A Love Letter to Black, Indigenous & People of Colour: On Freeing Ourselves From Racist Priestesses, Fake Gurus & White Supremacist Spiritual Teachers
Let's begin with what this is not.
This is not 'I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part Three)'. I have written and written to spiritual white women about unpacking their racism, addressing how white supremacy runs through their businesses and how it is not the job of Black, Indigenous & People of Colour (BIPOC) to do any free emotional labour to educate them on white privilege and social justice. I no longer center whiteness in my work. And if you are white or hold white privilege, and want to know who can help you understand these issues, check out this incredibly well-curated list of black women you can pay.
This letter is also not 'black woman does outrage over racism of liberal spiritual white women'.
In case you didn't know, Black women and femmes aren't only relevant when we're angry. And besides, I'm no longer outraged. I have learnt a lot over the last seven months. I'm now completely unsurprised at just how rampant spiritual-bypassing, tone policing, violent microaggressions, censoring of marginalised voices, avoidance of accountability, wielding of white privilege, derailing, tokenizing of BIPOC, and white entitlement-fragility-shaming is in the spirituality/wellness/personal growth industry.
This is the status quo.
My sister-friend Catrice M. Jackson has written about it prolifically in her anti-racism books. And my sister-friend Leesa Renee Hall has created a very clear infographic about the five act White Fragility Script, and has recently written about what happens when a black woman speaks her truth.
Lastly, this letter is not about how we can collectively fix these issues.
There are plenty of articles, anti-racism courses, projects, books and social justice initiatives that are about people of all races working together to dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy. Those are important conversations to be had and necessary work to be done, for sure. But they're not the conversations we're having right now in this letter.
What this letter is, is a love letter to BIPOC in the spirituality/wellness/personal growth industry.
It's a letter to say:
No, you are not imagining it.
Yes, it is shocking and hurtful.
No, we don't need to convince anyone of our humanity.
Yes, we can thrive without white validation.
No, it is not our job to do free emotional labour to help them 'get it'.
Yes, it is systemic and rampant.
No, we are not alone on this journey.
Yes, even the white friends and white spiritual teachers we thought were 'the good ones' are complicit.
No, we can't unsee once we see it.
Yes, we're going to lose a lot of friends the more we 'wake up' to it.
No, we can't go back to 'business as usual'.
Yes, we have the right to have strong boundaries to protect ourselves from harm.
No, this isn't new.
And yes, it is US who are going to be the change.
There are a couple of things that have inspired this post. I will not re-hash all of the details here, but I will provide some links below if you would like to read more:
- The recent blow up of the Urban Priestess Summit hosted by Ashley Turner and Sianna Shermann.
KEY WORDS: Lack of Diversity & Inclusion; Cultural Appropriation; Erasure of Emotional Labor by POC; Avoidance of Real Accountability; Performative Allyship; Spiritual Bypassing.
- The absolutely horrendous treatment of master meditation and yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala at the Northwest Yoga Conference at the hands of conference host Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, spurring the #NOTYOGA hashtag.
KEY WORDS: Colonization & Appropriation Of Yoga; Censoring & Silencing POC.
- My sister-friend Torrie M. Pattillo's recent posts on her issues with Gabrielle Bernstein and the perpetuation of white supremacy by well known white spiritual authors and teachers in the spirituality/wellness/personal growth industry.
KEY WORDS: Cultural Appropriation; White Silence; White Privilege; Spiritual Bypassing; Inauthentic Spiritual Leadership; White Feminism; Guru Marketing.
- Daily private conversations with black women and WOC who are now waking up to the full extent of the horrors of white supremacy in our industry, and are cycling between emotions of rage, grief, numbness, vulnerability, paranoia, anxiety, stress and sadness.
In a nutshell, so-called progressive liberal white spiritual women are often the tools of white supremacy.
The white priestess movement is dripping in racism. The white spiritual teachers we have been primed and manipulated into idolising and wanting to become through guru branding, by and large do not care about black lives, indigenous lives, brown lives, trans lives, disabled lives, fat lives, actual diversity and inclusivity, actual social change and creating new paradigms of leadership, and even actual spirituality.
Do not let their spiritual jargon of 'light work' and 'shadow work' fool you. Do not let their talk about smashing the patriarchy, becoming goddesses, priestessing the new paradigm, the rising of feminine leadership, and the importance of sisterhood, confuse you.
