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Confronting White Supremacy through Self-Reflection

The goal of yoga is liberation – escaping limiting thoughts and discovering your true self. The path to liberation isn’t easy. In fact, my path has been quite messy. When I began practicing yoga asana, I felt ashamed and discouraged because my body didn’t move like other people’s bodies. That shame often showed up as anger and negative self-talk when I encountered challenging postures. As I continued to practice, I learned to silence the inner critic and began to meet my Self on the mat.

Svadhayaya has been an important component of my yoga practice. Svadhyaya is the fourth niyama which is translated as self-study or self-reflection. For some practitioners, this means a self-guided study of yoga and sacred texts. For myself and many others, svadhyaya is a continual process of self-reflection and discernment – a process of unraveling the real and the unreal. Today, I invite you to practice svadhyaya as a means of resisting white supremacy.

Since 2013, I have taught courses on Race and Ethnic Relations at Southeastern Louisiana University. My students are often White criminal justice majors with conservative political beliefs. As you can imagine, they tend to resist learning about white supremacy and racial oppression. In 2016, I began to incorporate contemplative practices to help students develop first-person experiences learning about race and racism and soften their resistance. One such practice is reflective journaling (svadhyaya) through which students center their personal biography knowledge. Journaling has been very popular among my students, and in assessments of the practice students have shared:

“journaling has really opened my mind to think a different way. It allows you to stop and really give thought to things that are going on around you, things you might have never given thought to, otherwise.”

“I question [the] principles I was taught. I actively remember things I have forgotten.”

“It’s an outlet for personal thoughts that you aren’t comfortable to say in class”

I share this with you, not to toot my own horn, but to demonstrate the power of svadhyaya as a tool for examining and hopefully overcoming white supremacy.

If yoga means union, anything that causes separation is the antithesis of yoga. White supremacy is a system of oppression that has organized our society so that it’s normal, everyday functioning works to benefit White people and disadvantage non-whites. The ideology of white supremacy is dominant throughout the globe, but in particular, anyone who lives in a White-dominated society is socialized into white supremacist thinking. Ultimately, white supremacists developed the concept of race to divide and dehumanize people. As yoga practitioners, it’s our responsibility to challenge and overcome this ideology.

Therefore, I offer you the following journal prompts as an invitation to self-reflection. They are the same prompts I use in my classroom [modified slightly] and are intended to help you explore the ways in which your life and/or consciousness has been shaped by white supremacy. I often use these prompts in conjunction with active listening exercises to help students learn to talk and listen to one another to find mutual understanding. In that sense, it may be valuable for you to do the same.

  1. What do you know about race relations in the United States today? How did you learn about race relations in the U.S.? How did it come to be like this?
  2. What does it mean to be “White”? Who gets to be White? What does it mean to be “American”? Who gets to be American? How are Whiteness and “American-ness” related? What are the consequences of the link between whiteness and American-ness?
  3. When did you first learn about race? Write about one of your earliest memories about race. What happened? How did you feel? How has that experience affected you?
  4. How has segregation and integration affected you? Specifically, how has segregation and integration affected your relationships with others? How have they potentially limited or expanded the experiences and/or relationships you have in your life? (Note: I’m using “relationship” in the broadest sense, don’t assume I mean “romantic” relationship)
  5. How has white supremacy affected your friendships and relationships? How have your friends and/or family members’ attitudes about race affected your friendships and romantic relationships? Where do you think their attitudes about race come from? How do you think your family’s racial or ethnic background influences other family members’ views about race?
  6. How is white supremacy present in the media that you consume? Who is included or excluded? How are Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) people portrayed? How do you think this influences your attitudes about race?
  7. What is your relationship to the criminal punishment system? How has this criminal justice system affected your life directly or indirectly? How do you think your race has influenced your relationship with the criminal punishment system?
  8. Where do we go from here? What is the future of race relations in the United States? Globally? What are have you learned about yourself from this process? If you are a White person what is something you are willing to do to challenge white supremacy in your life? What is something you are willing to give up?

