Spiritual Bypassing and White Fragility, By the Playbook

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Photo by Valentina Aleksandrovna on Unsplash

At the end of this essay are some links to pertinent articles, videos and books, mostly by women of color whose perspectives on this matter most. Also, on a time-sensitive note: on May 17, there is a free webinar for white women who want to do the internal work necessary to be part of the solution on these issues. More info and sign-up link here.

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Last week, Danielle LaPorte, one of the biggest names in women’s spirituality/personal growth entrepreneurship, launched a program with some marketing images that were racially problematic at best. When she posted her promotion of the program on her business’s Facebook page, numerous women of color (WOC) and white women in her target audience, many of whom had followed her and bought her products and programs for years, were upset and concerned. They let her know this with thoughtfully written, heartfelt (and yes, in some cases, angry!) explanations of why the marketing campaign was racist, and gave a wealth of educational links and suggestions for repair.

The original insult was compounded by her response to the feedback. She removed the images from online marketing materials and acknowledged the problem with her marketing campaign, but simultaneously implied the real harm was being done by the people giving the feedback rather than by her actions. In addition, she deleted the original post with hundreds of substantive comments, pertinent links, and important discussion attached. This was an act of erasure of WOC’s voices and profound disrespect of their time, energy and wisdom. It was also a form of gaslighting, since her “apology” post mischaracterized what occurred as an attack on her while rendering people unable to see for themselves what transpired.

Further compounding the damage, her post signaled to her loyal supporters that she was being “attacked,” so of course they arrived in droves to defend her. She allowed this to go on for days while she and her team were absent from the discussions.

Let’s pause here to ask ourselves a question: if you realized you had done something deeply offensive and hurtful to thousands of people and were trying to make sincere amends and learn from the situation so as never to repeat it, would you stand by silently and allow a crowd of people to repeatedly defend those very actions and attempt to discredit the people you harmed? Especially if you claimed the whole basis of your business is love and truth? Especially if you knew that thousands of people were watching and waiting for a demonstration of true leadership? Or might you speak up and say something like, “Whoa, hold on—I did something harmful here and I want to repair and heal this. We ALL need to learn from this. Defending my actions is doing further damage, so please don’t!”

Needless to say, nothing of the sort happened. In their comments, LaPorte’s apologists and defenders minimized the racism that had occurred, endlessly questioned WOC’s interpretation of the original images and the fauxpology in devil’s advocate fashion, tone policed the way WOC addressed it, or criticized them for pointing it out at all. All the usual tropes were present: greater concern for the white woman who harmed thousands of people than for the women of color she harmed, demonizing legitimate anger in response to racism and dismissal, characterizing people who name racism as divisive, equating pointing out racism with engaging in racism, and calling the former “hate” instead of the latter.  Whew, that’s a lot already, but let’s not forget the insidious favorite in these communities: implying that people who call out oppression exemplify the “real” problem—misalignment with some superficial, selective definition of “love and light.”

After several days and over a thousand comments, LaPorte returned to deliver an improved apology with the announcement that she would cancel her program while hiring experts to help her untangle how racism was showing up in her business. These are significant and important steps. However, any positive impact of her announcement was diluted by her silently standing by for several more days while her supporters continued to defend her actions and dismiss those she had harmed on the new thread, for the third time.

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Seven months ago, after witnessing racism wrapped in “love and light” in another online personal growth/spirituality community, I wrote a piece called When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting. That post started circulating again last week. People who didn’t see it the first time and didn’t notice the publish date assumed it had just been written about the situation with LaPorte.

Why is this worth noting? Because it illustrates that these scenarios tend to play out in pretty much the same way every time. The eerily formulaic way it unfolds is creepy in itself.

If only more white women in spirituality circles would see how depressingly predictable we can be in the ways we deny, defend, uphold and perpetuate oppression. We habitually sabotage possibilities for the sisterhood and unity we say we want. There is a playbook here, and LaPorte and her loyalists didn’t even see they were operating from it so perfectly (or did they?).

We will make mistakes, speaking and acting out of unrecognized white privilege and bias. I certainly have, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last time.  How we respond when we are made aware of our missteps is crucial. This is still true even though the offense may be due to blind spots or carelessness rather than malintent.  We can choose to own and work through the shame, embarrassment and defensive feelings that can arise when called out for harmful actions, and look deeper into the assumptions and dysfunctions that led to them. Only then do we have a chance at making amends from a place of compassion, integrity and humility rather than thinly veiled defense and deflection. (And without imagining we are entitled to have our apology accepted, right away or at all!)

