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You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Rachel Ricketts. Rachel is a racial justice educator, an attorney, a changemaker, a healer, and an author. She hosts online and in-person workshops, including her spiritual activism series, which promotes racial justice, reconciliation and healing.
She’s the author of the new book, Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy. Rachel raises our awareness that we live immersed in a collective matrix of white supremacy, where white people have the most power and privilege by the nature of being white. And she introduces us to the daily work, and the lifetime work, we can each do–both inner and outer work– to unplug from that matrix, which is so harmful. Here’s a very provocative and eye-opening conversation with Rachel Ricketts. To begin, Rachel, I just want to thank you for making the time for this conversation. Thank you so much.
Rachel Ricketts: Thank you for having me.
TS: And I wanted to start by talking about spiritual activism, this intersection between our spiritual journey and our journey as activists. And I know that you teach spiritual activism workshops and I’d love to know what that term means to you. What does it mean to Rachel Ricketts for people to be spiritual activists?
RR: Yes. That’s a great first question. Thank you. So to me, spiritual activism is daily, active, ongoing, anti-oppressive thought, speech, and actions that are informed, often, by a connection with something bigger than us. So a spiritual power, whether that’s secular or non-secular and frequently embodied, and supported by culturally-informed spiritual practices such as meditation, breath work, Reiki and yoga. I don’t believe that you can be a spiritual person without being an activist, because if you’re a spiritual person, you understand the deep interconnectedness of all of us beings here on Earth.
You understand that your oppression is my oppression, although depending on the power and privilege that you possess, based on your human identity, our human experience is the same, but to be spiritual to me is to be an activist. It is to be actively partaking in the work required to create liberty and equality for all. And I think being an activist is only bolstered by a connection to spirit. By something deeper within us and above us. Because, I think, when we partake in activism in a way that isn’t honoring and prioritizing our interconnectedness, then we can actually just create more harm.
TS: Now I wanted to ask you a couple of further questions. You mentioned culturally-informed spiritual practices. And this is something that’s been on my heart for a long time at Sounds True as someone who was introduced to meditation through Indian and Tibetan spiritual traditions, and recently have heard people talk about their yoga practice or their meditation practice and saying, “Oh, that’s a form of cultural appropriation. If you’re practicing yoga or you’re practicing meditation.”
And I noticed in your book, Do Better, you offer certain yoga practices, yoga breathing, and some meditation practices, but you frame them in a very specific way by thanking and noting the traditions where they come from. And I wonder if you can say a little bit more about that for people who are drawn to these kinds of practices. How do we make sure that we’re not engaging in cultural appropriation?
RR: I think what’s really important is first and foremost, for folks to have an understanding of the cultures of origin of the practice that they’re partaking in, and not only the cultures of origin, but the real intention and root, the circumstances as well under which some of these practices were cultivated and created, as well as an acknowledgement, an embodiment, and an appreciation for the ways in which your ancestry and ancestors exchanged and interacted with the specific cultures and communities from which the practices you seek to partake in originated. So a case in point, let’s talk about yoga, an ancient Indian practice, also Kemetic practice from Northern Africa.
So white folks who are partaking in yoga, it is important to have an understanding of the ways in which your ancestors interacted with the practice and with folks from India and from North Africa. So yoga was a practice that was banned. It wasn’t allowed to be a practice in India under British colonial rule because it was a practice that fostered, as I spoke to you a moment ago about spiritual activism, it fostered connection and resilience and that could result in rebellion and healing. And if you’re trying to control people, you certainly don’t want them healed. So that acknowledgement, that awareness is vital. You’re practicing something that was banned from the cultures and communities that originated this practice.
Also a lot of the practices that folks partake in today, are practices that were created by and for communities of color. And a lot of them were born from a need for deeper resilience as a result of ongoing discrimination and oppression by those who have the most power and privilege. So there’s lots more I could say. There’s lots of elements involved, but a real acknowledgement, and acceptance, and explicit understanding and embodiment of the groups and origins of the practice, and the ways in which you and your ancestors have interacted with that practice and with the communities who cultivated and created it.
TS: How do you see people going about meditation or yoga in ways that you think is contributing to the problem? The problems that we have, the problems of being part of a white supremacist culture?
RR: One is definitely to appropriate the practice or to remove the practice from its original embodiment, or to partake in a practice that isn’t what the practice was intended to be. So I’ll go back to yoga. There are some out there that call themselves, that are called yoga, that were created predominantly by white folks for white folks. And they’re stripped of all cultural relevance and in fact, not really yoga at all. It’s physical movement, and it can be healing and helpful for sure. But let’s not call it yoga, if that’s not what it is. So that is something that is deeply harmful.
