By teZa Lord
You are a racist. Either that, or you’re a saint.
Admitting and then tackling the prejudices that lie deep within ourselves are important steps that each one of us must take toward our own evolution and spiritual growth. Denial of being racist equals stagnation and contributes to the racism we’re just beginning to tackle globally, but especially here in the States.
Racism isn’t only an American problem. It’s a human problem. All of us have prejudices unless we are saints — and I haven’t met anyone who is a saint lately. Have you?
Just yesterday, via Twitter, I had to suggest to a young Black new immigrant to the USA that she was being a bit hard on Oprah, who, this young pundit believes, is aligning with the Black Lives Matter movement for all the wrong reasons. Her comment was, “So sad that Oprah of all people has gone down this terrible path!” The “terrible path” Ayaan Hirsi Ali referred to was Oprah’s public backing of the Black Lives Matter movement. Something I, myself, support and promote consciousness-spreading about.
My response to this critic of O’s?
“We in America have different issues than other Blacks from other countries. Lighten up on O! She knows what she’s doing.”
How can I be so audacious as to say this? To make a statement from one Black woman about another Black woman? Me, a white woman? And not even a pundit. I’m just an ordinary artist who writes and does spiritual activism.
I can. And I do because I have chosen to change, and am now color blind. For many years, I lived in the West Indies. During the decade I spent there, I worked on one island for a particular three-year stay. I was a singularly unique white woman living and working on an island-country that was, and is still, predominantly black. Notice I did not use a capital “B” in this instance, because this locale is not in the USA. That’s how confusing the racism issue is today; in-flux and in-context, defining and substituting black person with Black person is (by writ of certain literary bylaws such as the New York Times, etc.) even influencing our vernacular, grammar and spelling.
And folks … all this change, all these conversations … are GOOD!
There Are No Exceptions to the Rule of Racism
Being a good, caring person doesn’t exempt any of us. We need to all admit we have racism, whether it’s hidden or blatant.
I’ll go first. I have recently discovered that the seemingly benign term that I have used for years to indicate someone is “more conscious” than others, that is, the term “woke” and, in particular, the hashtag #StayWoke – now has been politicized (radical anything is a form of racism; I can admit it, can you?). I was told by my more politically-involved spouse that the innocent word “woke” now means I’m a radical. I’m supporting something I didn’t know I was for, just because I use that word … a simple word, “woke.” My beloved informed me that, to some, “woke” now signifies the Far Left’s attitude that everything Black is political, and worthy of change, but in a peacefully protesting way. Imagine my surprise that, after all these years of using that word “woke,” I now awoke to find out I am a political radical. Against my will, even!
Before I made this discovery, I’d been using the term “woke” as an abbreviation for “awoke” and “wake UP!” in my writing, social media, and within the four books I’ve published to date, to indicate “a shift in our society’s consciousness, en masse.”
Imagine my surprise when I found out that the term, which I’m very fond of, and am chagrined I now have to use sparingly, if at all, has been kidnapped by politicos! And, according to my partner, “woke” has now been made to seem unseemly because of its radicalizing, its change from a pure sense of “more conscious” to a besmirched innuendo of “get out there and fight!”
I’m feeling deflated. Ripped off. Taken hostage, by the use of one of my favorite words. A word! As if whoever uses “woke” is making a statement to be taken as something confrontational, and not the innocent hope I meant by using it, hoping to promote an opening, a widening, of human consciousness in general. Certainly not racist, and good grief!—not political—but rather … spiritual …. which is the way in which I’ve been using that term “woke” for years. Now I have to wrap my head around the fact that this word (like the act of kneeling before a game) has taken on a new meaning. I have to accept the fact that the term “woke” now means that someone is ready to take to the streets. To defy the status quo. Am I ready to accept that this has happened to one of my favorite words? I’m sad. I’m confused.
I’m Willing to Change. Are You?
I used to use that word to imply: While you may be “woke” in certain areas, you might be stuck in other ways. How do you feel when you see someone who strikes you as overweight, goofy, or unenlightened, for instance? Are you able to acknowledge your own prejudices? How woke am I? How woke are You?