But instead of delivering a clean, unequivocal apology, the subtexts underneath often seem to be: “Actually, no! It’s not true! It can’t be, because I’m such a good person! See? Look at all the good I’ve done!” or “I’m sorry you’re choosing to feel that way. This is really about your unresolved pain, not about what I did or said.”  or “Thank you very much for the feedback, and part of me really means that, but also, how DARE you bring me your brilliance and your anger and say NO to me. Now I’m going to let my supporters say what I can’t say, for PR reasons. ”

And what about the anger some women of color express in these situations? Along with the calmer, more measured feedback, what about the comments that get labeled “vitriol” and “venom?”  First of all, we should check our interpretations. Is it even anger that’s there?  Sometimes we see anger when we are actually witnessing clarity, sovereignty and directness. From whom are we willing to hear hard truths? That’s another common theme in these situations—all too often, a white woman will readily accept a reflection from another white woman right after dismissing, ignoring, or arguing with a woman of color who said the same thing.

And then sometimes it is anger. Maybe it’s FURY.  No wonder. It’s probably not even their first rodeo that day.

How many of us have ever yelled at our kids or partner/spouse because we’ve told them the same thing a bunch of times, a bunch of different ways and they weren’t hearing us? I’m thinking most of us have. Maybe it’s not our ideal form of communication, but sometimes we do it because we’re at a loss for how to be heard otherwise.

Maybe some women of color are “yelling” because we. are. not. hearing. them.  And these are life or death issues. Maybe a woman whose anger is being judged is afraid for her son’s safety and life every time he leaves the house. Maybe another woman’s pregnancy was plagued by fear that she or her baby would become a statistic regardless of her health status or self care efforts. I could go on, unfortunately. It’s troubling and perverse to see so many white women spend so much time and energy trying to micromanage WOC’s interactions while giving little (if any!) time and attention to those issues.

What if some WOC are especially, definitively DONE taking abuses in any form, and have no patience left for our (willfully?) slow learning curve? As people who claim to value spiritual growth, evolution, and empowerment for women, don’t we want them to be done? Don’t we want all women to say a firm “NO” to being walked on? Even if we have to face the painful truth that sometimes we’re the ones doing the trampling, and do the work necessary to change that?

“But they’re not being walked on! It’s just a discussion!” I can hear the detractors saying. Comments that illicit anger may not always look like abuses at first glance (though some blatantly are). Sometimes it’s under the guise of “innocent” questioning and “trying to understand,” only as soon as explanations and education are generously given, the goal posts are moved. It’s manipulative and disingenuous, and it reveals the entitled and intrusive expectation that we should have limitless access to WOC’s time and energy. Other times, it’s dismissal of very real concerns with platitudes about universal love, as if this fixes anything and removes any further responsibility for dealing with the issues at hand. That’s hard to pin down and address, because how can declarations of love and desire for sisterhood be so infuriating? But in this context, they are. That’s why the spiritual bypass at the heart of what we’re talking about is so insidious and toxic.

We talk about empowerment and sacred boundaries all the time. Is that only for us white women? Why is it never for women of color when they need to stand in their power and hold sacred boundaries with us?

Can we accept that our white fragility is indeed a thing, and do our best to confront it so it doesn’t drive how we’re engaging? When we feel challenged, either directly or by proxy via challenge to another white woman we identify with, our white fragility will come up within us. It’s in our programming as part of this culture. Maybe it’s not our fault we have it, but it’s our responsibility to manage it so it doesn’t become a weapon. Can we learn to recognize it for what it is, name it, and make a conscious decision not to respond from that place?

That’s mindfulness practice, which we claim to know all about.

Besides that, can we simply buck up and be willing to hear righteous anger? Can we stop using it as an excuse to dismiss the underlying message?

Let’s change this script that keeps playing out. We talk about the importance of facing our shadows. Are we serious about that? Because now’s our chance to walk our talk. It’s time to deal with the shadow of our implicit biases and the ways we uphold white supremacy—not the KKK kind—the subtler, everyday kind. Let’s do the ongoing work of uncovering and dismantling it so we can stop doing damage and move toward true solidarity, inclusion and community.

