Rachel Ricketts, an activist and author of Do Better, on where white women get anti-racism wrong
This summer, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, thousands marched in support of racial justice — setting off a worldwide movement.
Beyond active protest, Rachel Ricketts, an activist and anti-racist educator, believes dismantling white supremacy, “one of the greatest forms of systemic trauma on the planet,” requires spiritual practices. Hence, she wrote a roadmap, Do Better: Spiritual Activism For Fighting and Healing From White Supremacy.
The book, addressed specifically to white women, explains that anti-racist work requires challenging core, unconscious beliefs. With prompts and examples of spiritual practices, it’s a guide for people committed to a lifelong journey of difficult, essential work.
In an email conversation with KCM (which has been lightly edited and condensed), Ricketts explains what internalized oppression looks like for people of color, why people often get stuck when trying to confront their racism, and the do’s and don’ts of allyship.
KCM: Firstly, what called you to write this book?
Rachel Ricketts: I was called to write this book in response to the lifetime of grief and trauma I have endured at the hands of white supremacy as a queer multiracial Black woman, and because I believe spiritual activism is the missing, but vital piece, to combating white supremacy and all forms of oppression.
I wrote this book for my little self who was ostracized, othered and oppressed for being Black and a girl, and to help ensure everyone plays their part so other Black, Indigenous and children of color do not have to endure what I did.
How does white supremacy harden all of our hearts?
White supremacy harms us all. It causes one of the greatest forms of systemic social trauma on the planet, inciting grief, guilt, loss, pain, anger, and shame for everyone.
Racism mires Black, Indigenous and people of color in emotional and physical violence in order to perpetuate the oppression of others deemed “less than.” It also robs white folx of inner peace and meaningful connection to themselves and others.
You draw on a lot of your experiences in the book. What are some examples of internalized oppression? And what are its impacts on people of color?
I share my stories not to condemn the mistakes of others but to illuminate the ways harm is caused, often to those most oppressed.
Internalized oppression is when people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time such that they often internalize —meaning believe and make part of their self-image — the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group. In regard to race, internalized oppression is what happens when you are constantly oppressed by systems of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as all Black people, worldwide, are. The result is playing small, hiding our truth, withholding our authentic, fulsome identities, and/or playing into stereotypes leading to self-fulfilling prophecies.
- A Nigerian woman bleaching her skin to be lighter.
- A Mexican child refusing to speak Spanish in public to assimilate with the dominant white language.
- An Indigenous person with straight A’s only applying to community college because they don’t believe they’re smart enough to succeed elsewhere.
You really touch on spirituality here, which is really powerful. What does it mean to get spiritually activated? Why is the path to healing a spiritual one?
Racial injustice is mentally and emotionally taxing. To dismantle white supremacy in a heart-centered and embodied way is no easy feat, but it is what is required. It takes courage and constant compassion, which is supported through acts of what I like to call “soulcare.” We have to acknowledge the ways in which we are oppressed. We have to acknowledge the ways in which we oppress others. Those are difficult things to admit to ourselves, and that difficulty is why a lot of people choose not to do it. And that’s why leaning into the spiritual practices and becoming spiritually activated as a result, is so helpful. It provides a way through the hardest work you’ll ever do.
Leaning into culturally informed and culturally appreciative secular spiritual offerings — like breathwork, meditation, energy healing, and yoga — allows us to tap into our bodies and address that trauma. When we feel it in our bodies, we can start to acknowledge and release it. In order to be truly anti-racist, all of these spiritual practices must be done in a way that is not appropriative or extractive, that acknowledges and honors the cultures from which these spiritual practices originate — typically the cultures of Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Where do individuals often get stuck when they embark on the journey of dismantling any unconscious biases in their daily lives? What spiritual rituals that you touch on are most important for moving forward?
The biggest obstacle that arises for women, no matter their race, is when the need to be good and right supersedes the commitment to racial justice. Another obstacle is that many, usually cis white women, do not actually care as much as they think or hope. They want to want to care, but they do not possess the meaningful care required to commit to massive inner and outer change.
