I built a white feminist temple. And now I'm tearing it down.
 
Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash
 

“It was amazing how freed up the canvas became once I took white people out as predominant figures.”

(Toni Morrison)


Hello, my name is Layla Saad. And I built a white feminist temple.

That is to say that my business, Wild Mystic Woman, which I have always described as a ‘temple space for wild women & modern mystics’, was in fact a temple space that was predominantly for white wild women, and white modern mystics.

I am a black woman.
I have always used predominantly black women’s imagery in my branding.
I have never stated that my work was predominantly for white women.

And yet the truth that I have had to face is that my beautiful business has always catered to and served white women, 95% of the time.

This temple that I have so lovingly built, brick by brick, is a white women’s temple. It does not matter that I, a black woman, have been the high priestess of this space, because the majority of members in this space have always been white; making me and women who look like me a minority.

White women did not marginalise me and women like me in this temple space.

I did that.

I did exactly what I have been asking white women to stop doing to us. I have been perpetuating white supremacy through my business, because of my own unexamined internalised racism and conditioned oppression.

None of this was by intentional design. It was by unintentional default.

The unintentional default in most online businesses (regardless of who runs those businesses) is that whiteness is centered. White imagery, white clients, white perspectives and white narratives of success, empowerment and spirituality dominate this industry. This is because this industry reflects the white supremacy ideology that white is seen as ‘universal’ and applying to all, and non-white is seen as ‘other’ and applying only to those who are non-white.

It is only when a business owner makes the intentional and overt choice to purposely de-center whiteness and center people of colour that things begin to shift.

So while I have been growing this business, it has not mattered that I am a black woman.
It has not mattered that I always used predominantly black women’s imagery in my branding.
It has not mattered that I never stated that my work was predominantly for white women.

None of these things mattered, because I did not intentionally de-center whiteness, and consciously center people of colour.

I made the unconscious assumption that having a business that was open to all women would mean that I would see a diversity of women as my clients and readers. That me being a black woman was enough to create a business that was diverse and reflective of my racial identity. This was not the case, and it is why I have built a white feminist temple, and why I'm ready to tear it down.


For the last few weeks I have been offline, taking a winter break from social media and my business.

Following the viral impact of my work since publishing my letters on ‘I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy’, I have been on a rollercoaster of a ride of hyper visibility and business growth.

However, the biggest impact for me personally of this whole journey has been the learning and unlearning I have been experiencing as a black woman. Prior to publishing those letters, I did not talk about race in my work. So while I was aware of racism as a black person generally, it wasn’t something that I thought about everyday or clearly saw in the circles that I worked and played in. And while I spent a lot of time thinking and writing about my transformational journey as a woman, I spent hardly any time at all thinking and writing about my transformational journey as a black woman.

However the huge reach of those articles suddenly exposed me to dynamics and behaviours that have been right under my nose all of this time, that I’d never really noticed were commonplace in the white-centered online business world. Things like tone-policing, micro-aggressions, spiritual bypassing, white fragility, constant requests for emotional labour, claims of being colour blind, cultural appropriation, the perceived invisibility of leaders and teachers of colour, misogynoir, internalised oppression and so much more.

Amongst the chaos (both positive and negative) that was generated by me talking more and more about race, I began to see myself as a woman who is black.

And I began to think about what what it means to be a black woman in spaces that are mostly white centered. Not just ‘out there’ on Facebook and Instagram, but inside my own business. Inside my business temple that I had assumed would center women like me, but was in reality centering white women.

A terrifying dynamic that I began to notice, was that my sudden popularity as a writer was happening because I was specifically speaking to white people.

And although my recent work has been in no way comfortable for white people or coddling of whiteness, my sudden popularity as a writer has come because my work has specifically centered whiteness. I did not write an essay called ‘I need to speak to women of colour…’ I wrote an essay called ‘I need to speak to white women...'. Thus in effect, making white women my primary audience and de-centering women of colour. I was no longer centering whiteness by unintentional default anymore, but by unintentional design. Is it any wonder then that the majority of people who are currently supporting me on Patreon are white? That I am receiving PayPal donations from white people for my emotional labour in talking to them about white supremacy? Don't misunderstand me, I am beyond grateful for the financial support for my work. However, because of this dynamic of me speaking to white people about white supremacy, and white people paying me for it, it feels like I am being paid to do anti-racist education work. 

But here’s the thing: I’m not an anti-racist educator. Or an activist on the front line. Or a social justice worker. Or an anti-oppression teacher.

I am a writer.
I am a black woman who is a writer.

I write personal essays and poems, with a liberatory consciousness lense about spirituality, leadership, business and social justice.

My purpose is not to hand hold white people to teach them about white supremacy and what they need to do dismantle it.

And the fact that I have believed that this is my purpose for the last few months is indicative of the fact that I have been centering whiteness all along. It is only in the last few weeks where I have been offline, away from the thoughts and narratives of white people on social media, that I have had the chance to truly to connect to myself and hear what wants to come forth from me. I have realised that by constantly writing and talking to white people, I have completely ignored and de-centered the woman of colour’s gaze. I have done to women of colour what white people do to us all the time. And that makes me sick to my stomach.


During my winter break, I have been immersing myself in books, articles, videos and podcasts by and about black feminist writers and thinkers.

I have been saturating myself in resources that unapologetically center the black gaze, not the white gaze. I have been moving my way through the stages of black racial identity development that William E. Cross Jr called the Nigrescence Model.

I have been asking myself questions like:

  • Who am I as a writer, and what do I want to write about when I take away the white gaze?
  • What would the spirituality/personal growth/wellness industry look like if it was an industry that centered the voices, bodies, narratives and perspectives of black people and people of colour?
  • What kind of topics would prominent black writers like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, James Baldwin and more have had the chance to write about, if they didn’t have to spend so much time writing about white supremacy? What other great works might they have had the chance to create if they hadn’t had to spend so much time defending their humanity as black people, while at the same time, educating white people about racism? What more magic might they have brought to the world if they weren’t living under a system of oppression?

I have been reflecting on the words of Toni Morrison and how throughout her career, she has consciously and overtly chosen to de-center the white gaze in her books, and how that has influenced the type of books that she has written. Toni Morrison asked the question:

"What happens to the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one's race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be 'universal' or race-free?”

These are the questions I have been sitting with, as I reflect on how my sudden growth has primarily come about because of the white gaze.

What happens to my writerly imagination when I am at some level always conscious of representing my race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be ‘universal’ or race-free? And what of myself do I lose from that? What of myself am I having to sacrifice and compromise so that I can keep this growth up? What part of my purpose and my identity becomes buried when I cater to whiteness? And how much sovereignty and agency do I really have if my success is in the hands of whiteness?

Is this is the kind of freedom and success that I want for myself as a black woman, and is it the kind of freedom that I want to be advocating for other black women and women of colour to have?

No.
This isn’t freedom.
This isn’t liberty.
This is oppression.

This is me participating in, enabling, creating and allowing my own oppression.
My own enslavement. My own denigration. My own erasure.

This is me perpetuating white supremacy through my own work.

I am a black woman, who has built a white feminist temple. And now I’m ready to tear it down.


In order to tear it down, I need to know exactly what the foundational pillars are that I used to create it, and the foundational pillars that I want to replace it with as I rebuild it.

In order to know what I want to create, I have to know what I need to destroy. Here are the four main pillars that my white feminist temple was built on:

1. Catering to and centering the white woman’s gaze.

Because I have not consciously de-centered the white gaze until now, the default has been that my work has always been through the white gaze by default. This is why the majority of my clients and readers have been white. This is why I felt the need to write ‘I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy’. This is why I have spent so much time and energy over the last few months talking about social justice with white people. And this is why, as a black woman, I have felt that I have become a resource for white people for them to learn about anti-racism. Why I was starting to feel like my work would not be relevant if I chose to speak about other things outside of race and social justice.