Wouldn’t that be unifying and spiritual?

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Here are some pertinent links I highly recommend reading or watching. Some of these writers have Patreon communities where we can support and learn from their work. (See the bottom of my previous post on spiritual bypassing for more links to recommended articles and books.)

On White Leaders Who Dehumanize Black People and Danielle LaPorte’s New Program, by Sara Haile-Mariam

Ow, Ouch!: How to Apologize, by Killing Georgina

White Feminism, White Supremacy and the Silencing of Black Women (Video), by Layla Saad.  Layla Saad is writing what will surely be THE seminal book on the subject of white supremacy within personal growth/spirituality communities.

Proof that the Spiritual Healing Community, Feminist Leadership, and Personal Growth Industry is Inherently Toxic and Racist, by Torrie Pattillo. Along with important insights and hard truths, there are many concrete examples in this Medium post for those who are still unclear on how these dynamics are playing out.

White Spaces Missing Faces, by Catrice Jackson (book).

Why Calling Me a Spiritual Activist Reveals Your Unconscious Bias (video), by Leesa Renee Hall. Leesa Renee Hall is in the process of making a documentary film about white fragility.

Glennon Doyle is Coming to Get the White Women, by Ann Friedman. Here’s an example of an influential white woman sincerely doing the work and using her large platform to urge us to do the same. Glennon Doyle also pointed out recently that while she gets accolades for her anti-racism work, black women get banned and have posts removed on social media for speaking the same truths. (See Layla Saad’s video linked above.)  

Thank you for reading and being willing to learn, and unlearn, along with me.

© Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! All rights reserved. 

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Getting Unhooked: What Happened When I Took a Break from Facebook

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash. Image description: smartphone showing Facebook log-in screen next to the words “social media” spelled out with Scrabble letters.

Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. I’ve reconnected with people I never would have without social media, which has been (mostly) a blessing, and made new friends. I’ve seen some ideas that have changed how I operate in my daily life, like bullet journaling, and found some great parenting advice, insight and camaraderie. In the last couple of years, political and social justice actions have been facilitated or even made possible by Facebook. I’ve participated in some important and enlightening discussions (along with the many futile and exhausting ones). I’ve been educated, enraged, amazed and moved (both to tears and to action) by countless articles, blog posts, long form Facebook posts, and discussions I likely would not have seen otherwise. And this platform has allowed me to share my own writing. Lots to love.

AND. Facebook trips the wiring of my addictive tendency, which is always looking for a way to get reactivated, the minute I leave it unsupervised.

Most of us have experienced losing an hour or more to Facebook before we know it when we only intended to “pop on real quick.” (I hear the same thing can happen with Instagram and Pinterest, but I wouldn’t know. I have avoided those platforms since clearly I’ve got all I can handle!) Seeing the little number on your notifications globe is a prime example of intermittent reinforcement, the same basic mechanism of slot machines. Sometimes we have notifications, sometimes we don’t—or, depending on how often we’re checking, we could have a couple or a dozen or more. The unpredictable nature of it creates a “checking” addiction.

When I find myself mindlessly checking my phone frequently, often Facebook but also email—especially when I really need and intended to be doing other things—I can say I’m wasting time and that’s certainly true, but if I’m honest with myself about it, I know it’s more than that. It’s entrenchment in an active addiction cycle.

This was my default mode toward the end of last year. I was dealing with some stressful events and using it a lot—sometimes for good and useful purpose, but often to numb out and fill any empty moment that arose. Several times, I vowed to reduce my checking and scrolling, but after a day or two I would fall back quickly into compulsive use. As the holidays approached, I knew I wanted to be in a less anxious and grasping state and create some quiet internal space. It was past time for a break already, and the season made it all the more essential. My kids are getting older and I feel time speeding up. I wanted to slow down and really feel the spaces between things as we went about our traditions. And as much as the holidays can be stressful, I love the turning of the New Year and I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity for reflection.

I first noticed that when I’m hooked into an addictive behavior, there’s the decision to stop that behavior, then there’s actually feeling unhooked. These are two separate things, and there’s a time gap between them when I’m not doing the thing, but still feeling the pull. So the first couple of days were weird. It reminded me of accounts I’ve read from amputees describing the phantom pain phenomenon, wherein they continue to feel pain from a limb they no longer have. I kept having this phantom internal “checking” impulse frequently, before I reminded myself that I’m not doing that right now.

