A Letter to the Love & Light Brigade About Racism

To The Predominantly White Spiritual Communities, or as my friend calls us:

The Love & Light Brigade,

I have a lot to say and before I begin I want to admit to you that I am new to the movement for Black lives. I’ve woken up recently and it is easy for me to feel like a fraud writing this letter to you because my knowledge on this matter is very limited. But I write it just the same. I do not write to you from a place of faux expertise in racial and social justice; I write to you from a place of expertise in the psychology of predominantly white spiritual communities. I write to you knowing I still have many blind spots when it comes to social justice and civil rights. So here we go.

I write to you as one of you. I have, for almost my whole life, been spiritually focused, spiritually conscious, and spiritually oriented. I was conceived during the year my parents got their Masters Degree in Spiritual Psychology. I later got the same degree when I was 23. I have gone to countless spiritual healers, counselors, and coaches, and I have tried my hand at some of these modalities as well. Since my very early 20s, I have been awake to a spiritual reality, to Rumi’s field beyond right and wrong, to the fact that I create my own reality, and to my role and responsibility when it comes to my own life, my actions, and my reactions. I went to a summer camp for personal development when I was 15. In addition, I have studied regenerative agriculture, soil, and nutrition, which has further led me to understand how important diversity is, how interconnected we are with our environment, and how perfectly beautiful and wonderful The Universe is at orchestrating everything and creating ongoing, evolving life. I know deeply that all of humanity is an expression of love and an expression of nature.

I was awake to a lot, but I was not awake to my whiteness.

Being immersed in spiritual communities for the last 10 years, I never understood why we got such a bad rap with political activists. Didn’t they know that sending Love & Light was actually doing something real? Didn’t they know their anger wasn’t helping anything? Didn’t they know they had access to wisdom and spiritual reality and that from this vantage point they could see how everything was working out perfectly, in God’s timing, for the highest good of all concerned? Why did they insist on putting their attention toward the negative? It was frustrating that they couldn’t understand spiritual truth, but ultimately, it wasn’t my problem. If they wanted to focus on disaster and destruction, that was up to them.

I was awake to a lot, but I was not awake to the fact that I was living a specifically white experience as a white person in a white supremacist culture. I know the words “white supremacy” are charged. Stay with me.

I had my first spiritual awakening when I was in college. I had my second spiritual awakening last week. While I know I still have a lot to learn and that this is a lifelong educational process, I call it a spiritual awakening because I literally went from completely not seeing something to the next week seeing it clear as day. I spent that week disoriented as I absorbed the content that Black people from all over America were putting out about their experiences. My known reality was wholly disrupted and dismantled.

But during this time I was finally able to take in, listen to, and really hear the stories and viewpoints of Black Americans in a way I never had before – their constant fear, their grief, their anger, their cry simply to be heard and cared for.

I was finally able to connect to and see white supremacy and my relationship to it.

When I woke up, after days of dizzying cognitive dissonance, I felt connected to my heart for the first time, as though I had just woken up from a zombie state to realize I was human.

It has not been fun. I have cried a lot. I have yelled. The pain has been immense. It has been uncomfortable, as I have wondered how a person like myself, who was so awakened to spiritual reality and so awakened to environmental reality could have been so asleep to my humanity, to my connection to and impact on others. And I know that if anyone had tried to tell me I was unconscious, I would have adamantly disagreed.

Why do white members of the Spiritual Community have such a hard time seeing their whiteness?

Seeing our whiteness is hard for any white person. White people being blind to white privilege in a white supremacist society is part of how the system maintains power. We are socialized, as white people, to believe that we are living normal lives and having unique individual experiences. The thought that all white people are having a white experience sounds inaccurate to us because we’re not socialized to think of ourselves as a race; we are socialized to think of ourselves as individuals. But I think it is particularly hard for white members of the Spiritual Community to see their whiteness because on top of the All-American assumption of unique individual experience, we have the added spiritual emphasis on Personal Spiritual Accountability.

Personal Spiritual Accountability means that everyone is responsible for their own creations, their own reactions, and their own experiences. Phrases that we commonly hear are “How you relate to the issue is the issue” and “Heal the place inside that hurts” and “Resolve the underlying issue.” The idea is that when we accept that our experiences have something to teach us and we do the work to heal our past traumas and limiting beliefs, we are better able to create the lives that we want because we aren’t held back by the unconscious underlying issues that were previously holding us back. This is a hugely important understanding and one that has served me extremely well. I have experienced the outer world changing miraculously in response to a change in my inner world. I have gotten out of patterns and cycles of creation in the areas of relationships, career, and money, all from changing how I related to my experience. I know you all have experienced this too, and I do not discount that. Personal Spiritual Accountability is very helpful. However…

This paradigm of Personal Spiritual Accountability, while an incredibly important and helpful part of the story, is incomplete. It is incomplete, which would be okay if it weren’t assumed to be the whole story. The rest of the story, which is largely ignored and even explained away, is relationships. It’s systems. It’s interconnectedness. It’s interdependency. Put another way, it’s humanity. I want you to hear this and to grapple with it, to feel your resistance to it, and to consider it anyway: We, as the Love & Light Brigade, have spiritually bypassed our humanity. We have chosen to engage with the world from a spiritual vantage point at the expense of a human one and this has been costly and harmful to both ourselves and others.