I also think, specifically, when people who have the most power and privilege or partaking in spiritual practices for their benefit– specifically like financial benefit, you make a living off of whatever the said practice is. If you are not redistributing funds– it’s an energetic exchange– if you’re not redistributing funds to the communities and cultures that created that practice, then that’s harmful. That’s utilizing your power and privilege in a means that is extractive and exploitative.
TS: Rachel, right here at the beginning, I’d love our Insights at the Edge listeners to get to know you a little bit more. There’s so much in your book, Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy. There are so many important ideas in the book. And I’m tempted to just go into the ideas that captivated me, but I want our listeners to get a sense of who you are, and where you’re coming from.
And this is a little bit of a very open-ended question, but if you were to share, kind of, your personal story that brought you to this moment in time, this moment in time as the author of the book, Do Better. Give us a sense of the background that brought you here.
RR: Sure. Where do I begin? I always say that this work began before I exited the womb, right? This work began with my ancestors. So this work is a product of all of the work and experiences that my ancestors endured. I believe that our ancestors walk into every room and engage in every conversation that we have, whether we’re aware of it or not. And people who have the most power and privilege most often are not aware of that. And so it’s a deep honor, it’s a deep, deep, deep honor to be able to continue the work and legacy that my ancestors started. I was raised, I’m a black multi-racial woman, and I was raised in a predominantly white and wealthy area community.
So I was constantly ostracized and oppressed and othered. Not only was I the only black person for miles, I was often the only black, indigenous, or person of color in my elementary school, in my high school, I mean really, even in my university. And so, as a result, the impact of that for very young, I talk about this in the book, there’s memories I have from as young as five where I knew I was being treated differently.
I mean, my kindergarten teacher, who was white, tried to hold me back a year because the school board manual said that my brain was smaller than my white classmate’s brains. And I didn’t speak up in class because energetically I could sense she was a racist. And so she just assumed I was dumb, and she tried to hold me back a year. And if not for the firecracker that was my mother, that would have been my start to schooling, right? Being labeled them and being held back here, for no reason other than being black.
And my childhood, my early adolescence, is rife with stories like these. And I’m not alone. This is not exceptional. This is, unfortunately, very much the status quo. And I get into the statistics around that in my book. And so I had a lot of traumatic experiences as a result of being oppressed and discriminated solely because of my race and gender identity, being a black woman-identified person. I didn’t even realize I was queer until a few years ago, because of so much internalized oppression in our heteronormative society.
But certainly faced oppression as a result of being queer, you know, oppressing myself, not wanting to be othered or ostracized any more than I already was in my life. So I had a deep, deep, deep experience, not only in my own body, but my mother being a single mother, a multiracial black woman, who had a chronic illness, she had MS. And I talk about this at length in my book, supporting her through that experience, coming up against the medical systems, social welfare systems, housing systems, et cetera, that are all rife with white supremacy. So making a challenging situation all the more challenging. So we never received the support that we deserved.
And I’m saying that from a place of deep privilege, because I was born and raised in Canada. So we have quite wonderful social welfare and healthcare systems very particularly in contrast to the United States, but around the world. And yet we were still very much discriminated against as a result of race and gender identity. So all of these things really informing my own personal experience.
Of course, I experienced all these harms in my professional settings as well as a corporate attorney for many years. And I always had a deep sense of justice, which is why I went to law school, very quickly learned that law has nothing to do with justice, which was deeply heartbreaking to learn. And then left law, realized just absolutely not my soul’s calling and got very tired of enduring daily, daily, racial, misogynist aggressions, violence in the workplace.
And I left law, and two years later, my mother decided to transition. She, at that point, was only able to blink her eyelids and move her neck side-to-side somewhat and was in writhing pain all the time, and wanted to make the choice to die with dignity while she was still able to. And so I supported her in that transition over the course of many months. And again, we continued to combat systems of oppression through that endeavor and desire to support her in dying with dignity, which includes dying painlessly. She had to starve and dehydrate herself to death in order to achieve the peace she so desperately deserved. And I supported her with that, every step of the way. And it was after the physical loss of my mother, that the weight of all of this really came down on me really all at once, because I had been in fight-flight-freeze-fawn, my whole life.
I’d been caring for her since I was 13, only child of a single parent. And when I lost her physically, I, of course, grieved the physical loss of my mom, but being a spiritual person felt very strongly she was still very much around. But I was grieving all of the losses that had occurred along the way. Switching the rules of parent and child quite young, needing to be her caretaker early on, having to constantly lawyer up to fight for her, to have some semblance of dignity and care for herself and for me. In addition to navigating my own shit, moving through the world as a black multiracial woman, specifically unwhite in all these spaces. And so that was really the major shift for me. I was always very much involved in racial justice and justice.