So yeah, that was kind of horrifying. If losing Facebook for a couple days was conjuring up images of losing a limb and its aftermath, clearly this hiatus was sorely needed!

After those first couple days, I started to feel the space open up. I felt calmer, less scattered, more able to sit with whatever was happening without looking ahead to whatever the next thing was. I was more attentive to my family and less irritable. Reflections on the passing year and insights about where I wanted to focus my energies for 2018 started flowing freely.

New Year’s Day came and went, and instead of feeling “Oh, good! I committed to going off Facebook until the New Year, and now I can log on! Let’s go!” I felt more like, “How much longer do I want to stay off?” I was enjoying life without Facebook and leery of starting up again.

It was a better way to live for me, no doubt about it, if you compare it to how I was using it before I took the break. The question is, can I find (and more importantly, sustain) a happy medium? Can Facebook be in my life and remain relegated to its rightful place? A place to connect, plan events, read other people’s writing, share my own writing, and have important or fun conversations, all in the amount of time I consciously choose, and not a minute more? Without the compulsive checking, endless scrolling and random clicking?

As the second week of January began, I logged on for the first time in over 3 weeks. I checked my nearly 100 notifications. Mostly nonsense. To think we can feel so internally driven to check that little red number! I did see that I missed an invite to a family New Year’s Eve dance party that sounded fun, and we would have considered going. I felt a little pang of regret. I’m ambivalent about “if it’s meant to be, it will happen” thinking, but in that scenario, I figured if we were meant to be there, we would have found out some other way. I live in a small-ish community and you see someone you know everywhere you go.

That was it. Everything else I “missed” was nonessential at best. Next, I went onto the group page of one of the political/social justice groups I’m in to check for activity and posts before an upcoming meeting. I had logged back on with the intent to go in with surgical precision, briefly check notifications, and get some specific information I needed. Success!

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I knew I wasn’t the only one who has seen chunks of time evaporate on Facebook, but I underestimated how prevalent social media addiction is even among people who have never had other addictions. Once my radar was up for this topic, I started hearing and reading that all sorts of people are admitting to social media and electronic device addiction, or at least feeling the unwelcome, disruptive pull. An organizational psychologist. A motivational New Age thought leader. A favorite writer. A dear friend of mine, who has no other addiction issues said, “Oh yeah, it’s crazy. One second of downtime, and it’s grab my phone, check all the things.”

The difference between someone like her and someone like me is our likely response to that quaint suggestion people make of taking the Facebook app off your phone. She might say, “Great idea, thanks!” whereas I would say, “Yup, tried that. It’s so easy to go in through the browser.”

Watch this segment of 60 minutes, entitled, “Brain Hacking,” and it’s clear that compulsive use of devices is widespread and intentionally built into the design of every device and app.

 

 

Remember the phantom pain-like phenomenon I felt during my first couple days of cold turkey? I thought that correlation was just the odd workings of my own mind. Then I saw the part of this segment (at about 4:05 in the video) that describes device and app design as “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.” I almost fell off my chair. Looks like the way people can feel when separated from their devices is neurologically similar to the phantom pain of an amputee after all. According to the Mayo Clinic website, “Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain.”

It’s always a relief to find out you’re not as crazy as you thought, right?

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Oh, and by the way—all this terrifies me as a parent.

How many times have you heard, “It’s just like anything else—it’s a matter of teaching them to use it responsibly.” Nope. If only it were that simple. As Tristan Harris said in the Brain Hacking segment, “There’s a narrative that, ‘Oh, I guess they’re doing this like we used to gossip on the phone,’ but what this misses is that your telephone in the 1970’s didn’t have 1000 engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.”

So far, we are holding back the floodgates, but my 11-year-old has begun asking for a phone. “Not yet,” I say. “Look around and see how difficult it is even for adults to manage how much they stare at their phones, including me and (to a lesser extent) your dad. It’s even harder for kids.” I try to make it less enticing, telling him it may not be what he imagines, because when the time comes for him to get one, it might be a flip phone (if they’re even still available by then!). If it is a smartphone, internet access will be disabled and apps limited. I am willing to be the mean, strict mom on this one.

