A friend forwarded me a conversation on race today with eerily similar dynamics to a conversation I was part of the day before. Essentially, a white woman takes up conversational space in a discussion on POC perspective and makes it about herself. And then makes the claim that she knows herself and her intentions and is therefore justified and ´content´in her opinions and actions. And runs away from the conversation with the words ‘ love and light’ – or something similar. Or claims she is a victim of the POC and demands that her pain be heard, acknowledged and/or validated instead.
In this article, I would like to establish how being unwilling to face (especially if a white person) concepts such as ´white fragility´and ´white privilege´actually impedes your spiritual growth – and why these concepts express a core layer of perspective in the shadow of the Self.
Before we begin, I want to stress that this is not a piece about whites vs. POC. If division was the name of the game, these conversations would be unnecessary. Whilst we´re all trying to find unity, we need to do so in a way that honors diversity – rather than trying to erase it as it invalidates the perspective of the historically dominant.
Most of you who follow my work are Caucasian. And most of you are sensible, sensitive beings who realize that the world isn´t about them. And who have the good sense not to try and make everyone else´s lives about them. And I hope you will also find this article of use and interest.
(Grab a cuppa, because you´re going to want to chew on this for a bit)
Let us start with two assumptions:
(1) Unless you do your shadow work to understand the ego and its many layers … it is rather hollow to claim knowledge of the self and justify actions on the basis of that knowledge. This is something that most on the path will agree with.
(2) Similarly, unless one spends time on unpacking and sitting with uncomfortable concepts such as ‘ white fragility ‘ and ‘ white privilege ‘… it is rather hollow to claim knowledge on and justify one’s actions – especially when discussing sensitive questions as a white person in mixed racial groups.
If point 1 made sense to you, I don’t see why point 2 doesn’t.
What we will get to through this article is how points 1 and 2 are intimately interwoven.
There is a great deal of defensiveness that comes up when POC point this out to white people who try to define their narratives for them. Some of them become angry, defensive, dismissive – and others do try to break it down in a more inclusive way. Irrespective of what they do, POC tend to get projected on by the white person in the discussion.
I find it especially sad when POC who choose to explain what is going on (even in ways that are not intended to be dismissive) get shamed for ‘putting the white woman down’ or ‘calling her out’.
In yesterday’s exchange, two POC academics were accused of being condescending as their decades of research and lived experience in the matter did not support the white woman’s opinion.
She derailed the argument (or tried to), making it entirely about herself and how she felt judged and hurt. And laid the blame on the POC who spoke to her kindly.
That’s just bananas.
And yet, across the world, bushels and bushels of them keep heaping up.
This practice is sadly pervasive. Wrapped up in the rhetoric of self-assertion and spiritual knowledge and often to the detriment of those historically disempowered from doing so.
That being said …
Whilst I wouldn’t say that it’s right to demean a white person wanting to enter a conversation on race (just cause they´re white), the reverse appears to be a right that is frequently assumed. (and the bananas keep piling up)
Here´s some of the implicit assumptions in some of these statements and behaviors:
“My opinion is more important than your research and lived reality.”
“I know I’m coming from a good place, so my words are okay.”
(Which really does not work unless you’ve really sat with the whole question of fragility and privilege. Otherwise one remains oblivious to it and wonders why POC seem so ‘angry’ and ‘triggered’ .)
“I´m content with my opinion and I don´t need to engage with what you´re saying even though this topic has really nothing to do with me “
“My pain is more important than yours, so take a back seat”
This might be an unpopular parallel to make, but these rhetorical practices are highly reminiscent of the patronizing tone that missionaries took when bringing their faith to different lands. They used the same rhetorical strategies that divided, conquered and enslaved generations.
POC were rendered as ‘savages’ through the use of evangelical rhetoric. As people who obviously lacked the intellect to speak for themselves and whose emotional attachment to ‘primitive’ belief systems weighed down their spirits – they needed to be saved.
These justifications were used to morally and politically justify the colonial enterprise and the stripping of tribes from their culture, heritage and land. And wiping out their identities, generations of connection, memory, faith and tradition.
By a far ‘superior’ race whose clarity of thought, faith and righteous intention surpassed that of the beleaguered native.
If you thought that was bad..
What’s worse is that it’s still happening.
In the name of being ‘spiritual’, ´woke´ and ´compassionate´.
For instance …
One comment I read today from this lady who ‘knew her intentions’ felt sorry for the hurt black people felt at her words because they were still ‘carrying it’.
´It´ being centuries of hurt, shame and abuse carried through the generational line.
Which this speaker herself tapped into, using the same strategies her forefathers did.
POC feelings of outrage were their problem because they, unlike her, still had them.
Of course she didn’t…as her shadow in this context lay steeped in privilege, rather than racial abuse.
And yes – we all carry the traits of victim and abuser in us. And yes – that is why we need to look at context so carefully in our self-work, and work with others.
She issued a blanket apology for triggering people inadvertently but it was clear she blamed the ‘victims’ (of her own noble intent?)
Clearly this person had some understanding of the terms used to find deeper self-awareness but stopped short at that critical racial threshold.
And why might that be?
Because she felt she had the right to define that threshold for others.
And that is the hallmark of privilege.
So too is the act of trying to equate experiences, condense, simplify or make everyone’s trauma ‘the same’. It really isn’t.
One may not be able to compare the weight of each trauma on a set of gargantuan scales, but their differences need to honoured… for what they are.
POC perspectives have been erased for long enough.
It´s one thing for them to make that invitation, and it is another to have it foisted upon them in the rhetoric of spirituality and universal love (again).
But if one is not willing to acknowledge the necessity of this work … or the impact of such rhetorical devices …
Then don’t be surprised if POC seem resentful or defensive …
Essentially, (as before) spiritual knowledge is being used as a claim to control others’ speech, tone down their identities and make them dance to the tune of one’s making.
In much the same way that a POC is tasked with overcoming generational trauma whereas a white person need not unpack the flipside of it: generational privilege.
And that is really not going to change unless one’s shadow work includes a healthy dose of introspection with respects to privilege, fragility, entitlement and historical patterns.
These patterns are carried through ancestral line, they are part of the psychic foundation that leads to a sense of self and being.
In other words it is the bedrock upon which the ‘I’ is founded.
Unpacking privilege is something that takes time and sincere effort. And it is not going to be easy if one is content with the idea that their opinions matter more than another person´s lived reality.
Also- one does not automatically become an expert on these by having ‘black friends’ or hanging out with POC. Those relationships may be based on the same hidden dynamics that are in need of deconstruction.
It may be comfortable to assume that your spiritual path can avoid this work.
Or that your knowledge of self automatically carries over to the privilege you may be unconsciously reliant on.
But since when has shadow-working, knowing the hidden self been particularly comfortable ?
Like it or not, it’s part of the syllabus. It’s going to crop up sometime … Be it this life or the next
So why wait?
* * *
Post © Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2018. All rights reserved.
Public Domain Image ´Red Onion ´ by ulleo. via pixabay.