I’m laughing a little bit at myself this morning. I struggled so hard the other day to tell a story and find the words to describe the form, the character of the internalized racism I have experienced in myself. Then last night I was reading White Fragility, in which Robin Diangelo describes exactly — and so much more succinctly — what I was talking about. There’s a name for it: aversive racism.

Aversive racism is a phrase coined by Samuel L. Gaertner:

Aversive racism is characterized by a conflict between the denial of personal prejudice and unconscious negative feelings and beliefs, which may be rooted in normal psychological processes (such as social categorization).

Basically, it’s an inconsistency between what you say, and what you unconsciously think. Notice, this definition offers that aversive racism happens as a part of “normal psychological processes” and importantly, I will add, socialization into the dominant culture, especially here in the U.S.

So, yay… I am on to something. Now I was to reiterate and clarify points from my post:

  1. I don’t think there’s a way for any white person in the US NOT to have internalized some aspect of white supremacy, and therefore have in us, as part of our thinking, conscious or unconscious, aversive racism.
  2. With that as a given, white people: I believe we can learn to FEEL that incongruence in our bodies. With practice, we can FEEL it arise as defensiveness and use that as a signal to slow down and reassess—what we “know” might be wrong.
  3. It think it’s critical that we learn to do this! Because, as Diangelo says, we may be well-intentioned. But intention does not equal impact, and IMPACT is what really matters here. Are we harming people? Are we unwittingly contributing to white supremacy and the racist systems of power it justifies?

What does any of this have to do with yoga?

I believe that my practice of yoga has given me greater access to and awareness of my emotions as they manifest as sensations in my body.

When my mother died, I began working with a yoga therapist for my grief. Week after week she would ask me, “what do you feel?” And I did not know. This became a central inquiry of my (physical) asana yoga practice: what am I feeling?

Gradually, I came to notice when I was feeling something! I might not know what it was, but I knew it was there, and that was progress!

This ability to notice that I am feeling something is a resource now. In my effort to embody anti-racism, I use it as a signal to slow down and step back; to listen with the knowledge that I, too, have been socialized into white supremacy and my perspective, even if I don’t necessarily understand HOW, has been shaped by those forces. To FEEL that defensiveness arise and pause, I give myself time to make a conscious choice NOT to inadvertently defend something I overtly say I am against.

It’s not about KNOWing theory, or the right words. It’s about FEELING, and allowing myself NOT to know everything. To open to possibility. Because without being open to possibility, we cannot make the change we say we want. That change only lives in possibility.

Maybe all of this is really obvious. Maybe I’m just speaking for and to myself. But, I do hear the defensiveness of other white people who I admire, respect and love… and so, I think I’m onto something… my aim is to break through a little of that defensive shell, also with love.

All that said, this is a strategy for working with people who think they are not racist or who think they do not buy into white supremacy. In a way, this is a strategy for white people who don’t understand that we do actually have a racial identity, and that it is problematic for society. We have a WHOLE other project to take on with the people who are open about their white racial identity and entitlement…

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