Think about this: the spiritual, personal development work that we do in these predominantly white spiritual communities is almost always exclusively centered in the past, even if the trigger is in the present. It is the work of healing past experiences, childhood misunderstandings, and past life or ancestral traumas. This work is fabulous and helpful; it’s just not helpful when it comes to systemic and institutionalized oppression. Why?

Because no matter how enlightened a systemically oppressed person becomes, they cannot choose out of their systemic oppression the way that they can choose out of a relationship or job that is no longer serving them. That is the difference. Sure, a Black American may find ways to take interpersonal racism a little less personally or to not let it bother them as much. They may even find ways to be compassionate toward their ignorant and often hateful white oppressors, and many have. I have been lucky enough to watch their videos, and their compassion, patience, and open hearts have been one of the major keys in my ability to wake up to my previously invisible “delusion of white supremacy” as Sonya Renee Taylor calls it. But Black people will still be systemically oppressed and they will still experience that oppression on many levels, regardless of their relationship to it. They will still be denied access to things that white people take for granted.

When we tell systemically oppressed people to simply not buy into their victimhood or to heal the place inside that hurts or to take responsibility for their feelings and reactions in regard to how they’re treated by the oppressor, we are ignoring and invalidating the current abuse they experience on a day-to-day basis and are not able to choose out of. People of color can’t choose out of their oppression any more than a young child can choose out of a relationship with an abusive parent. They do not have the independence or the political or economic power to be able to create a different situation, no matter how self-empowered and enlightened they become. I do not mean to compare people of color to children in any regard other than to point out the power imbalance between the white supremacist institutions that make up America and the people of color who are abused by them.

Let me be clear: we, as individual white people, are not the abusive parent in this analogy. We are the abusive parent’s other child. We are the favorite child, the star child. That same parent does not abuse us; they praise us and give us everything we want. When our abused sibling tries to tell us this, we feel sorry for them and assume if they just acted like us, they’d be okay. We assume the abuse is all in their heads. At our worst, we make fun of them, steal their stuff, say hateful things to them, or tell on them when they do something we don’t like. Typically, we ignore their story altogether because we do not experience it and so do not believe it to be true or significant. But what we really need to do is see and acknowledge the abuse. We need to stand up to our abusive parent and do everything in our power to stop them. And here’s the important thing: as it turns out, the abusive parent is white people collectively, like kids stacked on top of each other in a trench coat. We, the white collective, created, continue to uphold, and benefit from systems and institutions that were created under a white supremacist paradigm. It’s a machine and it’s working as it was created to work. That’s why sending Love & Light is not enough. We must actively dismantle the institutions that keep the system going and together, with all Americans, rebuild with new systems from a new paradigm. Racism will not end when Black people stop feeling like victims, as many people in our community like to believe. It will only end when white people, the people who hold the power and who benefit from the systems, take responsibility to actively change them.

Here’s a completely different analogy: Let’s say your neighbor down the block’s house was on fire. You would feel bad for them right? You would care that their house was burning down. You would empathize with them, sympathize with them, and send Love & Light to them. You would maybe even actively try to help. That is how white people have incorrectly been relating to the movement for Black lives.

Now imagine this scenario: Your house is on fire. The door locks from the inside and you, a white person, have all the keys. Your roommates who are a very diverse bunch, are yelling that the house is on fire. You’re wearing a fireproof, heatproof suit, so you don’t feel the effects of the fire. But you feel for your roommates. You feel sad that they feel sad. You love them and you wish you could help them feel better, and you try. You say, “If the house is on fire, why don’t you find another house?” They say, “We can’t get out, you have the keys!” You say, “Just think really hard about the key and you’ll have the key.” They say, “But you took all the keys and the house is on fire and we need to get out now!” and you say, “Stop focusing on the fire! You’re making it worse!” They look at you desperately as you spray lighter fluid over everything. What I’m saying is, your house is on fire, white people. Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not burning. And actually I would argue that you do feel it.

White people are miserable, are we not? Even if we are privileged economically, we are often medicated, sick, and depressed. White people in this community spend thousands and thousands of dollars on spiritual counseling sessions and workshops and healers to help us feel better. We have every advantage and yet we are unhappy. White supremacy, which is intrinsically tied to capitalism, is not good for any of us. It values competition over cooperation, which, if you were to study the natural world, you would find is very unnatural despite what we’ve been told about survival of the fittest evolution. While being white in a white supremacist society gives us comforts and conveniences, it removes us from our humanity; it removes us from our connection with the earth, it puts us in silos based on race, and it tells us that our value and worth comes from the amount of money we make and how special we become. We hurt other people on our way to the top and we feel this, even if we do it unconsciously. This is not a world that anyone wants to live in. Do not be fooled by all that you have. All that you have is nothing compared to your humanity.