Ever since I started working for myself three years ago, 95% of the programs I have bought, courses I have been in, coaches I have worked with and teachers I have learnt from have been white. Is it any wonder that I myself have a white perspective and a white gaze? And going back further than that, my growing up in a western country meant that I was conditioned by society to believe that white was right. That white was the standard to aim for. That as a little black girl, I needed to work twice as hard to get half as far as a white person. That white validation, whether at school or in business was necessary to feel worthy and to experience success.

2. Stories and myths of liberation from oppression and reclaiming sovereignty that are from the white woman’s perspective.

I spent much of 2016 experiencing a spiritual awakening that led to the creation of Wild Mystic Woman. During those months I read spiritual book after spiritual book, as I explored my own mysticism and identity as a woman. I did not realise the significance of this at the time, but nearly all of the books that I read during that period were authored by white women. Books like The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock, Love Your Lady Landscape by Lisa Lister, Burning Woman by Lucy H Pearce, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd and many, many more. Because I was still not awake to what it meant to be a black woman, I did not notice that the narratives of oppression and reclamation were from a white perspective. I did not notice that the daily spiritual nutrition that I was taking in was that of white women’s perspectives, almost exclusively. And that the stories and myths from these books centered on liberation from the patriarchy. The struggles that these books outlined were centered on gender, not on race. So the education that I was receiving around my own empowerment was incomplete.

These books were not wrong or bad. But they were only a part of the picture, and in some instances, they were part of a picture that wasn’t even mine. These books only helped me to look at one part of me - my gender identity - and completely ignored my racial identity. Because white women’s liberation from oppression has not been about their race. They have never had to struggle under oppression because of their white race. Their struggle has always been about their gender. For black women and women of colour, it is about both. Black women do not only have to worry about sexism. We also have to worry about racism.

I am not faulting these authors for not writing about race. As white women, they cannot write about the spiritual and transformational journey of a black woman from a place of true experience. But what I am angry about is that those books that I want and need to read are not easily found. They are not best-sellers. They are too few and far between, and they are completely obscured by the dominance of white narratives and white stories of spiritual growth, resulting in black women like myself having to really search to find the kind of books that we want to read. While white women’s books about the witch wound and liberation from patriarchy are generally seen as spiritual books, women of colours books about the race wound and liberation from white supremacy are generally seen as political books. Where then, does a black woman go, if she wants to read about her liberation from oppression within a spiritual context?

(I also want to add it here that I am have only talked about two identities which are sources of oppression - gender identity and race. The issues become even more layered when we add in other parts of our identities such as gender expression, sexual orientation, class, age, physical ability, cognitive ability, etc.)

3. Spiritual practices that are culturally appropriative.

New age white spirituality is highly culturally appropriative. As someone who was very much influenced by these narratives, I now find myself with sticks of palo santo and white sage bundles in my drawers. Why do I need these sacred Native American plants, when I come from and live in cultures (African and Arab) that have their own spiritual tools? I do not need white sage. I have bukhoor or Arabic frankincence, that my family has used daily all of my life for the same purpose that white sage is used for. It is the white gaze and the white perspective that I held which made me believe that I had to look outside of my own culture to find spiritual tools. New age white spirituality and white-centered goddess spirituality colonizes the spirituality of marginalised people.

The more I become aware of this, the more angry it makes me every time I see white spiritual mentors and teachers talking about Hindu goddesses, the chakra system, Native American shamanism, etc as if these traditions are their own. Many of these people belong to the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crew, while casually appropriating from religions that they feel are ‘exotic’ or more interesting than their own. I am angry at myself for the times I have spoken about the Hindu goddess Kali or the Buddhist goddess Kuan Yin - religions that I do not belong to - without the respect and reverence for the religious traditions that they belong to.

White woman spirituality taught me that.

4. Serving mainly white people through my work.

As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of my clients and readers have been white, because I have not intentionally and overtly stated that I desire intersectionality and diversity. This needs to change.

In essence, these four pillars helped me to create a mainstream, white feminist space.


Here are the four main pillars that my temple will now be built on:

1. Catering to and centering the black woman’s and woman of color’s gaze.

This does not mean that white people are not welcome to read my work or will not find benefit from my work. What it does mean however, is that I will not cater my writing or focus my work on the white gaze. The gaze will be my own. I will write for myself, as a black woman, and to black women and women of color. And any benefit or inspiration that white people gain from my work will be a side-effect or unintended consequence. This is the complete opposite of ‘I need to speak to spiritual white women about white supremacy’. Quite frankly, I’m done speaking to white people about a problem that I did not create and do not benefit from. And if I do choose to speak on these subjects in the future, it will be on my own terms and not because I feel a responsibility to do so. I want to focus my writing and my work on what I want to see as a black woman.

2. Stories and myths of liberation from oppression and reclaiming sovereignty that are from the black woman and woman of color’s perspective.

White woman stories and myths of liberation focus on gender. I want to focus on what bell hooks calls ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’. And as I mentioned in the first pillar, this will be from a black woman’s gaze, not a white gaze. My race is just as important to me as my gender identity. As the Malawian poet Upile Chisala has written, I am Black and Woman.

3. Spiritual practices that are from my own ancestry, and hypervigilance of appropriating religious and spiritual traditions of other groups - especially those who are marginalized and oppressed.

I will continue to my spiritual explorations as a wild mystic woman. However, instead of picking and borrowing from other people’s cultures, I will look more closely at my own. I will delve back into my ancestry and cultural traditions as a woman of African and Middle Eastern ethnicity. I can appreciate the spiritual traditions of other cultures, without appropriating them. I will stop perpetuating the methods of the white coloniser when it comes to my spirituality.

4. Serving mainly black people and people of colour through my work.

My writing and future programs will be specifically catered to serving black people and people of colour.

In essence, these four pillars will help me to create a black feminist and womanist space.


White people who have followed my work, I am grateful for you and the way you have supported my work. However, I cannot continue to center and cater to you.

When I think about just how much work needs to be done (and how much work has already been done for centuries) on dismantling white supremacy I feel exhausted, pessimistic and completely disheartened.

I think about all the tone-policing I experience. The accusations I receive of being ‘too angry’ or ‘shaming’ even when I take the time and care to write with truthful compassion. The gut-wrenching times when a white person allows harm to be done to myself and other women of colour in their presence. The emotional labour and time I put into helping a white person understand why their post is perpetuating oppression, only to have them delete everything I and others have wrote. The need to take screenshots and have ‘receipts’ when interacting with white people who are being problematic. The amount of harm a white person has to do to me and other people of colour before they finally ‘get it’. The gaslighting and spiritual bypassing. And on, and on, and on.

I want a new world, as much as you do. But I cannot continue to sacrifice myself to whiteness in order to help create that world.

What I can do however, is start to live as if that world already exists. To live that world - a world in which black women and women of colour are safe, valued, seen, celebrated, supported and respected - right now, through my business temple. To act as if that world already exists or the seeds of that world are being sown, in the way that I write and guide others. To bring hope now, through the way that I fully show up as a black woman, and fully show up for black women and women of colour.

This is not what I think all black people and people of colour should be doing. But it is what I want to do - for myself and for any black woman or woman of colour who I am here to serve. Because I need hope. And we deserve to exist and thrive outside of just talking about our racial oppression.

We are not just a group that has been marginalised and under-privileged.

We are brilliant. We are smart. We are creative. We are funny. We are beautiful. We are ordinary. And we are magic.

And we deserve to have spaces and stories that center us in ways that are celebratory.

This industry, and the white-centered spaces that we often work and play in would, as Toni Morrison has said in her interview with Charlie Rose in 1998, have us believe that "...Our lives have no meaning and no depth without the White gaze". My decision to tear down this white feminist temple, and build a black feminist and womanist temple in its place, is my act of radical resistance and my act of sacred activism.

