(Sometimes, I just got time...today I got time.)
This morning, pretty innocuously, I shared on my social media a recommendation of a fantastic book that I was re-reading - Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
Unsurprisingly, within minutes, I had been 'unfollowed' by two dozen people and messaged by nearly a dozen more - some gently chiding about being 'divisive', some patronising about 'not being very spiritual', some (with good intentions) derailing to remind me apropos of nothing that 'Irish people were slaves' and others just flat-out being abusive. Wow!
To be honest, this happens any time I discuss racism or sexism or colonialism in the spiritual realm. And let me be clear - this isn't a post victimising myself in any way - I'm fortunate, unlike a lot of WOC activists, that I could in these cases, choose to disengage to some level and go about my day.
Which brings me to what I need to korero on to you today - why do I talk SO MUCH (according to many who follow my spiritual work, in bewilderment) about race?
So lets talk about it.
First, a disclaimer - so that I can then de-centre myself and my own experiences from this post, because ultimately it's not about me: I am BIPOC. This (in case you're new to these discussions) refers to Black/Indigenous/ People of Colour. I am Maori. I have, both as a child and as an adult woman, experienced and witnessed personal discrimination, projection and sexualisation on account of race. I have experienced physical, verbal and sexual abuse directly as a result of racist social structures. I have dealt with the aftermath of outward racist attacks and discrimination on family members. I have been placed into situations everywhere from the pub to the workplace where my safety, mental health and employment were threatened by defending myself and others against race-based discrimination or harassment. I have experienced slurs, jokes, boundary-crossing, ostracision and microaggressions directly as a WOC (woman of colour) and a Maori. (The point of this blog isn't to list them all here.)
I am, also, a light-skinned Person of Colour. Being light-skinned, or being 'white-passing' (another term to familiarise yourself with) has afforded me privileges, options and safety that hasn't (and still isn't) been available to more obviously BIPOC women, even within my own family. My mother is blonde. I was schooled in Australia, in a primarily white, working-class (later upper middle-class) environment. Despite the culture, beliefs and attitudes at home, within the way I was raised, within our spiritual practice, within the constant identification as a Maori - it would be false and disingenuous to suggest that my experiences were not more privileged than those of my race with darker skin or those who stayed in New Zealand and were subject to Maori-specific racism and discrimination. (The cognitive dissonance of being mixed-race is an identity crisis to talk about another day). It is these privileges that have allowed me proximity to educational, social and legal opportunities. It came with the condition that I disengage myself from involvement with race-based issues or indeed identification as a Person of Colour, that I align with 'white' values and white middle-class social issues (just keeping Maori heritage as a fun lil joke for when the All Blacks are winning the rugby). Nevertheless, it was privilege.
I'll give you an example. In my late teens, while working under a super aggressive, sexually inappropriate (white) manager, I finally plucked up the courage to call him out on the racist rants he spewed daily against the dark-skinned cleaning staff, Indian call centre staff, Aboriginal and Maori women and other dark-skinned POC. I somewhat naively ventured that 'we can't be all bad, look at what a good job I do here'. He was boggled. He told me, with surprise, that he had thought I was 'Italian or something'. He then reassured me that 'I didn't come across like a Maori or any of them, that's why I had a good job'.
Can you see the difference here? While I experienced the stress, fear and humiliation of these aggressive racist behaviours at work, being 'light skinned' enough to pass for a European gave me proximity to safety from this man. Had I been darker in skin, or even more upfront in my initial interview about being a Maori, I would have been both flat-out denied a job and/or been subject directly to the racist abuse, instead of adjacent to it. Because at the end of the day, I had a) a job and b) the comparative safety as a seemingly-acceptable 'white-passing' person to even be able to attempt to stand up to this man in power without fearing a racist attack.
This is what we call privilege. And if you are a light-skinned or white-passing POC, or indeed if you are white, you have this privilege which can and should be used in your social and spiritual work.
It doesn't mean that you haven't suffered. It doesn't mean that you are bad for existing. It doesn't mean that you are not entitled to express and feel pain over abuse, hurts or discrimination you have experienced as a woman in society. What it means is that the racist structures that are in place have NOT been the root cause of those experiences. (And if you are a POC, it doesn't mean that you haven't also been a victim of racism).
A quick definition here: Racism is stipulated as prejudice plus power. The act of one mean individual may be prejudiced, but racism is when that mean act is fed by or affirmed by, systemic and powerful racist structures behind it. There's a huge difference and it's defined by who, in society, has that power. People of colour, do NOT have equity in that social power in our current Western society. So before you message me with a story about how a POC was rude to you once... that's dickheadery, not racism.
It means that you have and are benefiting, unfairly, from those racist structures. The way that I benefited in the example above, even marginally, by being a witness to my boss' racist abuse, and not the target of it. Do you see the difference? It was still traumatising. But I had a level of privilege even in that situation that my darker-skinned, more obviously Maori or POC counterparts would not have.
With my privilege, comes my responsibility.
And this is why, I talk about race.