But after leaving the practice of law, and after the physical loss of my mom, I dove deep into grief work. And for me, racial justice work is grief work, it’s healing work, it’s trauma work, it’s shadow work. I dove deep into grief work because I realized how ill-equipped we are as a society to deal with grief. I think the global health pandemic we’re in has really brought that home for a lot of folks. That grief manifests in many, many, many, many, many ways, and that most of us are ill-equipped to really deal with that or even acknowledge it as grief. And then I very promptly realized that the most grief I’ve ever endured in my entire life is a result of white supremacy. It’s a result of having to navigate white supremacist systems as a queer black multiracial woman-identified person.
And so I quickly got into, or got back into more active work around racial justice and fusing my lifelong spiritual practice–both my parents were very spiritual people–and fusing that work with justice, with racial justice, because it was work that I wasn’t seeing out in the world. It was work that I felt was really needed. And mostly it’s because the spiritual work that I had done, the healing work I had done through culturally-informed secular spirituality is what got me through. Is what allowed me to survive all of the things that I’ve survived, and it’s a lot.
So I just felt like this is the work that can really support all of us, as a collective, in moving forward. It’s also work I feel like is very, very important, as someone who was raised in a white and wealthy society, who most of my friends and people I called family, people I spent, many, if not most Christmas Eves with–like, we were tight–were folks who have a lot of power and privilege. who refuse to acknowledge or address it in any way, shape, or form, who loved me and caused me a lot of harm. And a lot of that, I believed was as a result of not being able to do their own shadow work, their own healing work to embody themselves. And thus they had no capacity to be able to show up, let alone have compassion or empathy, or create change for those who are most marginalized, and very specifically, those who they have harmed.
So having that experience was absolutely vital. Not only the brunt of it, enduring all of that trauma, but also being intimately connected with whiteness in a way that, for me, very much showed that this is healing work. And the extent to which people who hold the most power and privilege, the extent to which people who operate and identify as holding dominant identities, the extent to which they are unable, unwilling, ill-equipped to do their inner healing work is the extent to which we will never be able to create justice on this planet. And that is why I do the work that I do to support collective liberation for everyone.
TS: Rachel, you said something that really got my attention. You said that when each one of us walks into a room, our ancestors walk into the room with us, whether we’re aware of that or not. And you shared a little bit about your mother and father both being very spiritual people. And you told us a little bit about your mom and her transition process. But I’m curious, when your ancestors walk in the room with you, how do you feel that? What do you sense? What do you know in that moment when you tune into that?
RR: I’ve been tuning into it so much more lately. Part of writing this book was tuning into them. I was a conduit. A lot of what’s in the book is my experience, but all of my experiences aren’t formed by my ancestors, which is very specifically what I mean when I say, “When we walk into a room, my ancestors walk with us.” And as someone whose…. My ancestors were enslaved. And I can never forget that. It has consequences, has had consequences down my entire familial line, and continues to have consequences for me and all of my future ancestors. And that is true for all of us, including white people.
But when you have that power, privilege, it’s easy to not understand that, the benefit of not being enslaved, the benefit of not having had all of your land stolen from you. By your ancestors and the benefit, the wealth privilege that you get to accumulate over centuries as a result of those practices and choices. I say this a lot in my work, I’m not saying anything new, and I don’t believe that any racial justice activist is, we have been saying the same thing for hundreds of years. And that’s really hard for our human minds to be with, especially if we occupy dominant identities.
Hundreds of years, we have been saying the same thing. And yes, we’ve come far in a lot of ways and we haven’t… Things are very much the same in a lot of other ways. And so I think it’s really important for us to tap into our ancestors and our ancestry so that we can build… Have a fulsome acknowledgement of what happened, what our history is– not the history out there, not the history of the people over in the corner–but our ancestry, our history and the collective impact of that.
And to tune into the ways in which we have benefited from and/or been harmed by the ancestry, the impact of what occurred to our ancestors and/or who our ancestors were, or what our ancestors did. I have an exercise in a book that’s about tapping into that, because I think it’s so key. But for me, I really feel my ancestors in a deep way anytime I talk about this work, because I do this work for the liberation of black indigenous and people of color, very specifically, black and indigenous women and femmes.
And we have been othered and ostracized and oppressed for centuries. The healing work that I have to undertake as a result of traumas I’ve endured in my life, but also traumas I’ve inherited through epigenetics, intergenerational trauma, is work that is healing me and also healing my ancestors, and my future ancestors. It’s deep, deep, deep work. And that’s, to me, what this work is, that’s what racial justice work is. It’s healing across time and space. And it’s necessary.
