[Photo by Naya Jones]
I light some incense, burn sage, and my altar lights up. I'm about to perform a revolutionary act. I'm going to meditate, breathe, and be for the next 15 minutes or so. This time reminds me that the teaching, the speaking, and the writing are expressions. If I sit right here for a delicious moment, they can be deeper. More conscious. More aware. This is activism.
We light some incense, burn sage, and the altar lights up. We're about to perform a revolutionary act. We move in a circle, our Black-identified, women-identified bodies finding rhythm. We laugh. In this precious moment, I don't just remember my life matters. I remember what it means to live. We recharge each other. This is activism.
We prepare the space by writing announcements on the chalkboard. We project the agenda on the screen. We're about to perform a revolutionary act. As Black professors we'll delve into topics of race/racism, white supremacy, and self-care with a group of students on a predominantly white campus. We ask students about their stories, and we share ours. This is activism.
Enter the activist olympics . . .
I started writing this blog before the election. Now, post-election, acknowledging the different forms activism can take for me and others feels even more important.
Every day I'm receiving opportunities to react. Every day, every moment, I'm choosing how to respond. As confidently as I wrote that introduction above, and as grounded as I feel on the path, I still find myself feeling pressured to "do" activism in specific ways.
Suddenly I'm drawn into what I started calling the activist olympics. Turns out I'm not alone in using that language; see this deep piece on white anti-racism.
As a Black woman, my activist olympics look like this: 1) I focus on outcomes, 2) I measure activism based on scale and scope and milestones, and 3) when this goes unchecked, I apply this yardstick to other people: Are they doing enough? Are they perpetuating the "system"? Are they buying into it, or are they selling out?
Yes, people perpetuate the very systems that oppress or privilege them all the time. We do this individually and collectively. The problem here is the assumption that I don't, as if I always challenge systemic issues, all day, every day. As if I have The Answer.
When I'm caught up in the activist olympics, I either give myself too much credit, or I don't give myself enough.
I start explaining why all of the above - the teaching, the healing circles, and more - is revolutionary. I feel pressured to describe if I'm quote "moving the needle". I feel the need to prove how meditation can be a social justice practice. I feel pressed to show up to protests or meetings - even if I'm concerned about patriarchy or homophobia when I get there.
. . . and the spiritual olympics
I've been navigating the spiritual olympics post-election, too. I always navigate them, but in the context of so much national and global trauma, these olympics are very much alive at the moment.
In so many spiritual spaces (say, holistic health settings or churches for instance), power dynamics are considered an illusion. Race/racism and other structures are considered distractions from what is spiritual. Sometimes this is explicitly stated. Other times it's clear from a lack of discussion about discrimination or privilege or race.
From this spiritual perspective, my vision is limited. I'm ensnared by the physical world. Seduced by illusion. I've forgotten Who I Am.
I feel a push to explain how social justice work can be spiritual, and how race/racism is a soul matter, too. I feel the need to share my experiences with the metaphysical - with intuition, or ancestors, or otherwise - as proof. I feel a pull to prove how spiritually "connected" I am - as if I can!
Reclaiming the "ground of my being"
When I'm drawn into the activist or spiritual olympics, it's a call.
It's time to reclaim what Beckwith so beautifully calls the "ground of my being". It's time to get grounded in my body, mind, and spirit. It's time to remember what draws me to this healing justice path in the first place.
What really draws me is transformation. I'm inspired by the personal and collective transformation I experience and witness on the path. I'm energized by the process of cultivating deeper awareness, honoring mutual humanity, and celebrating possibilities with community.
When I connect with this inspiration, I remember legacies! I don't need to carry so much, and neither do you. Ancestors in the form of family members, writers, artists, musicians, and more have traveled this healing justice path before. I'm remembering the wisdom of radical Black, Brown, and indigenous women who emphasize everyday activism: self-care, love of each other, sharing food, taking care of each other's families, honoring elders.
Whether in the context of community organizing or just life, all of these practices are enough. These practices sustain communities and nurture resilience. RootWork, the holistic healing work I do primarily with Black women and students, comes from knowing this.
Post-election, it's time to reconnect with that knowing.
There are many ways to support social transformation.
There are many ways to serve.
By sustaining myself, I support others.
By sustaining ourselves, we sustain each other.
By sustaining ourselves, we sustain movements.
And so it is.