The Reckoning: Decolonising our minds

The third post in this series on privilege, ancestry, decolonising, forgiveness and responsibility!!

I’ve delayed and procrastinated big time with this piece.

I kept thinking I knew what I wanted to say but would read or hear some new nugget of wisdom and need more time to process. I’d swing between, once again, feeling that it’s not my place to speak about these huge and complex issues of privilege and race and discrimination…

… and then feeling so strongly the call to use my own privilege (and small platform) in the hope that it creates space for others a little like me to lean into their own truth and reckon with their privilege.

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series (here and here) you’ll be familiar with my journey to trying to understand where I come from and how I can use my voice for change. At this part of the story it feels important to mention a couple of books that really stirred things up.

In 2020, it was the start of the pandemic and we were also reeling from the death of George Floyd in the US. There was an uprising of truth-telling and education that followed. Around this time I read the books “White Fragility” by Robin Deangelo and “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F Saad, and they helped to create some big shifts within that in turn assisted me to better understand my place in the world.

In particular Layla Saad has been a hugely influential teacher for me over the past few years and I highly recommend paying for her courses and books if you are ready to dive into this work.

And it is work.

In a 2020 CTZN podcast Layla Saad outlines her “Me and White Supremacy” 30 day challenge program and what inspires her to guide people in this space, and what it takes to lean into it. The term “Reckoning” used in this conversation with activist Kerry Kelly resonated with me in a big way.

I love language and when I delve into the meaning of this word, it can be used in regards to: a calculation or working out, the settlement of an account or the settlement of rewards or punishment from action(s).

And so this process of learning about white privilege and the deep structural biases that privilege white folks, and leaning into the gritty and uncomfortable truths that are uncovered as I learn more and see more, and then the working through how to ‘settle’ this in terms of the actions I take in the world. Well it feels very much like a reckoning to me.

Yet, it’s a reckoning that I feel so passionately about turning towards.

“White fragility” is the term used to describe the defensiveness and debilitating discomfort that comes with confrontation about racial inequality and injustice. I mean, of course there is likely to be some discomfort if you have a heart and realise that you ARE continuing to play out racist and colonialist agendas simply by your participation in the dominant structures and models of our inherently racist society. Yet to be hamstrung by those difficult feelings is just not an option. Integral to this reckoning is the ability to move beyond the discomfort. To use it as a mindfulness bell, as a place that needs attention… another aspect of yourself (and I am absolutely talking about myself here too) that might need to be decolonised!

So many times I have delayed writing this post.

I wonder if I am simply wanting to get my perspective out there as a subtle White Centring of my own knowledge and experience in this space (so used to being Exceptional and Superior as a white person thank you very much).

I wonder if I am under the surface, wanting to show the world that I am ‘better’ than other white folks, that I care and am doing the work, as a Optical White Saviour. (Fanfare please.)

I wonder about the fact I have built this small platform that I have based on my work as a Yoga and Meditation teacher and the appropriation of teachings from a culture not my own with many course fees paid to White teachers in White Western studios.

I wonder if I will make mistakes stepping into this space to use my voice and end up causing more harm.

Yet, here I am. Sharing my thoughts. After many false starts this still feels important to share. And partly because I don’t believe that all of the work done in this space (and we have established that it is uncomfortable and emotional work) should be done by Black Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). And if I have made mistakes in the past and if I continue to make mistakes from here I am fully committed to apologising for them and learning from them.

It is MY responsibility to keep on doing this work and to inspire others to join me in order to create change and a more just society.

So what does Decolonising our Minds look like?

Racism is not just marches of Neo-Nazis in the deep south of the USA. It is not limited to the over population of Australia detention centres with Indigenous kids. It isn’t only internet trolls or idiotic media personalities spouting racist remarks and deciding that our society is way too PC. And so White Supremacy is also something that is not limited to those situations.

Racism is systemic. It is born out of Colonialism, Slavery, Class systems, and other systems of oppression. And so if you live in a White dominant society and you have White skin (or pass as White skinned) you have been born into a system that treats you as superior. While you may have other identities (gender, class or sexuality) or experiences that are challenging in your life — you simply hold more privilege than a BIPOC person in similar circumstances. And it is significant.

And most importantly, particularly in the Wellness and Spirituality space, simply believing that we are all equal as humans and stating that you are not racist, or anti-racist, doesn’t take away from the hard fact that you are (I am) dominant in a racist society, racist institutions and racist culture.

In fact it is really dangerous to ‘spiritually bypass’ these inequities with “we are all one”, “I don’t see colour” soundbites because unless we can see these structural biases clearly we are acting in the world from a place of ignorance. And moving from ignorance to awakening is the true spiritual path — even if there are dark and difficult things we have to work through along the way!

We might have “surface level” decolonised the world as countries like Britain and France pulled out of invaded territories last century, but colonialism continues in the form of Aid programs, World Bank loans, trade agreements, NGO saviourism and poverty tourism.

In a similar way we might have seen a wide scale decolonisation of our minds at a surface level (with a decrease in racist language, laws and culture) yet there is much work to do as we go deeper into our unconscious biases.

So we do this work by letting go of the idea that we are immune to being racist, and first acknowledging that as White people we must have biases and being open to exploring what they are in order to help break them down. We acknowledge that we’ll continue to mess up and make mistakes until we know better.

The best place to start is with a book or course like Layla F. Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” to start doing this work in a structured way. Decolonising at this level really has to start with ourselves.

But it cannot end there. You can’t finish the book and say ok I’m done!

And we can’t ever really be good at, or done with, being anti-racist. It is something that we just keep showing up to do.

The decolonising has to spill out into your actions. Taking a long hard look at where you are not including, where you are appropriating, centring, profiting from these inequalities in your business, career, community… Committing to calling out racist biases in your communities and spaces where and when you see it.

It’s not supposed to be another piece of the self-help journey so you can feel better about yourself as a good person. It’s supposed to lead to structural change — and this might mean you step away, lift up and create space for others to grow and to earn.

I see so much in the spiritual space around the laws of attraction and abundance convincing us that there is enough in the universe to go around if we just ask for it, work hard enough and efficiently enough for it. Yet, is that just another way of bypassing these inherent biases? It feels like it.

There is such a significant opportunity here, for us within the Spiritual/Wellness space, to lean into the paradox of “both/and” that Brene Brown talks about so beautifully in her work.

We can know that we are all one as humans, and that there is abundance and flow to be held by all of us in our unique ways… AND also see all the places where we are not equal, and where our biassed thoughts, words and actions are contributing to that inequality.

Further, it is a slippery slope to also start to judge, and see imperfections, in ourselves and others in this work and fall into the trap of self hatred and of shaming or feeling guilt and shame about the culture that we are from and the deeds of our ancestors.

It is important to shine a light on their actions and the influence that has had on our own upbringing and privilege but we have to move beyond that to a point of personal reconciliation. Otherwise how do we expect that reconciliation can happen more widely?

I often get stuck here… Am I even qualified to reconcile and forgive my ancestors for this mess we’re in?

The musing will continue soon.

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Emily is a Yoga & Meditation Teacher, Mountain Hiker, Rock Music Lover, Human Rights Activist and Deeeeep Thinker. She writes about all these things and more.

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Emily Sara Rose

Emily is a Yoga & Meditation Teacher, Mountain Hiker, Rock Music Lover, Human Rights Activist and Deeeeep Thinker. She writes about all these things and more.