I recently finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers, a novel exploring inter-species communication and challenging human the notion of Human Supremacy. Protagonist? Trees.
An old, sage character whose name escapes me now tells his children, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”
And so it goes.
The best time to challenge racism was 600 years ago, before christopher columbus – whose name I will not capitalize – invaded the land now falsely referred to as the “United State” and established a culture of white supremacy, a culture in which people of color, including the very people he stole the land from, don’t matter.
Woodie Guthrie says this land is your land. Woodie Guthrie says this land is my land. From California, to the New York Island. From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream wa-a-ters. Woodie Guthrie says this land was made for you and me.
I’ve got news for you, Mr. Guthrie, and for all of us who are white.
No. It. Ain’t.
This land is not your land, this land is not my land; not the “California,” not the “New York” Island; not the Redwood Forest, not the Gulf Stream wa-a-ters. This land was not made for you and me.
This land belongs to the people we stole it from – the people our ancestors stole it from.
For those of us who are white today, this is hard to talk about. We feel “sensitive.” We feel “fragile.” After all, it wasn’t our choice to come here. It was our ancestors‘. You know who else didn’t make the choice to come here? The black people our ancestors enslaved.
As a woman and lover of women, it is easy for me to focus on gender and sexuality issues – issues in which I am the victim – than it is to talk about race. That is a symptom of my white fragility, and my white fragility is a symptom of the cancer of this nation. I need to accept my own complicity. Cops must be held accountable, yes; but I must also be held accountable – held accountable for my privilege – privilege that hurts others, in turn making it a sin.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know: this is a blog about eating disorders. Eating disorders are what I know, they are what I despise, they are what keeps me up at night. But some things are more important. Race is more important. Black lives are more important.
A mentor of mine used to say, “My alcoholism is not my fault. It is in my genetics. I came by it honestly. But it is my responsibility. Your eating disorder is not your fault. It is in your genetics. You came by it honestly. But it is your responsibility.”
So. Is. Racism.
White Supremacy and Racism are not “my” fault, but they are in my genes and they are my responsibility. I am a product of my ancestors, as all of us on earth are. I cannot, in good conscience, “work on myself,” unless I work on all of myself – that includes my inherited racism: both my internalized and externalized racism.
I went marching on Saturday, for 5 hours, in the rain. Here’s what struck me:
We are in a pandemic. COVID-19. We’ve all heard of it. We’ve been told to keep to ourselves. We’ve been told to stay inside. And yet, on Saturday, hundreds appeared. Across the nation, thousands have appeared, which to me sends a very loud message: Black lives matter. Black lives matter more than the risk posed by our current pandemic.
We have also entered the month of June. June is Pride Month, but right now? Black Lives matter more than Gay Pride.
It is past time we treated black lives this way. It is past time we made anti-racism a priority. It is long past time. But we can’t go back. All we have is now. The time is now.
How many of us have a daily yoga practice, a daily meditation practice, a daily practice of healing? I do. When I began to recover from my eating disorder, I began to reprogram my brain, to reprogram my entire consciousness. It did not end when I left treatment.
And so it goes.
Anti-racism is a daily practice. Just as my recovery from the impacts of anorexia did not end when I left treatment, collective recovery from the impacts of white supremacy and racism does not end when we close the protest.
Racism, first and foremost, is a disease of consciousness. We have inherited beliefs about ourselves and others that our programmed into our DNA and reinforced by our life experiences. We inherit core beliefs about people who look like ourselves and people who look “different.” Eventually, these beliefs manifest as harmful actions.
We need to protest. We need to march. We need to contact our representatives demanding justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for David McAtee, for Amaud Arbery, for Sean Reed. We need to demand police accountability. We need to donate money to Historically Black Colleges & Universities. We need to externalize our desire for justice. But we also need to rewire our programming. We need to climb inside.
