7 Steps to Integrate Social Justice Into Your Spiritual Work
In both the social justice crowd and in the spiritually focused crowd, I've witnessed a lot of hesitancy to understand the philosophical stances that the other side holds regarding the world around them. As a public health consultant, birth worker, sexual health educator, and Latinx in pursuit of my ancestral knowledge, I constantly straddle both worlds of spirituality and social justice (as do many of my colleagues). And I do not believe that they have to be as separate as they tend to be. In fact I believe that through bringing spirituality and social justice together, we can make powerful progress toward justice and enlightenment through creating grounded, supportive platforms that we all desperately need.
The first steps for my folks who are primarily focused on spirituality...
1. Practice being consciously optimistic and discerning.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the tragedies around us. But it doesn’t help anyone when we gloss over tragedy in the name of spirituality or positivity. Danielle LaPorte talks about conscious optimism as the ability to be honest with ourselves and others about difficult facts and then choose to be optimistic about the world. Optimism holds that much more value when we are able to choose practicing it in the face of difficult truths.
It can feel difficult to take sides on an issue as person trying to work toward peace and enlightenment. Understandably, there is drive to offer love and validation for all beings. There is a desire to avoid creating or drawing in negativity for yourself or those around you. But practicing discernment does not mean that one must falter to their lower nature. Again, I like Danielle LaPorte's take on this. She talks about how discernment is different from judgement in that discernment is open minded and wisely choosing right action whereas judgement is narrow minded and often operates out of fear. Discernment is the practice of utilizing our wisdom and intuition to change our world for the better through small and large actions. We can begin to practice conscious optimism and discernment in small, every day opportunities such as when consuming news, talking to colleagues at work, having conversations around the dinner table, etc.
2. Know and understand the affects of your own privileges.
Most us living in the United States have some degree of privilege. Let me repeat that, we all have some privilege. Most of us tend to know and understand the ways in which we are individually disadvantaged or oppressed in our western society because we are confronted with these issues often. However, we rarely understand the ways in which we are privileged and how those privileges skew our perspective and affect our behaviors. My favorite definition of privilege is “thinking that something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you, personally.” This explains the nature of why we often take our privileges for granted. We can’t usually see them in operation.
Personally, I hold a lot of privilege in our society. A few of my most obvious privileges are that I am Latinx but I am also light skinned and can get read as white in some situations. I am also bisexual or pansexual but I am partnered with a cis-gendered male and I am cis-gendered myself. Finally, I'm from a small, rural, Latinx town in a poor state (shout out to New Mexico, which has my heart!) but I am well educated. Yes, I have found myself discriminated against for being Latinx, for being where I'm from, and for being bisexual. By my light skin, cis-gendered partner, and masters degree afford me a lot of privilege that I am usually not even aware of. Not having to be aware of it, is part of the privilege package.
So how do we dig in and utilize our privileges?
2. Speak up!
Something I am learning to do more and more, is to use my voice and to elevate the voices of others. I could easily hide behind my light skin and my hetero-normative relationship but this is the comfortable vantage point through which little change can be made. I try really hard to speak about my sexuality so that it starts to become de-stigmatized and people around me who don't know, begin to realize that sexuality is on a continuum. I also try really hard to speak up about my heritage and issues that are important to me and people with a similar heritage.
3. Never speak for others.
But what I try to NEVER do is speak for others. I hear a lot of people in the social justice movement (especially those who are new to it) saying that they want to speak up for those who don’t have a voice. Everyone has a voice but not everyone has access to platforms or opportunities to utilize it. That’s why it’s critical that those of us with access, intentionally utilize our positions to invite others to the table, and even give up our seats for them when we can.
3. Educate yourself!
Educate yourself on the histories of various groups of people, identities, terms you are not familiar with, and the laws and policies affecting these groups of people. Please don’t add to the burden of another’s oppression by expecting them to educate you on the history, definitions, and struggles of their people. This goes for friends too. Yes, it is okay to ask a friend about their own experiences if you got it like that with them. But it’s not okay to expect them to do the work for you.
