George Floyd was murdered a month ago.
White people: in the past month, what have you done to dismantle white supremacy?
Black Lives Matter is not a moment, it’s a movement. And in case you’ve forgotten: Black lives still matter even if your feed is back to normal.
This Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is centuries old, but it gained much-needed traction in the past month. This is a step forward, but it’s not the end. There’s a lifetime of work ahead of us to be done. Like the coronavirus, dismantling white supremacy requires a majority of people to do the right thing, have hard conversations, and stay informed.
Only You Can Dismantle White Supremacy
White supremacy exists because white people have continuously benefited from its existence. We may not like the legacy we’ve inherited, but it is primarily up to white people to dismantle it. Wishing it away is unhelpful and damaging to the momentum of the BLM movement. This is a problem that was created by white people and can only be dismantled by white people.
Like a fish swimming in water its whole life, white supremacy gives us oxygen in ways we can’t know because we’re swimming in it. We have to know it to become aware of it.
White people have to know how easy it is for us to breathe without a police officer’s knee on our neck slowing killing us so we don’t allow it to happen again like it did with George Floyd.
White people have to know that having white privilege means being able to walk or a run at midday, or drive a car without being chased down and shot to death by law enforcement or civilians like it did with Ahmaud Arbery, Travyon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philandro Castile, and Sandra Bland.
White people have to know that white privilege is sleeping safely in a bed at home without being shot eight times by the police who had no warrant to enter the wrong house like Breonna Taylor.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) cannot shoulder the responsibility of undoing white supremacy alone. White people need to show up and do the lifelong antiracist work. Without expecting anything in return. Without receiving any gold stars, pats on the back, more followers on social media, or social cred. Because it’s the right thing to do.
To quote one of my favorite authors Layla Saad and the author of Me and White Supremacy, we need to do this work to be better ancestors. It’s our responsibility to give the next generation a much better version of the future than the one we inherited with white supremacy. If you read and interact with (as this book requires) one antiracist book this year, make this one. I read it and did the journal prompts a year and a half ago and it is still rearranging and challenging me in ways that I didn’t know I needed because of my innate white privilege.
So how do we do the antiracist work? As we do in yoga or any other practice that demands sustained effort, we can use three mindful principles: consistency, humility, and complacency checks.
Show up. Every day or at regular and sustainable intervals. Do the antiracist work. When possible, learn from BIPOC.
The internet is freshly chockful of books, social media channels, and other creative work. My other website Onward Woman is an intersectional feminist blog featuring stories of mostly BIPOC women moving forward. I wrote this post to share more in-depth on dismantling white supremacy and resources for engaging in antiracist work. Onward Woman exists to give a voice to women who’s perspectives need to be heard. To keep up with new stories of women moving forward, go subscribe on the site or follow Onward Woman on Instagram.
As is always the case in learning, you will make mistakes. Be humble in the face of them. No one in the history of learning has ever not made mistakes. Expect them. Don’t let perfectionism or fear of getting it wrong turn you away from this work. You will get it wrong. Getting it wrong is an unavoidable part of learning.
This is important: when (not if) you receive feedback that what you said was hurtful or offensive to BIPOC, own it. Apologize with an open and honest heart. Do not cross your arms over your chest and get precious and defend your intent. Commit to knowing better and doing better as Maya Angelou taught us.
This is equally important: be humble, but don’t humble brag about your work. I’ll leave it to you to decide: what’s your intent in sharing a photo of you reading or listening to an antiracist book or podcast? If it’s to get gold stars for doing antiracist work, then don’t.
Ashtanga yoga is a set sequence of postures that are done in order. During Mysore (self-guided in a room with others) practice, if I or anyone else would skip a posture, my teacher would ask me and other students: “Are you aware that you skipped that posture?” If we answered no, we’d laugh a little, go back, and do the posture. No problem, everyone forgets. But if we answered yes, he replied with: “Why are you skipping it?”
His simple yet effective motto against complacency was: “What are you doing, when, and why?” He asked us to be in charge of knowing our own bodies and minds and taking ownership of our own practices. If I answered: “I skipped this vinyasa because I didn’t sleep well and I have a lot to do today”, that was an acceptable answer.
We can do complacency checks in all areas of life. Sometimes your mind or body will convince you that you’re doing enough. However, complacency can lead to inaction. It’s best to stay honest with ourselves and ask the people around us to keep us in check.
Doing antiracist work is not a one-and-done event. It’s lifelong. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable and inspire you to do the work.
Keep Doing the Antiracist Work
I’m proud that when I announced that all profits from my online Ashtanga Foundations class on Thursday, June 4th would go to Black Lives Matter, everyone showed up. We practiced yoga and donated $30 to BLM. Urged on by Shanna Small, a black female Ashtanga instructor from North Carolina to do our practice, that’s exactly what we did.
“Do your practice. Get the anger, rage, sadness and pain out of your tissues. Don’t let it fester around your heart. Don’t pass the trauma on to your students, co-workers, kids and future generations. If you don’t practice yoga, find another way to get your emotions out. Dance, write, scream. Whatever you do, don’t go back to sleep. It is tempting to numb out with drugs, booze, television and fake positivity. It is tempting to spiritually bypass and act like stopping racism is not your work. It is. If you are talking about Ahimsa, non-harming, it has to apply to everyone. If you are talking liberation, it has to apply to everyone. If you are chanting “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”, “May all beings be happy and free”, it is your job to see to that or you are a hypocrite. So get on your mat, work it out, so that you can get in the world and do the work.”
But like all antiracist work, mine will never be done. A few weeks ago while walking around my neighborhood, I saw a different Black Lives Matter signs freshly planted in yards that said: Breonna, Ahmaud, and George. At first, I felt a surge of relief: “My white neighbors are standing in solidarity for a very important cause. Maybe we aren’t as divided as I thought?” Then I saw a Bible verse lower on the sign and got angry. “Oh, now you’re choosing to speak out for what’s right as an institution? How convenient.” I had the same thought as I drove past a large church in town with a massive BLACK LIVES MATTER sign and couldn’t help but wonder: “Are you finally getting on board as a congregation because it’s the right thing to do? Or because you don’t want your building destroyed by instigators?”
And you know that saying: “When you point a finger at someone else in judgment, there are three fingers are pointing back at you?” That moment I realized: I’ve been complacent with white silence. I’ve held back from having conversations in real life with people about racial equity and police brutality. I feel safe with my fingers flying over this keyboard, but talking with real people about real issues is risky, so I have mostly avoided it. I’m not proud of that. It’s subtle, but real racism to stay silent. Now that I know better, I’ll do better. You have full permission to hold me accountable to that.
We are not done. There are five more months of 2020. We have primary elections, the general election November 3rd, inevitable coronavirus plot twists, and only goddess knows what else.
If you do nothing else with the rest of 2020 but tend to your and your family’s needs, commit to doing antiracist work and follow it with action, wear a mask in public, vote in all the elections, and support Black Lives Matter, that’s a good place to begin.
Be consistent and humble in your antiracist work. Check-in with your complacency with your own white supremacy.
We’re in this together for life.
Breathe and believe.