“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”
~Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters
As spiritual sojourner on a non-traditional path, many folks in the Black church (where I was raised) think I am outside my natural mind or in league with the devil because I move through the world answering to Ancestors, Spirits, and Orisa. I commune with trees, rocks, rivers, and plants. I listen to earth. I am a self-named and proud weirdo who answers to Creation and no man’s rule. On the other side, there are the spiritual white people, mostly white women who have cherry picked, lifted and co-opted most of the Indigenous ways they subscribe to for so long they’ve come to believe they have a rightful claim to what has been passed to us through our mothers’ mothers and beyond. I’ve been to enough Full Moon Circles, Sabbats, and Drum Circles to know what I’m talking about. I have had more than one white woman presume to lecture me about the origin of Osun, Yemaya and the nature of Orunmila. I’ve witnessed a white woman trying to dance Damballah. It hurt my heart. If they are not white ‘splaining Spirituality to me, then they want to consume me like an exotic fruit they’ve just picked. White women take everything, shamelessly, but that’s another post.
Let me talk to you about a form of spiritual and emotional violence known as spiritual bypassing. This is a term first used by psychologist John Welwood in 1984 in response to what he was seeing emerge as a pattern of behavior in Buddhist communities. In short, spiritual bypassing is the white fragility of the love and light brigade. These are white women who consider themselves liberal, open-minded, compassionate and kind. These are nice women who want to hang out with me, get coffee, take in a yoga class. They want me to come to Conscious Dance with them. They have bright smiles, and even brighter eyes that bore into me without really seeing me. I know this because they do not see that I am leaning away from them steadily. They do not see the tension in my face and my body because they are in my personal bubble, I step back and they step forward. Some of these women who don’t understand why I don’t want to be their friend are hurt and bewildered. Others think I am only focusing on the negatives, but trust that they all have advice:
“We are all indigenous to earth.”
“We are all one human race,”
“If you change your lens, you will feel better.”
“Visualize white light.” (irony intended)
“You need to raise your vibrational focus,”
“Have you tried crystals?”
“You have to hold a positive intention.”
“If you focus elevating on your positive vibration, nothing can harm you.”
“I believe in our shared humanity.”
“All lives matter.”
They tell me,
“You’re so angry.”
“You need to release the past”
“I don’t like it when you don’t smile.”
“You have such a beautiful smile.”
“I’m sending you love and light.”
“Only feed the good wolf, not the bad.”
These are all examples of spiritual bypassing, the avoidance of anything that is uncomfortable, painful, and difficult in ourselves or others. Spiritual bypassing while, possibly unconscious most of the time, gives us permission to erase and ignore the pain of others and further, how the pain of others makes us feel. ‘Cause who wants to feel bad? We deserve to feel good all the time, right? That’s what g-o-d wants for us, right? Spiritual white women have mastered weaponizing this tactic in social justice spaces and have become particularly adept at using it to gaslight Black Womxn when we speak about our lived experience. Spiritual bypassing is actually a form of violence that white women employ against Black Womxn as a means of silencing and erasure. You tell us that you stand with us in one breath, then just as quickly excise us from even existing. Spiritual bypassing is a way to remain on the surface while appearing to be deeply connected and grounded. The reality is when people engage in this behavior they could not be less connected or grounded. Bypassing seeks to keep the person outside of feeling anything, really. It’s a form of dissociation.
I never had terminology to describe this behavior with this level of specificity. Now that I see and understand the behavior for what it is, I call it what it is and remove white women from my presence who refuse to be called in to self reflection. I find it next to impossible to be in spiritual spaces or social justice spaces where white women dominate the dialog and the room. It took many years of damage from nice white women wishing me love and light to get it through my head that love and light was not what they were wishing me. Years of ” Well, maybe you haven’t looked at the situation from my perspective. We all are the same under the skin.” No, Susan. If we were the same we would not be having this conversation. Clearly, the fuck we are not the same.
Strong emotions are anchored in the body. We become flushed, we sweat, we shake, we feel our guts churn and jump. Indigenous ways all have example of Spirits “mounting” a host–using a chosen devotee’s human body to dance, laugh, cry, rage, grieve; even to enjoy the creature comforts of smoking and drinking. Indeed, for Black Folx, Black Womxn specifically, staying grounded in the body has been essential to our survival. Knowing what the wind from the North feels like, feeling what weather is coming, listening for sounds that told us whether safety or danger was near. Knowing the taste of what plants would heal and which would harm. Midwives knowing when to tell a mother to push, when to have her wait during childbirth. These are skills rooted in fully inhabiting the body. Some branches of the Black church, whether they recognize it or not, are grounded in the old ways, speaking even now of Folx getting the Holy Ghost, feeling the Spirit. I remember as a child watching beautiful Black womxn, jump up, beads sparkling, high heels dancing, hands raised and hats tilted, unshakably living in their whole bodies. For us, Spirit lives in you from your head to your toes.
