“We cannot ‘fix’ the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society….The need we have is for a revolution of love. Nothing less will do now.” — Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Last summer, in the midst of a cascade of instances of violence and madness, I wrote an essay on the struggle we all face to maintain hope in times of despair. I knew I was not alone. I knew that even those committed to being a force for good can find it hard to maintain a sense of the possible when day after day, the news gives us reason for new levels of doubt, more painful realities with which to deal.
I knew then, as I know now, that the pace of change and the degree of anguish that we’re facing now is calling on all of us to to be better, to do better. To transform ourselves; and, through that ongoing effort, to change the world we’ve made.
Colorblindness, Mindfulness, and Race
As a mindfulness speaker specializing in mindfulness and race, I was heartened to find that Michelle Alexander, acclaimed author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, had come to similar conclusions. The New Jim Crow laid out the ways that the policies adopted across the country as part of the War on Drugs had led to a new age of segregation and oppression for Black people in this country, and urged us to advocate for law and policy changes. Her book became a “must read,” and has helped galvanize efforts across the country for criminal law and policing reforms.
And yet, in an essay she published after the murders of Philando Castile and the police shootings in Dallas, she acknowledged the limits of law to remake the world.
Instead, she called on each of us to do the spiritual work necessary for lasting change:
In recent years, I have come to believe that truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.
How do we come to such a profound shift, such a transformation in our collective consciousness?
As I suggested in my own essay, there are many pathways to radical change. But they all begin with personal commitment to becoming more present to the nature of suffering in our own lives, and in the lives of others in our midst.
We need to see this suffering, here and abroad, as part of a larger cry for deepening our commitment to loving responses to all who are vulnerable everywhere, and especially—though not exclusively—to those vulnerable to state-sponsored harm. We need to see them as a call for action aimed at ameliorating systemic, institutionalized harms to which we have gone “culture blind.”
To overcome blindness of any kind, we must regain the capacity to see. This is why the approach of mindfulness and race is important. We must become more aware of the layers of experience and the dimensions of reality that comprise our lives and the lives of others.
And just how do we overcome our blindness? The good news is that both research and our own experiences show that mindfulness practices can help:
Mindfulness and compassion practices are profoundly beneficial in our efforts to see reality more clearly. And, fortunately, these practices work for all of us. Each of us has a role to play, however small, as there are no small efforts when our actions are motivated by a desire for justice.
It’s your turn: have you been strengthened in the work of social justice by your own mindfulness and compassion practices?
If so, let me know. It is through sharing our successes that we build hope.
And if you’re struggling, share that as well. It is through sharing our struggles that we teach, deepen our own lessons and learn together.
I look forward to hearing from you.
May you be well. ~ Rhonda
You can read the full text of my essay HERE
You can read Professor Alexander’s essay in full HERE