In my experience, students from all racial/ethnic backgrounds have benefitted from this process, but White folks and non-white folks will likely have different responses to this exercise. As always, I encourage you to practice self-care and to be aware of your edge and mindful not to fall over. Remember, the path to liberation isn’t easy and it’s often quite messy. In my opinion, it’s better to be messy on paper or in your own head. Hopefully, this practice helps you to find your own humanity and to begin to recognize the humanity in others.

Marc

May all beings be happy and free.
And may my thoughts, words, and actions contribute to the happiness and freedom of all beings.

Learn more about the niyamas here:  https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-philosophy-basics-the-5-niyamas

Categories
Blog Sociology Yoga

Braving Body Shame

What’s your body shame story?

I am honored to participate in the inaugural Braving Body Shame conference. This conference is important because it is intersectional and accessible. It brings together diverse stories and experiences to demonstrate the impact of body shame on all of our lives.

In terms of accessibility, Braving Body Shame is FREE and fully online. There are also options to receive interview transcripts.

The conference launches in February – you can learn more and register on the Braving Body Shame website: https://bravingbodyshame.com/

I hope you’ll “tune in” to hear my story!

Categories
Blog Sociology

Participants Needed for a Study on Size-Discrimination and Hiking

Are you a plus-size/husky/curvy/fat hiker? Then I want to hear from you!

I’ve partnered with Laura Burns to study size-discrimination in hiking. Currently, we are seeking participants to complete a survey on their experiences hiking and shopping for hiking gear and clothing.

We’ve already exceeded our goal of 500 completed surveys – but we need your help to obtain a more diverse sample. To date, our sample is 90% White and roughly 96% Women.

We would love to hear from more people of color as well as men and non-binary folks.

The survey should take about 20-30 minutes to complete, and the results will help to move forward the conversation about weight stigma and discrimination and ultimately create change! For more information and to complete the survey here: https://forms.gle/aduT79n9CPLbkgac7

Categories
Blog Sociology

Power, Resistance, and Change: (Disaster) Sociology in the Trump Era

Originally presented at the Annual Meetings of the Society for the Study of Social Problems – August 13, 2017.

The idea for this paper came shortly after January 20, 2017. Like so many of you, I was riding the proverbial emotional roller coaster. I was high from a weekend of protest and solidarity but dreading the months and years ahead.

It was also time to commit to a topic for this year’s meetings, so, I put together the following abstract:

Disaster sociologists and our colleagues in other social science disciplines have provided critical examinations of how social inequality produces and is reproduced by “man-made” and “natural disasters”.  Due to our long and symbiotic relationship with the Federal government, American disaster sociologists have been influential in shaping the way that government agencies prepare for and respond to disasters. However, today our relationship and influence seems uncertain. Though unpredictable, this paper examines the future of disaster sociology within the context of the Trump administration. Specifically, this paper examines the challenges that disaster researchers face in political climate dominated by austerity, “alternative facts”, and uncertainty. In this paper, I propose strategies through which disaster sociologists can resist and subvert attempts to obfuscate knowledge and silence dissent.

I’ve struggled to write this paper for several reasons.

First, avoidance has been my primary survival tactic. Ignorance has been bliss, and I’m fine not knowing everything that happens in Washington, DC or on Twitter.

Second, there’s too much to keep up with. Last week, we got a leaked climate change report, learned that the FBI raided his former campaign managers home, continue to hold our breath as Trump tweets us closer to war with North Korea, and today we mourn the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

So, this paper isn’t what I imagined it would be.

I’m not going to review the list of attacks on science, the academy, and humanity in general, today. We are all aware of them and many of us are already working to oppose them.

I’m not sure that we can ever trust government. But, for a long time, many of us wanted to believe we could.

We wanted to believe that what the President of the United States said was at least partially true, even if it was steeped in imperialism. We believed we could turn to government agencies to find “objective” information about our society and our planet. We even imagined we could work with our government to create an equitable society.

In the current era, we can neither trust the President of the United States nor any of the agencies he controls.

Telling the “Truth”

Despite the rise of “fake news” many Americans rely on journalists and the corporate media, to give us the “truth”. But where do these truths come from? That’s where we come in.

I didn’t attend, but this year’s Natural Hazards Workshop, but it included a panel of journalists who offered scientists advice for communicating about disasters.

