White folks in racial justice circles often experience shame, guilt, and confusion. We unpack our invisible knapsacks of white privilege; we notice biases we didn’t know we had; we start to discover the personal, relational, and systemic dynamics of racism and white supremacy. And what arises within many of us is the inevitable question, “So, what can I do about it???”
My experience with this question is that it represents a longing to “make it better” in a couple of different ways: we genuinely want to help heal the suffering of racial injustice, and, we desperately want to end the discomfort of being on the “bad” side of the equation. I know this experience and the sensations of it well. Even as I type this now, I can feel the tightness arising in my chest and up through my throat, the drawing down of muscles in my face, the tears forming in my eyes. We don’t want to be here. We don’t want supremacy lived out in our skin. It hurts. If you identify as white and can hear what I’m saying, just sit here with me for a moment and feel this. If your mind wants to jump to judgment or “fixing” or trying to justify or validate your experience as a “good” white person, just watch that happening and bring yourself back to here, now, feeling the sadness of this legacy that we are a part of.
This is one thing we can do. We can stick with it when it hurts. It sounds simple, but I believe in this process as a profound path to healing ourselves and our communities. We practice (and it is a practice) waking up to our own direct experience of racism and white supremacy. We realize our own personal suffering here. And from this place of truth and sadness, skillful action is possible.
Skillful action can mean many things – it can mean investigating these issues in greater depth through the many resources that exist today to help us learn more; it can mean joining a racial justice discussion group or forming one where you live, work, or pray; it can mean donating to POC-led racial justice organizations; it can mean advocating for racially-just policies in your home community. But underlying any of these is the most basic of skillful actions: living each moment with greater awareness.
This is the commitment I’ve made to myself. I want to see racial bias when it come up for me. I want to feel the emotions and sensations that accompany each thought I’ve been conditioned to believe. Each time I do this, something subtle shifts inside - there is a little more openness, a little less judgment, a little bit of compassion. In that moment of awareness, I am more skillful in how I relate to myself and others. Each experience like this contributes to a changed mind (literally). With this practice, I can be more skillful in how I challenge racism and white supremacy in my personal interactions with the communities and institutions I’m a part of.
So, this question for me becomes less about “what can I do?” and more about “how can I be?”
The Power to Be Blog explores the use of mindfulness in shifting both individual and collective awareness toward a more just and loving world.
Grace Helms Kotre, MSW, shares mindfulness as a tool for empowerment with youth and adults in schools, organizations, businesses, and private lessons. Grace sees mindfulness as a radical and powerful tool for promoting justice, healing trauma, and bringing greater peace into our daily lives.