This has been a time to listen. A time to face the shadow of racism, within me, within my white culture.
I remember many painful moments when others were not able to listen to me. They were blind to their areas of power and privilege. It took so much courage to dare to speak, to ask for a conversation, to end the silence and tell a truth. But that wasn’t always heard. Most times it was misunderstood and a conversation or even a friendship slipped away. Sometimes those I was trying to tell a truth to defended themselves or said that they never had said those things in the first place. I realized we can do so many unconscious things. Now, it has been my turn as a white woman to be the one to listen… to listen to the voices of color telling their stories and their truth.
I realized as I listened, that there were elements of discomfort, ‘white fragility’, as author Robin Diangelo names it in her book of that title. What is fragile in us as white people in listening? What is happening? I realized that there was an element of shadow work happening in me and likely in many others of my race. As Robin writes: “White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.” This defensiveness is our shadow work to attend to.
As I began the soul journey many years ago, I had a dream. I had a dream where I saw a shadow running away from me. I had never had a dream like that before and as I had just begun going to a Spiritual Director, I brought her my dream. She introduced me to the Jungian approach to dreamwork; one being that each aspect of a dream is a part of oneself. She invited me to think of the ‘shadow’ in my dream as a part of myself that I wasn’t aware of but was trying to get my attention. What if I wasn’t afraid of this shadowy aspect of self and turned towards it?
This began the process of ‘shadow work’ in my life, using dreams, metaphors and symbolism to understand what was happening in the interior of my life. I quickly learned that shadow work was challenging and brought a degree of discomfort as I had to face places within myself that I’d rather not look at. A shadow can be elusive and just so easily out of reach. It is like one can see it out of the corner of an eye for a moment, but then it disappears and if I ignore that moment, it can just all go nicely away,
However, shadow work is the ground of transformation. It is the place where we look at areas that are uncomfortable. In the fairytale story of Bluebeard, there is a scene where the heroine opens the one forbidden door of the glorious castle where she is the new bride. As she opens the door, she witnesses the skeletons of all the other ‘brides’ that her husband, Bluebeard, has murdered. In her book, Women Who Run With Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, says that our task is to see what we see without turning away. This is our work when we see the skeletons in that doorway. It is not a sight we want to see. It is a sight that changes our future as we had imagined it. It is a hard place to be. It is this place of daring to see, and standing here where we have the ability to be changed and led into action. Action that can change history; our history, our family’s history, our nation’s history. Will I dare? Will we dare?
As the movement of Black Lives Matter has risen in these past few weeks, I, as a white woman have had to stop. Stop and look. Stop and listen. Stop and pay attention. It has been painful…have I been part of a system that has caused so much bias? Have I absorbed ideas and ways of being that play out unconsciously in my words and actions?
It has been a time of soul searching and humility. I know what it is like to not be listened to. I know what it is like to be silenced. And now it is my turn, our turn, as those with white skin, to listen, to see, to acknowledge. We must stand at the door and look. And as we look, we risk our hearts being broken open with pain. The pain we are a part of. But it is this very pain we must engage with, because it is the pain that will catalyze action. We need to choose consciously to see each person with the utmost dignity and beauty that we all carry. We must choose consciously to see where we are part of the problem. We must be willing to listen, to understand, to grow, to change. We are each … infinitely beautiful. But we have not lived that way.
I am grateful for the many voices that have spoken out and shed light on the inequalities around us. I am grateful for those who have had courage to tell their truth. I am grateful for the shadows coming into the light… even when it is uncomfortable. There is much more to learn … perhaps a life-time of learning and growing on the issues that have been raised.
May we have courage to listen to all our brothers and sisters of all creeds and colors. May we be a people who listen and who choose love.