Virus and Vaccine
I meditate. I take deep breaths. I bring my attention to my body and notice the subtle shifting and pulsing that is present in me. My throat feels constricted and my heart beat quickens for a few seconds. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it. I want to be helpful and I want to offer resources that support personal growth but I feel uncomfortably ill equipped to teach…but this is the truth of where I am. COVID is still present in our communities and in our psyches. It has also exposed a deeper even more virulent and difficult to detect virus, RACISM. Our sheltering in place restrictions have loosened, and I have invited friends over to my house to have social distancing dinner, but I can’t help but think as I engage and try to relax with friends, do you have the virus? How do I really know if the virus is present in someone? What about the virus of racism? Do you have it? Do I?
I have learned a new word – ANTIRACIST. I googled, anti-racist practices. The first site to come up was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, with an opening quote from Angela Y Davies, political activist, philosophe
r and author;
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
I have never thought of myself as racist. How could I be? After all, I am a person of color. I married a black man and have children who identify as black. I have personally experienced vicious hatred because of the color of my skin and the way I was dressed. When the bo
ys were little, six and two years old, my parents, the boys and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at an Indian restaurant for dinner after visiting the temple. We were dressed in our beautiful Indian clothing. As we left the restaurant and were walking to the car, two white young men started yelling and screaming loudly at us to go home to our own country, raising their arms shouting with profanity that we didn’t belong in America. I was paralyzed w
ith rage, fear and confusion. It really sunk in for me that some people might view me as “not American”. Fast forward a decade, during a vacation in a small town in northern California with family friends, my older son, who had just graduated high school, was walking alongside a lake road in the middle of the afternoon with his childhood friend who is white, petite and blond. A police car trolled alongside of them for about 15 minutes before speeding off. He said it made him self-conscious, like he was being put on notice. Even now, I am always aware of my skin color, and I always look around the room, any room I am in, for people who share my skin color. So I can’t be racist right? In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X Kendi, offers this definition of racist;
RACIST: One who is su
pporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
By that definition, I am racist. The path of my childhood was far from the traditional American experience, but nonetheless, born in Wisconsin, and having lived there until I was 11 years old, I preferred white over my brown skin. I played with the white, blonde, narrow bodied Barbies of that era and learned what it meant to be beautiful, and I was not it. I rejected my Indian upbringing and wanted to hide my heritage around my white friends. I was in 3rd grade when busing made my all white (except for me and one other Indian kid) elementary school speckled with more black and brown faces. But even then, I have known, benefited fro
m and supported white privilege. I am a racist because even now I worry about offending white people by raising the issue of race. I am guilty of having to
ld my boys to take off their hoods when wearing sweatshirts, or pull up their low hanging pants, so that someone white wouldn’t feel intimidated by their teenage tallness and blackness. I have supported the status quo. I am a racist because of my inaction on the topic of racism.
I do feel regret for my racist beliefs, but I also feel emboldened and grateful, because now there are tools. I have mindfulness, and that allows me to see more past my habitual conditioning. I heave learned through meditation, to question my thoughts, to see their deep roots, which in turn depersonalizes and destabilizes the potency of the underlying false belief. I learn to practice turning towards my discomfort and sit with it instead of rejecting it by pushing it away. I turn towards myself with compassion, instead of blame and judgemen
t. And now for the first time in my life, there is enough critical mass of pain and discomfort to make me want to no longer be racist. The opposite of racist is antiracist.
ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. ~ Ibram X Kendi
To me, with mindfulness, I can and want to become antiracist. I began writing this morning, nervous and feeling hesitant about what to say, afraid to take on the complex and shameful topic of racism. But now I feel relaxed and even a little happy because by sharing with you, I have taken one more step in vaccinating myself against virulent virus – racism. If you would like to explore this with me, I am beginning to read Ibram X Kendi’s book, How to be Antiracist, and welcome open discussion with you.