• Thoughts on the Privilege of White Motherhood and Whether or Not We Are the Problem

    I am a white mother of black boys. This gives me a certain perspective in the conversation of race. I have to be mindful and aware of my whiteness and at the same time I have a responsibility to their blackness. I am far from an expert, but I’d like to share some thoughts.

    I was recently sharing with someone close to me, a white mother of white children, the conversations I am having with my boys. We have been speaking about identity. How they see themselves with parents of different races and how the world sees them. It is important for them to know that even though they are of my body, a white body, the world will not see their whiteness, it will be much more comfortable identifying them by their darker skin. I have been working to empower them, telling them that who they are, regardless of other’s perspectives, is amazing and powerful and beautiful and that they matter.

    We have been talking about racism. They are aware of slavery, and segregation, and Martin Luther King Jr. and that his dreams are not yet realized. We have talked about the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors of racists and the emotional and behavioral reactions to acts of racism. Do they understand it? Have they experienced it? What would it look like if they did? How would they react? How do they feel about it?

    When scenes of protests all across the nation show up on the TV screen we talk about them and why they are happening. We talk about current systems of oppression including the behaviors of some police officers and people in positions of power. My youngest looked at his father and cried “Daddy! Don’t go outside!” He was afraid for his dark skinned father, afraid the world would hurt him. So I took them to a protest, I took them to a rally, I took them to local events to show them that people are standing up, calling for, fighting for their equality, their futures. That it is good.

    This other mother, with tears in her eyes, asked “What can I do?” I took her question to be directed at me personally, my personal experiences, and I answered that there was nothing for her to do – they were my conversations to have. I was wrong. More on that later. More recently I was speaking to another dear friend, another white mother of white children, who was trying to understand the accusation that white people are the problem. She’s been observing anger, judgement, even hatred directed against white people by BIPOC, and she named it racism against white people. She mentioned that she didn’t want to have to have this conversation with her kids.

    It brought up so many thoughts for me. Her interest in sincerely examining the issues and her own involvement is what motivated me to write this. If you share a desire to understand, to know better and do better, please continue.

    First of all, racism involves an ideology of superiority/inferiority and includes, in fact depends on, a dynamic of power. If you don’t have the power, you cannot be racist. (massive discussion for another time) Judgement, anger, accusation, and hatred directed at white people by BIPOC is a reaction to the treatments that are systematized, institutionalized, and sanctioned by default and by the passive acceptance of the majority (white) population.

    More importantly, when you are the recipient of this type accusation, when you feel hated for being white, I suggest that you acknowledge the feeling, take it all the way into yourself, accept it, own it. How does it feel to have that energy directed at you because of our race, something you didn’t choose, maybe because of something you didn’t do and in fact don’t agree with yourself. You are not racist, yet you are hated. Your experience, briefly, in that one or those few instances, is a tiny drop compared to the ocean of experiences BIPOC have had for generations, hundreds of years. You are experiencing it for a moment. It is the reality of their existence and has been for far too long. That alone should inspire in you compassion for their struggle, and understanding of their pain, even their anger. If you are frustrated, fatigued, or angry about the conflict and tension of this time in society around the issue of race imagine how they must feel. You are tired of being targeted? They are freaking exhausted.

    A response of fear of the black lives matter movement, of black anger, of the protests is, at its root, an acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them, perhaps even a sense of guilt. “Will they do to us what we’ve done to them?” Again, a feeling worth unpacking for the insight it may give you into the experiences of BIPOC for the past five hundred years in this country.

    Own it all.

    Regarding whether or not we, simply by being white, are the problem. I say probably yes. You may not believe in racist ideologies, you may even recognize that most, if not all, systems in our society are set up to benefit the majority to the detriment of minorities. Participating in the status quo serves the maintaining of the status quo. If the status quo is racism and you are not actively working to dismantle it, then yes, you are the problem. As Angela Davis said, “It is not enough to be non-racist. You have to be antiracist.” There is also a book on the subject: How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. I recommend it.

    So what can white mothers of white children do? How can you participate in the dismantling and rebuilding of a society? Do the difficult, uncomfortable, unending work of identifying your own personal bias and deeply seated beliefs. Then, talk to your children just as I have to talk to mine, as all mothers of children of color have to talk to theirs. Recognize that not having to have these conversations with your children is your privilege. But if issues of racism matter to you, if black lives matter, if my children matter, not having them isn’t an option.

    To my dear friend who cried at the thought of the experiences my children may be having and will certainly have to have many times in their lives, your children shouldn’t be spared these difficult moments, these painful truths. It is your burden too, and theirs.

    Mothers of white children, talk to them so that it is as important an issue to them, their lives, and their future as it is to mine and to all black, indigenous, children of color. You, right now, are determining how your children will see mine, how they will treat them, and whether or not systems of racism will survive into the next generation. If it is not something they feel they have to deal with, they may choose not to, and these problems, this conflict, this pain and hatred will continue.

