August 2, 2016

Racism & Karma: A Call For an Anti-racist Spirituality.


As a young, white anti-racist organizer, the daily stress I experienced in my change-making work was overwhelming me.

So, I turned to yoga and a spiritual community for healing and used my tools to help me process what I was going through.

At the start of a new training or class, spiritual teachers often began with, “You are here for a reason. You are chosen to be on a path for the enlightened.” I would look around the yoga studio, or the Buddhist temple, and see others like me—white people.

If those present were on a path towards enlightenment, where was everyone else?

I began to question the purpose of these gathering spaces that had become havens of deep nourishment for my soul. Were they, in essence, doing the opposite?

Were we upholding a system of oppression that was producing more spaces for white people to gather under the guise of spiritual enlightenment, just so we could continue to remain safely hidden and blinded from the real world?

I have felt for most of my life that the world of change-making and the spiritual community was largely separate, and I wanted to understand how to bring them into synchronistic relationship. I fought to figure out where social justice fit in the spiritual community, beyond the studied principles and philosophies that were discussed.

Through years of study, relationships, and my racial justice organizing work, I uncovered the truth of how systems of oppression kill black and brown people and the ways in which my whiteness was contributing to these injustices. I began to step into a different kind of whiteness—one where I use my body, voice and values to end racism.

Discussions and lectures on karma never felt satisfying to me and have always left something to be desired. I struggled to understand the “reap what you sow” ideology in relation to the huge economic gaps and violence enacted against people of color in the world.

Are poor folks worse at this karma thing than the rich?

Why are so many black people dying at the hands of white cops? Why is there racism in the world and how does it relate to karma?

I had asked these questions to countless teachers from various spiritual traditions (mostly white), to explain their understanding of systems of oppression, racism and violence in relation to karma. But after a while, I stopped asking because the response was always the same.

“Karma is inherited. It’s accumulated, and when you do good in the world, good will follow you.” Students’ heads would nod, and there was an implicit understanding among all of us white people—we must be doing pretty well because here we are, sitting in a lecture about karma.

However, I now know, that what was really happening was that our adherence to an invisible contract among us made racism and being racist acceptable for white folks. After all, we are spiritual.

Yet, I’m finding as the blood from the slaughter of black and brown people continues to stain the mighty earth we walk upon, here in the U.S., more and more white people’s hearts are breaking open in consciousness. Simultaneously, I’ve come to a new understanding of karma.

White folks’ karma is actually isolation because of our firm belief in individualism. Our fear of being imperfect immobilizes us where we are then guilty of inaction in all aspects of our lives. Our discomfort is so acute that we often develop phobias for any kind of risk taking even if it brings us out of our comfort zone and into a sweet place of surrender.

White folks’ karma divides us from people of different skin color resulting in prejudice. It produces a power within us that closes our hearts, all the while condoning killing black people by the hands of our uncles, fathers, and sons. We think our spirituality gives us a pass because for black folks—death is their karma.

White people’s karma right now is to be racist. But, I believe this can be changed. When we show up in the world and interrupt this current karma by putting our voices and bodies in action towards justice, we can then heal the karma we’ve accumulated and pass along something better to future generations.

One of my spiritual teachers says, “If practice isn’t changing your life, then you need to change your practice.” I believe this to be so very true. Our responsibility for turning the tide of violence in the world runs even deeper. If spiritual practice isn’t positively affecting society, then we need to change our understanding and embodiment of our spiritual practice.

More people do not need to meditate. But those who do, need to enact their meditation out loud!

Silence is a restorative salve that provides strength for us to show up in the world. Our practice is the perfect foundation to embody our spirituality and express ourselves by voting, digging deep into our racist history, and showing up for racial justice.

At the same time, we must be aware of how our spiritual language and beliefs can be confusing. And beware when detachment becomes numbness or wellness is just “enlightened” whiteness. When this happens, understand that our spirituality isn’t manifesting as it is meant to.

When nonviolence is neutral, an opportunity is missed to enact full nonviolent actions in the world. This affects our karma as well as our legacy.

White silence is violence of another kind. When we blindly follow non-ego teachings, neutral consciousness is created. We can then become minions by inadvertently building armies for white supremacy.

We might just need a little ego right now especially if our aversion to having it is keeping us silent and ashamed to feel.

Raising energetic vibrations involves more than vision boards, self-help books, and meditation. It requires us to go deeper, to show up in the external world by building a true, enlightened community and go where it feels hard for us to go.

Folks of faith are figuring all this out at a quicker pace compared to the spiritual sector. As spiritual folks, our duty is to stand up and live our values out loud in a new, anti-racist spirituality.

Spirituality isn’t complacent. Spirituality is action in the world.

We need to ask ourselves, how are we showing up?

Tufara Waller Muhammad, Reverend angel Kyodo Williams, Taj James—thank you for blazing the way towards an anti-racist embodiment of spiritual practice.

Pema Chödrön, Kerri Kelly, Christina Sell—thanks for showing up to end white silence.

And to Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen—thank you for beginning to name the pain of what our whiteness will do if we don’t address it.



Author: Jardana Peacock

Image: Chrisena Allen/Flickr

Apprentice Editor: Sarah Shin; Editor: Travis May

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