I'm calling on you to put your practice — not just your money — where your mouth is.
Over the past week, I spent a huge amount of time educating myself about how to become a better ally to my BIPOC brothers and sisters. A theme that kept coming up was the necessity to donate to social justice organizations and show receipts — the whole “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality. Here is my invitation to let that go. The act of showing receipts feels to me like an unhelpful performative act that allows a person to do something once and feel relieved of responsibility. Let’s not let anyone off that easily.
Yes, my family and I have given to the organizations doing leadership work right now. We marched (and took pics!). But, in order for my commitment to anti-racism to become an ingrained part of my (and my family’s) reality, I have to go beyond this. Way beyond this.
For the past several days, I’ve been contemplating one of my most cherished life lessons, which was captured in the Yoga Sutras a couple millennia ago. The Yoga Sutras are a non-denominational collection of thoughts (sutra translates to thread) that loosely describe the yogic path. Sutra 1.14 appears in the first pada (or book) of the four-book collection. The Sanskrit of this sutra can be translated to:
"Practice becomes well established
when attended to regularly,
over a long period of time,
and with the right intention."
While in the Sutras, the practice referenced is yoga, I’ve been guided by this principle through all aspects of my life. And I think it is particularly astute as a guiding principle for all of us working toward a more just, equitable society. Achieving change will not come about from a one-time, performative act, such as donating money and showing your receipt. It will come about when:
We work on justice regularly.
That means we don’t just get up in arms for a week, such as with the #amplifymelanatedvoices challenge in which Dunkin Kehn participated, or a day, such as with #blackoutTuesday in which we also participated. But that we work on anti-racist endeavors daily, weekly, monthly — whichever makes sense in our lives. Perhaps we regularly post and share media from Black creators; perhaps we create a Black authors book club. But, our practice must be so regular that it becomes an established habit, not a performance. So regular that when the day or hour arrives when we are going to do the work, we don’t question it. We brush our damned teeth.
- We attend to social justice over a long period of time.
That is the opposite of making a one-time performative donation (even if it is to an organization doing impactful work for the past several decades and likely to continue doing so for the next several). If donating is your fighting language and you have the means, consider signing up for monthly donations in perpetuity. I have found that this keeps me more accountable to my commitments, as I see the charge on my monthly statements. And, it supports the organizations doing great work when they are no longer the flavor of the day — in the news, on social media, etc. If volunteering is your fighting language, don’t show up just for your community cleanup. Commit, for example, that your entire family will spend every Sunday afternoon tutoring kids failed by our educational system. If your fighting language is speaking up — at protests, through the media, or otherwise — understand that this fight is unlikely to end in this lifetime, so consider committing to using this tool for the rest of your life. And, as Toni Morrison quipped, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
We have the right intention.
This means aligning with the cause of human justice and equity not because it offers the right optics at this moment. But rather because we are inspired by this extraordinary moment in our collective history to make this cause central to our world view. To re-learn everything we’ve been taught or assumed about race. To become firmly anti-racist not just in an Instagram post designed to boost followers, but in our everyday, unseen actions. To pass this on to the next generation so that our children’s children never see or experience the injustice today’s BIPOC brothers and sisters have suffered.
In this fight, white folks like me will make mistakes. We will ALL make mistakes. I’m a perfectionist and deeply afraid of this. The fear often paralyzes me. Over the past week, I’ve come to deeply appreciate that this moment is NOT ABOUT ME. And it’s most certainly not about my being perfect or my fear. My fear of making mistakes has nothing on a Black man’s fear of jogging in his neighborhood or a Black woman’s fear of sleeping in her bed.
I will do the work. Personally. Professionally. I will screw up. Personally. Publicly. And I will move forward and keep working. Because every human deserves respect. Love. Safety. And the ability to live embodied in their skin.
How will you be part of the change we all wish to see? Have you started having the tough conversations? Have you taken steps toward anti-racism? Is there a place for social justice in our beauty conversation?