Are you ready to get uncomfortable?
It’s important to start by saying that I am not an expert on anti-racism, nor am I an expert on mindfulness. I am a student of both and have continued to learn about and practice both for some time. I won’t pretend to be an expert and I will do my best to point you toward the voices of the experts in both fields.
It’s also important for me to be clear that I am writing this for those of you, like myself, who have the privilege to learn about racism rather than having to experience it yourself. If you are reading this and you have experienced racism, I am deeply sorry. I cannot and will not ever pretend to explain it to you. I have learned that is important both for white people to listen to and to amplify Black voices on the topic of racism, as well as for white people to speak out to other white people about racism. My intention here is to speak to people who need this message the most, those who want to be anti-racist, and, most likely, people with white privilege. If you aren’t familiar with white privilege you can read about it here and here, as well as many other places.
What is anti-racism?
Activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis says, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
Author and historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi says that to be anti-racist is “to view the racial groups as equals” and he has said that “to grow up in this country is to grow up racist.”
I believe that in order to understand that we need to become anti-racist, we must first accept the fact that we live in a racist society. Once we accept that, it becomes clear that becoming anti-racist is literally a matter of life and death. Still, there are a lot of people who still aren’t ready to face that fact.
Why? Because it’s uncomfortable!
It has been an uncomfortable experience for me personally to embrace the fact that I was born into a society that is continually and constantly oppressing people. I haven’t enjoyed the process of coming to terms with that. It’s uncomfortable! But I also know that oppressed people have had to endure a lot more than I can even begin to imagine.
I have come to the understanding that every day that I sit in my white privilege and don’t use it to help marginalized people is a day that I continue to perpetuate oppression. Every day that I choose to stay comfortable is a day that I am keeping things the same and that is making the world a harder place for people of color to live in.
Austin Channing Brown has said, “the work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans”.
I love her definition because it sounds so doable. Who doesn’t want to be a better human? Who doesn’t want to be better to other humans? I’m guessing most people would say they do. Of course!
It’s time to get uncomfortable!
Anti-racism isn’t as simple as self-improvement, though. It’s not okay for us to just sit in our comfortable, privileged life and decide how we want to be better. Because this isn’t about us getting to feel better. This isn’t about us at all.
I know that in order to understand how to be better humans we must first understand what the other humans are needing. If we’ve been staying comfortable and oblivious to the injustices in the world, the truth is, we don’t know how to be better humans to other humans yet. We must get uncomfortable first!
A bit about my journey
I used to be very defensive about racism. When I was young, I was taught not to see color and I thought that meant I was being kind and fair to everyone. I thought that was the right way to be.
I started dating my Japanese boyfriend (now husband) when I was 16 years old. When I told him I didn’t think of him as Japanese, that I just saw him as the same as me, it hurt him and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand that not seeing his Japanese-ness was ignoring who he is. It was ignoring his story, his life, and it was ignoring the hateful racism he had experienced toward him. I was totally oblivious to the fact that people in my very own school were spewing racist hate at other students. And do you know why I was oblivious? Yes, of course, it’s because I am white and I had the privilege of not experiencing it myself!
Conversations with my Japanese boyfriend helped me start to understand the privilege I was living comfortably in and helped me understand how I could start being better to people.
I made a choice to get uncomfortable! If this work isn’t uncomfortable, then you aren’t doing it.
For me, getting uncomfortable meant I had to acknowledge that I was defensive and let go of my defensiveness. I also had to shove my ego aside and take a look at myself. I knew I couldn’t start to change and make a difference if I wasn’t willing to do some self-reflection. It didn’t feel comfortable to admit that I was complicit (as we all are) but I had to!
What part does mindfulness play?
So this is where mindfulness comes in for me. My practice with mindfulness has helped me learn to be uncomfortable.
If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness, there are many definitions. According to Jon Kabat- Zinn, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
According to this article on tinybuddha.com, “mindfulness has a way of annihilating our blissful ignorance. It offers an unexpected and unparalleled insight into our areas of vulnerability, the sides of us that we are not always prepared to welcome nonjudgmentally. To get the most of it, one must recognize that the practice of mindfulness is dirty, hard work.”
And in this article in the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Amy Jen Su says, “In fact, becoming truly mindful and aware means that we are also able to see, name, and more fully experience things when we are angry, sad, jealous, anxious, vulnerable, or lonely — this, too, is mindfulness.”
Many people come to mindfulness practices to reduce stress, get better at communicating, have better relationships, and find peace, and it is very effective for all of that. But it also does something else. Mindfulness also teaches you how to be uncomfortable.
