The past few weeks have been heavy.
A global pandemic plus the biggest civil rights movement in history is not for the faint of heart; there is so much energy in the air that pretty much everyone I speak to feels more tired than usual, more stressed than usual, more anxious than usual.
I feel like we as a planet are all vomiting, are throwing up everything we are done with and letting that circulate around, letting ourselves be truly seen in one of the biggest ways ever.
This is good. Or at least, it is true.
A good portion of our society is seeing their own shadow for the first time. Those of us who have seen our shadows in the past are looking deeper, looking more closely, more discerningly, looking for what is still there that needs to be seen, welcomed, and altered.
The first stage of any change is acceptance. Complete and radical approval.
That doesn’t mean that we believe it should be happening… but rather that we are not in denial of what is happening.
Instead of denying, we are approving of the parts of us that exist. We aren’t fighting them, we are welcoming them to the table. We are saying, okay, you’re allowed. Now let me look at you more closely, let me see what is underneath you, let me see how you can change.
White people who immediately and automatically deny their own internal racism and biases are in the stage of denial.
So many conservative memes end with the vocalization of “I will not be made to feel like a bad person! I am a good person and I love my country!”
Where we deny our shadows, they grow stronger.
This is also what’s happening when we’re afraid of “call-out culture;” when we feel terrified of saying the wrong thing, making the wrong move, and getting attacked or called out on it.
This, too, is denial. It’s a clinging to the belief of “I am a good person, my intentions were good,” and most importantly, it’s the inability to accept that we could be bad, or do things that are harmful.
Shadow work is looking at the pieces of you that you cannot consciously see. The pieces you do not consciously want. The pieces you would prefer did not exist.
But they DO exist. They exist in all of us.
And the only way to shift them is by allowing them to be there, first.
When you accept and allow your shadow, you become your whole self. And a whole self is much more impactful than a divided one.
For white people, this will look like saying, “I do hold biases. I am racist. I do sometimes cause harm, even if unintentionally, and I sometimes mess up.”
Part of the narrative around being a “good person” that people feel the need to cling to has its roots in Christianity – we are often taught to believe that God only wants us to be Good and Light and Pure, and everything else is the Devil and is sin.
You might not consciously believe that, but if you strongly identify with being a good person, I’d question why it feels so necessary in your body. Not the actual act of doing good things, but the need to believe you’re good and are seen as good.
What happens if you release the need to see yourself that way?
If we cannot accept and approve of the fact that sometimes we will cause harm, that we have racism within us, that we uphold systems… then we will be too caught in a spiral of shame and guilt and denial to actually create change.
If you accept those things, you become someone who can say, “I did mess up. I have harmed others in the past. I don’t need to beat myself up for that, because I understand why it’s there and I accept it – so now how can I do better?”
That’s how the work happens.
You might not know this about me, but when I was a teenager, I was firmly *not* a feminist, I had a NOBAMA sticker on my car, I thought politics did not apply to me, and I claimed I did not see color.
I wrote a Facebook post almost 4 years ago now that went viral after the election, detailing how my views on these things shifted so dramatically. You can read it here; someone re-posted it on her blog.
Here’s what I know is true: I have immense amounts of privilege. Basically everything besides being a white man, I have.
Have I felt guilt and sadness and shame around that? Of course. I had to go through those feelings when I woke up to it. I still feel them occasionally.
And STILL. There is no need to drown in it.
I can love myself even more because of my ability to hold myself through it.
Like all white people, I will have blind spots forever.
This. Is. Okay.
For me, my initial emotional response to everything currently happening has shifted into: what can I do? How can I help?
A few months ago, I still held the blind spots of not thinking there was anything else I could do. I thought I *had* done my work – I had read books and articles, I regularly speak up in my community.
But having so much privilege, I basically got to put the topic of racism to the side and move on with my life.
My work now is to donate money, not to big organizations, but to Black community leaders. It’s to continue to learn more, not just about my own internal racism and privilege, but also about policing, the prison system, and all the other areas of society where racism lives. It’s to make my work more accessible to people of color, and to dismantle the way I hold these systems in myself so I’m able to do that better.
And what I understand now is that I’ll be continuing these things for the rest of my life.
I hope that no matter what you identify as, you are able to offer yourself complete love and approval, and a sense of gentleness.
And I hope you are able to move from that place into a place of action – whatever the most aligned action looks like for you.
If you want to donate money, Louiza Doran is doing awesome work.