I’m afraid we’re all getting a bit hysterical about the “race issue” for my comfort zone. When words start being used as bait, and they change meaning without us writers even knowing … whoa! Let’s slow down, shall we? When I have to remind a Twitter-user to go easy on Oprah Winfrey, because in the eyes of the pundit, O has “gone astray” and become radicalized because she, as American’s most famous Black woman, promotes Black Lives Matter (remember, this is the newly arrived to the US Black political pundit making the finger-pointing statement) … yes, I feel moved. I have to say my peace.
We’re ALL Racists
I’m white, and I was raised by parents who shared their post-WWII generation’s cultural bias against Blacks. It was a case of immigrants pointing fingers at other immigrants. How sad. My otherwise loving folks pointed their unwoke fingers at the Blacks and the Jews. Their racism scarred me. However, I was fortunate enough to develop my own, more “woke” views on the subject. When I was in my thirties, I spent a decade living among people of many colors and cultures in the West Indies. On the island of Dominica where I spent many years, I saw real honest black-on-black prejudice. It was there that I learned, from listening and observing my friends on all-black Dominica, that they had bias against other people, just because their skin was a lighter or darker shade of brown than theirs. Who cared who had the darkest or palest skin? They cared! And worse, who had Carib Indian in their ancestry which, on that island, was considered lower than the darkest skinned person. Yes, even among blacks there is a caste system, my friends.
I’m going to tell you, briefly, a story that needs an entire book to explain in detail. It is about the cruel murders of white retirees that took place on Dominica during the time of my residence there. The crimes had shaken the very foundation of that island’s idyllic serenity. The time was the early 70s. Unrest and prejudice was stewing among a very few young men, all native islanders who smoked copious amounts of marijuana. They had left the mainstream of Dominica’s society to live as outlaws in the jungle (they were called “the Dreads” because of their naturally coiled tresses). They violently had killed several newly-arrived whites, all wealthy Canadian retirees who’d been labelled “patronizing.” Still, I lived freely, and worked closely, shipping fruits and vegetables, among the black population during that time. Never afraid for my safety. Why? Because I purposely treated all people the same. And when you do that, word gets around, and even those angry young Dreads, who were wanted-outlaws in their own country, who kidnapped girls from small villages for sex partners, who stole food from poor hillside farmers—those young men heard I treated everyone equally. Nonetheless, I got into the habit of keeping a sharp machete, the most ubiquitous garden-tool in the islands, under my bed, just in case.
Even though I felt unconditionally accepted by the blacks of Dominica with whom I lived as neighbor and friend, I kept my eyes wide-opened and my machete ready … just in case. Eventually, after several years of manhunting, all the Dreads were rounded up and jailed. Their leader, a misguided angry rebel who called himself Tomba, was the last to be caught. It was a long-anticipated day of celebration for all on the island when he was finally captured after eluding the police, staying hidden in the dense hills for too long. People of the island listened on the radio to the blow-by-blow hair-raising and violent capture, culminating with Tomba’s death, chained to a hospital bed, soon after he’d been ambushed and shot unmercifully by the all-black police.
During this difficult time of racial tension, not between white and black — after the initial attacks by a few, wanton, drug-crazed Dreads on isolated and so-called “condescending” Canadian retirees — but between black and black, I offered my love and compassion, and every other resource I had, to my fellow islanders on Dominica, to show my solidarity with the people I lived with. All of us, every single person, regardless of race, lamented the tension and animalistic overtones (chase, capture, and cruel deaths) that somehow didn’t seem … human. Nonetheless, even during those hard and dangerous times, I always felt safe and protected. Even though violent political upheaval surrounded me, harrowing, filled with cultural and racial overtones, I felt safe. My friends and every person living on Dominica (not to be confused with the other, more northern island, the Dominican Republic), watched this tragedy play out, slow motion, for many years. From the very first killing, to the arrival of much-needed healing, only the capture and tragic end of the disgruntled young Dread-leader’s life — the grass-skirted, jungle-hiding, terribly unwoke Tomba — signaled the end of this sad era of Dominica’s history.
