I Need to Talk to White Women about White Supremacy: Part 1
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll know that a white nationalist rally took place in Charlottesville in the US over the weekend. Many were injured. A woman, Heather Heyer, who was known as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised, was killed. A young black man was surrounded by these hateful neo-Nazis and beaten with poles. Yes, POLES.
The images of angry white man rallying with torches is one of the most frightening things I’ve seen in recent times.
This image chills me to the bone every time I see it.
I’m not a US citizen.
But I am a black Muslim woman. I carry within me both the experience from my own lifetime of racism and discrimination, and the collective trauma of belonging to a people who were slaves for centuries.
Last year when I was moving through my Divine Feminine spiritual awakening, I remember reading about the witch burnings and how, as women and modern day witches and priestesses, we carry this trauma of being burned with us even today. And how that fear holds us back from speaking up and being seen in our full wild mystic power. I see many women in the spiritual community who understand just how much of a trauma this is for women, and who are doing the deep work of healing the witch wound and reclaiming their right to be here in their full authentic presence.
But can you imagine how it is for people of colour?
Can you imagine the trauma we carry from centuries of slavery, police brutality, discrimination and racial hatred?
The witch burnings happened at one period of time and yet we still remember. Imagine how it is for black people and people of colour. The hateful treatment against us never ended. It just went underground.
Now it is resurfacing, emboldened by leaders like Donald Trump and others like him.
This weekend the KKK marched without their hoods. Do you understand what that means?
Can you imagine if a powerful group rose up in the western country you live in who wanted to burn women as witches, and they were seen as being legitimised by the country’s president? That sounds ridiculous right? And yet an angry mob of KKK white supremacists just marched with burning torches screaming racist and anti-semitic slogans in Charlottesville USA this weekend. And Donald Trump and others have said too little, too late.
People have often asked me where I’m from.
I was born and grew up in Cardiff, Wales. I have lived in Wales, Africa, England and Qatar. I am a first generation British daughter of immigrant parents. My mother is from Zanzibar (a small island off Tanzania) and my father is from Mombasa (Kenya’s second largest city). My parents’ families are also both originally from Oman in the Arabian Gulf. I moved from the UK to Qatar when I was 15 years old. So I’m an African-Arab British Muslim woman who lives in the Middle East.
I share all of this to give you more context of where I am speaking from.
I’m a Divine Feminine spiritual mentor and teacher whose identities span both East and West, and whose audience is made up of mainly white women.
This puts me in a very odd but unique position to speak on some of today’s issues to my particular audience.
I know intimately what it’s like to grow up in the UK in the 80s and 90s and be bullied, laughed at and teased because of my skin colour, my culture, my religion, and my hair.
That is not to say I had a terrible childhood. I had a great childhood that was privileged in many other ways. But I also grew up always knowing that I was ‘other’. And that affected me in many ways into my adulthood of which I have had to do a lot of healing and reclamation work around.
One memory sticks out in particular. The house I grew up in, in Wales, was right next to a children’s park.
My brother and I would go there everyday by ourselves, especially when the weather was good, to play on the swings and slides. We loved that park.
But one day, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, a new boy started coming to play at the park. The first time I saw him, he sneered at me and told me that my skin was the colour of poop. My face still feels red just thinking about it. I felt so ashamed. I couldn’t say a thing. All I felt was the shame of being in the skin that I was in.
Of not being white like everyone else. I ran straight home with tears in my eyes. After that day I refused to go to the park anymore without my mum. I never told her what happened. I felt too ashamed to even say it to her. I believed that everyone must be laughing at me and people who looked like me, because our skin looked like the colour of poop.
I took that shame and buried it deep inside myself. I internalised this idea that I was other. That I was in some way, wrong. And that I was less than. And most damaging of all, that I did not deserve to be seen, because you know, my skin was the colour of poop. I recognise how ridiculous that sounds now, but as a 7 year old I took it as total truth.
As I grew up, I experienced more instances of racial prejudice and white supremacy like this. Some small, some big.