    We are all, as parents, on a journey of learning, and screwing up, and changing, and doing the best we can. Let this issue, that of inequality in our society, of racism, be an issue in your home, as it is, essentially, an issue in mine. You, mothers, are raising everyone’s future, not just that of your children but that of every BIPOC they come in contact with. Let your parenting be a part of your activism. Raise anti-racists.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. She has had the opportunity to study with the Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and continues her training with his grandson, Sri R. Sharath Jois, in Mysore, India. During her 2011 visit to study in Mysore, India, Angelique received Authorization to teach Ashtanga Yoga from Sri R. Sharath Jois. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

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  • A Time To Listen

    We are living in a challenging and powerful time. A bright light is being aimed at our shadows of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, prejudice, violence, and hate. These elements of our nature have always existed, though sometimes they have changed forms, sometimes hid from view, sometimes remained visible but ignored. Systemic, institutionalized oppressions are being identified and called out. Claims of injustice are beginning to be taken seriously. Evidence via phone cameras brings horrors that have always been experienced by some to the consciousness of the many. Groups are collecting, unifying to bring about change. What certainly may be an increase in hate and violence recently is coinciding with greater illumination of what has always been there.

    The marginalized populations have always known. Women have always known the degree to which they experience harassment, assault, manipulations of power dynamics. People of color have always known that systems of racism were alive, well, and strong. Trans people have always been aware of the dangers they face when confronted with fear and ignorance. Oppressed people are gaining agency in spaces where they had little or none. Now, those of us that have never been affected personally are becoming aware. And now, we are faced with choices. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, deny and fight the truth, or we can join this building wave, support the voices demanding justice and change, contribute our efforts to something important and right.

    My two children are biracial. While I think of myself as someone who always believed in equality, a feminist and anti-racist, having children that are directly affected by racist ideologies and institutions has certainly made it personal – to a degree. My first son was born six years ago, and at the time I had an idealized view of interracial relationship, and the biracial offspring born of them. My immediate community was diverse and had been for years. I had minimal negative experiences related to my relationship, my friendships, my work, etc. Of the very few I had, I was able to package them up as isolated, fringe, and atypical. Discussions in my personal life or online that became racially charged were a place that I felt comfortable standing up, speaking out. I would passionately share what I believed and then move on with my life.

    As the Black Lives Matter movement gathered strength, and my boys got older, and a new president was elected, I found myself speaking out less and listening more. I began from a place of desire to identify, to myself and others, as non-racist, or anti-racist. It took a while to recognize how self-serving that desire was, and that it literally benefited no one but myself. I decided to only offer my voice when it would benefit the conversation, when it would positively contribute to the fight. In conversations where I used to know exactly what to say, I found myself at a loss for words. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, to offend, to appear ignorant, or arrogant. I felt helpless. And I think this is appropriate. This has been a part of my process. I gradually came to recognize that I, as a white female, will never, ever know what it is like to exist in our culture as a man, as a person of color, as a non-cisgendered person. I came to acknowledge when and where my voice is not needed, not beneficial, not helpful. As I found myself in spaces, both virtual and real, where important conversations were being had, instead of speaking, I learned to listen.

    I listened to the points of view of bigoted, ignorant, racist people. I listened and heard their beliefs, I learned of their pain, fear, anger. I learned what I shared with them, how I was like them. I listened and learned from the privileged, from the saviors and light workers. I learned that people don’t feel comfortable exploring and acknowledging their darkness – that of their culture and that of their soul. I listened and learned from POC. I came to recognize how little I knew, how little I understood, and how great was my own participation in, and benefit from systems of inequality and dynamics of power and marginalization.

    I am still immersed in this process, but through listening I am coming to acknowledge when my voice should stay silent. There are organizations and forums and conversations where the voices of POC are strengthening and getting louder and finally being heard. In these spaces, my voice is not needed, or wanted, or beneficial. There is nothing I can add to the conversation from my perspective, from my life experience, that produces anything beyond a salve to my own white guilt and sense of helplessness. In these spaces, I can offer myself as a soldier at their command, an additional hand set to a task. I can offer myself as a support to their work.

    There are places I have decided I can affect change, where my voice can be heard. It is in conversations with other white people. There are spaces where POC are not invited, where their voices are silenced. Those people that would not hear a black person, might hear me. A message that would be resisted if coming from a person of color, might seep through the barriers when spoken by me. When I am in a white dominated space and racism is present, my voice needs to be heard. For too long, we have been silent as our uncles tell inappropriate jokes, when we observe our boss passing up qualified employees because of their name, when a random comment by a stranger in line at the grocery store is said a little too loudly. These are the places we should be speaking. Our silence is complicity.

    Each day that passes and my boys get older, I become more and more unsure of how to raise them in this world. I mentioned above that this issue has become a personal one only to a degree. I am limited in my understanding of what they will experience by my whiteness and my gender. I have no idea how they will experience the world as children born of such different truths as mine and their father’s. What I can do now is listen: To the world as new voices and truths rise to the forefront, and to my boys, as they begin to share their world with me. Their experiences will form their truth and will inform my reaction which will, in turn, influence their reality. I will make mistakes, I have already made so many. But if I listen, I may continue to learn something along the way.

    A spiritual practice, like yoga, asks us to be present. To face our challenges, to sit in difficulty and just breathe. We aim to find steadiness and peace in our discomfort, pain, and ugliness. As you struggle to find your place in this time of change and activism, I ask you to take this method of self-study beyond the mat. Stay in moments of discomfort, pain, and ugliness. Don’t avoid the darkness, in fact, seek it out. Join Facebook groups that you wouldn’t otherwise be a part of. Go to community meetings. Go to social venues that stray outside of your usual. Have conversations with people different than you. Stay, breathe – and listen. As you absorb the truths of another’s experience, you will learn where you fit. You will learn how to apply your unique circumstances, perspective, skills, and talents to something important.

    By Angelique Sandas

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