All of Us Need to Be More “Woke” — the Good Kind of Awake
I have a Glory Hallelujah, a positive outlook, and a big Thank God for people’s basic goodness, honesty, and sense of humor. We need to keep our sense of humor during these hard times of many disturbances exacerbated by the tensions of our COVID-era. Here’s a great example of one person’s ability to be woke and keep a sense of humor at the same time. After three of our recent ZLORD podcast episodes we’ve devoted to the oral history of Dr. Deeh Israel, a 95-year-old Black, an erudite PhD’s life story, our friend herself admitted in her final reveal, with a soft, shocked chuckle:
“Holy cow! I finally realized even I’m racist! I only found out when I was retired, and way over seventy. Imagine my surprise when, serving as this little white boy’s guardian ad litem for a highly-charged divorce case between his parents, I kept telling myself, ‘Why should some little white boy care about me? I’m just some old Black lady showing up each week to listen to him, talk to him, and spend some time with him?’ And then – when I missed a week – he ran right up to me, surprised the heck out of me! hugged my knees for God’s sake, telling me ‘I missed you, I missed you! Where were you?’ – only then did I realize, even me!, who’d been criticizing white’s racism all my life, even I discovered I was a racist with this single little boy’s gentle reminder of how prejudiced I was, about my thinking toward him. He loved me! And I didn’t even give him credit for that. Imagine!”
Racism Is Not Just About Race
Judging others is a very real form of racism, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the color of one’s skin or a person’s different culture. Early in my life, I discovered I, too, was and probably still am, not entirely free of prejudices. To be awake (or woke about how to improve oneself) is a lifelong process. We never stop becoming more conscious, more woke. Back a few decades ago when I was an unmarried young woman, I once refused to date someone who struck me as being “too large.” His physicality was such a turnoff to me that I couldn’t get past it. Who knows what lessons he could have taught me if I had been able to look past his wider-than-mine appearance?
I pray. I believe in goodness. But I still sleep with a machete under my bed. It helps me feel secure, and it brings me peace.
And, yes, even highly evolved spiritual people can push back against other people whose expression of understanding strikes them as inferior to, or less authentic than, their own. No matter where you are in your personal journey, you can find ways to uplift your fellow humans by sharing your commitment to living a happy, fulfilled life – so do it. That’s why I’m going to continue using the word woke, even if it’s taken on a double entendre.
Moving Beyond Racism
Look into your heart, and ask yourself where you could be more accepting. If you look hard enough, you will find areas to work on. The more prejudices of which you are aware, the more you’ll find to be aware of. Where is your racism?
Violence, even of words, is absurdly unnecessary. Embracing the power of words is much stronger than the power of alienating with a brick. Sing your own songs. Create your own art. Write your own story. You will bring about a tidal wave of change.
We want to hug the world right now. We can get through this time by focusing on positive actions and intentions. We’re all in this together. We’re all human, and we’re all learning how to be more human, each new day, with each new opportunity we face, we continue to grow. We must acknowledge that every one of us is equal. Don’t judge. Empathize by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Using Racism As an Opportunity
Everyone is a manifestation of the divine. The sacred is everyone, and it’s in everything. The divine is in celebrations — in life and in death. You’ll find it wherever you are, and you’ll see it in everything you do. Who are we to judge what’s good or bad? Everything can move us further along our journey that I prefer to define as a spiritual one.
Even racism is an opportunity to grow if we work every day to root it out of ourselves. Acknowledge your prejudices. Work on eliminating them, as they’re revealed to you, one prejudice at a time. Show your love, do good deeds, write, or join a peaceful protest. Go at your own pace, and do what feels right to you.
Most importantly, listen. If you bristle at something someone says, that’s a good sign! That’s a cue that you may have to listen harder, because someone is saying what you need to hear. It’s a reliable sign that you have an opportunity to learn a meaningful life lesson. Your initial anger at a differing opinion can turn into an opportunity for you to make real spiritual progress. Use it to grow. Like I did with this single word, woke.
Whether we have racism or not isn’t the point. It is a given. We were all culturally indoctrinated in racism from a very young age, or we developed it from our life experiences. Perhaps our great-grandchildren might be able to say, “I’m not racist.” We can’t say that here, today. We’d be lying if we did.
Denying the reality of our racism won’t cure it. It’s a temporary condition, and the only way we can cure ourselves of it is by facing it. Acknowledging our racism, and learning from it, is what really counts.