Each time, I took these situations and buried them deep inside of myself, adding to this story that being who I was was intrinsically wrong and unworthy. I had lots of friends growing up. Most of them white. And while I loved them deeply, and I knew they loved me, I never quite shook off the feeling that I was in many ways less deserving of love and visibility than they were.
Because of the colour of my skin.
In the summer of 1999, when I was 15 years old, our family moved from the UK to Qatar after my dad was head-hunted for a job.
Up until that point, I had always been in the minority (black and muslim). But moving to the Middle East was a revelation. I was now the norm. People who looked like me and who worshipped me like me were not the odd ones out. We were the majority. And that really turned my paradigms of what was normal upside down and inside out. I no longer had to be ashamed of the colour of my skin, or my culture, or my hair or my parents’ mother tongue or the way we worshipped. For the first time it felt like my identity was validated.
That summer, another important event took place.
I was in the library searching for some books to help me pass the summertime while we waited for school to begin. I stumbled across the book Roots by Alex Haley. First published in 1976, Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte - an 18th century African who was captured and sold into slavery in America. The book follows his life and the life of his seven generations of his descendants all the way to the author himself, Alex Haley. The book was massive and so I thought it would keep occupied for at least a few days.
Little did I know that I was about to get an education in the horrific history of slavery, racial discrimination and white supremacy.
Up until that point I had never heard of or studied anything to do with slavery. I was horrified as I read about slave ships, people being sold as if they were cattle, the rape of black slave women by their white masters and the terrifying punishments inflicted upon any slave who tried to escape.
The most shocking thing I remember reading in that book was a passage where a discussion was taking place about how black people weren’t actually considered fully human. They weren’t considered to have souls, so they were not human, so they did not deserve to be treated with the same level of equality and justice as a white person.
My 15 year old self could not wrap my brain around this. Of course we are human! That doesn’t even make sense, I thought. And yet, that was the belief. At the time I rationalised it away by saying to myself, maybe that’s how it was in the past, but it’s not like that anymore.
But still, reading that book made a huge impact on how I saw myself as a black person in the world. Fast forward 18 years later to this weekend and these images.
Oh yes. White supremacy is still alive and kicking.
Slavery may not (technically) be legal. But racism flourishes. And so do the oppressive systems of white supremacy that allow white privilege and racial discrimination to still exist.
The personal anecdotes I’ve mentioned above are sad, but they are nothing compared to the exhausting and scary reality that many black people and people of colour live through everyday in western or white-majority countries.
We are not living in a post-racial world. While the events in Charlottesville may be shocking and outrageous to many white people. It is sadly not for many black people and people of colour. From the time we were 6 or 7 years old, we already knew that we were other. We already knew that society did not center us as normal or beloved or worthy of just treatment. We’ve known this our whole lives. We have been taking on this burden of white supremacy and fighting this shit our whole. damn. lives.
Which brings me to you, my dear white sister. I’m wondering how you’re feeling right now as you are reading this letter.
Uncomfortable? Outraged? Helpless? Ashamed? Wanting to do everything you can to stop this and yet feeling like you have no idea what you can do or say?
I hear you. It’s overwhelming and confusing and triggering as hell.
But while for you this may be really emotionally distressing, for people of colour this is way more than that. This is about the right to black lives. About black human rights. About the simple right to exist in the skin we were born in without harassment, discrimination or injustice.
This right far surpasses your white shame, white fragility, and your white privilege of staying silent.
White shame, white fragility, white privilege and white silence are a HUGE part of the problem.
You did not create white supremacy. But you benefit from it every day because of the white skin you were born in.
Even if you don’t want your privilege, you still have it, because white supremacy exists and is the dominant paradigm of places like the US, the UK, Europe and Australia. As a white person, you have the privilege of being able to say, ‘high vibes only’ and ‘I don’t follow the news because it’s too political’ and ‘I just want to focus on love and light’.
This is not okay. And it’s up to you to do your part to dismantle white supremacy.
