The first step in healing from the damage white supremacy does to our spirit is to face our reality, process our defensiveness as it arises, so that we can be truly honest about our starting place. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Spiritual Practices For White Discomfort
Posted by Annie Gonzalez Milliken // August 17th 2015
So, lots of folks in the progressive world I inhabit on social media had a lot of opinions about the event that happened on August 8th in Seattle when the white leftie politician Bernie Sanders went to speak to a crowd about social security and Medicare and was interrupted by two black women raising awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement the day before the first anniversary of Mike Brown’s death.
And sure, as a white progressive who is pretty into Bernie Sanders’ political stances and who staunchly supports the Black Lives Matter movement, I have opinions too.
The opinion I wish to share here and now, however, is not about political analysis, history or strategy and it’s certainly not about the particular incident in Seattle. It is about spiritual practices. It’s about how as a person of faith, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and a middle class educated white woman who cares deeply about racial justice, I use spiritual practices to sit with my white discomfort.
What do I mean by white discomfort? I mean a social trend that I see repeatedly and an emotional reaction I’ve observed in myself. It goes something like this: The media breaks a story about something that Black Lives Matter activists did. Maybe somebody burned a building or blocked a freeway or shouted during a leisure event or interrupted a politician. White people react to such stories in a variety of ways. There’s everything from vocal and undaunted support to blatantly racist rants.
I want to focus on those of us who fall somewhere in the middle of that reaction spectrum. I want to focus on those of us who feel confusion about why these tactics were chosen, who feel concerned that the tactics might be alienating or “going too far,” who feel afraid for how others further down the spectrum will react, who feel angry about being made to feel uncomfortable.
The spiritual practices I suggest here are designed for us: the white liberals in the middle of the reaction spectrum. And while I’m a devout Unitarian Universalist, these practices can be done by someone of any or no faith. These are practices that de-center our egos and help us to learn and grow while being compassionate with ourselves and faithful to our values.
I share these practices because I hope they can help us next time there’s a Black Lives Matter action that unsettles white folks. And it will happen again. This powerful movement for racial justice is not slowing down and it is not playing respectability politics (amen and hallelujah!)
So Here’s What We Can Do Next Time:
Sit with discomfort
This is such a valuable exercise for both personal spiritual development and for combating our own white fragility. For those who practice mindfulness or draw on Buddhist traditions, sitting with discomfort may be familiar. For others of us it may not. Either way, learning to name and own our own discomfort it is crucial to our spiritual development and our ability to be allies.
When judgment comes up, try turning to curiosity
This spiritual practice is good for all kinds of conflict and negative reactions. When I’m feeling judgment toward myself or others, I try to re-frame with curiosity. From “that was so stupid and ineffective” to “I wonder why those activists chose that strategy?” From “I’m a bad white ally for having these thoughts” to “I wonder where my discomfort is coming from and what I can learn about myself ?”