Jolie Breedan, of the Natural Hazards Center, recently published a summary of the panel’s advice, which you can find on the Hazards Center’s website.

The advice includes:

  • Building relationships with journalists
  • Become a trusted source, provide behind the scenes or “off the record” tips and information
  • Try not to talk (too much) like a scientist
  • Leverage social media

These are great starting points for all of us.

We should be building relationships not just with reporters, but also with state and local policy makers. By building these relationships, you can become a trusted source who might actually influence policy; at the local level, where policy matters most. This assumes we know anything about policy in the first place.

But, to influence policy, we must learn how to talk to policy makers and regular people in general. This has been a problem in sociology for decades now. I am not the first person, nor will I be the last to say this. We spend a lot of time learning how to talk to other sociologists. We learn the rules of writing for publication in journals that no one reads, and we forget how to talk to non-sociologists. Even those of us at teaching institutions struggle to communicate sociology to our students.

As Doni Loseke reminded us last night in her presidential address, we need to stop telling stories like sociologists.

But, that doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our principles. It just means that we need to make our principles accessible to audiences outside of conference rooms and academic circles.

Many sociologists have already learned how to do this. They have leveraged social media and have created blogs that have been read by thousands, and in some cases, millions of people. This has given rise to a class of Twitter famous, sociological Rock stars. There is also a lot of noise from other sociologists promoting their work and, dare I say egos, on social media. I may be a millennial, but I am skeptical that social media is the answer to our problems.

At its core, the advice to talk to strangers and build relationships encourages us as sociologists, to think and act locally. In our own departments, on our campuses, and in our neighborhoods.

It’s not about 45

At some point, I read commentary that Donald Trump was the first Brand elected to be president. Perhaps, this is one of the more poignant assessments of our current situation.

Because, the truth is, Donald Trump is not the problem.

Yes, he’s racist, sexist, transphobic and panders to nazis. But we’re sociologists. We know that it’s bigger than just one person. A point emphasized by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in his presentation here yesterday morning.

We know that the problems we face are systemic. I don’t have to explain this at the annual meetings of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Aside from his attempts to drag us into nuclear war, we know that the attacks on science, knowledge, and our humanity started long before Donald Trump and will likely continue after him.

A few years ago, at the Natural Hazards Workshop, I was on a Panel on Social Vulnerability. In my final remarks I said something to the effect of:


“as long as we live in a capitalist, white supremacist, hetero-patriarchy we will continue to have disasters. We will continue to have vulnerable populations because we have decided that it’s okay for some people to die because it’s more important for others to make a profit.”

As sociologists, we know that capitalism and white supremacy are killing us.
As a society. As a discipline. And as Individuals.

Sadly, some in our discipline have been enticed by the capitalist/white supremacist fantasy and have come to enjoy their petit bourgeois standing. They will continue to defend and advance the capitalist regime’s agenda.

So, what are we supposed to do?

Emergent Strategy

I’d like to get back to the idea of thinking and acting locally.

In February, I started reading “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” by adrienne maree brown. Adrienne is black woman, author, activist, and science-fiction scholar. She was mentored by Grace Lee Bogs and takes inspiration from Octavia Butler.

I’d like to share with you, adrienne’s explanation of emergent strategy:

According to Nick Obolensky, “emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” In the frame work of emergence, the whole is a mirror of the parts. Existence is fractal “the health of the cell is the health of the species and the planet.”

There are examples of emergence everywhere.

Birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scare times, mapping out their pit stops. They feel a call in the bodies that they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move toward each other.

Emergence is beyond what the sum of its parts could even imagine.

A group of caterpillars or nymphs might not see flight in their future, but it’s inevitable.

Oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. Under the earth, always, they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined and create a system of strength that is resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.

Dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. But each seed can create a field of dandelions. We are invited to be prolific. And to return fertility to the soil around us.

Cells may not know civilization is possible. They don’t amass many units as they can sign up to be the same. No, they grow until they split, complexify. Then they interact and intersect and discover their purpose “I am a lung cell! I am a tongue cell!” And they serve it, and they die. And what emerges from these cycles are complex organisms, systems, movements, and societies.

Nothing is wasted, or a failure. Emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. It’s all data.

