The videos, blog posts and social media messages regarding things like racism, political unrest and the stresses of living in reality are often the ones which stay stuck in the 'drafts' section, if they even get started at all! Lots of people are keen to continue business-as-usual without touching on those topics. Perhaps it should surprise us that the spiritual community is included in this tendency to turn away from these themes. Perhaps not. All I can do is reference my own experience as someone with a gradually growing platform who talks about spiritual development and personal growth, and I want to be honest. It is not always easy for me to broach these subjects and I feel like I have broached them less than I should and less than I'm comfortable with. Part of the reason for this is that I know I'm a long way from being perfect. Sometimes I tell myself I'm not necessarily this model activist who's constantly invested in making change, so why should I be the one to talk about it on my platform? Well, no one's perfect and every little helps right now.
My latest video is long. I hope it will prove helpful to people. I know that it will piss some people off. My intention when sitting down to record my thoughts was to help people who may be feeling disempowered, helpless and unsure in this current political climate, and to show people that their strength is not something to be underestimated. In fact, now would be the worst time to do that. My intention was also to extend empathy to people who find themselves in difficulty when it comes to watching the news and being in the midst of people with bitterly opposing views.
I wasn't working with tonnes of notes and I wasn't allowing my concerns about which words and phrases to use get in the way of actually, well, using some, and ultimately getting the message out there. So I wanted to take this moment to clear a few things up to the best of my ability.
In the video, I talk about racism as something which is becoming more apparent and problematic. I was not making any attempt to convey that racism is new or that it wasn't having a painfully negative effect on people before Trump or Brexit or any other political event. The point that I hope I was able to make was that people are emboldened in their racist views when they feel that they have a mandate from the state. Although you could certainly argue that there has always been plenty of evidence that the systems of power condone bigotry, there are different calibers of mandate and some are more emboldening that others. When you can literally watch your own president condoning police brutality in a speech, talking about committing acts of sexual assault on women or hobnobbing with white supremacists on social media, I'd say that's the kind of mandate that can take things to fever pitch. There has been so much footage of Trump supporters harassing people in public and literally shouting, 'I voted for Trump!' that it's not hard to see how justified the president's own words and actions are helping racists to feel. Furthermore, other people who may not previously have held such views can be swept up in the mood and end up losing their better judgement in favour of joining the feeding frenzy, satisfying themselves with an idea of innate superiority, feeding their shadows instead of examining them.
I am not only concerned with racism in the video but with bigotry overall, but the issues surrounding racial tension and racist opinions are the most referenced. I do want to convey that I use the word 'racist' in relation to individuals somewhat differently to the way in which I generally tend to use the word 'racism'. 'Racism' is a word which can represent the systems which uphold the ideology of white supremacy. It is important to acknowledge that I am a beneficiary of that ideology. When I describe an individual as 'racist', I am not implying that I am not conditioned by white supremacy myself or that I don't have any issues to work through or shadows to sort out. I am just using the word 'racist' to convey that a particular individual is actually being openly racist and aligning themselves with those views rather than actively seeking to examine and dismantle them. I hope that makes sense. Language can be wonderful but also limiting.
Essentially, let me just state for the record that I do believe it's impossible for white people in this world to have been untouched by racist conditioning even if they had parents who taught them that everyone is equal and they do not engage in racist thoughts or actions on any conscious level. Just by virtue of being in a world which is influenced by white supremacy from the ground up, white people have a shitload of work to do. So, I am not trying to create an unbridgeable gap between me and a rally-crying, angry white Trump supporter, in order to suggest that I am untainted by the stuff that they have been consumed by. I would never presume to be untainted by racism. I think that's the first big mistake of any white person who wants to be a more decent human being.
Another thing I wanted to put across was that my video attempts to cover a few different angles when it comes to how we communicate with those who hold bigoted views. This is because although I know that lots of people have made the decision to cease contact with friends and family members who are making their prejudices known, plenty others have not necessarily made that decision. Those people who are maintaining contact are going to be feeling conflicted as fuck about it. They are going to feel that they ought to walk away from anyone who holds such views, but they are also going to feel that they are in the position to try and reasonably converse with loved ones who are spouting prejudice. They are going to worry about the possibility that continuing to engage with a loved one who holds prejudiced views is tantamount to betraying the marginalised groups concerned. We have to understand that a decision to walk away from someone completely in all circumstances can be unrealistic. These people are employers, siblings, in-laws, parents, vulnerable elderly relatives who need social support.. It is often much more complicated than simply a 'cut and shut' rejection of the individual, and I want to be sensitive to that.
So, in my view, the ways in which we choose to deal with these topics when they arise in conversation is of great importance, and so much of this is about context. In the video, I ham-fistedly attempt to explain that it can be productive to have conversations with people who are likely to engage with you about their prejudiced views in a productive way, and that choosing to engage with them is actually part of the work. But if you are in a situation in which you know that the conversation is only being instigated as a form of empty power play or aggression and that there's no chance of any helpful resolution (even if it's just cordial stalemate) then there is a danger that the interaction is only going to embolden the prejudiced individual's views. It's about feeling your way into it and assessing the usefulness of talking with them.
When we do choose to engage, it must never be in a way which eventually serves to legitimize racism as a cogent argument. We must be prepared to stand up for our beliefs and avoid making the prejudiced person feel ultimately validated in their perspective. This is why so many people want to avoid such discussions completely - because it feels like a big responsibility and pressure. But sometimes it's important to debate those who would otherwise 'take the floor' in the workplace, over dinner or at a family gathering, spouting their views without being challenged and therein telling themselves that everyone in their midst is sanctioning and agreeing.. Sometimes we need to be the person to make someone recognise that they are not currently inhabiting a space which counts as a haven for their bigotry. (If you are white and everyone else in the room is white and someone starts talking as though they can relax into their racism as a natural consequence of being in the Caucasian clubhouse, you have the opportunity to take a powerful stand. The same is true in the digital world. Social media is full of clubhouses too.)
But my video also stresses that it's not just about engaging with individuals. It's not just about joining a battle for hearts and showing people that we care and that we will not be silent. It's also about understanding that many forms of bigotry are supported by systems which encompass the police and judicial system, the education system, public services and so on, and that if we're not tackling the issues on that level then we are playing into the hands of those who want to see countries divided and supremacy succeeding even more widely. We must be aware of the importance of dedicating ourselves to dismantling systems by not playing into them and by demanding transparency and justice from the systems which keep the rotten machinery in place. We need to demand changes to legislation and accountability from individuals, corporations and institutions which maintain the oppression of specific societal groups. We need to think about how we are going to put a spanner in the works in these ways, not just about whether or not we have the strength and energy to engage with a relative whose opinions we despise.
Thank you for watching my video and for reading these thoughts.
Thank you for giving me some space and attention so that, hopefully, we can all renew our commitment to giving more space and attention to those who really need it most.