White Silence Is Not Empowering
Currently, in the U.S., the predominant spiritual women’s culture does not include intersectionality or social justice activism through the denial of white privilege which is harmful to non-white womxn (womxn explicitly includes trans women and women of color). An empowering womxn’s culture must be inclusive, diverse, and actively dismantle oppressive systems such as white supremacy and systemic racism. Adrienne Rich argues that “To come to terms with the circumscribing nature of our whiteness. Marginalized though we have been as women, as white western makers of theory, we also marginalize others because of our lived experience is thoughtlessly white, because even our own women’s cultures are rooted in some western tradition. (Rich, 1984)” Spiritual white women must consider their location in cultural, social and historical contexts in order to create an empowering womxn’s culture.
Earth-centered spirituality is more than crystals, incense or being a yoga instructor. Earth-centered spirituality is about connecting to nature, the earth and to the source of unconditional love that we find all around and within us. To me, spirituality is connecting to your soul in the most honest and loving way. It is a devotion to being the best version of yourself through intention and purpose by continuously working to evolve beyond fear and ignorance, in the same way, feminism is more than the liberation of white able-bodied women. To me, there is nothing spiritual about neglecting social justice, white privilege and systemic racism. Not once, have I seen white women speak out against racial injustice during their “spiritual” event. While silence can be seen when entrepreneurs, who claim that their purpose is to empower women, remain silent when it comes to racial justice.
Many new age spiritual spaces lack social justice and solely focus on individual soul ascension rather than the collective empowerment. Spiritual white women (SWW) need to use their platform and voice to dismantle white supremacy and create spaces where the diversity of womxn is possible. I have attended many women’s gathering where I am the only non-white attendee. The lack of diversity in spiritual spaces represents how women’s culture does not pursue inclusivity or intersectionality. For example, a weekend spiritual retreat could cost thousands of dollars or an hour cacao ceremony (lead by an SWW) that could cost $50. The price of these events attract privileged attendees and does not promote equal opportunity. One possible solution is offering discounts, sliding scales and scholarships to womxn of color.
Mechanisms That Cause Harm
Spiritual spaces center white people through language, advertisement, cultural appropriation, and white silence. Advertisements play a large role in the creation of white spiritual spaces, with photos showing no racial diversity, using terms like “high vibes only” or culturally appropriating without giving historical context.
For instance, I received a newsletter from a spiritual center for a Reiki healing attunement workshop. In the advertisement, there were photos of two blonde white women dressed in all white, wearing mala bead bracelets and meditating with their crystals. Their bios describe them as being trained by the “top” healers at the school of tranquility in Encinitas, CA, a very affluent and 80% white populous city. They claimed that their dharma was to empower people to be healers. First of all, the use of mala beads and the word dharma are spiritual tools and concepts that have no spiritual significance in learning the practice of reiki, which is a traditional Japanese energy healing technique. The advertisement portrays spiritual aesthetics instead of showing an example of a reiki treatment. This is an example of how some SWW use the spiritual tools of other traditions or cultures as a form of advertisement. As advertised, one must purify their vessel before attending by eating “high vibrational food”. This kind of language shows a level of prestige and privilege that is unwelcoming and classist.
SWW are using spiritual practices as a business. SWW claim that they manifested abundance and wealth rather than acknowledging that their whiteness contributed to their access to wealth and capital. According to this philosophy, if you’re poor, then you just need to attract abundance and manifest wealth through visualization. Poor people are not poor because they aren’t using the law of attraction. Systemic racism and structural violence are major contributors to poverty and need to be addressed in order for all womxn to be empowered. Some examples are mass incarceration, employer discrimination, limited access to education and generational trauma.
On my mom’s side, I have indigenous Brazilian ancestry where cacao and ayahuasca are a part of traditional healing ceremonies and spiritual practices. My mom had to flee persecution and was displaced from Brazil, which resulted in a generational loss of ancestral traditions. Now I see SWW selling “sacred cacao Ceremonies” and “ayahuasca shamanic healing retreats” as I struggle to connect with my own Brazilian ancestors because of displacement and colonialism. It’s frustrating that SWW are profiting from the cultural practices of communities that are currently fighting for survival in the Amazon rainforest. It is unnecessary for SWW to profit from marginalized communities. That was never a part of our way, we did not sell our spiritual practices, rather we passed them down and shared them. Although, some tribes now rely on monetary exchanges of their cultural and spiritual traditions as a form of survival due to habitat loss and capitalism.
