White people: we need to talk.
To each other.
About our whiteness.
And how it affects other people and the world.
About what it means, where it came from, and how it hurts: how it hurts others, and how we hurt in response to the pain it causes.
About how it informs our businesses, our relationships, our politics, our spiritual practices, our parenting — all the ways we walk through the world.
We have been conditioned to not even notice it.
We have been taught to not speak about it.
(The first rule of White Club is you don’t talk about White Club.)
When it is brought to our attention in any way that is displeasing to us, we often become defensive, hostile, fractured, shut down, extremely emotional, despondent, or paralyzed.
We become fragile.
We are so afraid of doing it wrong, of using the wrong words, or saying the wrong thing, and so we don’t even dare, despite all the Brené Brown books we read encouraging us to do so greatly.
When we start to look at whiteness, we can become so overwhelmed with the evidence of its destruction and the poverty of culture it has left us with, that we choose instead with painful predictability to run away from it, disavow our whiteness, and look to non-white cultures to fill in the hole.
It is deeply uncomfortable to begin this process.
It’s like unplugging from The Matrix. It’s like being deprogrammed from the most harmful cult that ever existed.
It is not life-threatening, however.
And it is long, long overdue.
It’s my hope that these conversations, unedited, will serve as an encouraging force for other white people to have them, as messy and imperfect as they may be. I hope they will normalize the discussion of whiteness and its impact on the world. And I hope they will embolden us to dismantle whiteness as an oppressive social construct.
And to be clear, I’m not really interested in heaps of praise or ally cookies or whatever for doing this. I’m not a racial justice scholar, I actually have no idea what I’m doing, really. I’m sure I’ll fuck it up. And I’m open to feedback about these conversations.
Here’s a really good primer on vocabulary if you’re new to this kind of work.
I will update this page as more of the conversations are recorded. They are listed by most recent.
Special thanks to Marybeth Bonfiglio for the tech support and intellectual + emotional labor that went into getting this series off the ground and running.
Jen Lemen + Marybeth Bonfiglio
Jen Lemen spoke with me and Marybeth earlier in the year about her international community work, capitalism and intersectional economics but also wanting a boyfriend. We wander the territory here together and land on the land itself, and on the stories that embody a lot of truth — truth which Whiteness consistently devalues and even destroys. If we had this conversation now, it would sound really different since we all just spent a week together in the social cohesion action research incubator project disguised as an art retreat (“Magical Radical”). But there are gems here, so I’m hitting publish.
“I think as White people we really need to start talking about Whiteness itself as a tool of trauma. As a perpetuation of a system that in and of itself is trauma-based.” ~Kirsten
Kirsten Hale is a trauma-informed herbalist with a very strong social justice bent that put her at the top of my wish list of people to talk to about Whiteness. I found her after researching polyvagal theory and trauma, where I discovered her online anxiety course which I cannot recommend highly enough.
We talk about colonialism + theft of traditions from indigenous, queer, and women’s lineages. How profit + sustainability are competing narratives.
The conversation goes deep into some fascinating territory around “White Herbalism” and the “Healing Industrial Complex”: how Whiteness shows up in herbalism communities, and in plant medicine use and cultivation including overharvested plants like white sage + black cohosh as well as psychotropics like modern commercial cannabis and ayahuasca.
“I benefit sociopolitically in so many ways from being in that [Whiteness], and yet i have to give up complexity. You forsake other embodied, complex relational ways of being for something that gives you more power, gives you more privilege, gives you safety.”
In the heart of this conversation, Kirsten unpacks how Whiteness itself mimics trauma and Complex PTSD in how it behaves:
- superficial and not complex relationships
- locating reality, identity, relational attachment and safety externally
- lack of transparency and a lot of secrets or covering up
- erasure of lived experience + internal reality in the body
- sensitivity to power dynamics + power imbalances
We talk about being allergic to secrets and how it relates to power dynamics and trauma. And how Whiteness as trauma shows up differently in different populations.
And then I lose my shit a little at the one hour mark.
Because, for all of us, there is deep grief as a result. But that there is healing in coming back into good, healthy relationship with each other and the plants — who may not always need us, but seem to want us.
“Plants ask us to be complex beings in their presence.”
More about Kirsten is here.
Carmen Spagnola + Marybeth Bonfiglio
This convo blew my mind and is a must-listen for white ladies into personal development / spirituality / coaching and who are interested in a deeper understanding of the role of shame as it relates to community.
Carmen Spagnola joins me along with Marybeth Bonfiglio to talk about having those awkward family conversations and shares The Story of The Racist Pie, how and why shame can be a useful tool for growth and understanding, and how “arresting emotional experiences” can lead to a greater sense of empathy and purpose.
We speak at length about the inherent racism in white-dominant sisterhoods and spiritual/personal growth products and services aimed at and consumed by well-meaning sensitive white women.
“When we center and demand comfort and safe spaces, as white ladies, unintentional as it may be, we are functionally oppressing people who have less power than us.”
We speak about how the Law of Attraction is repackaged Prosperity Gospel with a hyper-individual benefit that goes arm in arm with white supremacy.