BIPOC, they do not mean you when they are talking about these topics. They are not including you.
And definitely do not let them deceive you with their use of social justice activist language in their branding and marketing (words like 'revolution', 'intersectional feminism', 'empowerment', 'XXX Lives Matter', '#MeToo', etc.). This is just an attempt to co-opt social justice movements to further promote themselves and make more money. There is nothing revolutionary or empowering about excluding non-white people, or appropriating our cultures.
This whole industry is resting on the foundations of white supremacy, white feminism, anti-blackness, cultural appropriation, manipulative branding, and yes, racism.
And unless you see the white spiritual teachers, priestesses, authors and leaders you follow actively and consistently doing the work of anti-racism both in their personal lives and in their businesses, then you can trust that racism is what is going to happen. Unless it is actively and consistently opposed, it is the default position.
When I published 'I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part One)' back in August 2017, I was not yet fully awake to what I am now able to name and identify with ease. In the wake of that letter going viral, I began to witness and experience racist micro- and macro-aggressions from spiritual white women on a scale that was shocking to me. I often have people tell me how much they are inspired by the strong boundaries that I keep in my interactions with white people in my spaces. But that is because I had no choice. If I didn't have big, strong, beautiful, sovereign boundaries, I would have drowned by now. White supremacy is ubiquitous in this industry. It is the air we breathe. And the more we speak up about it, the more it attempts to suffocate and punish us for it.
But here's the thing, the more awake we become to it, the harder and harder it is to remain silent. And if it is in your bones to be a truth-teller, the more trouble you're going to get yourself in, because white supremacy does not tolerate non-white people telling the truth.
And let us be very clear, white supremacy does not tolerate Black women. Period.
There are a few things that I want you to know, BIPOC. I hope these things will provide a source of comfort, inspiration and clarity for you as you continue on this journey.
1. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MAGIC
I learnt this from Catrice M. Jackson's book The Becky Code (mandatory reading for all BIPOC dealing with white woman violence). White supremacy and white women perpetuating white supremacy will make you feel as though you are losing your sense of reality. They will gaslight you, tone police you, spiritually bypass you, bait you, make you debate your humanity, tell you to accept breadcrumbs of diversity and inclusivity, demand your free emotional labour (as if you are an enslaved person on a plantation), project their shame and guilt onto you, call you divisive/angry/aggressive/mean/rude/unsafe, and have you reeling for days and sometimes weeks from their #loveandlight violence.
Do not waste your magic.
You have a choice to disengage when you notice any of these things happening. You do not have to become a willing victim in your own oppression. Disconnect. Turn off. Delete and block. Do whatever you need to do to put the focus back on you and your emotional wellness and self-care. The chances of you being able to convince them to not be racist to you are slim (believe me, I've tried!). And besides, it's not your job to do. It's the job of your white anti-racist friends and peers to do that. Let them shoulder the emotional labour for you.
You focus on YOUR magic. On being the black or brown girl magic that you are. On thriving, laughing with friends, creating art, dancing, nurturing and being nurtured by your loved ones and spending times in spaces and relationships where you are already beloved.
(Side note: If you do want to spend hours of your time engaging in these conversations, that is also okay and your choice. Just make sure that it is an intentional choice that you are making to labour for free and expose yourself to potential harm, and not something that you subconsciously think you are obligated to do. You are not obligated to spend a moment of your time engaging with anyone who has harmed you, or can harm you. Not a single second.)
2. BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES
The number one way we waste our magic is by not having strong boundaries. When we let anyone and everyone into our spaces. When we give our energy responding to people who do not deserve it, and are not paying us for it. When we allow casual racism to happen to us or other BIPOC in our communities without clearly shutting it down. Immediately. When we keep giving people who have harmed us without sincere apologizing second, third and fourth chances because 'they didn't mean it' and 'it wasn't their intention'.
You don't have to accept any of this. It is your right to uphold big, beautiful boundaries that center you and ensure that you can thrive. If people cannot respect your boundaries, then they cannot respect you. If they cannot sincerely apologize to you when they have harmed you (whether they meant it or not), then they do not care about you. As my friend Sandy Broadus once said:
"If it kills you to apologize to a black woman, then you do not really believe in equality.".
Do not be afraid of having the 'angry black woman' label (or other associated trope) hurled at you for no longer coddling whiteness and no longer accepting racist microaggressions.