I may not be able to dismantle white supremacy. But I can create a space where the values and dynamics of white supremacy are not entertained.

Where whiteness is not a thing that I or other women of colour have to be constantly wrestling with in ways that are demeaning and disempowering. Where we are not only safe, but we are also honoured. Where we can be ourselves, unapologetically. 

So to my white readers, while you may no longer get the direct benefit from me of having my work catered specifically to you, what you will indirectly receive is a view into a world where black women and women of colour are upheld and elevated. Part of relinquishing your white privilege and building the new world beyond oppression, is accepting that your white gaze must be de-centered, so that more of us can have the chance to be seen and heard.

And if you are a white person who is truly dedicated to the dismantling of systems of oppression, then this work and the work of all black women and women of colour (regardless of whether or not we are anti-racist educators or anti-oppression teachers) is worth supporting and uplifting.

Even if it's not for you.
Especially because it's not for you.

Layla Saad
We Are Not Your Ugly-Beautiful Toys
 
Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash
 

First they called us n*ggers
Now they call us regal queens
Always 'other'
Always 'other'

One day we are the garbage
The next, we are the Goddess
Always 'other'
Always 'other'

Never just woman
Never just human
Always, always
something
Other

Something tokenized
fetishized
modified
and then commodified

For your consumption
For You

You
The one with the white gaze
The one with the colonizers' appetite
The one who needs to oppress and control
just to feel whole
The one who cannot find shared humanity
outside of whiteness

We do not exist for this purpose
We are not your ugly-beautiful toys

No
You cannot
touch our beautiful black hair

No
You cannot
talk about our beautiful black skin

No
You cannot
project your hate or your love
onto our beautiful black souls

We are not your blank slates
We are not your toys

We are
Women
Humans
And yes, even
regal goddess queens

But for our gaze
Not yours

Always ours
Never yours

Layla Saad
I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part Two)
 
Photo by Aricka Lewis on Unsplash

Photo by Aricka Lewis on Unsplash

 

I have had to wait two months before I was ready to pen this second open letter.

It took two months of processing the enormity of what happened when I hit ‘publish’ on Part One of this series, before I could summon up the fire and love to write Part Two.

Let me give you a quick recap of what’s happened since publishing Part One of this letter.

About two months ago, following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, I was driven to write what I thought would be a regular newsletter to my small but engaged community (of largely white spiritual women) on white supremacy, racism, spirituality and the complicity of entrepreneurs who do not speak up on issues of social justice.

It was a complete shock and surprise to me when this letter went viral It has now been viewed over 200,000 times at the time of writing this second letter. It has been commented on, shared, criticised, referenced, celebrated, disparaged, upheld, dragged and everything in between.

And so have I.

My words have reached far, far beyond what I could have expected, and for that I am grateful.

At the same time, I have had to process and very rapidly adjust to the sudden expansion of my business and the interest in my work. I’ve also had to deal with my fair share of internet trolls, misogynists, white supremacists and spiritual-bypassers.

It’s been quite a journey and I am still on it.

But this letter isn’t about me and my experiences. This is about white supremacy. And so I return to you today to share more on the conversation that I started two months ago.

As with my first letter, I am specifically speaking to Spiritual White Women (SWW).

I’m talking to entrepreneurs and people who hold a platform - no matter how big or small. I am speaking to the spiritual teachers, soulful coaches, heart-centered creatives, intuitive soul guides, energetic healers and transformational entrepreneurs who are dedicated to positively changing people’s lives. (However, even if you aren’t an entrepreneur or don’t have a platform, please know that what I will be sharing in this letter is helpful to you too. We need all of us to do this work).

This letter is both a call-out and a call-in. It is a call for us as leaders and change-makers to do better for ourselves and one another. It is a battle cry for justice and liberation.

And it is written with the sacred medicine of anger and love.

This time I won’t be telling you what day of my cycle I am on, or infusing these words with the healing power of reiki. I will not cushion the blow or excuse away the fire of my words.

We have opened the door now. The gloves are off. We have called a thing a thing.

Now, we must dive deeper.
Now we must do the work.

Let’s go.


In this second letter, I want to provide some guidance and resources on how to begin doing the work - both inside yourself and in your communities - of anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy.

I need to reiterate however, that I am not an expert, and that nothing I am sharing in this letter hasn’t already been shared by others who are far more qualified, experienced and literate in this work than I am. In fact, I feel wholly unqualified to write this letter in the first place. And yet I am writing it.

As I keep repeating to SWW who I interact with, this isn’t about being perfect.

This is about being accountable and showing up to do the work. If we waited until it was perfect, we’d never say or do anything.

I myself, as a black woman, am showing up to do my own work of educating myself through reading articles, listening to podcasts, engaging in social justice education programs and watching and listening to the teachers and advocates who have been doing this work for far longer than I have. Although I do not hold white privilege, I still need to be able to identify the ways in which I oppress myself and others through white supremacist and patriarchal ideology. Also, while I may not hold white privilege I do hold other privileges (e.g. cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied, class, etc) which I need to unpack and work through.

White supremacy isn’t just about neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville. In fact, that’s a very extreme manifestation of this system and ideology of oppression. White supremacy (and patriarchy) is in our everyday lives. It seeps into everything that we do. It influences the way we think and see the world, and the way we interact with each other. It informs how we live and work because it is the very foundation upon which places like the USA, Canada, the UK, Europe and Australia are based on.

And it is certainly a dominant paradigm that influences the world of online business.

If you hold white privilege, then white supremacy is the air you breathe and the toxic sea you’re swimming.

You can’t see yourself as perpetuating white supremacy because you have been conditioned to believe that the way you see the world is the way that everyone else sees the world too. But that just isn’t true. White supremacy centers and serves whiteness, while de-centering and oppressing people of colour (POC). You as a white person are seen as normal, and non-white people are seen as ‘other’. White-centric programs/summits/conferences are seen as being for everyone. Non-white centric programs/summits/conferences are seen as being exclusively for POC.

It is not as simple as not using racial slurs. We are socialised into white supremacy from the moment we are born. So it’s not enough to say ‘But I love black people!’. It is about completely dismantling how you see yourself and how you see the world, so that you can dismantle how white supremacy functions as an institutional and ideological system of oppression.

If I, as black woman, am making it a priority to do this work for myself, then you as a white person have an even greater responsibility to do this work.

It is your work to do.

Remember: Even if you hate the fact that you have white privilege and do not agree with white supremacist ideology, if you are white or a white-passing person, you are still a beneficiary of a system that oppresses non-white people. Racism is not a problem that POC created. And we do not benefit from it in any way. So you have a duty and a responsibility to use the privilege that this system has given you from birth to dismantle it - both within yourself, in your communities and in your institutions.


A few weeks ago, while feeling frustrated and exhausted from white people asking me for free emotional labour work and problematic comments on my social media posts from well-meaning spiritual white women, I published the following post on my private FB page:

 
Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 7.53.43 PM.png
 

“I have a lot of white friends here on FB. Some of whom are doing the work of dismantling oppression (within themselves and their communities) and some who aren't.

I need to know who I can call on or tag to support me with emotional labour when a problematic white person wanders into my comments and starts to whitesplain to me how I should work or live.

Being a truth-teller who is a black woman means I face an inevitable backlash of comments soaking in both white supremacist ideology and patriarchal bullshit anytime I call a thing out for what it is. It is exhausting and it takes up a lot of emotional labour.

Who of my white friends can I call on for support with this? Who is willing to step in if I tag you and handle these problematic and privileged comments? Who is actually willing to step in and do the work, no matter how imperfectly? Who actually has my back?

Please comment below if you are here to support me (and other marginalised folk) in this way.

If you've been thinking 'how can I use my white privilege for good?' - this is how.”

I was delighted to have almost 250 white friends raise their hands and say ‘Yes - count me in. I’m here for you’. However, what I noticed is that many of them also had the caveat of ‘I’m not going to be anywhere near perfect at this, but I’ll try my best’.