TS: Rachel, early in your book, Do Better, you write that the book was written to white women and for women who are black indigenous people of color. Why did you decide to write the book to white women?
RR: Yes. I really didn’t want to write a book to white folks, because whiteness is the status quo and most things are written to, or for whiteness and white people, whether the author is aware of it or not, irrespective of what racial identity you have. But when I got to the crux of who needs this work the most, what change needs to be elicited, and who needs to spearhead that work, it was very clear to me that it needed to be white women, specifically CIS white women, who in my personal and professional experience have caused the most harm, and many black women and femmes feel similarly.
So, I felt very strongly, that for this work to be done, to actually create justice, to create equity, to result in liberation for all, I had to write it to white women, but it is for black indigenous and people of color because it’s for our healing, it’s for our wellbeing. It’s so that we don’t have to continue to navigate systems of white supremacy and constantly come up against discrimination, oppression, and being othered. It’s very specifically for black girls and femmes. So they don’t have to endure very specifically what I endured, but it’s for all of us.
When I say that it’s to white women and it’s for black indigenous women of color, I mean, I prioritize us, our comfort, our wellbeing, because that’s a part of flipping the script of racial justice, because the status quo is to operate in a way that prioritizes the comfort and wellbeing of whiteness and white folks. But again, when we center those who have been made most marginalized, it supports liberation for all of us.
We can only run as fast as the slowest runner. And the slowest runner is the people who have been made the most marginalized, and they’re only slow at running, because there have been systemic and institutional obstacles put in their way. And we need to take a bird’s-eye view, a soul level view of how we are all interconnected ,and the ways in which it’s all of our job, especially those who are at the front of the line, who have the most power and privilege, to remove those obstacles so that we can all run freely together and actually achieve liberation.
TS: Now just to understand something more, when you say white women have caused the most harm, I might’ve nominated white men as causing the most harm. If we were going to start nominating possible groups of people. I’m curious what you think about that.
RR: I don’t nominate white men, because the harm that I have endured from white women is… I find white women actually more resistant to this work than white men. And I find them more resistant to this work, and I talk about this in the book, broken record, because they are oppressed oppressors.
I believe we are all oppressed oppressors, but this very specific identity of oppressorship that white women occupy, it’s actually also quite similar to black men. It’s one step down from those who have the most power and privilege, which is white men. So black men just need to be white, they good. White women just need to be men, and they’re good. And I don’t mean good, I don’t mean white men are fine, but I mean, in terms of ranks of power and privilege.
And so it’s this being so close to having the most power and privilege, but being very, very much oppressed by the systems that prevent them from doing so. So by patriarchy, heteropatriarchy for white women, and by anti-blackness white supremacy and racism for black men.
And so where white women often get stuck–and I talk about this in the book, this is where most of us get stuck, but I’ll talk about it specifically in the context of white women– is focusing on the harm that occurs, that they have experienced as a result of patriarchy, which is absolutely real and problematic. It needs to be addressed. And to me is very much a part of racial justice. I believe that all systems of oppression derive from white supremacy.And when we talk about racial justice, I’m talking about intersectional justice, which includes ending all forms of oppression, as they currently exist.
So white women are very much oppressed by patriarchy. It’s absolutely a problem. And also oppress black indigenous and people of color. And it’s that “and also” that gets very missed I find by white women. Similarly by black men, black men are very much oppressed by white supremacy, anti-blackness racism, and very much oppress women via patriarchy and misogyny. And that gets missed by them. They’re very much focused on the ways in which they are oppressed, and not the ways in which they also cause harm. And I find that white women are the most resistant to that understanding. And if you’re resistant to that understanding, then you can’t fulsomely partake in the work. It’s not possible.
TS: OK. I want to read you a quote from Do Better. It’s a strong quote. You ready?
TS: All right. Rachel writes, “All white people are racist, whether you like it or not, or intend to be or not. Simply by belonging to whiteness, all white people perpetuate and benefit from the global system of white supremacy on an individual and collective level.” And when I read that I circled it, and I thought to myself, I need to understand more how all white people are racist.
RR: Yes. So all white people are racist in the same way that all men perpetuate patriarchy, in the same way that all CIS-gender folks are transphobic, in the same way that all straight folks are homophobic, all non-disabled folks are abelists. Some of these labels, I’m included in the dominant group. It’s the status quo way of being. And unless you are actively partaking in work, day in and day out, to counter the status quo, then you are simply benefiting from and perpetuating systems of harm, systems of oppression. I think the question is, “How are you not perpetuating it and benefiting from it? How are you not?”
TS: Right. So the key when I heard you say, “unless, unless you’re,” and I want to understand more about what the “unless” is. Unless you’re doing what, specifically?