This doesn’t have to involve getting another degree or anything. But it is an ongoing process. It means reading a few new books, following some new social media accounts, and searching for information through various media that you might not typically come across. (Scroll to the end of this blog post for FREE resources to assist in your journey!) It also means becoming aware of any biased messages you may be unintentionally feeding yourself and then disconnecting from platforms that promote those messages. If you are not familiar with this language, which can be very subtle (sometimes it's what's not being said), it may take a while to get good at recognizing it.
When educating yourself on the history of communities of people that are different from your own, seek to understand how they have been treated particularly in your field of interest or expertise. For example, the field of modern medicine and the history of gynecology is where a lot of the formal education in my field originated. If you're in a related discipline, you understand where most procedures and knowledge originated in this field? Are you aware of the trauma that this history has continued to create in our communities today (especially for those that are Indigenous, People of Color, or LGBTQ)?
4. Be humble.
Understand and accept that you are always going to make mistakes in this work and that’s okay. Whether you are in a class discussion or you are leading a class, be humble to the notion that mistakes are part of the process. Be willing to continuously learn. Be willing to be called out on your own biases. Be willing to have difficult and awkward discussions. Be willing to really and truly LISTEN to those that are different from you.
This should go for your teachers too. Nobody is perfect but it quickly becomes obvious who is trying to be socially just in their work and who is not. Even if they are not already doing their own personal work, if you pay attention it is obvious which teachers are willing to have these discussions and which are not.
5. Create access.
You must consider who has access to the work. No you don’t have to serve everyone all of the time in order to be considered a socially conscious business. But you must at least make a true and concerted effort to create access to your materials, your teachings, and your events to more than just those within your own social construct. It is important to consider which teachers are doing this when you consider spending your money as students. We are not only contributing to our own health but to the health of the social structure when we spend our money discerningly.
This means businesses must operate with consideration to the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity is simply saying that your events are open to everyone or posting on a social media platform that technically “everyone” has access to and considering your social justice efforts done. However, inclusion is the intentional and deliberate ways in which we invite diversity and create welcoming environments where a diverse range of human beings can thrive.
6. Avoid cultural appropriation.
This is often a topic that is very difficult to hold space for without it becoming very heated. I say, invite the heat. It’s good to feel very passionate and have our convictions surrounding something we find so sensitive and important. Let's be willing to have these discussions honestly and keep working through the many complicated aspects of this issue.
It is absolutely paramount that there is clear communication around cultural appropriation if you intend on operating a socially just business. In the sexual health, new age, witchy crowd (that I very much love) cultural appropriation can surface in many aspects of the work; businesses need to be conscious with everything from advertising all the way to featured content and prescribed practices.
Most often the example that comes up is a practice presented or prescribed without being respectful to the use, history, and origins of that practice. Most cultural practices that are not part of mainstream white, Christian, American culture today (and some that are) were violently repressed in their communities of origin at the hands of colonizers. Those same colonizers or their heirs then created diluted/distorted/commercialized versions of the original practice and sold it in mainstream markets for their own profits without homage to the communities of origin. (Yoga is a prime example of this.) What’s more, is that the heirs of the communities of origin are still discriminated against in this country. It is a violent cycle that only serves to uphold patriarchy, white supremacy, and the hetero-normative agenda.
We all have to go through a process of unlearning the lessons of this violent and oppressive system. By participating in cultural appropriation, we are not only saying that we abide by what happened in the past, but that we are comfortable continuing that cycle. So when someone points out to you that there is something different you could be doing as a student (consumer) or in business, to avoid the harmful effects of cultural appropriation, listen to them and thank them. It is an opportunity to practice utilizing discernment and conscious optimism.
7. Utilize these gifts from me to you!
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