I am dedicating this letter to those who wrote that caveat, and to anyone who is reading this letter and feeling the exact same way.

I understand that you want to be able to do this work, but you’re afraid that you’re going to get it wrong. And guess what? You probably will! You’ll probably make mistakes or say the wrong thing or inadvertently cause more harm than good.

Why?

Because you’ve probably never done this before in a big way, or feel you don’t know enough to handle these kinds of conversations with confidence. Also, you might find it uncomfortable to call out other white folks because you can see where they are coming from, and you know that in the past you’ve probably done exactly what they’re doing right now, because you didn’t know any better.

So if you are like one of the white people who raised their hands on my FB post and said, ‘YES, Count me in for being an ally to you and other people of colour in my community. I’m ready to use my white privilege for good!’, then you’ve got some work to do if you want to make sure that you don’t make as many mistakes and that you don’t do more harm than good.


Saying 'YES' to doing this work is only the first step.

If you’ve given your YES, then you need to know what your YES means.

Your YES means:

YES to constantly educating myself around issues of social justice, intersectional feminism, sacred activism and conscious leadership.

YES to constantly doing the work within myself of identifying how I oppress others and myself, and doing the work of calling myself out when I do harm - whether I meant it or not.

YES to listening to people of colour and other marginalised folk when they are taking the time to educate me for free, and not telling them how I think they should see things or what I think they should do.

YES to speaking up as often as possible in my personal and professional environments about this work and to calling out / calling in white privilege and oppression when I see it.

YES to supporting POC and other marginalised folk by reading and listening to their work, buying their services and products, inviting them onto my summits, podcasts and programs, and cultivating relationships with people of colour that are ‘transformational and not transactional’ (hat tip to Desiree Adaway for this quote). In other words, not using POC as tokens, but having real and respectful relationships with them of mutual support.

YES to doing the work of educating myself instead of expecting people of colour to tell me what to do or expecting them to make it comfortable for me to unpack my own privilege.

YES to seeing my spirituality as a way to engage deeper into this work rather than as a way to bypass this work, and to recognising that being devoted to Spirit means being devoted to social justice.

YES to taking an honest look at my business and the way that I may be perpetuating white supremacy through it (e.g. through cultural appropriation, mainly highlighting white people, refusing to speak on social justice, etc.) and doing what I can to change that.

YES to doing this work every day, even when I get it wrong, even when it’s hard, even when it feels like I’m not good enough at it - because it’s not about me.

YES to not just doing this work when it is convenient or comfortable for me, or because I think that talking about social justice will somehow enhance my business brand, but because it’s the right thing to do.

YES to bringing my anger to the table and using it in conscious ways to call out spiritual-bypassing, white-washing, light-washing, racism, misogyny and microaggressions when I see them happening.

YES to calling out and not engaging in cultural appropriation – which is rampant in the world of spiritual entrepreneurship.

YES to staying in my own lane and using my unique spiritual gifts to show up in sacred activism – whether as a writer, an artist, a facilitator, a speaker, a healer, a teacher or a guide.

YES to setting my ego and fragility aside so that I can do what’s right instead of what is easy.

YES to not letting guilt or making mistakes get in the way of me continuing to show up.

YES to apologising when I get it wrong and taking accountability for the harm that I’ve done.

YES to forgiving myself and educating myself, so that I can do better next time.  


And lastly, for those of us who identify as priestesses, YES to understanding that doing this work also means saying YES to the Dark Goddess.

Not as a deity to be worshipped. But as an embodied practice of working with the Dark Feminine within yourself.

The times that we are now living in and the work of social justice necessitates having a relationship to and embodiment of aspects of ourselves that patriarchal white supremacy has deemed as wrong, deviant or dangerous.

The Dark Feminine and her myths from around the world as Kali Ma, Inanna & Ereshkigal, Demeter & Persphone, Isis, Sekhmet, Cerridwen, Hecate, Pele, Durga, Oya, Lilith, Baba Yaga and many more, have so much to teach us about what it means to embrace and transform the shadow – both within ourselves and in the collective consciousness.

I will be writing and speaking much more about the Dark Goddess in the future, but for now what I want to say about this archetype is that through her myths, she teaches us the importance of transformational portals like rage, death & rebirth, grief, power, the mystery of not knowing all the answers, sexuality, no-bullshit truth-telling, strong boundaries and doing what is right rather than what is comfortable.

To the extent that we are unable to tolerate and embrace these dark aspects, we will similarly be unable to do the work of sacred activism.

If you cannot be with your own rage, then you cannot be with the rage that arises when a POC is getting frustrated with you because of your white privileged behavior.

If you cannot be with your own grief, then you cannot be with the grief that POC feel as a result of living with the constant trauma of being oppressed and discriminated against.

If you cannot be with your own power, then you cannot make space for POC exerting their power through their voice, their boundary-setting and their no bullshit truth-telling.

If you truly want to do this work then saying YES to all of the above is a non-negotiable.

Anything less than this is performative. It is wanting to give the perception of allyship and solidarity, without fully committing to it. 

And if a part of you is saying ‘Layla, you’re asking too much of me. I don’t know if I can do that’, then know that that in itself is privilege in action. Doing this work is an option for you because of your privilege. It is not an option for black and brown people, because it directly affects our lives.

I also hear the highly sensitive, introverted empaths in the back saying, ‘But this will exhaust me!’.

Guess what? There are highly sensitive, introverted empaths who are black and brown (like myself!) who are exhausted too. Sadly, we don’t get to opt out.

I’m not saying don’t tend to your self-care needs to do this work.

I’m not saying sacrifice your mental and emotional safety to do this work.

I’m not saying nothing else matters except this work.

I’m saying you can do both.

You can do this work, and tend to your needs.
Most POC you know are doing both all the time.
Whether we want to or not.

Remember, I am not asking you to do any of this perfectly. I am asking you to do it sincerely and with integrity.

Just begin.

Try. Fail. Listen. Learn. Speak. Be quiet. Change. Fail. Try again. Do better. Keep going.

And don’t stop.
Not ever.

Not until all of us are free.


I almost didn’t write this part of the letter.

As women, we are taught to be 'nice'.

We are taught that telling the truth of what happened to us is decidedly 'not nice'. As WOC (women of colour), we are taught that telling the truth of what happened to us at the hands of white people is not only 'not nice'.

It's downright dangerous.

We risk being not believed. Being gaslit. Being told that we are 'making everything about colour' or 'taking it too personally'. We risk being silenced. And we risk no longer being affirmed as worthy and good by the white people who we tell our truths to.

So we keep these secrets. These hurts. These traumas. Because we're not all that sure that telling the truth will actually achieve anything.

I want to tell my truth. But I had to sit with it deeply what I wanted to say, and why.

Here is why I want to tell it:

  • To show the white women reading this that doing this work isn’t about your words or your intentions. It’s about your actions and your impact.
  • To tell the truth for other POC who have experienced heartbreaking and infuriating incidents like this from other white women in their lives. (Because I know I’m definitely not the only one!). To let them know they are not alone. That they are not imagining it. That they can tell their truth. And that they can honour themselves by walking away from situations like this.

Now, here is the what:

Last week, a white woman who I know, whose intersectional feminist work I have promoted, whose business is focused on dismantling systems of oppression like white supremacy in the business world, allowed harm to come to myself and some other WOC in her Facebook group, while another white woman in that group refused to put a stop to racist attacks that were happening in her space.

This woman’s name is Kelly Diels.

She may sound familiar to you – either because you know her, or because you remember me mentioning her work not once, but twice in Part One of this series. You may remember that I referenced her work on FLEB (the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand). Many of you emailed me to thank me for introducing you to her work. Some of you may have joined her (now archived) ‘We Are The Culture Makers’ FB group after learning about her. Or possibly signed up for her 'Feminist Marketing School' program.