RR: So there isn’t really an unless, we don’t get outside of that. We don’t get outside of that. But it’s a level of not, not trying to undo or remove ourselves from it. This is something that I talk about in the work in the book. And again, I think it’s really important in terms of the inner work. We’re not trying to achieve some sense of otherness. We’re not trying to achieve perfection. That is not the goal. That is a white supremacist myth.
We’ll never get there, nor should that be a standard that we hold ourselves to. And it’s something that really stops people a lot of times. They don’t think that they’re going to get it right. And so they don’t do anything at all, which is violent in and of itself, right? Silence is violence. Inaction is an action and a choice. But the work is to acknowledge that, A, I’m not saying that all white people are bad or that all people who belong to dominant groups are bad or wrong or evil, but it’s very, very important that we have the acknowledgement that that is the truth, that that is the case.
That we acknowledge that wholeheartedly with our entire body and being, and then do the work that’s required to spend our power and privilege to the extent to which you belong to a dominant identity. To spend your power and privilege however, whenever possible, to do the inner work that’s required in order for you to be able to understand that,and support yourself in doing that.
That’s why this work is healing work, it’s shadow work, it’s trauma work. So, you’re really going to face your shadow when you sit with that, if you belong to a dominant identity, and you realize that you have been perpetuating systems of harm as part of the status quo, that harm not only folks made most marginalized, but also harm you, all of these systems harm all of us again differently, depending on how much power and privilege you hold, and the oppression form in question that we’re discussing. But fulsomely embodying and understanding that, and then doing the work that is required to mitigate that harm.
It is not to end that harm. We are all humans. We are all interconnected. We all impact one another. So we will not get to a place where we stop harm, but to do our best to acknowledge the harm that we have caused– and will cause. To rectify it in a meaningful, proactive way. And the only real apology is changed behavior. And to do our best to mitigate that harm moving forward. So I have a lot of really close white friends, and they are white people who acknowledge the power and privilege that they possess as a result of being white. They acknowledge the difference in power and privilege in our relationship.
They acknowledge the ways in which their anti-blackness and their white supremacy arises, including in our relationship. They understand that they have caused me harm. They do their best to rectify that harm and acknowledge it. And they understand that they will continue to cause me harm, and they do their best to mitigate that, and to rectify and acknowledge it when it occurs.
TS: Could you give me some specific examples when you’re talking about your circle of friends, and your friendships with white people, where you feel they’re spending their power and privilege in ways that make you want to stay their friend?
RR: I give a lot of specific examples in the book. For example, I’ve quite a few white friends who will support me with whatever gifts or talents are there. So like, someone’s a UX designer, or someone is an author, or whatever their specific gift and talent is. And they’re there for me to call on, to contribute as needed, to support me as a black person, period, and also specifically to support me in the work I do as a black person in the quest for racial justice and liberation. And that’s one example. Another example is, I’ve had a dear white friend raise funds for me to attend a conference, hosted a fundraiser to raise funds to send me, so I was able to attend a conference.
These are white people who, if and when they see or witness violence occurring, and by that I mean emotional violence. So what people commonly know as microaggressions, and I don’t call them microaggressions because they’re not micro. When they understand that white supremacy or anti-blackness and misogyny is at play in their presence, they get to work in naming it and calling it out and doing their best to stop that. Not in a savior way, not to save me, but because they understand that that’s their duty, and that’s the way in which they can spend their power and privilege.
I’ve also had white friends who have made introductions. By virtue of being white, they have more access to power and privilege than me as a queer multiracial black woman. And so they help open doors for me in the work that I do. Those are just a few of, a lot of examples.
TS: Yes, those are good examples. Now, you said you don’t like the term microaggressions because micro makes it seem like it’s really, really small, and these unconscious aggressions or semi-conscious aggressions, or however you would describe them, cause a lot of harm. What do you call them?
RR: I call them harrowing or heartbreaking, oh, harrowing or heartbreaking acts of racism, formerly known as microaggressions. Acronym is harm, H-A-R-M, because that’s what they are, they’re harmful.
TS: Now one of the things you talk about in Do Better, are the obstacles that come up for people when they begin an authentic commitment to racial justice work. These obstacles will come up. And the very first one you identify, and there are a couple that I’d like to talk with you about is this need that the white women who Do Better was written for, the need that we, and I’ll say “we” feel to be good and right. And that it’s very uncomfortable as someone who likes to be a good person, being right. I don’t know, but being good.
Yes, I want to be a good person. It’s very uncomfortable to hear “all white people are racist” and some of the other confrontations that you lay out very clearly in the book. So I want to talk about that when that need comes up, that need to be good. Oh my God, that’s an obstacle. So what do we do when that comes up? “I feel a need to be good. I want to be good.”
