The Role of Love in White Antiracism

Amber Cullen, Akron organzier and contemplative artist

I opened my arms. I stretched my collar bone up towards the sky and softened my knees, “I’m just going to love everyone, is what I tell myself when I start to tighten up or disengage.” The white women, standing around after the toddler music class began to laugh. They listened closely as I shared my vulnerable presence practice (see below).

In my time on the road and connecting with people across the world, I’ve heard a lot of the same issues, desires and needs from folks.

People desire connection, they are hungry for a community to belong to and white people feel a deep pain around being white.

White folks struggle to connect with other white folks, especially in antiracism work, and in social justice work. There is incredible competition, one upping, critique and divide and conquer, even in social justice spaces.

Do you feel me?

What is this about?

White supremacy.

White supremacy wins when we are isolated, divided and disconnected from our bodies and from each other.

What would it mean to create welcoming community in our movements for change? What would it mean to choose love as the anecdote for the ways that internalized and interpersonal white supremacy shows up in our change making spaces?

These are questions; I’m sitting with too.

As we move forward with a desire to make change inside and out, here are a few guidelines I’m carrying with me. Perhaps they are useful for you too:

1. How do I best serve? What is my work, what are my leverage points, spheres of influence and deepest passions and how can they be used to catalyze change inside and out?

2. Where do I feel uncomfortable or resistant and why? And how can I deepen into this place to learn more about myself and explore places to heal, and to open me to human connection and to vulnerability.

3. How can I be more accountable? What are the ways that I participate in status quo behavior? How can I deepen my connections with folks across difference (political and socio-economic) and more intentionally build with colleagues and comrades?

4. Am I listening in to spirit or being led by ego/white supremacy? This is a hard one for us white folks. However, because I know that when I show up to practice, relationships and deeply dive into history/learning that I am more connected to spirit and love — then it’s my responsibility to maintain these aspects of life as the very way I will be part of dismantling white supremacy inside and out.

5. Am I showing up to this moment as though it is sacred? This one has been a bit of an affirmation for me lately. Every interaction is an opportunity to tap into the divinity within and around me. How am I showing up to that?

6. What am I a part of building and how am I tapping into the imagination to do that? We often get stuck in patterns and habits that keep us in a rut. I see this so much in the social justice movement. Lately I am asking myself, is this a strategy or action that will yield the desired result or is there another way we haven’t considered?

7. How am I using my whiteness to dismantle supremacy systems and how am I ignoring my whiteness and maintaining systems of oppression? I must constantly consider, as a white woman, how am I part of dismantling and how am I part of maintaining systems of oppression. White supremacy runs deep and if I am not in accountable relationship with others and with spirit, it is easy to fall into privilege and maintain supremacy systems. Some actions I’m taking around this include participating in an antiracist training (you can never do this enough), building in vulnerable relationships and diving deep into discomfort as an exploration of healing and connection.

8. How am I opening my heart, being vulnerable and connecting to others and myself in healing and love? This brings us back to the practicing presence practice I opened up with. I’d like to share that now for you to try on.

I know that white supremacy wants to disconnect me from my body and from my heart. When I feel discomfort rising, when I feel social anxiety setting in and especially when I am around a lot of people I do not know, I engage in the following practice.

This is a practice I have learned from too many people to name. I honor my movement mentors, my spiritual teachers, spirit and my community by sharing this with you.

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Vulnerable Presence

Breathe. Observe the ways your body is tightening and the ways it is open.

Breathe into your heart. Imagine your heart is opening up like a flower, or expanding like the ocean (find an image that works). Observe the tenderness or resistance as you breathe your heart open.

Tell yourself: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Say this to yourself. I often hold my hand at my heart as a comforting gesture. Then. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” To everyone around you. As you show up in spaces of discomfort, remind yourself that you are love and your role is to connect with love.

Observe your body. Breathe. 
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We’ve got to love ourselves and each other open. For more on why this is important for activists, read Love Everyone: A Guide for Spiritual Activists BY SHARON SALZBERG AND REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS

This life is a beautiful opportunity to connect with each other, ourselves and the natural world. We must do the deep work of healing, learning and examining the ways internalized oppression shows up and engage in the work of showing up to others and ourselves with compassionate understanding.

We all hold varying levels of pain within us.

Love is not easy; it is one of the most challenging actions I’ve personally engaged in.

The greatest win for supremacy systems was to create divisions between us and imbed internalized doubt within us. This internalized doubt disconnects us from the ability to easily access healing and to trust our inner wisdom.

This history cannot be undone quickly. It cannot be undone through an intellectual process alone. It is felt, in the body, in the pain and in the reconnection to the truth of our interconnected humanity.

New to antiracism or want to deepen your changemaking work through a mind, body, spirit connection? Join the Liberatory Leadership Project May 25th for a workshop on healing and internalized oppression.