How mindfulness helps us get uncomfortable
You might be wondering what I mean when I say that mindfulness has helped me learn to be uncomfortable. So here’s a small example of that. When learning to practice mindfulness, one exercise you will learn is called the body scan. During a body scan you are asked to notice each individual part of your body in turn, and pay attention to how it feels and what’s happening there. The practice involves noticing sensations (possibly discomfort) without trying to do or change anything. You are encouraged to notice and not react. If you feel an itch, you notice and acknowledge the itch without scratching it.
This practice of “not scratching the itch” has helped me become aware of uncomfortable, undesirable feelings and sensations without having an immediate reaction to get rid of them. I can sit in my discomfort. And I believe that in order to become anti-racist, sitting in discomfort is a very important step.
Here is my point: my path to becoming anti-racist isn’t easy. Becoming anti-racist means admitting you’ve been a part of something that has harmed others. Most of us don’t want to take that responsibility on because it feels bad. But imagine if you could face those uncomfortable truths and sit with them without getting defensive and reactive. That’s what my mindfulness practice has done for me; it’s prepared me to do the uncomfortable work.
Is mindfulness necessary to do anti-racism work? Probably not. But I do know that willingness to do self-reflection is necessary, and mindfulness is a tool that can help with that.
How to get started with mindfulness
Getting started with mindfulness is actually quite simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes a commitment to make the time. If you’re ready for it, I recommend you set aside time to start practicing for a short period of time a few days a week. You can then build up to longer amounts of time more frequently
Once you’ve set aside the time, you can begin your practice. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably with minimal movement for about 5 minutes to start. As you practice, you will build up to much longer sessions but I encourage you to start small so you don’t get discouraged.
Simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Pay attention to your breath coming in and out of your body as you breathe normally. There’s no need to change your breathing or do anything differently.
It’s important to know that it is okay if you get distracted or your mind wanders. As soon as you notice that happening, just bring your attention back to your breath. That is the beginning of mindfulness! It may feel uncomfortable but remember that is actually part of the point.
There are so many supports and resources for guidance on beginning a mindfulness practice. I suggest you do some research and find a teacher, an app, or another resource that resonates with you.
I have provided some suggestions at the end of this article.
We must choose anti-racism!
Whether you choose to practice mindfulness or not is up to you, but becoming anti-racist is not, in my opinion, an option. The lives of human beings are at stake!
In order to become anti-racist, we have to be willing to take a deep, dark look at ourselves. We might see some things we weren’t prepared for. We will see that the society we’ve been so privileged and comfortable in isn’t such a pretty place for everyone. It’s one that’s rooted in white supremacy and systemic racism. That’s not a comfortable thing to realize but it is the reality. And, again, it’s our work right now to be uncomfortable. Perhaps a mindfulness practice can help us do this work! I want to be clear here that my point is not that mindfulness is just a practice to improve oneself, but a tool that can help us tolerate our discomfort and can help us do the work to dismantle white supremacy!
And so, I ask you: are you ready to “annihilate your blissful ignorance” in order to work toward ending the oppression of people who deserve justice and equality? Or do you still want to stay comfortable?
If you’re ready, and I hope that you are, I ask you to follow people who’ve been doing this work for years. Follow them, listen to them, learn from them, pay them for their time and work, and start taking action. You might make mistakes and that’s okay because you are human. Making mistakes is part of the discomfort. Let’s get our egos out of the way and be better humans to other humans. It’s time to get uncomfortable!
Black Lives Matter.
Here are just a few people and resources to learn from regarding anti-racism:
- Austin Channing Brown
- Layla F Saad
- Tiffany Jewell
- Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
- Ibram X. Kendi
- Alicia Garza
- Patrisse Cullors-Brignac
- Opal Tometi
- Monique Melton
- Louiza Doran
- The Conscious Kid
- 13th, on Netflix
And, if you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, here are some helpful resources:
- Mindfulness for the People, a Black-owned social change agency dedicated to disrupting systemic whiteness in the mindfulness movement
- Dr. Angela Rose Black, founder and CEO of Mindfulness for the People LLC
- Tara Brach, meditation and mindfulness teacher
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
- A Free Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course
- Jack Kornfield, Buddhist practitioner and mindfulness teacher
- Andy Puddicombe, former Buddhist monk and founder of Headspace
- Insight Timer is a great app with a wide variety of mindfulness and mediation options
- Here is a meditation from Tara Brach on Meeting Anger with Awareness
- And here is a Guided Meditation for Turning Awareness Into Action from mindful.org