RR: Yes. I mean, first and foremost is having awareness of it. A lot of this book is calling us back into our bodies, into a sense of awareness that the status quo has conditioned out of us. I believe that we’re all born, just these beautiful wise beings. And then we’re conditioned out of knowing, out of intuition, out of connection, out of community. So first and foremost is the awareness. It’s a question that I pose in the book around this question, around this obstacle and not being able to acknowledge, like, when I get that defense come up, when I feel that in my body, is there a part of me that’s trying to be good or right?
And I totally hear you, Tami, on the like, “Oh, do I have an inclination to being right?” A lot of folks would say, “I don’t know.” But getting it right, I would say huge obstacle. That deep need to want to get it right. You’re going to get it wrong. You’re going to get it wrong because it goes against everything you’ve learned, essentially. And it’s foreign. This way of operating, this way of being, this way of seeing the world is foreign. So you’re going to get it wrong. The expectation is not to get it right all the time. The expectation is not perfection. If that’s the expectation, we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
Perfection is a lie, and a consequence of white supremacy. So acknowledging, “Is there something in me that wants to be good? Where is that coming from?” Because that is deep healing work. That’s not just about racial justice. That’s like, across the board. What’s that about? And doing that with a really deep sense of wise compassion for ourselves, because we were all born into systems of oppression. We have all been conditioned from young, as have our parents and our parents’ parents, and our parent’s parents, which is, again, why I think it’s important for us to talk about our ancestors and our ancestry. And so to unplug from the matrix, as I call it. And that’s what this work is.
It’s going against the status quo. Very challenging. Everything in our society is telling us to be good and right. And at least to be perceived as good and right. So it’s not easy. So what are the ways in which I can unplug from that and have a deeper understanding and awareness of like, “Where does that actually come from? What is that about? Why do I feel this deep need to be good and to get it right? And what work do I need to do around that? And what are the culturally informed, culturally appreciative practices that I can take on that will support me in this deep, deep shadow work?” Because that’s what it is.
TS: Help me understand how this need to get it right, this need for perfection or drive for perfection is an expression of white supremacy.
RR: Sure. So to me, capitalism is part and parcel of white supremacy because it’s all about power and privilege. And it’s about ensuring that a select few can have power and privilege to the detriment and exclusion of other people. And a quest for perfection, is to me, also an offshoot of capitalism and productivity. If we’re constantly being expected to produce, and to produce things without error, it’s a lie and a distraction that keeps us constantly busy and striving to do something that’s impossible, that takes us away from doing deep healing work, really, from being connected with one another, it keeps us shamed. It keeps us stuck. If you’re striving for perfection all the time, that’s like a full-time job.
And a lot of us have been conditioned in that way. A lot of women, CIS women have been specifically, it’s been conditioned in that way, as a means to come up against the oppression that we face from patriarchy. We are oppressed by patriarchy. And so a lot of us feel like we need to excel, we have to work harder than men or masculine folks. And so, there’s more of a desire to be perfect. So, case in point, I talked about this in the book and forgive me, because I can’t remember it exactly in this moment, and some of those the listeners may have already heard about this, but they say women, femmes will apply for a job if we have 100% of the qualifications, and men and masculine people will apply with 60% of the qualifications.
That’s a by-product of their male masculine privilege that they feel that sense of entitlement to be able to do that. And it’s a result of our oppression as a result of patriarchy, that women and femmes feel like we can’t apply unless we have 100%. That’s white supremacy, that’s oppression, that is perfectionism at play.
TS: OK. So I’m going to go even further into this need to be good and right. And the discomfort that comes up when we realize not only are we going to get it wrong, but that as a white person, I’m inherently racist and have been swimming in the water of white supremacy my whole life. And you take the term “white fragility,” this notion that Robin DiAngelo introduced that white people can kind of cave inside.
We’re so fragile that we can’t handle these conversations and this confrontation. And you introduce a different kind of language, you call it “white wildness.” And I want to understand more about the term you’re introducing, white wildness, what it is.
RR: Sure. I think it’s harmful to call it fragility because that takes some of the harm out of it. It feels passive in a way. Like, “Oh, I’m just a bit fragile. And that can’t be helped.” Or it implies to me that that fragility doesn’t cause serious emotional, physical, spiritual, mental harm. And it does. And I call it white wildness because for those of us who are entrenched in this work, oftentimes when these things happen, we’re just like, “It’s wild”, that response. There’s no other word for it.