And NOT just in context of talking about myself and my own experiences, but doing the best I can to elevate the issues, stories and voices of other WOC. Educating myself, doing the work, putting in the effort, doing the research, using social media or my work to bring more attention to racism and injustice. Otherwise it's just me, using my privilege to... maintain my privilege, at the cost of others.
As I explained to a few inbox messages today - when we use the story of a BIPOC who has experienced racism, or when we use a discussion about racism, and derail it to talk about how 'all women' or 'all people' have suffered, or we talk about 'black people also enslaved black people' or 'Irish people were colonised too' - this doesn't add to the conversation or broaden the learning. And the same for decrying 'spiritual' folk who discuss racism as somehow 'causing division' (newsflash: the division is there already. Refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room doesn't make it disappear). It's simply, an abusive and colonial learned technique to silence the voices of marginalised people. As I said today, would you ever dream of marching into the funeral of a person who had died of breast cancer, and shouting about "people die of skin cancer too! Why aren't we talking about skin cancer? Skin cancer is also important!" or "stop crying, it's upsetting people who weren't crying before!" - I think not, right? There are many ongoing valid discussions (that I am so vocal about) about class and gender-based warfare, but it's not necessary or okay to derail the conversation about racism to highlight them. Otherwise we're just continuing to diminish POC voices which is... ya... racist. So let's not, we can do better!
When I was in school, there were very few POC children. It was, primarily, a white town. Something that really stuck with me over the years, was the shaming and making fun of POC children who sought visibility as POC minorities in any way that they could - by openly listening to the hip-hop, gospel or reggae music that was played at home, speaking in patois that was identified as 'black' or 'ghetto', wearing fashion that was trended by famous BIPOC people and so on. The most withering insult that could be made to ostracise a POC child was that they were 'trying to be black'. This was a running joke even amongst teachers and parents too. Because how dare those children define People of Colour as the norm, as their role models?
The message from then, all the way to today on receiving those 'polite suggestions from one spiritual boss babe to another' is that... to survive, to thrive, to be normal, attractive and marketable, POC - especially light-skinned POC - should align themselves with white culture and values, keeping their acceptable POC traits (like long dark hair or big lips) purely as a little exotic, consumable treat. They want to reassure you that they don't see you as an 'angry black woman', so why should you?
When people ask me why I talk about race, as a light-skinned POC, what they're saying is this.
"Why would you possibly care about something, beyond how it benefits you personally?"
"Why are you taking on a problem that belongs to THOSE PEOPLE to deal with?" They're saying
"This isn't my responsibility and how dare you enter into my space as a white-seeming person, and then behave like a black person and make me uncomfortable?"
"You've been gifted the safety of being acceptably white-passing in 'safe' white society, why are you being so ungrateful?"
"Why would you care about race if you're not black?"
"I'm racist and I haven't yet realised it."
I talk about racism in society and spirituality because I am both WOC-enough to have experienced it, white-passing enough to be adjacent to the worst of it, and privileged enough to have a large social platform and social currency with which to talk about it. I talk about it because I have (as well as having suffered from them) benefited from racist structures - as we all have. I talk about it because it's essential to YOUR and the collective spiritual uplifting, wisdom, 'ascension', return to love, healing and personal growth that we address what is toxic in the roots of our learning.
So when you ask yourself or you giggle to your friends about why a person who isn't 'black' - whether it's a mixed-race student at your school, or indeed a white person on your IG list, talks about race - I want you to look deeply within and ask yourself why you think dismantling racism, hatred and the resulting issues (from police brutality to poverty to sexual violence to environmental damage) is ONLY the responsibility of a few 'angry black people' that you aren't going to listen to anyway cause they're not in your 'Good Vibe Tribe'.
Ask yourself why you DON'T feel like these things are your responsibility. And then, when you tune in to the collective and you feel swamped, stressed, amped, exhausted 'by society' or by 'energy'; when you next are sick or injured or belittled or stuck on the side of the road in a broken-down car or out of money - ask yourself if maybe that "not my responsibility" attitude that you're putting into the world energetically is what you're getting back.
If you're reading this post as a white person or light-skinned POC and feeling triggered or attacked, this isn't my intention. Part of my Decolonising Your Spirit work is decolonising shame culture, which - again, as I've talked about in previous posts - is an old, toxic colonial method of control. You aren't supposed to feel shamed or blamed or bad for your existence. But I want you to TAKE NOTICE of the conversations around you happening about race, in your field - spirituality, education, the upcoming general election - and LISTEN. Not centre yourself and your experiences or your feelings - but LISTEN and HEAR the lived experiences of POC. Nobody can heal what we don't acknowledge. And privilege begets responsibility.
Social media is a platform, and there's no point standing on it unless you're helping others move upward when you do. I will continue to talk about racism, sexism and colonialism and how they intersect with spirituality - I hope, very much, that you commit (whether you're a POC expressing your lived experiences, or a white or light-skinned person utilising your privilege to bring awareness and action to POC) to this healing journey.