“Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”Rev angel Kyodo Williams
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 as important as the outer work of speaking up and collective action. It can enable working through forms of denial that if unexamined, operate to reinforce complicity in systems that privilege white, able-bodied and middle class people.
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” (Jasmine Syedullah, Radical Dharma, p. 21). 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 people of colour “’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.
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:
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 your 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. Ensure that any groups have an explicit framing of liberation for all, consider forms of accountability, how the group contributes to dismantling forms of oppression, and how to centre, support (e.g. through paid courses) and develop relationships with those with lived experience of the oppressions: they will be invaluable teachers.