And of the reclamation of our own indigenity, cultural literacy + cultural competency, and what that looks like when participating in spiritual traditions such as
- how to approach doing any kind of spiritual work such as retreats, etc. in any place (because all land is ancestral land)
- how to connect to a sense of land and place — and how to hold accountable leaders of such retreats and events
- crediting the traditions you learn from, and questioning very critically profiting from these practices
“When we co-opt the terms of social justice and apply them in a spiritual or personal development realm, that is a move to innocence. It’s a move to purity.”
And at the heart of our conversation is a great deal of examination around white women’s extreme aversion to shame, and how a more mature and nuanced view of shame is needed so that we can a) confront our whiteness b) dismantle it and c) enter into a state of reform.
“Everybody wants to be perfect, nobody wants to be reformed.”
We speak about Brené Brown’s research into shame and how it focused 100% on a relatively small number of mostly white, American people’s individual experiences and how this completely leaves out collectivist cultures that use shame successfully to achieve restorative (rather than punitive) justice.
“Shame and honor are both neutral tools, and they can be used and abused by patriarchy just like education.”
And how the work of justice can meet our needs for belonging and for meaning.
Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor
Carmen is a registered clinical hypnotherapist and intuitive mentor who helps seekers strengthen their connection to Soul.
(Audio only version coming soon)
Isabel Faith Abbott
So I had this amazing talk with Isabel Faith Abbott last week and we got deep into some uncomfy territory around white privilege and how we need spaces on line and on land that cultivate “radical resiliency” (to quote her) rather than a commitment to remaining fragile and unwilling to begin asking ourselves why some of the most popular and visible offerings are attended (and taught) by mostly white women.
We talk about the frequent clockwork-like responses of white women when faced with racial tension, which goes something like this:
✓ You don’t know me.
✓ I too have suffered.
✓ I am very committed to not being “a racist.”
✓ We all bleed the same color.
✓ You are shaming me.
(Wait there’s more!)
We talk about the cult of self-care, and of deeply nourishing retreats, and how they are often only accessible to those of a certain income bracket, which are — ding ding — mostly white people. Because capitalism and racism are like *this* (you can’t see me but I’m crossing my fingers).
We talk about co-opting the language of revolution without actually being willing to go to battle.
Pro tip: revolution is always illegal. ALWAYS.
We talk about how intuition or somatic response is not always the ultimate barometer of truth (e. g., just because you’re feeling shame doesn’t mean you’re being shamed).
And we talk about the tension between how we are, and how we wish to be. And how there is no arrival point where we can sit back and go OK I AM DONE HERE, I AM ONE OF THE GOOD ONES.
As Isabel says: “To live in the tension is what humanizes us. So if I can live in the tension in the world as it is and the world as it could be, right? Knowing that the work is never done, and choosing to actually be in the tension itself, as opposed to seeking relief from the tension.”
Lastly, and this is important: there are shout outs to Tad Hargrave, Desiree Lynn Adaway, and Meg Worden in this convo, as well as a passing mention of Spirit Weavers Gathering, which I need to acknowledge because the most recent event they’re promoting made it into the part about white-dominant retreats. So today I had an hour-long convo with Spirit Weavers founder Amy Woodruff (Daughter of the Sun on Instagram) in which she went into some detail about her own awareness around this issue, the work SW is doing and has done to course correct and adjust, and the struggle she is currently facing with how public she wants to be about all of it.
I want to give her props here for being willing to come to the table and both listen and speak her truth, and to acknowledge that while progress is being made, there’s always more to do. And the way forward is not always clear and it certainly isn’t easy. And how in her case, the work Spirit Weavers is doing around addressing these issues is largely invisible, which creates a vacuum and we all know how nature feels about vacuums. Anyway, I really look forward to seeing and hearing more from her and Spirit Weavers about the truth of the work they’re doing behind the scenes and behind the veil of a heavily branded Instagram account.
Let it be a model for other businesses in this vein to broach these topics with transparency and a willingness to keep trying, to keep moving forward in the face of critique and setback as those are also signs doing of The Work, this Big Work of connection, inspiration, community and justice we’re all called to do now.
I am a writer and corporeal artist, an activist and speaker. An open door to sanctuary, refuge in birth and death, lover of the living and unlocking. As a birth doula and death midwife, a space holder for the mulitvocality of our public and private grief, a sex educator and an embodiment and creation workshop facilitator, I work with those crossing and crashing through transitions, questioning their gods, wrestling with love and art, dying into life.
Angelique Arroyo asked me to have a conversation about “The Work” and medicine as it relates to racial justice, accessibility, inclusivity, diversity, business and community. She speaks about grief and joy and asks me questions about what is true, what is present, and what is needed when looking at doing this work.
Angelique A. Arroyo is the owner of Angelique Guides: Infrastructure for Conscious Leaders & Collective Healing. In this work she guides 1 on 1, and through the School for Medicine Womyn, Conscious Leadership Intensives, and Conscious Leadership Development programs for businesses, organizations and institutions. She’s available for speaking engagements and offers workshops on the topic of conscious leadership & collective healing, bringing 10+ years of circling with community.