It’s just absolutely wild, the ways in which we see people just entrenched in the status quo, entrenched in their power and privilege. And refusing, doing whatever necessary to negate anything that comes up against that. So, it’s not only fragility, it’s ferociousness. And it frequently arises in regards to a conversation around race or racism with white people. And it’s a form of emotional violence. It’s absolutely harmful, if not just straight-up traumatizing, to be a black , indigenous or person of color. I speak about myself personally, to be a queer multiracial black woman constantly having to navigate that from white people. It’s traumatizing.
TS: A couple of times you’ve mentioned this notion of people taking responsibility to do their shadow work. And in the book Do Better you linked as part of our shadow work, also being willing to do wounded inner child work. And I wanted to hear more about that, how you think working out the issues we have with our wounded inner child–all of us have some issues to work out in that regard, I think–how that relates to racial justice work?
RR: Yes. So I talk about racial justice work being shadow work because it brings up so many parts of ourselves that we have been conditioned to suppress. It brings up, often, guilt, grief, anger, deep, deep, deep sadness. And again, some of this is ours, some of it is also ancestral. Some of it is inherited. And I go into this in depth in the book, but to not only inherited as a result of being subjected to oppression, but also inherited as being an oppressor, the ways in which you have to disconnect your self from your highest self, from your body, from others, in order to oppress other people, whether it’s subconscious or not, is deeply traumatizing to experience and endure.
So the shadow work is bringing that stuff to light. It’s bringing to light those pieces of ourselves that we often are conditioned to hide, to defend, to ignore, and unearthing them so that we can really have an understanding of what those are and why they’re there. So that’s our shadow work. And then for me, shadow work very much includes acknowledging and addressing our wounded inner child. And I’m with you Tami. I agree we all have some semblance of a wounded inner child. None of us were loved perfectly as children, no matter how amazing our parents were. We all endured some form of harm. And as little beings, we couldn’t make sense of it.
And so a lot of us internalize whatever that harm was as being something wrong or bad about us. And that can really run our show for most, if not all of our lives, if we don’t do some inner work to bring that to the surface. And so I think our inner child, at times, can be like this little energetic being that is having a tantrum inside because they’re not getting their needs met, or because they’ve endured some slight, some sort of harm, and they don’t feel tended to or properly cared for. And if we can’t take the time to be with that and to address it, then it can come out in all sorts of ways in our adult lives without us having an understanding of what’s really happening.
So one of the first exercises in the book is connecting with our inner child so that we can bring our inner child along with us in this work. And so that we can start tending to our inner garden and really giving ourselves what we need.
TS: I’m wondering if you could give me a specific example, maybe from people you’ve worked with. Where somehow tending to this inner child, the aspect of our shadow has changed someone’s capacity to do the work of unplugging from the matrix, to use your language of white supremacy. Like, oh, once they did this piece of healing, they had a new set of capacities.
RR: Sure. I would say I see this, personally, I’ve experienced this and see this a lot in my work with all different kinds of people. But when we have more tolerance to withstand the full spectrum of our human emotions, then we have more tolerance for others. When we have more times to fulsomely be with, and understand and acknowledge what’s going on for us, then we have more tolerance across the board for ourselves, we have more compassion for ourselves, and cultivating all of that results in us also having more tolerance and compassion for others, especially those who we have harmed, especially those who have been made most marginalized by systems of oppression that we may belong to and perpetuate.
And if we are unable to do that, then that’s the flip side, then we’re constricted in being able to show up for ourselves, and then we’re unable to show up for others. So, for me, when I tune in and tap into my inner child, which is active work, I’m doing it in a really ongoing way, right? I absolutely practice what I preach. Otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. And for me, my inner child felt very othered, as I mentioned from multiple experiences. Not just out in the world, but also as a result of family dynamics in many forms. And so my work is really tending to her, having an understanding of the ways in which she feels scared or uncared for, unloved, unworthy, unaffirmed and doing my inner work to show up for her, to help her feel affirmed and understood.
Right now I’m doing a 40-day… masterclass, I’ll call it, around inner anger. And they do a Kriya every day to support in unearthing my inner anger and then getting to the bottom of that, which is really sadness. And to me that’s really inner child work. And my inner child work has been coming up so much in all of my dreams. She’s like, “I’m angry, I’m angry at the way that I was treated. I’m angry at the ways that I don’t feel like I got what I needed. I don’t feel like I got what I needed. I was just a little kid. I didn’t get– mostly emotional–didn’t have my emotional needs met.”
And so I’m listening to her, and I am doing my best as adult Rachel to give her what she needs now. And all of that work really helps me open up my heart, my vulnerability, my ability to have capacity for myself to be embodied in myself. And that supports me in doing the work that I do, and having capacity for others.
