Racist: A description instead of a judgment?
How much easier would it be to talk about race if the word racist was a description of having been mis-shapened throughout our lives by a culture sick with oppressive policies and structures, instead of being a personal attack on our character? What if that word identified a particular behavior of ours, only in one moment, that supported a broad collection of policies that harmed significant groups of people? What if lifting up that single behavior gave us an opening to further align ourselves with our values—realizing the hopefulness of our ability to continuously learn and change?
What if the word racist was just a description of having been made ill from this sickness, instead of being a way to say that someone is a bad person? In his 2019 book How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi describes his physician telling him that he had cancer. Paraphrased: I didn’t interpret her words as a personal attack—only that I had a condition, a diagnosis, that I needed to get treatment for, or it would kill me.
Racism, as well as all forms of oppression, is killing all of us. What if saying that an act is racist is simply giving that person an opportunity to seek treatment, allowing them to work toward curing the behaviors that are symptoms of a contagious illness?
One of the most powerful learnings from my mindfulness training is the freedom that comes with being able to describe and label, without the need to combine that description with an integrated evaluation of good-bad, or right-wrong. With a description comes the chance to deconstruct, look at the pieces, decide to keep some aspects, change others, and even discard some. With a chronic overt or implied evaluation, at least within white supremacy culture, comes the experience of feeling attacked, and/or feeling shame and blame—which shuts us down, and leads to disconnection, avoidance or silence.
To steal a prompt from one of my most beloved mindfulness teachers, I would ask: if we give up the need to assume that everything is an accusation or evaluation, what would there be to discover?
May all beings be safe,