The past few weeks have been heavy, saddening, and sobering. Following the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, it feels that we are at a pivotal moment – a monumental tipping point. At long last, there is an incredible surge happening right now: a strong and powerful push for more tangible action and resistance to the institutionalized racism and violence that operates in our country. And in this moment, it is crucial that we hold our attention, remain vigilant, and continue to fight for radical, lasting change.
I wanted to take some time to talk about being a white ally. In the momentum of this movement, many of us are being motivated (perhaps for the first time) to work on our own understanding of racism: how it operates, how we have participated and benefitted from upholding it, and how we can work to support change. When we take actions as allies, (donating, showing up, listening to our black peers and colleagues, reading our history, holding our privileged peers accountable, questioning our complacency, etc.) it is important to simultaneously do the necessary inner work. These topics will be uncomfortable, but it is important that we push ourselves to incorporate the self-reflection, unlearning, and critical thinking required in our work for anti-racism to create life-saving sustainable change. It is our time as white people to be uncomfortable when it comes to facing racism and black people’s suffering. Below I’ve compiled a list of a few thoughts and suggestions, from a psychologist’s perspective, on how we can work towards more introspective allyship as white people while so many of us are emboldened to become the most evolved white allies possible. The list will come in two parts: this week, we will discuss more reflective practices, and next week, more action-oriented ones. Stay tuned!
As we learn more about the ways that racism is built into the fabric of our society, it is important to think about the ways that we have been complacent. Have I chosen to be dismissive of racial issues in the past, feeling unaffected by them? Have I thrown around microaggressions and stereotypes? Have I listened to my black friends when they’ve expressed frustration and anger about the racism they’ve experienced, without questioning them? Reflection in the form of writing can be a really helpful exercise. I am here to challenge myself and those reading this to write down the ways in which we have been complacent in our privilege and benefitted from the myriad of racist institutions around us. Reflect on the mistakes we’ve made, the assumptions we’ve had, the unconscious biases we have, the words we’ve used… Starting to write these things down will help this reflective process, and can act as a reminder of the behaviors we want to be critical of while moving forward. Helpful tool: read Robin Di’Angelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism as a guide.
As we reflect, it’s important to question why we have been able to act in these ways. Why did I assume that stereotype about that person? Why was I able to ignore this issue? Why is my circle of friends mostly white? What do my actions say about my unconscious biases? In questioning, we can also guide ourselves to confront the implicit racism that exists in our own behaviors. Acknowledging the fact that we still have so much unlearning to do is a crucial step. Nobody is a perfect ally, but we will become better allies if we start the work from within: undoing our unconsciousness around these issues and becoming as conscious as possible.
I encourage you to meditate on these points, and try these tools out! Next week, I’m going to be talking about the final two points, listening and planning, which incorporate more tangible action-oriented tools that build on these ideas.
In the momentum of the recent surge in the Black Lives Matter movement, as many white people are starting to realize the importance of becoming active, well informed, thoughtful, and introspective allies, I decided to create this newsletter to reflect on the ways that we can refine our allyship. Last week, I talked about reflection and questioning: two incredibly powerful tools for the inner work that is necessary for white people taking part in this movement. This week, in building on those tools, I’d like to talk about listening and planning.
When I start to get to know patients in my practice, a lot of the preliminary work has to do with listening. Before we can start to work through problems and talk about change, I have to be able to meet you where you’re at. This process can apply well to allyship because we must be able to listen to our black peers and bear witness to their pain. We will not understand their pain, because we have never experienced it — but we can stand with them, hear them, and honor their thoughts and feelings. Our actions will not be as powerful if we cannot first take the path of empathy and solidarity. This “listening” can take many forms; having conversations, watching a documentary, and/or film, listening to a speech, reading books, listening to music. In all these ways, we have access to countless stories about the black experience in America — take advantage, and, without questioning or assuming or defending, just listen.
There’s a lot of conversation about burnout right now. We’ve been protesting, we’ve been donating, we’ve been having difficult conversations for the past few weeks. It’s easy to get sucked into the media cycle and divert our attention to other news and current events. But we know that this change won’t happen quickly, and will require a long, sustainable movement. So, now we can plan. If we know that we can easily get emotional or exhausted when having difficult conversations about race, we can do what I like to call safety planning. A good place to start is to continually incorporate meditation, mindfulness exercises, walking in nature, and taking devise time-outs into your lifestyle to help your mind restore itself so you can get back out there and do more work.
- Watch: If we want to better understand our minds so we can question our intrusive thoughts that are rooted in racism or stereotypes, CBT practices are very helpful. One way to do this is after engaging in meditation or mindfulness. Use the opportunity of becoming detached from the endless stream of repetitive thinking to just watch when your mind has racist or white privileged thoughts. For instance: what judgments come up when you see a black person? Do you make assumptions? If so, just watch it – don’t get caught up in the shame you feel, and instead take it as an opportunity to see what your mind tells you. Later, write it down and remind yourself that this is the brainwashing all people in the US have been taught, and know that you can do better. Those thoughts may continue to arise at various times. Instead of being passive to them, remind yourself at that moment that they are from the racist programming we have all been subjected to, and you are capable of doing the work to unlearn them.
- Stay focused: If we know that we get might get distracted, lose steam, or want to drop things when they get hard, we can brainstorm ways to regularly incorporate anti-racist work into our lifestyle. Maybe that means a regular journal reflection about our behavior and questions. Maybe that means setting up recurring donations to funds that support the black community. Maybe you want to commit to boycotting certain corporations or businesses that actively contribute to oppressive forces (i.e Police departments, Trump campaign, fossil fuel industry). Perhaps you can think about how you can use your career work to direct energy towards supporting black communities and challenging racist institutions.
- Hope: Know that anything is possible – people move from being unconscious to conscious all the time – we are watching it happen collectively right now. The first step is awareness. If you are aware of your implicit bias, white privilege, and white fragility, know you have the power to do something about it: to change it through inner work. You can educate yourself and change the way you think and behave to create lasting change for you, our beloved black communities, and the world.
We are living in one of the most unprecedented times of change we have ever seen. Inner and outer shifts are possible and psychology and spirituality have always been a powerful tool in understanding ourselves and each other, so I hope we can use it to aid this work too. The learning never stops. Becoming a more conscious person never stops. There is so much valuable information out there beyond this list, and I hope it can act as a stepping stone on our path towards introspective, empathetic, sustainable, and powerful anti-racist work.