But the ethereal spiritual experience disdains the body and seeks to transcend to a state of nothingness or at least to be beyond the “base desires” of humanity. That makes for a perfect breeding ground for spiritual bypassing. It is desirable to be dispassionate, detached and above this “mortal coil”. White supremacy is a system of oppression that through its agents continually invents and reshapes ways to perpetuate itself. Because you, the collective you spiritual white people have been socialized to maintain the social order of oppression, it is only natural that you would learn to apply spiritual bypassing to your interactions with us in order to remain blind to the lived experience of Black Womxn. It’s a genius method, really. Not only do you effectively silence the voices of Black Womxn, you also spin us up to believe we are deficient emotionally.
Now, this is where it gets really twisted. Black bodies are problematic in this white supremacist world. They are problematic because they are constant reminders of why whiteness must exist and all of the terrible awful behind that truth. They are also problematic because the consumptive, appropriative and cannibalistic nature of whiteness drives white people, particularly white women to an interest in our Black bodies that borders on prurient. Our skin, our hair, our eyes, our lips, even our backsides are mimicked, co-opted and commodified endlessly. Seriously, y’all just walk up to random other white women and touch their hair? Nope. I have been groped, petted, stroked, and manhandled by white women so often, I stay on alert every single time I leave my home. Mind you I am 64 years old and this still happens. I went to a conference for cancer survivors and while there, took a chance on a chair massage being offered. I was not face-down in the chair for more than 2 minutes before a white woman was running her hands over my Bantu Knots and cooing like a pigeon. You hate the presence of our bodies, yet they are like some exotic drug you can’t get enough of. And it is so much deeper than your fascination with our physical bodies. The ways in which you incessantly seek to possess and demand our labor are historically and deeply pathological.
Once many years ago, I was privileged to meet become friends with an incredibly gifted sistx who was among many things an initiated Priestess of Osun. She had come to Tampa, where I was living at the time to perform her one-woman show where she channeled Zora Neale Hurston. Yeye Zora spoke through her. Now, this spiritual white woman, a self-appointed expert on world goddesses, including the ones from Indigenous cultures mind you, jumped down front and practically strong-armed this sistx into staying at her home. Two weeks in, my friend called me to come over to show me the altar to Osun she was building. She confided that this white woman who had presented all sweetness and kindness had her cleaning her house and cooking since she got there. A Priestess of Osun. She even had a gathering of her other spiritual white women friends and made it clear to my friend that it was just for them–she expected her to stay in her room. Next time my friend came to town, she stayed with me.
Spiritual bypassing is not just some words misspoken or a mistake in judgment. It is a form of white supremacist violence and it is the norm of interactions between spiritual white women and Black Womxn. It is a tool in your kit of socialized behaviors designed to keep your fragility cushioned and your awareness tamped down. The time is long overdue for spiritual white women to burn away the film from their third eyes. The time is long past due for you to open not only your eyes, but your bodies to the full effect of your actions. A spiritual life was never meant to be the superficial shell game that spiritual bypassing creates. Each time you wish a platitude on our pain, each time you deflect our request to be seen and heard, you diminish your own humanity and shrivel your own soul. Is that how you want to live?
Here is what I have learned:
Life is change. Life is struggle and pain, and along the way there are opportunities for me to learn a deep appreciation for places of light and goodness and beauty. They do come, not as often as I think they should, but they come when they need to come. And I have learned to make them enough, like breaking the surface of storm sea and gulping wind tossed air; I try to take in these moments as fully as I can. For me, it’s as close to receiving the Holy Ghost as I can think of. I also believe that life is this crooked, crazy ride that we don’t survive, but survival isn’t the point. Growth and becoming is how I continue to breathe. Becoming all of me in spite of the brokenness of spiritual white women, thriving and creating my specific quality of Black Womxn magic is my radical resistance to spiritual white women.
My question to spiritual white women is this–what makes you entitled to live a life free of strife or pain at my expense? Your people created this oppressive system so you should be at least as invested as I am in dismantling it. You cannot do that if you are disconnected from the people you say you are in solidarity with. I want spiritual white women to get out of the clouds in their heads and into their bodies where they can actually feel something more than fear, entitlement, and fragility. I can’t tell you how to do that. I do know that the answers for how are already inside you if you want them. Get this work.