White Ladies Finding Themselves
This essay was republished on Decolonizing Yoga here.*
In the absence of hope, there’s imagination.
I would like to imagine other options, other ways of being, other ways of understanding identities, other ways of being together, even as we come apart.Especially, in my world, where women gather. In sisterhoods -- to explore spirituality, creativity, personal development.Our sisterhoods need to evolve. They’re so often a slurry of cultural appropriation, spiritual bypassing, neoliberalism, multilevel marketing, and random woo punctuated by various signals of authority, virtue and performative vulnerability from their leaders.
And to quote Queen Latifah, they’re whiter than a Wilco concert. I know; I’ve been in them, and have profited off of them. In lots of ways, I still do. We can do better.
So many of us are drawn to these circles because we’re seekers: White Ladies Finding Themselves.“WHILFTs”[Not sure if that acronym works but it’ll do for now. White Uplifting Spiritual Sisterhoods or WUSS seems kinda harsh? LOL I WOULD HATE TO BE HARSH]Anyhoo, WHILFT shares some DNA with FLEB (Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand as coined by Kelly Diels) in, for example, its hyper-individual focus and conflation of personal wealth with collective liberation. And in the optics of purity, whether by bootstrapping or by cleansing. A tendency towards simplicity and lack of nuance. “Your vibe attracts your tribe” kinds of phraseology. (Pretty done seeing us white women using the word “tribe” for a lot of reasons. Like, people who buy our shit are not a “tribe.”
A NEWSLETTER LIST IS NOT A TRIBE. See also: NamaSLAY, Spiritual Gangster, Unicorn Thug, Gypset and other terms that are co-opted by white people from POC to sell lifestyle products.)There’s also a military fuckton of Law of Attraction stuff that’s basically repackaged Christian Prosperity Theology for new agers without critical thinking skills. I need a minute to unpack this so I can stop telling myself I should write about it.It’s an entitled orientation towards the extraction of resources because “I deserve it and the Universe is waiting to bestow wealth upon me” with little regard for how those resources were accumulated and are distributed. Wealth is de facto proof of being “in alignment with your soul’s purpose” irrespective of how grossly stratified wealth actually is. The inherent racism, classism + other -isms of LOA and The Secret, and other “mindset” and “manifesting abundance” programs are rarely thoroughly confronted.
BUT WHILE I’M AT IT:::::It should be noted that Esther and Jerry Hicks of LOA fame got their start peddling Amway and the related positive psychology supplemental materials. Guess who runs Amway? Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s husband. So yeah, real winners. Much spiritual. Wow.I mean, leave it to white people to take something as complex as quantum mechanics which calls us into deep relationship with the world around us and turn it into an engine for generating personal wealth. Seriously, this is not an ideology of liberation -- financial or otherwise. It actually relies on and replicates systems of domination in which unsuccessful people are such because of personal mindset failures. Gross.Pointing out any of these troubling elements often garners one or more of the following responses which nearly always centers the critique on some personal mindset failure on the part of the individual:
- Anything you dislike in others is a reflection of something inside of you that needs healing. See also: you have a “story” resulting from a “core negative belief” about yourself
- You should [have the means to pay and time to] try Landmark / Ayahuasca / Sweat Lodge / fancy detox / healing program / pilgrimage to a shaman / yoga or meditation retreat / Tony Robbins coal walking / etc. and fix your faulty “stories”
- Separation is an illusion; politics is separation consciousness, above these perceptions is unity consciousness, and you’re just bogged down in duality + divisiveness (the unity / oneness bypass in spiritual bypassing*)
- Critique/anger/judgement are conflated with “fear” and are assigned “low vibration” energy
In these and many other ways too numerous to mention here, these types of counter-arguments gaslight those whose lived experiences are not supported or validated by the common ground the members share, as the experiences and identities of the majority (white, cis, neurotypical, middle-class, able-bodied, etc.) are centered. Can we interrogate why that might be without labeling such inquiries “divisive” or even “un-spiritual”? Can we start to notice how so much of what is cultivated in these WHILFTSy circles contributes to white women’s chronic inability to de-center our feelings when faced with criticism around equity, inclusion, representation and justice? Can we imagine the possibility that sometimes -- perhaps often -- these spiritual circles make us MORE fragile?
And when the ultimate barometer for truth lies in a purely somatic experience (such as “flow state” or the “zone” or “core desired feelings,”) won’t the necessary and unavoidable discomfort that goes with coming to terms with our privilege, our biases, our racism, our ableism, etc. be dismissed as incongruent with how we’ve been trained to understand what is true?
Can we imagine more than one way of accessing “our truth” which might require multiple (somatic, intellectual, cognitive, intuitive, etc.) approaches and perspectives?
Can we stop pretending that our good intentions are enough? Can we imagine the impact of our work beyond those who can afford it? Can we be with the profound discomfort, sorrow -- and grief, even -- that unfolds when we scratch just slightly beneath the surface of these circles to reveal how much pain there really is? Without shunning, or even making each other so very wrong, so that we can be so very right?Can we imagine another way? Can we wonder? Can we wonder where are the hags and crones? Can we imagine new sisterhoods that don’t over rely on biological essentialism to advance notions of “divine femininity?”
Can we wonder about our sisters with disabilities, with chronic pain, with bodies that don’t perform as needed, who don’t look the way the thin blond yogi in the magazine looks, whose lives aren’t as presentable on Instagram? Can we look hard at how our magic has been colonized, how our hearts beat for the sensation of owning things that have not been freely given but have been stolen from others and from the land -- crystals, ceremonies, superfoods, words...that the very land we stand on was stolen?
Can we imagine doing more with less? Can we give things up so that we begin to enter into a better relationship with each other? What might that look like? Our dreamcatchers, our dreadlocks, our trappings of the new age flattened without dimension or context by Whiteness and by capitalism, which really can’t be separated from each other? Can we wonder why we love to put on face paint and feathers to show our affinity for Standing Rock but don’t say shit about Black Lives Matter?
We can do better. We CAN.
Can we imagine what it might be like to honor that we are not all having the same experience?
ONE MORE TIME FOR THE WHILFTS IN THE BACK:
WE. ARE. NOT. ALL. HAVING. THE SAME. EXPERIENCE.
Can we create more opportunities to learn from each other? More avenues of energy exchange, more accessibility, more representation? If we use words like “revolution,” “liberation” and “freedom” can we imagine how that might land for those not having our experience? Can we imagine new words to describe our sisterhoods? Can we not weaponize them so as to offer more accessible entry points to those who are just now waking up?
Can we expand rather than narrow our lenses into some kind of hegemonic joy-mongering in which any deviation from positive affirmation is deemed “low vibration,” as if gamma rays are somehow inherently worse than infrared light? Can we access the deeper, more abiding joy that comes from honoring the poetics of grief? The grief that comes from penetrating how bankrupt so much of our “spirituality” has become? Can we be with the light AND the heat?
Can we imagine the beautiful annihilation of Whiteness, and all systems of domination, born out of a willingness to not just feel sorry, but the feel the kind of sorrow that makes us need a village just to bear it?
Perhaps our togetherness and our creativity are enough. Perhaps not. I don’t have a lot of hope at the moment that we will be able to all unite against Empire any time soon. This shit will take a minute to unravel. Material reparations must be made. Lands should be ceded back. And it’s hard to say how much time we have before the arctic’s boiling methane fucks us all.But in the absence of hope, there’s imagination.
My friend Cristina Orbe pointed out after reading this that "spiritual bypassing" was an elaboration of Spiritual Materialism, coined in Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's classic "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism."Photo credit: Mauricio Valverde Arce