I don’t want to be the hypocritical one, though. By the time my kids are allowed to open their first social media accounts and become subject to “the pull” themselves, I plan to have my own house in order.

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Those first couple of weeks, I didn’t go back to my habits from the fall, but I did slip back into time-lapsed scrolling and compulsive checking here and there. Enough times to know that unless I become that odd, rare bird who has no social media accounts, this will require intentional management on an indefinite basis. (Which kinda sucks, but oh well!)

As more weeks have passed, I’ve consciously created new habits around this by keeping myself accountable on a daily basis. I use a habit tracking system in my bullet journal, and social media use is right there with meditation, journaling, exercise, and nutrition.

If you’re thinking of taking a social media hiatus yourself, I highly recommend it. Regardless of whether we are personally prone to addictive behaviors, it could be useful for anyone to grapple a bit with what this engineered cultural behemoth means for our daily lives.

I’ve become more aware of how precious time is, and I’m more intentional and deliberate about how I spend my time in general. I’m rediscovering the gift of empty moments as a chance to pause and take in my surroundings or internal landscape. As busy as life is, I’m seeing that there are more of those moments than we realize, when we don’t give in to the kneejerk urges to immediately fill them. My husband has asked me many times, “Do you ever let your mind rest?” Not much, but I’m learning.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, and it’s been over a month since I’ve been back on Facebook determined to do this differently, so I guess that 21-day thing works. How and when I engage with Facebook is now governed by my own conscious choices much more so than impulse—most of the time. And mercifully, I feel “the pull” only occasionally. Perhaps I’ve succeeded in rescuing my brain stem from engineered corporate programming.

I’m not letting my guard down, though!

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of February: How my winter depression shifted

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I really have no business living in New England.

I was born in New Orleans in August, in the middle of the afternoon. I could check what the temperature was that day, if that info is even available, but whatever. It was hot. We moved when I was just over a year old, and I spent a few years of my early childhood in Rhode Island. I can access a few hard details and events that stand out in stark relief, but most of my memories from that time are only sketches, shadows, colors, feelings. Vague images of snow angels are among those.

Before kindergarten, when my parents divorced, we (my mother, baby brother and me) moved back down south, initially to Mississippi where my grandparents lived. My mother remarried shortly thereafter and I was back in Louisiana—Baton Rouge this time (much less interesting than New Orleans, just as hot). For a couple of years at age 10 and 11, we had a stint in Indiana where I enjoyed the snow and don’t remember hating the cold, after which we were back in Baton Rouge.

Then, at age 13, my fighting spirit collided with family issues and catapulted me back to Rhode Island alone, this time without my mother and brother, where I arrived to live with my father, stepmother, stepsiblings and new baby sister—a process which was set in motion in February of that year. Continue reading

When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition: Continue reading

The Trouble With Saying “Not All White People…”

This is an excerpt of a post that appears on Medium .Click here to see the full story there.

As a white woman, I post a lot of things on social media directed specifically at other white people and how we contribute to racism. I’m not doing the woker-than-thou thing, putting myself above it all. I’ve been actively learning about systemic racism in earnest for only about a year, and I have infinitely more to learn. When I post an article or video about something white people need to stop doing, I very well may have done that exact thing in the past. Unfortunately, that includes having said #notallwhitepeople, if not in those exact words. I’ll explain that in a minute, but first, please watch the following 2-minute video about the problem with not-all-white-people sentiments, particularly in the context of what happened in Charlottesville two weeks ago.

Flashback to January, after the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. …

To keep reading, click here to see the story on Medium. 

© Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2017. 

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading

6 Ways Bullet Journaling Makes Me Less Busy and More Productive

If we asked how many people feel perfectly happy with their organizational habits and systems, what percentage would say “yes?” Less than half, I’m thinking.

I haven’t written about my Kon Mari decluttering project in a while, probably because I haven’t worked on it since I did my kitchen this summer. That whole process is supposed to take six months. Since Marie Kondo’s book doesn’t acknowledge the existence of children and how life with them— and their stuff—might impact a massive whole-house purge, I added another six months for each kid. Even with that, I just passed my projected finish time. That’s OK, I know I’ll get it done. I watched the documentary “Minimalism” over the holidays and I’m re-motivated. Plus, I have a new system to keep me accountable and focused moving forward—bullet journaling!  Continue reading