I recommended and spoke on her work in Part One of this two-part series because I believed that she was a leader of integrity. I believed that she practiced what she preached. I believed that when she spoke on culture-making, intersectional feminism and justice that she meant it. I believed that she was a white ally and someone who was really ‘doing the work’.

I don’t believe that anymore. And I do not recommend her work anymore.

Following a gut-wrenching experience that I, and a number of WOC had with her in her group, I now understand that Kelly is a person whose actions do not match her values. And having heard from other women (white and WOC) who have had their own jaw-dropping negative experiences with her, I now see that she is a woman whose actions are in fact the complete opposite of what she teaches.

I do not want to give anymore airtime to gossip around what happened and who did what. I have already communicated to Kelly directly how I feel and why I no longer want to be connected to or associated with her. I have also removed the hyperlinks to her site in Part One of this series, and added a note to explain that while I am keeping the reference to her work in the letter, I do not want to be associated with her. As far as I am concerned, I am now done talking about her and discussing what happened.

What I do want to do however, is use this as a real-life example, that I have personally experienced and witnessed, of how white women do harm to WOC by not following through their well-intentioned words with firm actions.

By creating the illusion of support and allyship, while simultaneously hurting, discarding and sacrificing WOC.

By using WOC as props, tokens and accessories to create an image of being a ‘woke’ white person.

By setting WOC up to believe that you care about them, and then standing by and saying nothing when you see them being harmed by another’s racist actions.

By being all talk and intention, but no action and impact.

Don’t do this. Don’t be that person. If you’re going to step up and do this work, then do it with integrity.

Otherwise, you’re only doing more harm than good, and you’re contributing to the frustration, anger and exhaustion that WOC have with white women.


In the final part of this letter, I want to share some links and resources for you to begin diving into.

It goes without saying that this list is not exhaustive.

It’s a starting point. It’s a way in. I will be adding this list as a separate Resources page on my site in the future, and adding to it whenever I come across helpful resources. But remember, this isn't my work to do. It is yours (if you have white privilege).

Please also remember that I regularly write about and hold conversations around these topics on my blog, my podcast, and now on Patreon

I wish you all the best as you continue on with this work.


Layla Saad
The Uses Of Anger: The Goddess Responding To Racism
 
Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

 

"My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also."

- Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (1981) 


Lately I have been thinking about anger, and its uses.

And I have been thinking about the Dark Goddess and her role in the cycles of spiritual death and rebirth.

And I have been thinking about how all of this intersects with spiritual activism and how I want to continue cultivating conversations in my online spaces.

If you've read any of my writing, you'll know that I run with a lot of fire energy.

My writing is direct, fierce and activating. I write with purpose to tell my truths, and to set fire to old and broken paradigms so that newer, true-er growth can come through. I write to burn down and destroy what is no longer working, so that more love, truth and justice can be experienced by us all. 

As a woman on the priestess path, I always find a way of relating my understanding of my soul work back to the archetypes and mythologies of goddesses. It will come as no surprise that I work closely with the goddess in her dark form (also know as the Dark Mother, the Dark Woman or the Dark Feminine).

The Dark Goddess has been known in many forms around the world, but the two that often fuel my writing around social justice are the Ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet (whose image has been on my phone for the last few months) and the Hindu goddess Kali*. 

Sekhmet, whose name means 'Powerful One' or 'She Who Is Powerful', is known as the lion-headed warrior goddess who was sent by Ra to punish mankind because he was angry that they were not preserving the sacred principle of Ma'at, or justice. The sun disk on her head is said to represent the searing heat of the mid-day sun, and she was named 'The One Who Loves Ma'at (justice) and Who Detests Evil'.

 
Sekhmet, from wall of Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt (Image sourced from Pinterest)

Sekhmet, from wall of Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt
(Image sourced from Pinterest)

 

Sekhmet was known by some as the 'lady of terror' because of the terrifying way that she rampaged through the fields with her unquenchable lust for human blood.

Eventually Ra realised that things were getting out of hand. He tried to get Sekhmet to stop, but she wouldn't. So he tricked her by pouring 7,000 jugs of beer and pomegranate juice in her path, which she thought to be blood. She drank the 'blood' and eventually passed out for 3 days. When she finally awoke, her bloodlust had dissipated and her rampaging ended.

Kali or Kali Ma, is the Hindu deity known as the Dark Mother. Kali is the goddess of creation and destruction. Death and rebirth.

She is a ferocious warrioress who fights against evil and injustice. In the Hindu religious text called the Devi Mahatmya, Kali is described as being born from the brow of the Goddess Durga during her great battle with the demon Mahishasura. Kali, who is thought to be a manifestation of Durga's anger, leaps forth from Durga's brow to help defeat the demons Shimba and Nishumba, and later the demon Raktabija. Kali's creation story in the Devi Mahatmya is described as follows:

"Out from the surface of her forehead, fierce with frown, issued suddenly Kali of terrible countenance, armed with a sword and noose. Bearing the strange skull-topped staff, decorated with a garland of skulls, clad in a tiger’s skin, very appalling owing to her emaciated flesh, with gaping mouth, fearful with her tongue lolling out, having deep-sunk reddish eyes and filling the regions of the sky with her roars, and falling upon impetuously and slaughtering the great asuras in that army, she devoured those hosts of the foes of the devas."

 
Chromolithograph, Bhau, Bul & Co. of London (19th century), N.d. (Image sourced from Magic Transistor)

Chromolithograph, Bhau, Bul & Co. of London (19th century), N.d.
(Image sourced from Magic Transistor)

 

However, like Sekhmet, Kali's rampaging soon got out of control and she was destroying everything in sight.

In order to stop her, Lord Shiva threw himself in front of her path and lay under her feet. Kali was so shocked at this sight that she stopped immediately and stuck her tongue out in astonishment. This surprising act by Shiva finally ended her rampaging and indiscriminate destruction of everything in sight. 


Why do I share these goddess stories? What does this have to do with racism, my spiritual activist writing or my work as a priestess? 

Everything. It has everything to do with them.

The energy and anger behind my writing is very much like Sekhmet ragefully devouring humans because they would not uphold justice, and Kali ferociously leaping from Durga's brow to defeat the demons that had brought evil and destruction to humankind. These goddesses are devouring in nature. And from the feedback that I often receive about my work, my writing can feel devouring too.

My writing unmasks.

It names what we are not supposed to name.

It forcefully strips back layers of lies and deception, so that things can be seen, acknowledged and accepted for what they are.

It demands nothing less than full truth and integrity.

It is a raging fire, burning down the white towers of injustice.

These goddesses had to fight fire with fire.

They could not ask nicely. They could not wish love & light onto the situation. They could not focus on manifesting positivity and hope that they would create what they focused on. They were fighting evil and injustice, for goddess sake! And what is white supremacy and racism, if not evil and injustice? They knew that in order to defeat these forces, they needed to work with their anger. To use it purposefully and unapologetically. To fully own it. 

This is what I am doing when I write about racism. 

As I quoted Audre Lorde saying above - my response to racism is anger.

Yes, I am angry.

I am angry with the spiritual white women who, instead of using their spirituality for justice, use it to silence and gaslight black women and women of colour.

I am angry with the spiritual white women who say they want to help heal the world, but instead do a lot of harm and damage by refusing to acknowledge their privilege or their role as oppressors in a system designed to advantage them, at the expense of others. 

I am angry with the spiritual white women who invoke the goddess to manifest their best life, but refuse to work with her in her angry, grieving dark form to bring about justice.

I am angry with the spiritual white women who do deep work with their clients on the witch wound or patriarchal wounds, but do not even acknowledge the slave wound of the white supremacy wounds (which therefore makes their work extremely white-centered, and negates the very real experiences of their community members who are black or people of colour).

I am angry with the spiritual white women who are happy to culturally appropriate goddesses and spiritual guides from various cultures and traditions that are not theirs, but host online spiritual summits and transformational events with speaker lists that are 90% white. 

