our relationship has been strengthened by my courage to stand up for myself and spark deep, difficult conversations with him. Sometimes it was exhausting, but It was worth it. Now, he is able to spread the awareness to others in his life, and is raising his third daughter with understanding and empathy that he may not have had otherwise.
Spiritually, we can do allyship work too.
For me, this has been concentrated on healing issues in my ancestral line by reclaiming the pre-colonial spiritual ways of my ancestors- from both Europe and Turtle Island. In remembering these parts of me, the spiritual practices of my ancestors that were wiped away by Patriarchy and Colonialism, I am empowered to live in a way now that opposes these systems.
I honour my Indigenous ancestors by learning their ways and participating in their ceremonies. But I don’t deny my Celtic side either. I don’t think of one part of my heritage as ‘good’ and the other as ‘bad’. It’s all part of me. I honor my Celtic ancestors by learning their pagan ways and their ceremonies, too. I do my best to avoid appropriation and educate those around me about it. Over the years, I take time to focus on one path more than the other. Sometimes they merge together harmoniously. When they do, it feels like a healing taking place within my bloodline.
I have to check in a lot to see if I am spiritually bypassing. Meaning, am I using spirituality and it’s ‘all-one-ness’ to erase anything or avoid the discomfort of being in a position of privilege? Am I over-simplifying the work by trying to transcend it to the spiritual plane? Am I doing the ground-level work that is necessary for my spiritual ideals to manifest in this world?
So, I am asking myself a lot of questions.
One thing I have to keep reminding myself and my ‘good person’ identity is- this is most definitely not about me! It’s about making change in the world starting with de-constructing some of my conditioned thinking and habits.
The less I make it about performing ‘being a perfect ally’ or getting concerned with showing others how much I care, the more I can actually engage in the deep learning process that allyship is. I am a work in progress and that’s ok.
Listen and learn. Process and heal. Change a habit. Move forward. Repeat.