I hardly know how to start processing the horrific reality of racism and brutality against Black people in America, and reflecting on practices that can help us tolerate and deepen the hard work ahead. I feel outraged, heartbroken, afraid, ashamed, guilty and overwhelmed. Systems in our country must clearly change to end violence against Black people, and that begins with myself, and other racially privileged individuals, doing the necessary inner and outer work to get there. For me, I have had to lean even more into my four regular practices for growth. I have shared these in previous posts and will apply them here to our journey ahead confronting racism.
For my original blog on regulating our nervous systems, see here.
Without effective regulation of our nervous systems, our long-term efforts at allyship will likely lead to burnout or be self-centering. As a white person, and as someone who identifies as highly sensitive and working through a trauma history, I know first hand how prone my nervous system is to reacting to issues of race with defensiveness or denial, or fighting for justice before self-reflecting on my own part in the problem. For white people, part of our work is learning to sit with the discomfort in learning and acknowledging how we have, and continue to, benefit from white supremacy. Tolerating our feelings, and those of others, is a significant part of on-going work around privilege and race and to do that nervous system regulation is key. Here is a short list of practices to regulate:
4-7-8 deep breathing, running/walking/dancing/exercising, paying attention to our 5 senses, eight hours of sleep, conversation and physical affection with those with whom we feel safe, making space to cry or yell, spending time in nature, and psychotherapy.
Two (of many) Black voices teaching on regulation practices: Torrie Ananda Prema (@trauma.informed.selfhealing) and Prentis Hemphill (@prentis.h)
For my original blog on observing, see here.
Mindfulness is the practice of observing our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations without judgement. Observing ourselves in this way is critical to our being truly anti-racist. How can we be anti-racist if we are not aware of what is happening inside us and of what body sensations, thoughts, and feelings are connected with the racism we’ve inherited and learned? By observing the phenomena of our inner experience as simply objects of awareness, we can begin to reclaim our power from the racist programming we’ve received and make new conscious choices. There are so many great resources for formal practices of observation and mindfulness online and in apps such as Calm and Aura. Here are a few ideas for practicing self-observation more informally, and the key on each will be noticing with compassion:
- Notice when scrolling social media and the news, what body sensations, thoughts and feelings pop into your awareness and take you away from what you are seeing and hearing?
- When you notice, or someone lets you know, that you have done/said something with racist impact (regardless of intent) what recurring feelings or narratives come up in your awareness?
- When you have opportunities to kindly confront friends and family members who speak or act in racist ways, notice what comes up for you. Is there anger, fear, sadness, or perhaps conflicted, people-pleasing, feelings that keep you from speaking up?
- When you have opportunities to connect with your Black friends, family, co-workers, employers, employees, etc. what comes up? Are you able to connect from a calm and centered place in you or do you feel your body knotting up with fear of saying something unintentionally offensive?
Two (of many) Black voices teaching on Observation and Mindfulness: angel Kyodo williams (@zenchangeangel) and Lama Rod Owens (@lamarodowens)
For my original blog on listening, see here.
When we are regularly practicing emotional regulation and self-observation, I believe we can more fully turn our attention to listening to both Black voices in our community, and our inner selves.
Listening to Black people
White people, we need to listen to Black people. I recommend filling your social media with Black influencers, buying books by Black authors on anti-racism, enrolling in online courses by Black educators, and listening to Black co-workers, friends, and family that give you feedback. When we are regulated and practicing self-observation, we are poised to have our unseen racism deconstructed by the truth of Black people. Rather than burdening Black people with educating or emotionally reassuring us, especially as they may already be feeling traumatized by what is going on, we can listen to Black voices who put out educational work (books, resources, social media accounts, courses, etc.) and those who choose to give us feedback in personal interactions. As white people who carry racial privilege, it is our responsibility to listen for what impact our words and actions have, and to seek out and hear the voices of marginalized groups.
Listening to our inner selves
All the parts of yourself that you observed, whether sensations, thoughts or feelings, are like messengers from deep within you that want to be heard. You don’t have to take them at face value or act upon them reactively. Gentle curiosity will take you a long way in discovering what message they have for you. I believe most of us have a part within us that is oriented towards justice for all. Sometimes we either need help finding that part of us again or we need help not being driven into burnout by it. Sometimes the inner voices are more of fear, anger, and separation. Those are important to hear out too. Listening to these painful parts of ourselves is the first step in healing them and can help protect us from acting them out. Journaling, art, and psychotherapy are great ways to listen to what all parts of you are communicating.
Two (of many) Black voices on effective listening and learning: Resmaa Menakem (@resmaamenakem) and Leesa Renee (@leesareneehall)
For my original blog on acting, see here.
In my opinion if we have not been regularly practicing regulating, observing ourselves, and listening to our Black community and our inner selves, then the actions we take, even with good intention, may either be unhelpful or cause burnout. However, through the above practices we can bring into existence the unique strengths, gifts, and vulnerabilities that we each bring to creating a more just society for our Black community. Taking action can still feel wildly uncomfortable. That’s okay. Action could be consciously choosing to attend a protest. Action could also be consciously choosing not to attend the protest because you know your sensitive nervous system will make you more of a liability than a helpful participant. Instead you choose to drive friends to and from the protest or donate to organizations that center Black voices. Action could be educating your children on anti-racism, speaking up in the workplace when a racist comment is made, writing your government officials, or apologizing for your defensiveness to Black friends when they’ve called you out. When you’re doing the above inner practices your actions will more likely reflect your true self and therefore increase the likelihood of helpful impact and sustainability.
2 (of many) Black voices on action: Nedra Glover Tawwab (@nedratawwab) and Ibram X. Kendi (@ibramxk)
I hope some aspect of these practices is helpful to what you already are, or are looking to begin doing, as an ally to our Black community.
As a scheduler here at Deep Eddy, I consider it an honor to help schedule Black clients with therapists who are culturally humble and sensitive, particularly our therapists of color. My intention is to make scheduling a therapy appointment with us an experience that feels safe, respectful, and empowering for anyone. Whether you’re simply wanting a safe therapist to work with for general anxiety and depression or if you’re needing specialized support for racial trauma, if you feel therapy might be a helpful resource for you, please reach out to me at 512-956-6463 or [email protected]
By: Sean Williams, Deep Eddy Psychotherapy Scheduling Team