I am angry at spiritual white women for a million reasons, and I use my anger to write to them in the hopes of activating awakening and change.

As Audre Lorde says in the talk on anger quoted at the start of this article:

"Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives."

So yes, I use my anger. And I will not apologise for it because it is useful, and it is mine.

And, at the same time, it is important to hold in mind the stories of Sekhmet and Kali letting their anger get out of control and destroying everything in sight without discernment or wisdom.

As Audre Lorde says in her talk on The Uses of Anger:

"Everything can be used / except what is wasteful / (you will need / to remember this when you are accused of destruction’)."

In other words, anger is a powerful tool however it loses its power when it becomes wasteful. When it becomes bloodlust. When it becomes bullying, shaming and unnecessary aggression.

When it begins to use you, instead of you using it.

This anger is not helpful and is not the type of anger I want to work with or encourage. This is why when we are using anger, we must be mindful in our use of it. So that in our trying to devour systems and ideologies of oppression, we do not end up devouring ourselves and the humanity of others in the process.

As someone who works so closely with anger and the goddess in her dark form, this is a lesson that I must continuously be learning.

As a black woman who has been conditioned to bite her tongue and stuff her anger back inside herself for survival in white-centered and male-centered spaces, allowing myself to feel and express my anger is one of the most liberating and empowering things that I can do. However I do not wish to allow my anger to turn into unconscious and self-destructive harm.

So this is a tightrope I am always walking and a paradigm that I am always exploring:

How can I rightfully and righteously express my anger as a black woman, a dark goddess priestess and a spiritual activist writer, without allowing my anger to devolve into attack, aggression and unconscious rage? Layer on top of this question the way that misogynoir tone-polices black women with the 'angry black woman' trope, and my own internalised oppression from patriarchy and white supremacy, and it gets even messier.

How do I know when I am consciously using my anger to create change, or when I am destructively using my anger to do harm?

How do I know when my anger is being used for intentional death & rebirth, or when it is being used for intentional death & destruction?

How do I know when my anger is coming from my power as a black woman, or when it is coming from my wounds as a black woman?
(And how do I know that one isn't as valid as the other?)

I don't have all the answers to these questions. And I certainly know that I'll never have it all perfectly figured out. But I know it's important to keep returning to this question:

Am I using my anger, or is my anger using me? 

One serves, one destroys.

I pray that as often as possible, I can come from a place of service and not destruction. And I ask that when you interact in my online spaces, you try as often as possible to come from a place of service rather than destruction, too. 

This does NOT mean black women and women of colour tone-policing themselves, tamping down on their righteous anger or conforming with white supremacist standards of being 'nice'. Messages like this are harmful and perpetuate the very oppression that we are trying to free ourselves from.

It also does NOT mean white women avoiding their responsibility of directly calling a thing a thing because they fear what it will do to their reputation or brand. Messages like this give white women an excuse to hide behind, when what we really need are white women willing to step up more and put their reputations and brands on the line in the name of justice. 

What it does mean however is checking your intentions and asking yourself - am I writing to serve, or am I writing to destroy?

Ultimately, only YOU can know when your anger comes to serve or to destroy. And I will call you and myself in when I feel our anger is not being of service, or when it feels like the bloodlust of our anger is doing unnecessary harm.

But this is the thing about doing this work. There are no neat boxes or easy-to-follow instructions on how to get this right. And the dynamics of white supremacy, white privilege, the historical and modern-day silencing of black women and women of colour, and the use of the internet as a means of mass communication mean that the answer is rarely ever going to be that straight forward.

In practicing our uses of anger through this work, I pray that we will continue to grow and learn together - with truth, justice and love as our teachers.

What I do know for sure is that at this point in history, we need anger. The appropriate response to racism is anger. And like the dark goddesses Sekhmet and Kali, we must use our anger to dismantle the evil and injustices of racism. 


As I finish up this essay, I want to say one last thing about Sekhmet and Kali.

Though both of these goddesses are described as terrifying, destructive and devouring, what we must also remember is that they have other sides to them that are healing and nurturing.

Although Sekhmet was known as the 'lady of terror', she was also known as the 'lady of life'.

She was the patron of physicians and healers, and her priests became known as skilled doctors. It was said that for her friends, she could avert plagues and cure diseases. She was just as much a healer as she was a destroyer.

As for Kali, she is often referred to lovingly as Mother Kali.

And although she is a fierce destroyer, it is thought that the impetus behind her destruction is to make space for rebirth. The darkness that she represents is often likened to the warm and unfathomable darkness of the womb. Though she destroys, she also creates. And without her destruction, creation could not take place. She devours all that is not working for us - fear, darkness, (unconscious) anger, self-destructive behaviour and injustice. Her devouring makes way for the birth of that which can better serve us.

I share this last part to remind us that the goddesses, like us, are complex and multidimensional. We are not always angry, always rageful, always devouring. We are loving and healing and nurturing, too.

And what may look like on the surface to be uncontrolled anger, destruction and rage may actually be truth, justice and love.


*Important note about speaking on Kali: It is important for me to note that I am not Hindu, and do not wish to culturally appropriate deities of the Hindu religion, such as Kali. While Sekhmet is from the Ancient Egyptian pantheon, Kali is part of a religion that is alive and thriving, with over a billion adherents worldwide. I want to make it clear that when I speak on Kali, I am not speaking as an expert or a worshipper. She is not mine to claim as my own. However, I would be remiss to mention her in this essay, as she is such a potent manifestation of the dark goddess, and has had such a huge impact on both my personal spiritual journey and my spiritual activist writing. Despite that, I want to make it very clear that she is not mine to own, and my intention is never to act as if she is. Thank you.


Layla 34(2).jpg

P.S. Pssst! Do you love my work and want to support my writing?

I now have a Patreon page! Click here to visit my page where I'm creating fire words of truth, justice and love. You can pledge your support as a patron for as little as $1 a month! (Although more would be appreciated ;)).

On my Patreon page you'll find more of my musings and conversations on sacred activism, spirituality, business and leadership. I'd love to have you join me on Patreon, as I'm planning to share more of my writing there and less on social media. 

Layla Saad
I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part One)
 
Photo by Anter Blackbird on Unsplash
 

Yesterday I was planning on releasing a new podcast episode with one of my dear friends, all about intuition and running a business as a mystic entrepreneur.

But I couldn’t do that yesterday.

Because this past weekend a white supremacist rally took place in the US and it’s all that’s on my mind.

So today I want to share my thoughts on racism, sacred activism and the responsibilities of those who choose to walk the priestess path. I’m also going to talk about white privilege and the role that white women must play in combating white supremacy.

Before you start reading this though, I have 10 things that I need you to know:

  1. This is a long letter. It’s actually way longer than I was expecting it to be, so I’m splitting it into two parts. I’ll be publishing Part 2 in a few days time.
  2. Before hitting publish on this letter, I have infused it with the healing energy of reiki. My constant prayer when I write is for my words to be of service. I am a word witch who uses words as a portal for healing and activation. As you read these words you may feel triggers rise up (especially if you are white). I have included reiki with these words not because I want to protect you from your own triggers but because I don’t want you to get so stuck in the paralysis of shame that you don’t do anything with what you may read here. Talking about white supremacy is talking about the shadow. When we go into the shadow, we must go wisely. Reiki is included not to make you more comfortable, but to make you more courageous so that you can face your own shadow behaviours and beliefs head on, and do what must be done to heal and move past them.
  3. I’m going to do this imperfectly. I’m not an expert on social justice. I am a spiritual mentor, teacher and healer who feels strongly about sacred activism. If I say something that is inaccurate, presumptious or that shows my own privilege without acknowledging it, I want to apologise in advance. However, just because I’m going to do this imperfectly does not mean that I should not do it at all. This is a problem that I see many people struggle with. Their fear of speaking out imperfectly or of being criticised stops them from saying anything at all. I’m not going to allow my fear to do that to me. So my words will be imperfect. But I pray that both the intention and impact of my words are of service.
  4. I do not live in the USA. However, many members of my community do, which is why it’s important for me to speak up. And, I am a black muslim woman with a platform and I believe I have a role to play, small though it may be, in our collective healing. So again, I will speak up. Also, while I may be referring to the US in this letter, I’m also talking about all countries where white supremacy exists and where white nationalism is on the rise.
  5. I want to acknowledge those people who have activism as their soul’s work. People like Desiree Adaway, Andrea Ranae, and so many more have taught me and countless others so much. I will be including references to their work in Part 2 and many others, because their work is invaluable.
  6. If you are not comfortable with me using words like white supremacy and white privilege, or you want me to stay away from the political and stick to the spiritual, or you use phrases like #notallwhitepeople or #alllivesmatter, then this is where we need to part ways. I’m not here for that. I’m not here for lightwashing, spiritual bypassing or entrepreneurs who claim that their work is about empowering others but do not extend that past their own privilege.
  7. I’m on day 31/32 of my cycle as I write this. I can literally feel my womb burning, waiting to release. So you are getting my words in the Wild Woman / Crone phase of my cycle. I’m fired up. I’m not going to dance around the subject. I stand for the Truth. I will not mince my words. If it seems like I’m being judgemental, I am. That’s the very least white supremacy, racial hatred and domestic terrorism deserve. Perhaps you are a person who is deeply uncomfortable with rage or you have trauma around anger. Digest this slowly. But digest it. We need righteous anger to fight hatred. Know that my anger comes not for the sake of anger, but for the sake of love. Deep. Fierce. Love.
  8. I’m going to share a few of my own experiences with racism and discrimination. I do not share these for your pity. I share them for context and to evoke your heart to step up.
  9. As a person of colour, it took a lot of emotional labour to write this. Dismantling white supremacy is the charge of white people who are the sole beneficiaries of this oppressive system (whether they want to be or not). But I share these words because as a priestess who guides a community of largely white women, I have a divine responsibility to use my spiritual gifts - my words - to support the healing of the world. That being said, when you have read all of this (and the resources I will be sharing in Part 2) please don’t come back to me and expect me or other people of colour to keep doing the work for you. Google is a wonderful tool. So is your own intuition. Use them.
  10. The reason why it’s really important for me to share this letter is because I have a *lot* of white women in my community. And without meaning to, a lot of times nice, well-meaning white women can contribute in a big way to the problems we see because they don’t speak up, or they want to keep things polite, or they think the best thing they can do is just focus on being a loving person rather than ‘getting involved in politics’. This white silence, white privilege and white shame leads to a lot of white complicity in white supremacy. So when I talk about the work that needs to be done, I’m talking much more to white women than I am to women of colour. It is not on people of colour to fight white supremacy or racism. It is on white people. And if you are a white woman entrepreneur with a platform (no matter how big or small), I am particularly talking to you and calling you in.

Ok, so let’s dive in.


There are many things that I want to talk about, and it is hard to know where to begin.

At the weekend I started by re-sharing two articles that I wrote earlier this year. One is called Rise Of The Priestess Activist and the other is called Dear White Supremacy. Both were written just after Donald Trump began his presidency and around the time of the Muslim ban. That was a scary time to be in. But right now is far, far scarier.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll know that a white nationalist rally took place in Charlottesville in the US over the weekend. Many were injured. A woman, Heather Heyer, who was known as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised, was killed. A young black man was surrounded by these hateful neo-Nazis and beaten with poles. Yes, POLES.

The images of angry white men rallying with torches is one of the most frightening things I’ve seen in recent times.

This image chills me to the bone every time I see it.

 
 

I’m not a US citizen.

But I am a black muslim woman. I carry within me both the experience from my own lifetime of racism and discrimination, and the collective trauma of belonging to a people who were slaves for centuries.

Last year when I was moving through my Divine Feminine spiritual awakening, I remember reading about the witch burnings. And how, as women and modern day witches and priestesses, we carry this trauma of being burned with us even today. And how that fear holds us back from speaking up and being seen in our full wild mystic power. I see many women in the spiritual community who understand just how much of a trauma this is for women, and who are doing the deep work of healing the witch wound and reclaiming their right to be here in their full authentic presence.

But can you imagine how it is for people of colour?

Can you imagine the trauma we carry from centuries of slavery, police brutality, discrimination and racial hatred?

The witch burnings happened at one period of time and yet we still remember. Imagine how it is for black people and people of colour. The hateful treatment against us never ended. It just went underground. And now it is resurfacing, emboldened by leaders like Donald Trump and others like him.

This weekend the KKK marched without their hoods. Do you understand what that means?

Can you imagine if a powerful group rose up in the western country you live in who wanted to burn women as witches, and they were seen as being legitimised by the country’s president? That sounds ridiculous right? And yet an angry mob of KKK white supremacists just marched with burning torches screaming racist and anti-semitic slogans in Charlottesville USA this weekend. And Donald Trump and others have said too little, too late.


People have often asked me where I’m from.

I was born and grew up in Cardiff, Wales. I have lived in Wales, Africa, England and Qatar. I am a first generation British daughter of immigrant parents. My mother is from Zanzibar (a small island off Tanzania) and my father is from Mombasa (Kenya’s second largest city). My parents’ families are also both originally from Oman in the Arabian Gulf. I moved from the UK to Qatar when I was 15 years old. So I’m an African-Arab British muslim woman who lives in the Middle East.

I share all of this to give you more context of where I am speaking from.

I’m a Divine Feminine spiritual mentor and teacher whose identities span both East and West, and whose audience is made up of mainly white women.

This puts me in a very odd but unique position to speak on some of today’s issues to my particular audience.

I know intimately what it’s like to grow up in the UK in the 80s and 90s and be bullied, laughed at and teased because of my skin colour, my culture, my religion and my hair.

That is not to say I had a terrible childhood. I had a great childhood that was privileged in many other ways. But I also grew up always knowing that I was ‘other’. And that affected me in many ways into my adulthood of which I have had to do a lot of healing and reclamation work around.

One memory sticks out in particular.


The house I grew up in, in Wales, was right next to a children’s park.

My brother and I would go there everyday by ourselves, especially when the weather was good, to play on the swings and slides. We loved that park.

But one day, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, a new boy started coming to play at the park.

And the first time I saw him, he sneered at me and told me that my skin was the colour of poop.

My face still feels red just thinking about it. I felt so ashamed. I couldn’t say a thing. All I felt was the shame of being in the skin that I was in. Of not being white like everyone else. I ran straight home with tears in my eyes.

After that day I refused to go to the park anymore without my mum. I never told her what happened. I felt too ashamed to even say it to her. I believed that everyone must be laughing at me and people who looked like me, because our skin looked like the colour of poop. I took that shame and buried it deep inside myself. I internalised this idea that I was other. That I was in some way, wrong. And that I was less than. And most damaging of all, that I did not deserve to be seen, because you know, my skin was the colour of poop. I recognise how ridiculous that sounds now, but as a 7 year old I took it as total truth.

As I grew up, I experienced more instances of racial prejudice like this. Some small, some big.

Each time, I took these situations and buried them deep inside of myself, adding to this story that being who I was was intrinsically wrong and unworthy. I had lots of friends growing up. Most of them white. And while I loved them deeply, and I knew they loved me, I never quite shook off the feeling that I was in many ways less deserving of love and visibility than they were.

Because of the colour of my skin.


In the summer of 1999, when I was 15 years old, our family moved from the UK to Qatar after my dad was head-hunted for a job.