We, as white people, have a lot of work to do. We must first learn to see the veil of whiteness that we have been calling “reality.” It is not easy or comfortable to wake up to the fact that our comfort and our normal is actually causing suffering to someone else. It is very, very painful to realize that. But luckily, as the Spiritual Warriors that we are, we have the tools to wade through that pain and discomfort. We must do the individual spiritual work to discover why it is that we choose not to take the suffering of our fellow humans on as our personal responsibility when we are the ones contributing to it and benefitting from it. We must discover why it is that we turn away from the pain, focus on the positive, and pray, rather than turning toward the pain, focusing on the solution, and taking action. I read a quote the other day from a teacher named Dwayne Reed. He said, “White supremacy won’t die until White people see it as a White issue they need to solve rather than a Black issue they need to empathize with.”

The Love & Light Brigade is being called upon now to join the movement for racial justice. We are well equipped to do the work that is required of us. We must dig deep inside ourselves to wade through the icky, unpleasant muck. We are good at this; this is what we have been doing for years. In this case, the icky unpleasant muck includes the shame of being wrong. It includes feelings of embarrassment for being unconscious. It includes disorientation and cognitive dissonance. It includes pain and grief and sorrow. It also includes the courage to be wrong and to admit our fault as we learn, the courage to have difficult conversations, the courage to be humble and follow rather than to insist on leading, the courage to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know and that our blind spots are vast and that we’re not perfect. We can and we must do this work for ourselves and we can and we must hold space for others to do this work as well. We must use our compassion and psychological & spiritual understanding to reach the people in our life who are still asleep to the pervasiveness of racism. We must use our privilege to make changes in our communities, businesses, and circles of influence.

Let me be clear here: while it is tempting for white people to think we must hold space for and help the Black community, that is not really where our work is. We must listen to and learn from the Black community and humbly follow their lead, but our work is within ourselves and with our white friends and family. We must hold space for them to wake up. We must find openings for conversations about racism and white supremacy. We must speak up in the face of injustice and perpetuated racist ideologies. We must hear white people’s fears and resistance to the movement and let them know, with love and reassurance, that the dismantling of white supremacy is for their benefit as well. We must be courageous and we must walk diligently and without stopping toward the light of a new world.

I will leave you with some action steps and an excerpt from Layla F. Saad, who wrote a 2-part article called “I Need To Talk To Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy” linked below. She says:

“If I, as black woman, am making it a priority to do this work for myself, then you as a white person have an even greater responsibility to do this work.

It is your work to do.

Remember: Even if you hate the fact that you have white privilege and do not agree with white supremacist ideology, if you are white or a white-passing person, you are still a beneficiary of a system that oppresses non-white people. Racism is not a problem that POC created. And we do not benefit from it in any way. So you have a duty and a responsibility to use the privilege that this system has given you from birth to dismantle it – both within yourself, in your communities and in your institutions.”

Action Steps:

1. Get Educated. Hear stories from people who don’t look like you and don’t have the same experiences as you. There are plenty of people sharing their stories online. Search for them and listen. Take them in. Believe them. Become disoriented so you can become reoriented to a more accurate reality of this world. DO NOT reach out to all your Black friends and ask them to educate you. Read books about anti-racism. Read books that tell the actual, terrible history of America. Listen to podcasts about police and prison abolition.

2. Donate. There are many places to donate including Color of Change, NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, National Urban League and many, many more. Do some research. I need to do more research myself. Find organizations that you want to support financially long term.

3. Buy from Black-owned and POC-owned businesses. Again, do some research. Pay attention to where your money is going and what effect that is having.

4. Vote. When you get clear on what the movement is asking for, use your voice to call and email your local government and to vote.

5. Begin having conversations about racism and white supremacy with your white friends. They’ll be messy. It’s okay.

6. Commit. Racial justice is a lifelong journey. It requires dismantling a lot of systems, both of the mind and of the state. Commit to it. Integrate it into your lifestyle. Integrate it into your business. Integrate it into your family.

7. Lastly and most importantly, I could not have woken up without the help of compassionate, loving, patient, and open-hearted Black activists, coaches, and authors so I point you in their direction now. Learn from them. Let them wake you up. You will know what to do, once you awaken.

Layla F. Saad
Bestselling author, anti-racism educator, international speaker, podcast host
Me & White Supremacy (get it from a local black-owned book store!)
I Need To Talk To Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy (Part 1)
I Need To Talk To Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy (Part 2)

Ijeoma Oluo
Writer, speaker, internet yeller
So You Want To Talk About Race (get it from a local black-owned book store!)

Sonya Renee Taylor
Poet, activist, thought leader, author, educator
The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

Janaya Khan
Storyteller, Organizer, Futurist. Co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada

Ivirlei Brookes
Business & Mindset coach and founder of Mavenelle

Preston Smiles
Transformational Coach, Leader, & Speaker

Mazin Jamal
Leadership & Business coach and consultant

Thank you for taking the time to read and check out the above leaders. I know it was a lot. Take it in. Read it again. Send it to your Spiritual Communities. Leave a comment. Reach out to me. Keep the conversation going. Wake up.

Love & Light to you all,

Sarah

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