Diversity and anti-oppression
Embracing diversity and addressing oppression blows wide open the gateway to inner led-change. For without inquiring into what it is that we reject and marginalise within ourself, it is not possible for us to truly embrace diversity and address oppression.
The twin paths of inner work and outer focused transformative change are crucial for liberation and challenging oppression. Systemic oppressions are learnt through cultures, influenced by the values held by our friends, family, workplaces and communities, and enforced by actions and by silences.
The inner work of transformative social change is part of the outer work of speaking up, challenging racism and other oppressions, and collective action. It can enable working through forms of denial that - if unexamined - operate to reinforce complicity in systems that privilege those who are white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual and middle class.
Unlearning patterns of oppression requires a capacity to acknowledge and recognise conscious and unconscious bias. Recognising one’s own complicity in oppressive systems is uncomfortable and messy work, and requires commitment and trust, both in yourself and others that you may be working with. Yet ignoring the inner work for fear of messing up perpetuates silence and inaction.
As Jasmin Syedullah says in Radical Dharma “the tiptoeing around race and other forms of difference as if in fear of waking a sleeping lion is one of the most subtly toxic attributes of whiteness in our culture right now”. Experiencing the discomfort is part of the liberation work.
Holding space to enable other people to do the same also requires emotional labour, and a labour that too often is performed by those bearing the brunt of the oppressions. As Robin DiAngelo reflects in the Deconstructing White Privilege video when asking Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) “'how often have you given white people feedback on our inevitable, unaware, unintentional but inevitable racism, and have that go well for you?’ And basically the answer is never”.
Speaking up and challenging systems of oppression – whether on [anti]social media or in conversation – can be uncomfortable, but is essential.
Solo Inner practices
Learning about systemic oppressions is important, and there are plenty of resources - books, videos, articles - in the resources section to guide you. Contemplative and reflective practices can enrich the experience, help process the information and integrate it with your experience.
Rev angel Kyodo williams’ questions are useful to guide us here, to develop the curiosity to turn towards and enquire into suffering that acccompanies oppressions:
- ~ What place are you not feeling?
- ~ What part of you are you rejecting?
- ~ What aspect are you not loving?
- ~ What truth are you not willing to accept? (in Radical Dharma, p.96)
Journaling and reflective writing can be powerful. For example, Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook is a powerful way to develop awareness of how systems of white supremacy are internalised in people of all colours, and to develop tools to support anti-racist work.
Unpicking systemic oppressions in groups can be a powerful way to reflect on and deepen inner practices, be witnessed, challenged and see how cultures of oppression work through us all. It can be useful to do some of this work in caucused groups (groups which share an identity) at times, and the Racial Equity tools website outlines the value of caucuses).
However, caucused groups (e.g. those based on white racialisation) can also reinforce divisions. It's therefore important to ensure that groups have an explicit framing of liberation for all (see for the The Racial Justice Network's Unlearning Racism course and 'Unlearning Racism' manifesto).
It is also important to consider forms of accountability (who are we accountable to and how?), how your group contributes to dismantling forms of oppression (what are we doing beyond talking to each other?), and how to centre, support and develop relationships with those with lived experience of the oppressions (e.g. through paid courses run by for example, people of colour).
The examples we have given here have focused on race related oppression. For information about and resources around other forms of oppression see our diversity and anti-oppression resources. And see our radical inclusivity section for more on what is needed to meaningfully embrace diversity and address oppression.