Octavia Butler said, “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. It’s a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve on going group adaptation.”

She also wrote, “all that you touch you change / all that you change, changes you.” We are constantly impacting and changing our civilization each other, ourselves, intimates, strangers. And we are working to transform a world that is, by its very nature, in a constant state of change.

Janine Benyus, a student of biomimicry, says, “nature/life would always create conditions conductive to life.” She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual, but mutual that species only survive if they learn to be a community.

How can we, future ancestors, align ourselves with the most resilient practices of emergence as a species?

Many of us have been socialized to understand that constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass are the way to create change. But emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical, deep, and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience. It’s the quality of the connections between the nodes in the patterns that matters most.

I have re-read these pages countless times over the last six months. There is beauty in adriene’s prose, and power in her metaphors.

Please allow me to transfer these metaphors to the academy and our discipline.

Emergent Problems in Sociology

We might say that birds do in fact, plan to migrate. They eat and store energy for the lean times of their long migrations. But let’s apply this to sociology. As a graduate student, I was trained to always be thinking about what comes next. As a master’s student, I had to be competitive for PhD programs. As a doctoral candidate, I had to be competitive for tenure track jobs. As a junior faculty member, I have to both earn tenure AND keep myself competitive for other jobs.

So how does one stay competitive? Through presenting at conferences, publishing in journals, and accumulating grants and fellowships. We cannot allow our curiosity to shape our research agendas, rather, we must shape our research agendas around the interests of faculty advisors, grant funders, and potential employers. Our work should be sexy, but not too weird.

Being competitive requires us to pull away from each other; to focus on our own needs and our own desired outcomes.

We cannot be a flock if we are all flying in different directions; or, bouncing between multiple conference venues.

Maybe caterpillars know that they will become butterflies one day. They keep munching way on leaves because they know how beautiful they will become in a few weeks. The dream of graduating certainly carried me through my dissertation. But I think there is a deeper lesson to be learned.

We are socialized to be focused on the outcomes of our work, rather than the work itself.

We need to allow ourselves and each other to be caterpillars: to take our time, carefully munching away, so that we can become butterflies. But deadlines, university time limits, and budget cuts get in the way.

We’re all familiar with imposter syndrome. I regularly catch myself worrying that someone will figure out that I’m not that smart. Or that I didn’t quite read all of those books I was supposed to in graduate school. I can’t help but think this is also tied to the culture of competitiveness. It plants the seeds of doubt in each of us. But, like the dandelion, we are neither weeds nor brilliance. We are invited to be prolific. We are invited to share ourselves and our ideas with our students and the world.

Sometimes those ideas can get us in to trouble.

We come together each time one of our colleagues is attacked by fascists. We write letters, sign petitions, and scream for justice at the top of our lungs on social media. But these displays of solidarity are temporary. We need stronger, deeper, and more interconnected roots. Showing up during a crisis is important, but we need to support each other, and keep one another in the ground at all times. When one of us falls, it weakens the entire discipline.

Like Adrienne says, many of us have been socialized to understand constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass as the key to what comes next. But what comes next may not be what you wanted it to be.

As individuals, we need to resist the neoliberal push for constant growth. More students, more money, more faculty lines, more publications. At what point will it be enough? At what point will you be enough?

Competition is deeply engrained in the white psyche. It has polluted generations of human beings and destroyed entire civilizations. I would like to say that we’re allowing it to destroy sociology, too. But the truth is that legacy of white supremacy, competition, and elitism is in our sociological DNA.

I don’t know how we can drive it out, but we must. Our careers and our lives depend on it.

Emergent Sociology?

This week, we are reminded of just how many sociologists there are. Thousands of us have gathered at ASA, SSSI, ABS, ASR, and here at SSSP. But many of us feel alienated and anonymous.

This probably has a lot to do with how we feel at home, on our campuses, and in our departments.

Where we work with others out of necessity and obligation, rather than mutual respect and understanding. We allow conflicts between sub-fields, methodological preferences, and political orientations to drive us apart. And, our students see this, and they replicate the behavior.

With or without Trump, we are in crisis.

It’s likely that our discipline will survive this crisis. But what it looks like and who is a part of it depends entirely upon us.