Up until that point, I had always been in the minority (black and muslim). But moving to the Middle East was a revelation. I was now the norm. People who looked like me and who worshipped like me were not the odd ones out. We were the majority. And that really turned my paradigms of what was normal upside down and inside out. I no longer had to be ashamed of the colour of my skin, or my culture, or my hair or my parents’ mother tongue or the way we worshipped. For the first time it felt like my identity was validated.

That summer, another important event took place.

I was in the library searching for some books to help me pass the summertime while we waited for school to begin. I stumbled across the book Roots by Alex Haley. First published in 1976, Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte - an 18th century African who was captured and sold into slavery in America. The book follows his life and the life of his seven generations of his descendants all the way to the author himself, Alex Haley. The book was massive and so I thought it would keep occupied for at least a few days.

Little did I know that I was about to get an education in the horrific history of slavery, racial discrimination and white supremacy.

Up until that point I had never heard of or studied anything to do with slavery. I was horrified as I read about slave ships, people being sold as if they were cattle, the rape of black slave women by their white masters and the terrifying punishments inflicted upon any slave who tried to escape.

The most shocking thing I remember reading in that book was a passage where a discussion was taking place about how black people weren’t actually considered fully human. They weren’t considered to have souls, so they were not human, so they did not deserve to be treated with the same level of equality and justice as a white person.

My 15 year old self could not wrap my brain around this. Of course we are human! That doesn’t even make sense, I thought. And yet, that was the belief. At the time I rationalised it away by saying to myself, maybe that’s how it was in the past, but it’s not like that anymore.

But still, reading that book made a huge impact on how I saw myself as a black person in the world.


Fast forward 18 years later to this weekend and these images.

 
 

Oh yes. White supremacy is still alive and kicking.

Slavery may not (technically) be legal. But racism flourishes. And so do the oppressive systems of white supremacy that allow white privilege and racial discrimination to still exist.

The personal anecdotes I’ve mentioned above are sad, but they are nothing compared to the exhausting and scary reality that many black people and people of colour live through everyday in western or white-majority countries.

We are not living in a post-racial world. While the events in Charlottesville may be shocking and outrageous to many white people. It is sadly not for many black people and people of colour. From the time we were 6 or 7 years old, we already knew that we were other. We already knew that society did not center us as normal or beloved or worthy of just treatment. We’ve known this our whole lives. We have been taking on this burden of white supremacy and fighting this shit our whole. damn. lives.


Which brings me to you, my dear white sister.

I’m wondering how you’re feeling right now as you are reading this letter.

Uncomfortable? Outraged? Helpless? Ashamed? Wanting to do everything you can to stop this and yet feeling like you have no idea what you can do or say?

I hear you. It’s overwhelming and confusing and triggering as hell.

But while for you this may be really emotionally distressing, for people of colour this is way more than that. This is about the right to black lives. About black human rights. About the simple right to exist in the skin we were born in without harassment, discrimination or injustice.

This right far surpasses your white shame, white fragility and your white privilege of staying silent.

White shame, white fragility, white privilege and white silence are a HUGE part of the problem.

You did not create white supremacy. But you benefit from it every day because of the white skin you were born in.

Even if you don’t want your privilege, you still have it, because white supremacy exists and is the dominant paradigm of places like the US, the UK, Europe and Australia. As a white person, you have the privilege of being able to say, ‘high vibes only’ and ‘I don’t follow the news because it’s too political’ and ‘I just want to focus on love and light’.

This is not okay. And it’s up to you to do your part to dismantle white supremacy.

Because it is literally destroying black lives.

In Part 2 of this letter I’m going to sharing my thoughts on the very real challenges of being a highly sensitive sacred activist, and I will be sharing a PDF resource with lots of links and resources for you to read, share and use. For the rest of this letter, I want to talk about the responsibility that white women entrepreneurs in the spiritual/self-help world have to speak up and take action.


So let’s talk about the hypocrisy of entrepreneurs who claim that their work is all about empowering others, and yet, when the time comes to speak up about white supremacist Nazis and racial injustice, they are silent.

As my friend Jess Sells Wertman said, “Know the difference between a leader and a marketer. Many marketers like to style themselves as leaders, but that doesn't mean they ARE.”

Many so-called leaders in the online business world tell us that their work is about changing the world, leading revolutions and transforming people’s lives. And yet… in the face of racism and injustice they say next to nothing or simply re-share someone else’s inspirational meme. This isn’t okay with me. It is my belief that if you have a platform, you also have a responsibility.

And the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.

But what I am witnessing is that many (but certainly not all) of those with bigger platforms are much more hesitant to speak out. Perhaps because of how it might affect their positioning or the optics of their brand. Or perhaps because, as Jess said, they are more marketers than leaders. Or maybe their leadership only extends to becoming a big brand name and getting featured on Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 list.

These are not my leaders. I refuse to give my time and money to leaders who perpetuate what writer and feminist marketing consultant Kelly Diels* has labelled the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand or FLEB for short.

Kelly describes FLEB as both:

  • An archetype women must comply with and embody in order to be deserving of rights and resources, AND
  • A marketing strategy that leverages social status and white privilege to create authority over other women.

FLEB is complicit in upholding white patriarchal supremacy.

FLEB focuses on the empowerment of the individual, rather than the collective. And if it does focus on the collective, it’s often focused on a very narrow view of who that collective is (which as you’ve guessed it, is usually white women). FLEB casually uses the hard-earned language of activism and revolution to sell empowerment to those who already hold a lot of privilege in this world.

In the spiritual business world, I’ve seen FLEB perpetuated by white women entrepreneurs who devote themselves to doing deep spiritual work for themselves and their clients, and yet remain absolutely silent on anything to do with politics and justice.

I’ve seen it perpetuated by white women who believe that the best thing they can do is just focus on being a good and loving person, and serving their (largely white) audience and sending love and light instead of actually speaking up.

It absolutely boggles my mind that there are spiritual entrepreneurs who do not see the clear link between the work they do as healers, mentors and teachers for their paying clients, and the work that’s needed in the world for our collective healing and liberation.

And this is not to say that your whole business has to become about activism. That isn’t what I’m saying at all. I’m also not saying don’t do the work that you have been doing or don’t serve the audience you have been serving. What I’m saying is, open up your eyes and take a more expanded view of what your role is here.

I’m saying you are kidding yourself if you don’t believe that it is your responsibility as a spiritual teacher, healer, mentor or guide to say something and do something about what you see happening in the world.

When I think of the great mother goddesses and Divine Feminine teachers who guide my path (Isis, Kali Ma, Kuan Yin, Mary Magdalene, Diana, Joan Of Arc, Mother Mary, to name a few), I see women who were committed to the whole world’s healing and liberation. And not the privileged few who could afford to work with them and who fit into the mould of the archetype of the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand.

If you truly live your life guided by the Goddess, and you are not doing your part to dismantle white supremacy, then you’ve got work to do.

The Goddess isn’t just here for the liberation of white women.

She’s here for the liberation of us all.


Whew. This is a lot isn’t it?

When I first started writing this letter, I did not anticipate it would be this long. I knew I had a lot to say but writing this letter seems to be activating me too. Clarifying my purpose. Burning away the irrelevant masks and helping me to become a clearer channel of service.

But this is also where I hit a wall, got a headache and started crying.

So I intuitively knew it was time for me to step away from writing instead of forcing the rest of the letter through.

I’ll be back in a few days time with Part 2 of this letter. I pray these words are of service.

Big love,

Layla
 

*Since publishing this letter, I have personally had, and witnessed other women have, disturbing and hurtful experiences with Kelly Diels that lead me to no longer want to be associated with her. While Kelly teaches around the subjects of intersectional feminism and social justice, I have personally witnessed her, and heard accounts of her, acting in ways that run in complete opposite to what she teaches. I have chosen to keep the section in this letter on the FLEB in the article, because the substance of the points I have made in regards to this still ring true. However, I cannot and will not hold up the credibility of a woman whose actions towards women, and in particular women of colour, have hurt so many and trouble me deeply. Thank you.

Layla Saad