Because the rise of white supremacy is literally destroying black lives.
In Part 2 of this letter I’m going to sharing my thoughts on the very real challenges of being a highly sensitive sacred activist, and I will be sharing a PDF resource with lots of links and resources for you to read, share and use. For the rest of this letter, I want to talk about the responsibility that white women entrepreneurs in the spiritual/self-help world have to speak up and take action
Let’s talk about the hypocrisy of entrepreneurs who claim that their work is all about empowering others, and yet, when the time comes to speak up about white supremacist nazis and racial injustice, they are silent.
As my friend Jess Sells Wertman said, “Know the difference between a leader and a marketer. Many marketers like to style themselves as leaders, but that doesn't mean they ARE.”
Many so-called leaders in the online business world tell us that their work is about changing the world, leading revolutions and transforming people’s lives. And yet… in the face of racism and injustice they say next to nothing or simply re-share someone else’s inspirational meme. This isn’t okay with me. It is my believe that if you have a platform, you also have a responsibility.
And the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.
But what I am witnessing is that many (but certainly not all) of those with bigger platforms are much more hesitant to speak out. Perhaps because of how it might affect their positioning or the optics of their brand. Or perhaps because, as Jess said, they are more marketers than leaders. Or maybe their leadership only extends to becoming a big brand name and getting featured on Oprah’s Super Soul 100 list.
These are not my leaders. I refuse to give my time and money to leaders who perpetuate what writer and feminist marketing consultant Kelly Diels has labelled the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, or FLEB for short.
Kelly describes FLEB as both:
- An archetype women must comply with and embody in order to be deserving of rights and resources, AND
- A marketing strategy that leverages social status and white privilege to create authority over other women.
FLEB is complicit in upholding white patriarchal supremacy. FLEB focuses on the empowerment of the individual, rather than the collective.
And if it does focus on the collective, it’s often focused on a very narrow view of who that collective is (which as you’ve guessed it, is usually white women). FLEB casually uses the hard-earned language of activism and revolution to sell empowerment to those who already hold a lot of privilege in this world.
In the spiritual business world, I’ve seen FLEB perpetuated by white women entrepreneurs who devote themselves to doing deep spiritual work for themselves and their clients, and yet remain absolutely silent on anything to do with politics and justice.
I’ve seen it perpetuated by white women who believe that the best thing they can do is just focus on being a good and loving person, and serving their (largely white) audience and sending love and light instead of actually speaking up.
It absolutely boggles my mind that there are spiritual entrepreneurs who do not see the clear link between the work they do as healers, mentors and teachers for their paying clients, and the work that’s needed in the world for our collective healing and liberation.
This is not to say that your whole business has to become about activism and fighting white supremacy. That isn’t what I’m saying at all. I’m also not saying don’t do the work that you have been doing or don’t serve the audience you have been serving. What I’m saying is, open up your eyes and take a more expanded view of what your role is here.
I’m saying you are kidding yourself if you don’t believe that it is your responsibility as a spiritual teacher, healer, mentor or guide to say something and do something about what you see happening in the world.
When I think of the great mother goddesses and Divine Feminine teachers who guide my path (Isis, Kali Ma, Kuan Yin, Mary Magdalene, Diana, Joan Of Arc, Mother Mary, to name a few), I see women who were committed to the whole world’s healing and liberation. And not the privileged few who could afford to work with them and who fit into the mould of the archetype of the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand.
If you truly live your life guided by the Goddess, and you are not doing your part to dismantle white supremacy, then you’ve got work to do.
The Goddess isn’t just here for the liberation of white women.
She’s here for the liberation of us all.
Editor's Note: Layla Saad wrote two articles regarding activism and white supremacy earlier this year: The Rise Of The Activist and Dear White Supremacy. As Layla stated in her original letter regarding white supremacy, "Both were written just after Donald Trump began his presidency and around the time of the Muslim ban. That was a scary time to be in. But right now is far, far scarier."