Racism is typically thought of as overt acts of hatred against a person or group of people based on their skin color. Although true, this definition excludes subtle, unintentional, and systemic acts which cause harm, inequality, and injustice.
You may not consciously discriminate against others, but systemic racism is woven into the fabric of our society. Given current social constructs, it is very difficult to be immune from its impact. Not discriminating is not enough; as Dr. Ibram X. Kendi says, “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’” Here are some startling statistics:
- Incarceration: Black men aged 18-19 are 12.7x more likely to be imprisoned than white men the same age.1
- Maternal Health: The pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women with at least a college degree was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts.2
- Workplace: Income for Black Americans is 42% lower than for white Americans.3 Black Americans are underrepresented in high paying managerial and professional jobs, just 31% compared to 54% of Asian Americans.4
- Unemployment: Unemployment rates for Black Americans is 16.8% compared to 12.4% for white Americans. 6
- COVID-19: Because of health disparities, Black people make up 33% of Covid-19 hospitalizations, despite comprising only 13% of the US population.5
“Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism and regular self-examination,” Kendi explains. Meditation is a powerful tool to facilitate this effort. It teaches us to notice our behaviors and biases without judgement. We can then use our newfound awareness to reprogram our actions and perspectives. A 2014 study by Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University showed that racial bias is lessened after just a single 10-minute mindfulness practice.7
Iman Gibson and Tori Lund are two lifelong friends and meditation teachers — one Black, living in liberal California, the other white, living in rural Georgia — teaching the world to be anti-racist through meditation. Here are their five essential questions, each with related guided meditations, to support you in becoming actively anti-racist. Practice each for several weeks. Regularly return to the meditations to check your personal bias, reinforce active allyship and/or to prevent compassion fatigue.
1. Am I ready and willing to get vulnerable?
- Get ready to have a difficult internal conversation. You may be surprised to discover that even the most well meaning among us make assumptions about or look differently at others.
- Realizing your own racism is the first step, and that is hard for a lot of people who pride themselves on being “good.” It is natural for feelings of defensiveness to arise. The great news is, like any programmed belief system, racism can be unlearned. As these beliefs are constantly reinforced in our society, they will likely need to be unlearned over and over again.
- [Use the Racism + Privilege Meditation.]
2. Ask myself without judgement: Do I truly view and treat all beings equally?
- Do I offer equal opportunity to all beings — at work, socially, etc.? Do I ever judge or make assumptions about people because of the color of their skin? We must ask ourselves these questions, to dismantle racism in our own minds, then accordingly in the world.
- Take stock of your friends, public figures you follow, coworkers or employees, classmates. Do they all look like you?
- Do I ever assume someone is less intelligent, uneducated or from a ‘bad area’ because of the color of their skin? Am I ever afraid of others because of the way that they look? [Use the Racism + Privilege Meditation.]
3. What is my gut response to witnessing racism — from microaggressions and workplace discrimination to hearing racial jokes and slurs?
- What did I do last time I heard a discriminatory comment or a micro-aggression? Did I speak up? Taking a stand can be scary, it may mean risking relationships, but we must build the courage to surrender our comfort.
- Do I stand up or shy away from discomfort or confrontation? Eventually it will become as innate as your breath, when you see injustice, you will respond with action. [Use the Allyship Meditation.]
4. Do I see the suffering of others as my own?
- We must de-center ourselves, set our ego aside and value the lives of others. As we are all connected, ending racism requires all of our effort.
- Developing compassion is one of the highest forms of love. To “suffer together” may mean acknowledging that you will never understand, but you can advocate for equity in every avenue possible. [Use the Allyship Meditation.]
5. Do I wish others well with my thoughts and with my actions?
- It is not enough to sit on our meditation cushions and send well wishes. Loving kindness meditation teaches us how to offer healing and compassion for others. This practice trains us so that when it comes time to — make systematic shifts in our workplaces, vote for justice, make hiring more equitable, support Black people who are discriminated against or to speak out against microaggressions — doing so is instinctive.
- Loving kindness meditation conditions positive bias in our thoughts, which affects our speech and action. Continual practice motivates us to not only think well wishes, but act on them. [Use the Loving Kindness for Racism Meditation.]
Our project, Anti-Racism Meditation, and the accompanying journal questions can be found at www.antiracismmeditation.com. The EP of guided meditations is now streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Insight Timer.
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018 2 CDC - Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths 3 Income gap: Census Bureau Current Population Survey, 2002-2018 4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018 5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2020 7 Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias: The Role of Reduced Automaticity of Responding, November 24, 2014