Love is grasped fiercely in white, spiritual circles, and many white women, myself included, use love as a soothing balm when racial discomfort arises. I sense an urge inside myself to divert conversations on racism to a topic I am more comfortable with: love. When I engage in diversion I am not loving though, I am tone policing, silencing and losing an opportunity to unpack ways racial stress and whiteness live inside me by using love as a weapon of white supremacy.
What is love? “Love does not lead to an end of difficulties, it provides us with a means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth,” bell hooks says in All About Love. When I use love to move away from difficulty and growth I am spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypass, a term created by John Welwood, is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. The conditioning of white supremacy and other forms of supremacy (i.e. male, able-bodied, Christian, cisgender, etc) are unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds that impact bodies, minds and hearts. Love for the sake of maintaining comfort and privilege will not heal those wounds. “Dreaming that love will save us, solve our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love-which is to transform us,” Welwood shares.
I, along with many other white women, have been conditioned through internalized sexism to be conflict avoidant. I am also conditioned to expect to be comfortable most of the time due to internalized racial superiority. Conflict avoidance and an inability to tolerate discomfort can turn love into a weapon. These ways of enacting conditioning assure white women do not have to feel uncomfortable while at the same time feeling superior. In times of racial stress I feel the desire to use love to shut conflict down, and when I use love instead of anger I feel an internal pat on the back for “keeping the peace.” This “peace” upholds white supremacy and my complicity in it.
Conflict, like love, can be transformative and generative. Conflict is a necessary part of true and radically honest love, and conflict does not mean violence. When a person of color…