I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part Two)
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.
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:
“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.
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.
Try. Fail. Listen. Learn. Speak. Be quiet. Change. Fail. Try again. Do better. Keep going.
And don’t stop.
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).
I wish you all the best as you continue on with this work.
People of colour who I listen to and learn from:
- Desiree Adaway
- Staci Jordan Shelton
- Andrea Ranae Johnson
- L’Erin Alta
- Alexis P. Morgan
- Ericka Hines
- Ijeoma Oluo
- Anuradha Kowtha
- Dr. Mary Canty Merrill
- Luvvie Ajayi
- Reni Eddo-Lodge
- DiDi Delgado
Websites and online publications that I follow and learn from:
Social justice programs, groups and initiatives that I recommend:
- Diversity Is An Asset
- Coaching As Activism
- Whole / Self Liberation
- Safety Pin Box
- White Nonsense Roundup
- Women Podcasters in Solidarity Initiative
- Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism
- Authentic Allyship Coaching Group
Podcasts I recommend:
further reading & Research:
- 12 Essays About White Privilege That Every White Ally Needs To Read
- Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race
- How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101
- Confronting Whiteness: A Conversation Series
- A Flowchart For People Who Get Defensive When Talking About Racism
- Racism Scale
- No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege
- Why White Lady Sisterhood Needs to Evolve
- Healing From Whiteness
- White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack
- Reclaiming My Power From White Women
- The Urgency of Intersectionality
- An excerpt from 'The Color of Fear' documentary
- Dear White Co-conspirators