By Therese Taylor-Stinson.
The shooting of unarmed black men by law enforcement officers and lone vigilantes ambushing churches has exposed the lie of a “post-racial” America. The polarization, the violence, and the controversies make it seem there is no turning from our human condition. But there is hope: In this racially divided time, religious communities can provide safe spaces for all races and ethnicities to heal from centuries of white supremacy and devaluing the lives of others.
I’m not talking about the same conferences and seminars where people absorb information but then don’t create networks to address the problems once they get home—the kind of conferences where people leave with no lasting motivation to change behavior.
Instead, we just need to focus less on rhetoric and more on creative ways to build relationships across racial lines. We need a kind of racial awareness that exposes the lie and causes those of good will to examine their souls and to see racism as a spiritual issue so that they can change their behavior.
In 2015, I attended a workshop at a Spiritual Directors International Educational Event called “Changing the Race Dance,” where we used a body wisdom practice known as Interplay to shift the energy in our bodies in order to make room for other things to come to consciousness. Racism has certainly left African Americans with the inability to make their lived experience align with their inner knowledge of their beauty and value, leaving them with unresolved trauma. I believe now, after centuries of unaddressed symptoms of white privilege and racism, whites also have long held and unresolved trauma. Being in an environment where these truths are acknowledged and validated allows a new awareness to emerge that facilitates the healing process.
Using the simple phrase, “I remember when…,” we shared our experiences of racism. So, for instance, I would say, “I can remember when, as a child, my mother told me for the first time that I could not go to a local amusement park because of the color of my skin.” Another might then say, “I can remember the first time that my father used the N-word.” In this workshop, I sat across from the other, and we went back-and-forth with those kinds of experiences. There were facilitated pauses to shift us to go deeper but still without detail or cross talk.
As I named my experiences of race, my partner, who was white, had difficulty naming hers. She became more and more uncomfortable and found it harder to share her experiences of race. When we came to the end of the exercise and we were wrapping up to leave, she told me that she was a special education teacher in a Midwest school and that her students were predominantly African-American. She explained that sitting across from me and hearing my experiences of race made her aware of some of the ways she was doing the wrong things with her students in the classroom. She said she planned to go back to her Midwest school and correct her behavior with the students in her classroom. Now that’s bringing someone to awareness! This teacher would go back to her school and do something different.
Carl Jung wrote “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” I believe racism is America’s shadow, which has been suppressed and repressed from our consciousness through structural and systemic means for over 400 years in the U.S., the roots of which are white privilege and supremacy.
As the sponsor of an upcoming conference called Racial Awareness and Mindfulness 2016: A Mini-Festival of the Arts, Awareness, and Healing, on October 15, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington DC, I have great hope that greater awareness can bring about the healing we need. Only greater awareness and the spiritual growth can overcome the shadow behavior. Only then can we overcome that shadow that haunts American life.
Therese Taylor-Stinson is a spiritual director, contemplative mystic, and church lay leader who is organizing an upcoming gathering on October 15 called Racial Awareness and Mindfulness 2016: A Mini-Festival of the Arts, Awareness, and Healing at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.