One other place people get stuck is in their feelings, most often grief. When you get stuck in your feelings, it’s not advancing racial justice, it’s settling into self-indulgence. Racial justice brings up big feelings and way too often people, particularly white women, get stuck in a grief-ridden guilt trip and that’s not helping anyone.
Heart check-ins are a valuable spiritual soulcare offering that enable you to connect with your feelings and reflect on them in an intentional way. Setting an intention every day to check in, reflect and hold yourself accountable for how you’re feeling and how that might be obstructing your anti-racist efforts.
How do white women often get racism wrong?
First, it involves considering not if you are racist but how and when you are racist as a white woman, and in what ways. Racism is a global system to which all white people belong. That doesn’t make you evil or wrong, but it is a simple truth and it absolutely must be acknowledged if we’re ever going to have a chance at racial justice. White women have an incredibly hard time with this fact. It’s painful. It’s challenging. And you don’t come out the other side. There isn’t another side. This is lifelong work. But as you continue unpacking and leaning into racial justice, it’s also incredibly healing and freeing and liberating and connecting in every way. To commit to racial justice is to commit to and experience healing on every level, not just about race.
White women get it wrong by making it about themselves, partaking in performative activism and attempting to distance themselves from white supremacy and even by leading anti-racist education. White women benefit from and perpetuate white supremacy and thus are unable to lead the way to dismantling it.
White women need to learn how and when to follow — not lead. They need to do their part to uplift, learn from, follow and support Black and Indigenous women in dismantling white supremacy. But again, not lead.
If you’re finding yourself attached to the idea that you are the “good one” and not part of the problem, examine what’s going on for you internally. Why do you feel the need to distance yourself? Is it your shadow self, your ego, your wounded inner child flaring up? You must recognize that if you’re attached to seeing yourself as good and right, then you are not (and cannot be) committed to racial justice.
What are some of the key do’s and don’ts for white people aiming to dismantle white supremacy?
- Take any and all initiatives to give up your power and privilege whenever and however possible and organize other while folx to do the same.
- Actively create ongoing and equitable opportunities for queer and trans Black and Indigenous women and call in your people to do the same.
- Amplify the work of those Black and Indigenous women you are learning from, always giving us credit for our work and specifically sharing what you’ve learned.
- Fancy yourself an anti-racism educator or leader in any way, shape, or form.
- Profit from racial justice or anti-racism work in any way.
- Hold space for white people to have pity parties or prioritize their own discomfort over the discomfort of Black, Indigenous and Women of Color.
- Assume your Black friend (or any Black, Indigenous or Person of Color) to be an expert on race from whom you can learn about anti-racism.
What is performative activism? And how can white people step up to be real allies?
Performative activism or allyship, also known as slacktivism, is a “well-intended” social justice gesture with no real substance. It is more about signaling your “goodness” than it is supporting the oppressed. And as I always say: F.Y.I: F*** Your Intention and Feel Your Impact. One cannot be an ally, but you can act in allyship.
Acting in allyship is multifaceted and inherently intersectional. It is important not only to act in allyship in outward, tangible ways but also inner, abstract ways. The point is to show up for those who have less power and privilege than you in some or all instances.
- Divest your money and support from brands, celebrities, and influencers who do not actively support racial justice and anti-oppression, and support Black and Indigenous folx and brands. Call on your people to do the same.
- Set aside a monthly budget for ongoing micro-reparations to queer and trans-Black and Indigenous women.
- Use your light-skinned privilege to amplify darker-skinned folx and dismantle colorism.
- Unpack and address how colorism shows up for you and causes you and others harm.
- Reflect on how much you/this world takes from Black and Indigenous communities (music, food, style, language, resources, land, spiritual practices) and how little you/it gives back.
- Care more about acting in allyship than signaling to others that you are an “ally.”
Written and reported by Amanda Svachula.