As we say in Trillium Awakening: the good news is that perfection is not required in order to have a spiritual awakening. And, we are quick to add: the bad news is that perfection is not bestowed upon spiritual awakening!
This is a humbling fact, to say the least. It means that after realizing our transcendent unity with all of life, we still have a lot of shadow work to do. We still need to integrate the wounds and conditioning that are hiding in our unconscious, curled into our cells and bones, and manipulating our imagination. [See my recent blog post and video, Hidden Agendas, on how to work with this]
Our shadow includes deep cultural influences containing beliefs and experiences that color our perception and limit our expression. What is not permitted or socially acceptable becomes taboo and goes underground. Racism, especially in liberal circles, has become taboo.
Two incidents in early June, ’20 made vivid how our collective shadow around racism is very much alive and well. How horrifying to see those three white policemen bearing down on George Floyd, especially the one whose knee pressed on George’s neck and suffocated him to death! How enraging to see Amy Cooper call 911 and accuse birdwatching Christian Cooper of assaulting her!
And…how easy it is to scapegoat the policemen and Amy Cooper.
We want to distance ourselves from that horror and from being incriminated by it because we are white. We want to feel good about ourselves. We don’t want to be bad people, and people who “are racist” are definitely bad. We can’t accept the fact that we, too, have the potential for such dehumanizing actions.
I want to widen the aperture here and name something really important: every single white “one of us” in Western society has a healthy, active racist dynamic in our unconscious! And of course we do — it’s how we’ve been conditioned: it’s the water we swim in, the air that we breathe. It’s in the stories we tell, the humor we share, the music we sing. It’s in the way we walk and talk and shop and parent and imagine.
So, the question is NOT: “Am I a racist?”
The question is: “In what ways is racism alive in me in this moment?”
This is our ongoing inquiry as white people. To notice and bring into consciousness how racism colors our experience — in our bodies, emotions, and thought. Notice the subtle, automatic constriction in our body when a black person walks into our shopping aisle. Notice the automatic assumptions we make while talking with a brown or black-skinned person (e.g. about their intelligence). Notice how it’s heartbreakingly impossible, really, to simply speak “human to human” because that slippery, sneaky, subconscious dynamic of privilege and prejudice affects every single interaction we have with a person of color.
It must be our practice as white people to support one another in bearing the unbearable reckoning with the racism in our shadow, and to help name and illuminate the way in which the dynamics of oppression live inside each of us.
It must be our practice as white people not to scapegoat each other, but to make a welcoming, compassionate space where we can use these vivid examples of our collective, racist shadow to take pause and ask ourselves “How does this oppressive process live inside of me?”
Only when we’re humble enough to claim our own participation in the dynamics of racism, and strong enough to encounter how the cultural shadow lives within our own psyche, and courageous enough to bear witness to the deep suffering it causes in ourselves and in people of color, can we begin to effectively dismantle the dehumanizing, systemic structures that stifle our true humanity.
I believe that awakening to the truth of our non-separate inter-being with all of life is certainly an important, game-changing transition. However, for our spiritual awakening to be most fully expressed, and our humanity most fully developed, we must also awaken to the social realities that we live and participate in.
Because social awakening can be so very uncomfortable, it will most likely require a conscious choice and commitment to learning about, and allowing ourselves to be deeply affected by, the deep, systemic dynamics of injustice in our culture, of which racism is but one example. It will also require patient, loving, compassionate support and community.