Feeling into the DNA of Racism
by Rae Carter, Founder, EmpowR, and VBSR Board Member
This summer has been one of listening to BIPOC voices and feeling how racism unintentionally manifests in my thoughts and behaviors. White centering, saviorism, and optical ally-ship are some of the behaviors I need to be mindful of and how they can show up as micro aggressions which hurts people with non-white skin, even if that is not my intention. I recognize the journey to become anti-racist is a lifelong one because myself, along with every single white person in this country, is inflicted with the racism virus. It is in our DNA from the hundreds of years of oppressor trauma that lives in our bodies.
I feel it is my responsibility to our shared humanity to heal this trauma in myself, and to support other white people in “doing the work” which is ultimately changing our perspectives and behaviors by healing our own trauma from being born into oppressor bloodlines. This work begins with listening to the lived experiences of Black and Brown skinned people, learning to feel our emotions and beginning to move them through and out of our bodies, and, in doing so, holding ourselves accountable for how we emotionally respond or react to situations that make us uncomfortable. From there we enhance our capacity for empathy and compassion and only then can we begin to practice ally-ship. Then we start to recognize the intersectionality between systemic racism and the additional disparities of socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, disability, and health ability.
It has taken me much more than a summer of listening and feeling to come to this clarity. My work to intentionally become anti-racist began in 2018 when I first became fully aware of the detrimental health effects of the dominant, patriarchal, perfectionist, multi-tasking, frantic, rat race culture that burned me out of my head. It was during this time that I conducted a root cause analysis of my cancer diagnosis and interconnected dis-eases — tracing the root cause back to the pace and demands of modern society and the poison and injustice of capitalism. Awakening to the vast inequities in healthcare and cultural appropriation in herbalism and spiritual practices further propelled unlearning and relearning as I’ve worked to decolonize my mind and behaviors over the past few years.
However, it was not until the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this spring that I made the connection that the dominant, patriarchal modern society aka “the status quo” aka “normal life” are all other words for white supremacy culture. We all live in it and the very culture in which we live is the very root cause of the majority of our suffering in this country.
By liberating Black Lives, Indigenous lives, and all other Brown-skinned lives, we will also liberate white lives inflicted with other expressions of injustice – this is the true path to freedom. And it begins with listening and feeling so we can find our way back to compassion.
I invite my white friends, family, clients, and colleagues to give it a try and know that ALL the feelings that come up for you are valid, which is why it can be helpful for us to do this work together because we need to be able to process what we are feeling and talk about what we are are unlearning and relearning. We need to do this with each other as white people and not cause further harm to BIPOCS. It’s not only okay for people with different skin colors to have safe spaces with only other people with the same skin color, it’s an integral part of the healing process.
I suggest the following four resources as ways to engage in the anti-racism journey – all with different entry-points depending on where you might be at:
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad – this is an excellent introduction to help build an understanding of white supremacy culture and how we operate in it. It includes journaling which helps you listen to your own inner voices as well as to Layla’s. I listened to this in a audiobook – my first time reading an audiobook and I found listening to Layla’s vocal inflections as a very holistic way to hear her voice. I read Me and White Supremacy as a part of a book group with the board and staff at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility – VBSR (I serve on the board) to help guide our own personal changes before we begin to focus on anti-racism efforts at the organizational level.
- My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem – this book really gets into unpacking the trauma of the oppressed, the oppressor, and law enforcement trauma and how it lives in different bodies based on their ancestral experiences. I feel that the perspective offered in My Grandmother’s Hands is essential to understanding racism, and, for white people, can help us see the bigger picture and draw the connections to the familial trauma we need to heal – the stuff we pass down from family member to family member – whether it be abuse, apathy, behavioral conditioning, or many of the other traits that are carried in our DNA and how all of these expressions contribute to racism at both conscious and unconscious levels. This book also helps provide an understanding to the complexity of policing and if I could have one wish, it would be that every law enforcement officer and staff person read this book with an open heart.
- DismantlingRacism.org – for all of the white people and white organizations who are trying to figure out how to actually “Dismantle Racism” and are stuck between only wanting to get advice from BIPOCS and inventing their own ways of doing the work, this website has the most comprehensive compilation of resources created by BIPOCS and allies working on anti-racism efforts for years and it is updated regularly. Part of white supremacy culture is that we want to invent and be recognized for good ideas and innovations. When it comes to dismantling racism, there are so many resources and this website is the best “clearinghouse of information” I have come across (in any area). From politics to education, the resources are easy to find and access as you take some time to explore the site. The homepage is a great place to start where a two day anti-racism workshop that was taught for years around the country is packed into a workbook easily accessible as a collection of links. Of considerable interest to me was the White Supremacy Culture section – so much of what I recognized as the downfalls of “dominant society” during my own root cause analysis – these are cultural behaviors that are detrimental to ALL of us who live below the wealth and power hoarders in society.
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown – for those working in organizational culture and leadership, this is a must read. Emergent Strategy decolonizes leadership and maps out the path for leadership in this new era. This is THE guidebook for change makers to find solid ground in what we feel in our hearts and know in our minds as the path towards unity, resilience, equity, justice, and stability for all members of society. Emergent Strategy provides the framework, direction, and how to facilitate cultural transformation.
And facilitating cultural transformation circles me back to the beginning of this article and my own personal healing journey as it all lies in the same premise – to change the world, we first must change ourselves. We may feel so overwhelmed and scared right now and that’s okay. At the same tine we can also feel empowered if we can surrender this grip on control and recognize that the ripple effect of attending to our own healing, is in fact what can save our humanity – beginning with how we can all help bring an end to racism by learning how to both listen and feel more deeply as a place to start.
Please consider beginning or building upon your journey to become anti-racist and please reach out to me if you’d like to have a dialogue. I will mess up time and time again and I will keep coming back to the work and I hope you will too.
See this article on the EmpowR website here.