Love yourself enough to do what is right for you and your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.
3. WORK THROUGH YOUR INTERNALISED OPPRESSION
The biggest lessons I have learned over the past few months is how deeply ingrained my own internalised oppression and anti-blackness is. It will be my life-long work to heal this. Do you want to know why it was and continues to be so hard for me to stop allowing harm to be done to me? To stop engaging with white people when they are tone-policing and spiritually bypassing me? To stop taking part in the drama? Because of my own internalized oppression that keeps me in a dynamic of denying my own humanity, thus perpetuating white supremacy against myself. The truth is, a part of me keeps hoping white people will finally 'get it'. Keeps hoping that if I just present enough evidence, or give enough anti-racist educational resources, or spend enough unpaid emotional labour, then they'll get it.
But what actually happens in reality?
5-10 BIPOC can spend hours with ONE spiritual white woman who has said or done something harmful (usually unintentionally), and rather than them 'getting it', they will dig their heels in deeper and commit even more harm than the original offending act. They will ignore, censor, talk over, bypass, dismiss, derail, tone-police, disappear and eventually delete everything - including everyone's emotional labour - because their white fragility gets triggered and they refuse to actually listen and do the work.
We have to stop allowing our own internalised oppression to allow us to take part in these dynamics. Yes, we can call out and call in. Yes, we can speak our truth. Yes, we do not need to be silent. But we also do not need to spend hours and hours with them in the hopes that they'll get it. They're not going to get it until they actually do the work. They need to pay black women and WOC to help them do the DEEP work of anti-racism. It's not going to be figured out on Facebook or Instagram.
And I will keep repeating this again and again: It is not your job to spend your time and your free emotional labour to help them figure it out.
If you find yourself doing this, oppressing yourself in this way, stop and take a breath. Witness yourself. Witness your hunched over body, shallow breathing and the scream that is lodged in your throat. Ask yourself when was the last time you ate something or drank a glass of water. Check in with your body and see if your jaw is clenched, your heart rate is high and your muscles are tensed. Ask yourself whether the way you are spending your time right now honors you or oppresses you. And then do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Refuse to allow yourself to be used by white supremacy to oppress yourself. You have never and will never need white validation and white approval to be anything but the magnificent being that you already are. Stop seeking it out from people who refuse to see that. Instead of spending your precious time and energy trying to figure out how to convince them to get it, spend it working through unmasking, understanding and healing your own internalised oppression. This is important spiritual work that is ours to do.
4. WE ARE GOING TO BE THE CHANGE
Do you know what leaders this industry, and this world, needs right now? It needs the leadership of the most marginalised. It needs the leadership of folx who are black, indigenous, people of colour, trans people, non-gender conforming and non-binary people, fat people, disabled people, queer people and people who do not hold the highest amounts of privilege and visibility.
We have spent our entire lifetime listening to and learning from them.
It is now time for them to fall back and listen to and learn from us.
Up until now, the only way they have done that is by appropriating our cultures and colonizing our spiritual traditions, while largely marginalizing and ignoring us. You can't see us in this industry in terms of actual representation and inclusivity. But you can see the evidence of us: spiritual white teachers with Hindu names; photo shoots with white sage, dreamcatchers and sacred feathers; rituals and practices from non-white cultures being primarily lead by white people; claims of being black and brown healers in their past lives, etc.
They want our practices, traditions, teachings and wisdom. But they do not want us.
They do not want the fire of our truth or the power of our medicine. They do not want to sit back and listen to us, let alone pay us, for what they feel they are entitled to, simply by virtue of holding white privilege.
We will not tolerate it anymore.
We will speak up.
We will hold them accountable.
We will call them in and out.
We will demand they do better.
We will not labour for free.
We will create spaces and communities that center and nurture BIPOC.
We will tell it like it is.
We will stop protecting oppressors and colonizers from hearing what they need to hear.
We will own our stories, our art, our magic.
We will be unapologetically Black, Brown, Indigenous, POC.
We will stop censoring our voices, and fearing our own power.
We will do what we need to do to take care of ourselves first.
We will show them what real Love & Light looks like. Not just in our words, but through our actions. Through the way that we lead and create and look after one another.
Through the way that we create real change in this industry. And in the world.
There is no more going back to how things were, or sweeping any of this under the rug.
Whether they are ready for it or not, it is time for us to get free.