We need to bring Anti-Racism into our practices of self-inquiry. We need to take it into our journal entries, our meditation practices. We need to bring it into our private conversations. Those of us who are white need to do the inner work anonymously, among ourselves, without the desire for feedback, attention, approval, or praise. We need to do it just to do it. We need to do it because it is right.
This movement is about Black Lives. But it applies to you. It applies to all of you. It applies to all of us, whether we are black, brown, white, or neon purple with yellow stripes.
Does anybody reading this believe in reincarnation? If you do, consider the possibility that you could incarnate as someone of a different race. Imagine, for a moment, that the person on the “other side” of this movement could be you. Then try to tell yourself it doesn’t apply. Try to tell yourself it doesn’t impact you, that you can turn a blind eye. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.
The question of where I come from is complicated. I grew up saying, “I’m from New Orleans,” but that is not completely true. I am from Sicily. I am from France. I am descended from colonizers. But, my physical body was born on the land we call New Orleans. The “New Orleans” we know was built by black people. Black people made New Orleans. Black people made Louisiana.
The New Orleans I “come from” would not be the same without the energy of black people. So how can I say black lives don’t matter? How can I turn a blind eye? I cannot, in good conscience, call myself a New Orleanian without standing up for black lives. Nobody who lives in the “United States” can do so. We must remember that. We must remember the people who did the work so we could thrive. We must now do the work so that they can thrive.
I’m not parent, but if my mother is correct, a parent is only as happy as their least happy child. Let’s apply that to the race conversation. Our culture is only as free as its least free participant.
We put ourselves behind causes every single day. “I Fight Cancer!” “I Fight the Opioid Crisis!” “I Love A Person With Autism!” “I Believe in Women’s Rights!” We put ourselves behind causes every time we like a tweet, every time we spend a dollar.” We do this freely and easily, seldom caring about who we might offend.
But those of us who are white shut down when race is on the table. We enter a state of paralysis. Where was that paralysis 500 years ago, when our ancestors were forcing black people onto slave ships? We had a choice then, between action and paralysis. We chose action – we chose murderous action. We don’t get to choose paralysis now.
You don’t have to identify with a cause, or the subject of a cause, to advocate for it. We cannot all be all things. But yoga does tell us that we are all things. That gives us a responsibility to speak up for all things.
Black lives matter. And so do white lives, but we know this already. That does not need to be said. The nature of the disease of racism is that white worth is implied.
As I said before: this blog is about my recovery from anorexia. But I am also recovering from white supremacy. All of us are. Both are crippling diseases with both physical and mental manifestations that take daily work to heal. I hope you will join me.
If you made it to the end of this piece, I thank you. I also invite you to educate yourself. You can start by signing up for Daily Anti-Racism emails from Wellness Practitioner Nicole Cardoza: https://www.nicoleacardoza.com/anti-racism-daily.
I’ll close by sharing a message I sent to Gallatin Yoga Club, an organization I lead at NYU:
Black lives matter. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t. Apparently, we need to say it. We need to keep saying it, over and over again, and we need to live it.
We are a club that focuses on self-love, self-worth, self-care. With that, we must show up for our communities. We must practice yoga off the mat, as well as on.
Gallatin Yoga Club will meet this Thursday at 12:15 EST. We will dedicate this week’s physical practice to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to all of the people it represents. We will then brainstorm ways to bring our yoga practice off the mat and into the fight against racism.
Remember the foundation of all yogic philosophy: Ahimsa – Non-Violence.
Remember to practice Ahimsa in all your affairs.
Continue to take care of yourselves, not just because you are worthy, which you are, but because you must take care of yourself in order to take care of the world. And right now, the world needs our help.
You heard it here, Folks. The world needs our help. We owe the world our help. We owe it ourselves and we owe it to each other. We cannot undo the choices are ancestors made 500 years ago. We cannot undo the choices we made 5 years ago that led us to today. But we can make new choices that will prepare us for tomorrow.