Love and Gaslight: Does Spiritual Privilege Exist?

Love and light.

It is not just a phrase used by your raw vegan, ginger and lemon shot drinking, and organic cotton yoga pants wearing friend.  (I am not vegan, but these things described my meal and part of my attire when I began writing this post.)

“Love and light” is used among many who are spiritual-religious or not.

There is a shift that seems to be happening spiritually in the world.

Many of us feel weary with the limits of organized religion. The ways in which we  constrict the vastness of God and oppress the gloriousness of the Divine in the name of spirituality.

We sense the need for more love in the world.

We desire more light.

As a follower of Christ, give me spirituality without the religious baggage.

Yet, I have observed a looming issue involving self-professed spiritual people and race, but I wrestled with the language to frame it. I encountered people who leaned on their depth of spirituality, but when the topic of race arose, their actions and responses in the name of some higher level of enlightenment, consciousness, etc. would range from dismissive to anger.

Currently, I consider it spiritual privilege at work. That is, when you use spirituality as an excuse to avoid dealing with race or racism, and you have identities and systematic advantages, which can support this lifestyle, you enact spiritual privilege.

And it is a privilege in need of interrogating.

Why Spiritual Privilege?

I am not excited about another -ism, -phobia, or privilege. Because I struggled with what to call this phenomenon of spiritual people, typically White, who rely on their spirituality to ignore (and consequently maintain) racism, I called it “spiritual racism.”

Just like I raised the question about being an “unintentionally racist good Christian,” I pondered the spirituality of  a blissful ignorance that inadvertently supports a racist system. These constructs are the complete antithesis of each other.   When I expressed my concern to one of my friends, she responded, “It is spiritual privilege.”

And we realized this spiritual privilege captured this insidious use of spirituality as a shield to consciously or unconsciously perpetuate material and cultural racial hierarchies in both visible and unseen ways.

As another marker of spiritual privilege, at times you will find these individuals using false humility to attempt to position themselves as more spiritual than the person who raised the issue of race.

Using their blend of spiritual terminology, unexamined racial thinking, and colorblind rhetoric, they can minimize the topic of race in the name of love, light, or both.

However, the implicit message communicated through such maneuvers is that people who bring up race inherently lack their heightened level of spirituality or consciousness.

By the way, when you hear people mention that they do not deal with race because of its low vibrations, or something along these lines, I think these low vibrations could be an internal signal of their racial thinking and beliefs.

I am calling out our human resistance that even the most spiritual among us possesses.

Specifically, when we have People of Color bring race or racism to their attention, spiritually privileged White individuals do not send love and light when they attempt to silence them or manipulate them into doubting themselves and their reality. Racism is not just residing in the imaginations of People of Color,  and it is more than a spiritual illusion.

Neither love nor light exist when intentionally or unintentionally maintaining the racial status quo. When anyone uses spirituality to completely gloss over or ignore the impact of race on people’s lives, it is neither love nor light.

Love and gaslighting, perhaps.

But not love and light.

I have noticed that spiritually privileged people feel content when I discuss topics such as self-development and spirituality—as long as I keep race out of it. I can bring up class, gender, and other identities with little to no problem. When I bring up race, these spiritual individuals can become as resistant as a religiously dogmatic White Christian who refuses to deal with the very same thing.

For example, a White woman in one of my workshops felt agitated that race was part of the conversation, so she tried to redirect the discussion by ignoring race in favor of a sole focus on our higher consciousness.

Real spirituality, self-development or leadership is not about how to maintain White comfort, especially through race-less language.

Spiritual privilege is deceptive in that our individual spiritual progress or transformation can blind us to considering our social identities.

If you went from being a living terror to the kindest person we’ll ever meet or you changed from binge drinking alcohol to drinking green smoothies, you still have social identities impacting your life.

A dietary shift to drinking green smoothies do not change the way race works. Regardless of your transformation, you are still human with physical markers that signal different identities to the social world around you. I believe these identities offer more avenues to explore in our spiritual journeys.

Divine Hall Passes

When it comes to dealing with racism, there are no Divine hall passes. In other words, our spiritual journeys do not grant us special cosmic permission to ignore race and racism gracing the halls of the world.

No deity, pastor, prophet, religion, or teacher saves us from doing our part in the world. If we want racism to change, then we have a responsibility as lights to change it. You do not need to wait for a guru to tell you that examining these matters is a spiritual work. You do not need to wait for it to be the topic of a yoga retreat, either.

We have a role to in how we want this world to be.

It requires allowing the spirituality in every part of our lives. Every part.

Not just the ones that sound and feel comfortable.

Even the parts we assume we are too evolved to face.

And for certain White people, dealing with race might not seem as cool as just focusing on the spirit and self.

Your higher consciousness does not exempt you from one of the most critical exams you will ever take:  self-examination.

Conclusion: A Call for a Grounded Spirituality

I think we need a spirituality that lives and moves with the people walking this earth. Motives aside, the spiritually privileged are so spiritually and heavenly caught up that they are no earthly good when it comes to race.

If we are lights, healers, and messengers in this world, then these roles require for us to, first, go to places in our hearts and all the ways we craft lives ignorantly relegating the “Other” to the shadows.

If not, we shall mirror the racial paradigm of the world with our self-righteous spirituality, recreating the same broken racial dynamics. 

My invitation is to search one’s heart and take action. To open one’s eyes and lean into the  discomfort that comes from getting out of our racial comfort zones.

Recently, I had a profound racial discussion with a spiritual healer, who is a White man. He told me about an experience he had where another White man informed him about how they were both privileged through their race, gender, and sexual orientation. He seemed uneasy as he began talking about it, looking into the distance. Then,  his eyes widened, looking at me with enthusiastic clarity, “He was right! It is real.”

Our conversation about spirituality took on more depth because we discussed how spirituality involves taking up the ways our identities and social systems influences the world.

When we live in denial of the sickness plaguing it, we do a disservice to the very world we want to heal.

Besides, how can we be the balm in a wounded world if we choose to ignore the pain and suffering?

I think the heart of the reason why spiritual privilege people avoid race is the difficulty in facing it. Facing it might require a change that could be unsettling.

Remember the woman from my workshop example? I perceive resistance as the indicator for an opportunity to internal growth.

How can there be spiritual ascension without ever descending into the crevices of our souls?

When we begin to confront race and racism in our own worlds, then we can really begin to take actions to reflect God’s love for all people.

Deep within our hearts, some of us, on the other hand, believe we possess a superior form of spirituality in our mistaking racial avoidance for spiritual transcendence.

What we fail to realize is that a spirituality that permits racism or any oppression is just another religion of self. Such religion of self keeps us clouded by self-righteousness.

I contend that true spiritually, religion is love and peace. I think it is wholeness, with nothing lacking or broken. True spirituality makes sense in the heavens as well as on earth.

It works and it heals because it is planted as deeply in the ground of God’s creation—all the diverse peoples of the world—as it is connected to God.

Instead of avoiding ourselves, a grounded spirituality involves facing ourselves and surrendering to God.

And this surrendering is repeated throughout our lives, as we do not take short cuts, but embrace the long winding, scenic roads in our travels.

It is a spirituality that releases the fear of dismantling privilege.

It is a willingness to let go.

And actually, letting go.

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