Why Anti-Racism Work Is Also Spiritual Work
How To Start The Internal Work
The energy around the Black Lives Matter Movement has shifted tangibly in the past month, and the topic of racial justice is finally receiving somewhat of the attention it deserves. Conversations that felt impossible to have for us as Black people just a couple of months ago are now happening at dinner tables, on Zoom calls, and beyond. The movement is global; people are talking, marching, and protesting worldwide.
Likewise, brands and companies are pledging their support for Black communities, and social media is inundated with posts of allegiance to the movement. Organizations that have never featured a Black person on their feed before are suddenly posting Black models, calling for Black job applicants, and donating funds to Black-led charities.
Yet I can’t help but wonder how sustainable these developments are. The system we seek to dismantle is one deeply rooted in the consciousness of society, one that’s had time to establish itself for centuries. A short stint of anti-racist declarations won’t bring the deep and lasting change that Black folx are desperate to see. Even policy and legislation reform will only partly lead to a truly anti-racist society.
As I write these words, I am reminded of the Amy Cooper incident. She didn’t consider herself a racist prior to her encounter with Christian Cooper (no relation), a Black man watching birds in New York’s Central Park. In fact, she even made a statement after the video went viral, saying, “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way.” And yet, faced with the fragility of her whiteness and the opportunity to exercise her privilege, Amy Cooper revealed the belief system and white supremacy manifesting inside her. This example and the countless ones every Black person and I have experienced prove the system isn’t simply an external one.
Therefore, the fight against racism has to focus on emotional and spiritual work as much as does the external shifts. Racism and white supremacy don’t just manifest themselves in institutions and organizations—they are belief systems and mindsets that have permeated all layers of so-called “civilization.” To be genuinely anti-racist is to dismantle that system internally, in addition to the external revolution.
By spiritual work, I don’t mean any particular religious affiliation. Spirituality in this context is a set of practices that help cultivate our inner self. In that sense, it’s entirely inclusive—anyone can do this work. A great place to start is by building contemplative practices into your day-to-day life. There are so many out there; for now, you can start with the ones I’ve outlined below.
Contemplative Practices For Dismantling Internal Racism
Observe Your Thoughts and Subconscious Biases
Start observing your thoughts and behaviors in your everyday life. How are you engaging with your Black peers? What thoughts come to mind when you see young Black people gathered or when your friend tells you they started dating a Black person? Are you recognizing your privilege as you move through the world, and if so, in what way?
Start A Regular Journaling Practice
As you start paying attention to your thoughts and behaviors, take the time and write them out in a journal. Do this regularly, setting aside a predetermined amount of time each day or week for this contemplative practice. Examine your own bias and acknowledge where you have work to do as you move through your answers. Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy by Rachel Ricketts is an excellent resource to pair with journaling.
Here are some reflection questions to help get you started:
Do I truly understand that we live in a racist society and all the implications that that has on Black folx? If not, what is stopping me from facing this fact?
How have I seen my privilege play out over the last few weeks?
Where have I benefited from a system that favors me and oppresses Black folx? How can I use my privilege to bring forth change?
What does being anti-racist mean to me, and do I understand that it comes with a cost? (Spoiler alert: Being anti-racist will require you to stand up and speak up—not just on social media but in more uncomfortable settings. At times, it might require you to give up your comfort for the sake of somebody else.)
Let Your Spiritual Work Lead to External Action
As with all contemplative practices, once you start this work, it will be crucial to solidify the internal work with external actions. True transformation happens when we practice what we have learned and connect our hearts and minds with our day-to-day practices.
External and systemic change is needed—much needed—but it can’t be the only approach we take. We cannot avoid the discomfort that comes with becoming anti-racist. And my hope is that, through spiritual and contemplative practices, all non-Black folx will commit to the internal work required for real transformation to finally emerge in our societies.
In what ways are you confronting internalized belief systems? Share in the comments below!
Jess Mally is a London-based writer, speaker, creative, and producer. She is also the co-founder of BELOVD agency and the host of The Third Way podcast. With a passion for social change, mental health, the arts, and spirituality, she hopes to use any and all means available to her to tell stories that shape a better world. Follow her work on Instagram.