Women’s culture vs. Womxns culture
The experience of oppression in a brown body diff from that of a white body. Thus, all womxn do not experience the same level of oppression. There are new age spiritual concepts that in the ethereal may be applicable, but to claim that they are truths in the material world is problematic. For example, the concept that separation is an illusion is true in some contexts; however, without acknowledging racial injustice as a cause of inequality, simply stating that separation does not exist, erases the need to address systemic racism. While I do agree that we are all connected and that we are one humanity, separation does exist and needs to be addressed. We cannot simply visualize the world being unified or say that separation is merely an illusion because this insinuates that the struggle for equity is over. The marginalization of women based on class, race, and sexual orientation perpetuates disparity and inequity. Racism is embedded in the structural fabric of social and political life in this country. Systemic racism didn’t end after the civil rights movement, and black and brown folks experience the continuation of oppression through post-modern mechanisms. The new womxn’s culture needs to actively include and center women of color. SWW need to acknowledge that they hold white privilege. SWW assume that because they are women that they understand discrimination and oppression and while that is true, black and brown womxn experience a greater degree of oppression than white womxn ever will.
White fragility and colorblindness
The white fragility of SWW prevents them from having uncomfortable and meaningful conversations with women of color. For instance, I was sent an invitation for an oracle card reading workshop. The workshop facilitator (a SWW) claimed on her flyer that she was a shamanic healer. I responded to my friend that oracle card reading is self-explanatory and that I wasn’t going to pay to learn a practice I have been doing for years. I expressed to her that I am wary of white women who claim to be shamans and use the term to advertise themselves. She responded with white fragility and colorblindness. Her response: “I’ve never thought that you can tell a person’s ethnicity by just looking at them. I’m not “white” for example even if society tries to define me that way. I don’t know *****’s cultural background only her heart..” She thinks that simply not identifying as white erases the fact that society sees and treats her as a white cis-gendered woman. She is blonde hair blue eyes and there is no denying that society treats her accordingly. This is an example of SWW and colorblindness. She states that she doesn’t see color and only people’s hearts which means she does not acknowledge that race matters in the social and political sphere. It is harmful to deny that white people benefit from systemic racism. Colorblindness erases the experiences of non-white people. Her colorblindness doesn’t allow her to see the narratives and injustices that non-white people experience. This is why white spirituality in women’s culture is harmful. It is easy to be colorblind when you have white privilege. SWW use color blindness to bypass the existence of white privilege because it is uncomfortable.
Solutions and Interventions of WS
About one year ago, I decided to invite my mom my mother attend all womxn’s gathering with me. The gathering intentionally spelled womxn to be inclusive of all femme expressions. This gathering was centered around activism, motherhood and ancient roots.
The schedule included two women of color only spaces which allows WOC to have a representative space. Within the first day, the WOC only workshop was contested by some white women as being exclusive. This was alarming to me because the gathering explicitly stated it was an activist, intersectional feminist space, yet the need for a WOC space was still up for debate. The council declared that the second WOC workshop would be open to white allies and that they would be able to listen but were not allowed to speak. The WOC circle was a small group of maybe 10 amidst over a hundred attendees. We as women of color reclaimed the space for ourselves and shared our experiences as brown and black womxn. It was incredibly passionate, trauma releasing and emotional. We all huddled together surrounded by a sea of white women who, perhaps for the first time chose to only listen and hear our narratives. The power of listening to black & brown narratives can transform women’s culture into womxn’s culture. For the first time, I witnessed my mom share her experiences with racial discrimination. As WOC, we cried together, supported each other, and had a profound moment of grief. I felt seen, heard, and validated by other WOC. I finally voiced the separation in my family between my white-passing brother & dad and my mom and I. Their denial of systemic racism means that they do not recognize that my mom and I have different lived experiences because of the color of our skin. WOC’s spaces that allow white women to listen, can promote true empowerment for all kinds of women. We felt the pain of generational trauma, grief, and anger, and to release these emotions in the presence of other WOC felt liberating. My mom and I grew closer and as we all got up to come together as womxn I felt a collective shift and a new kind of unification. SWW need to stand in solidarity with WOC to create a more empowering womxn’s culture.
You did not create systemic racism however, you have the responsibility and privilege to stop perpetuating it by using your voice and actions to be an ally. This is not an attack on your spirituality, this is a reminder of the space you occupy and create. This is a reminder to think and act from a place of compassion, awareness and responsibility. You have the opportunity to create a new womxns culture based on the liberation of all. Dear SWW do not ignore racial disparity, inequity, and injustice. Our new womxns culture must be intersectional, it must include trans women, black and brown folks, undocumented, disabled and poor folks. How can we truly empower womxn if we do not see that which disempowers them? Dear spiritual white women don’t be complicit with the injustices that affect us all. It is time for you to do the work, and truly stand for the empowerment of all womxn. If you are not actively doing the work to undo racism than you are a participant. Your white silence is harmful and now you have the choice and freedom to choose differently. If you do, then you will be apart of the solution and not part of the problem.
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