TS: Thank you so much for that example. It really illuminated it for me, so thank you. Now, one other thing I’d like to talk to you about Rachel before we bring our conversation to a close, as someone who runs a company of approximately 130 people at Sounds True, I know that part of your racial justice work involves working with businesses and large brands on anti-racism initiatives, including working with Lululemon and Google. And I’d love to know, from your vantage point, what the real litmus test is for an organization? Are they engaging in performative activism? Or real activism?
RR: This is a tricky one. This is a tricky one. And I’ve actually been doing less and less organizational work, because I think so few organizations are really fulsomely doing this work in a meaningful way. Yes. And part of that is because again, all systems of oppression are tied for me. To do the work of anti-racism, racial justice, dismantling white supremacy requires a fulsome intersectional look at systems of oppression and harm. And a lot of, I mean, business corporations operate under, I mean, we all operate under the capitalist model, but, of course, businesses are closer to that dynamic than anyone.
And so I just find in my experiences, it’s been incredibly challenging to find businesses who are willing to do the amount of work that is required in the quest for justice, which is hard and heartbreaking. But I think first and foremost, the work has to be done internally, personally as well. And so a lot of the work that I will do with businesses now is just the work that I do with individuals, because we are all humans, we’re all in human bodies, and we all show up at work with our personal identities and perspectives. And in order for an organization to change, it requires a large enough collective shift of individual minds. Of course, most notably from the folks who own and run those organizations, but that can’t be it. We need everyone on board. And it’s definitely a challenge and an ongoing one for the folks involved who are trying.
But I think where I’m at specifically, as well is, it’s 2021, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And I say, still say, in the middle, because I do believe we’re still very much in the middle. We came out of the most recent iteration of black uprisings in the midst of that pandemic. And the only real shift that I saw in 2020 around race and racial justice was because capitalism slowed to such a halt that people didn’t have the distraction, specifically, people who have most power and privilege didn’t have the same level of distractions as they were used to having, and so it forced them to pay attention in a way they refused to previously.
Although many of those people have stopped paying attention already, unfortunately. Although I suppose the storm on the Capitol again brought folks attention back to this issue that never goes away and constantly needs to be worked on. It’s constant work, it’s constant work and it requires so much, but we’re in the year 2021, I am saying nothing new. I’m saying the same stuff that my ancestors were saying for hundreds and hundreds of years. These systems of inequity, the systems of oppression and injustice have been ongoing for centuries. And so the level with which I think the shifts that are required from individuals who have those power and privilege and from business, need to be a lot higher than what we’re currently seeking.
So I hope that will shift. I couldn’t do this work if I wasn’t hopeful. I don’t have any quick quips about what it looks like to do this work in an authentic way as a business, as opposed to performative allyship, except that it’s work that needs to be done every single day from the inside out. And all the shifts will come from that.
TS: So, say someone’s listening to our conversation, Rachel, and what’s going through their mind is, “I’m inspired to be a genuine ally.” And one of the things I just want to point out is that you’re very clear in Do Better that, for you, ally is not a word that you like using as a noun, but you like to talk more about acting in allyship. And we can talk about why you make that distinction.
But someone’s listening and they want to act in allyship very genuinely. And you’re talking about this inner work and maybe they have a sense of it. You talked about actually working with our thoughts every day, oppressive thoughts. If you had to summarize, here are the key things, “Oh, person, you want to work and act in allyship, let me tell it to you straight.”
RR: I mean, I don’t have key things. And that’s part of the work, because people just want that soundbite and there isn’t one. And they want steps that they can utilize that will work carte blanche, and that doesn’t exist. It’s dynamic, it’s ever-changing, it’s ongoing. Every single day you’ll constantly be learning and relearning and unlearning, I am, and fucking up and needing to do better every second of every day. That’s the work. And it’s also why so many people don’t want to do the work. Because it’s endless and it’s not quick and easy.
I would say, most importantly, if you want to act in allyship, you belong to a dominant group. You need to have a deep understanding of the ways in which you perpetuate harm every single day, and the extent to which you refuse to acknowledge that and mitigate that harm means that you’re perpetuating the problem, period.
TS: I appreciate, Rachel, you bringing the dynamic complexity to some of the questions I asked you here at the end, both about business, and about the person who wants to act in allyship. I really appreciate that. I’m not necessarily in this program, Insights at the Edge, looking for easy answers. I’m looking for authentic and truthful answers. And so I really just want to say, thank you. Thank you for that.
RR: Thank you. Appreciate it.
TS: I’ve been talking to Rachel Ricketts, racial justice educator, healer, speaker, and the author of the new book, Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy. And I learned a lot and am reflecting on quite a lot in this book, Do Better. I highly recommend it. Rachel, thank you so much.
RR: Thank you so much for having me. My pleasure.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe, we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com, waking up the world.