Answering the Call
Michael Nolden, Ed.D
Social unrest this summer related to the systemic inequalities of race, drew my attention to Ruth King, Robin DiAngelo and Rhonda Magee. Each author powerfully addressed systemic racism, openly and with great humility. The aim of this essay is to capture the main ideas from Mindful of Race, by Ruth King (2018), White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (2018) and The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee (2019). All three texts clarify the insidious nature of racism, its current grip on American social discourse and the difficult process of dialogue and healing in this age of uncertain messaging. Specifically, King and Magee address racial and social healing through the framework of mindful intent and practice. Mindfulness as a framework for personal well-being, is more than the practice of sitting and noticing. It is also the practice of social engagement. Mindfully addressing the needs and concerns of everyday people, regardless of race, class and status could prove to be of great benefit to the greater good of everyone. DiAngelo, King and Magee cogently bring together space for curiosity, forgiveness, listening, and healing with clarity of vision highlighting a path of social and heritage understanding.
White Fragility (2018) by Robin DiAnglelo, brings to light the difficulty white Americans bring to their understanding of race and racism. DiAngelo highlights a trend of defending racist thinking as a well-meaning expression of white society to be “colorblind” to others. This is impossible to accomplish. Colorblind policies meant to shape institutions and social discourse actually create greater harm for all Americans. To deny a person of color their very personhood, by declaring a colorblind expression such as “I don’t see race, just the person,” captures the dilemma white society fails to recognize.
I lived in a little town in Southern Indiana during the 1970’s that enforced it’s “sundown” quality, albeit with a wink and a nod. Since I was not from the area and soon moved away, I did not understand the nuance of the expression by my friends at the time “we drove them out.” Today, the polarization and weaponization of rhetoric limits social discourse to the level of echo chamber. From a neurological perspective, we are conditioned to believe what we see, such as the motion of the sun and moon, etc. Over time our senses align with our intellect allowing for differing perspectives and possible outcomes. Unfortunately, from a social and relational standpoint the American (western) proclivity today, is to see what one believes.
DiAngelos strength is her ability to tell the story of race and white racism in prose that inform and nurture. Dialogue and cooperation must improve in our society for healing to occur due to generational systemic racism. The issue of race and prejudice is not the propriety of Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian or other marginalized groups. The issue of race in American society is the propriety of white Americans.
Mindful of Race (2018) by Ruth King, eloquently discusses the framework of mindfulness in racial healing. King addresses systemic racism through her own contemplative scholarship and deep practice of insight meditation. Mindfulness is more than sitting on a cushion … but the practice of sitting on a cushion informs mature decision-making responses, which ultimately lead to enhanced relational qualities both for ourselves and others. Ruth King addresses the process of softening our hearts, that allow openness to racial healing from injustices received and perpetrated. King’s emphasis of kindness and compassion as cultivated skills inform our experience. She recognizes the personal nature of trauma related to race, and the ability to work effectively within the boundaries of our own mind.
Of particular interest, was the use of RAIN as a template to understand racial experiences. Recognizing (R) accepting (A) investigating (I) and nurturing (N) provide scaffolding for a deeper analysis of trauma related to race. Studying King and DiAngelo at the same time reinforced the understanding race is not about others. Understanding racism is about understanding ourselves.
Interacting with Rhonda Magee’s text, The Inner Work of Racial Healing, (2019) reinforces the important role of mindfulness in positions of leadership and social action. A legal scholar and teacher of law, Magee shares her insights of mindfulness practice as it relates to race and institutional racism. One of the issues of mindfulness teaching is the sincerity of a teacher’s personal practice. Magee address this issue by exploring the “paradox that we have to do our own inner work, if we hope to wake up to and embody the fullness of who we really are.” In essence, Rhonda Magee illustrates the connection of personal practice and social healing. The spark of change originates in a single source … it touches other people, institutions, and societies.
Racial healing can be addressed through the contemplative lens of mindfulness and its intent. Magee’s exclamation to “answer the call” for greater engagement in racial healing, strikes a resonant chord with many in the mindfulness community. I believe answering the call is not just the purview of social activism, but the personal commitment of our “inner-work.” Through this process change occurs. This type of change is organic and emerges from care, kindness and compassion for ourselves and the world. It takes courage to answer the call. Individually and collectively, answering the call may be one of the greatest gifts of the human spirit.
DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility. Why it is so hard for white people to talk about race. Beacon Press, Boston, MA.
King, R. (2018). Mindful of Race. Transforming racism from the inside out. Sounds True, Boulder, CO.
Magee, R. V. (2019). The inner work of racial healing. Healing ourselves and transforming our communities through mindfulness. TarcherPerigee / Penguin Group, NY.