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White Culture in Spiritual Communities

The Water We Swim In

The thing about culture is it has a lot of invisible thought in it and much of it has been passed down from generation to generation. 

We are born into it and unless it’s challenged, we don’t question it. 

I remember moving to Arizona from Jersey and my boss asked me if I was a Sailor. I couldn’t understand why he was asking me that. Turns out I cursed a lot. I had no idea that it was something I had picked up culturally until I started listening and realized that no one around me was talking like that. This changed me. 

Simply going outside my fishbowl changed me. 

This is a big point worth reflection.

Because white culture is considered the norm, as Nyarkoa said, people not of that culture have to learn and adapt well to it in order to get by, to be safe, and to survive, but this is not true the other way around, which means it’s seen as just the way things are. 

But it will be found in us as white people going outside our norms and culture that things will change for the better because it is the invisible thought of our culture that is creating the problem to begin with. 

Our systems and policies are designed with the contaminated and unhealthy thought of white cultural conditioning, and it permeates even our spiritual communities. 

After George Floyd was murdered, I saw the conversations happening within and outside our spiritual communities and they were almost identical, even between spiritual communities themselves. 

Here is some of what I noticed mostly white people doing:

  • Taking this as an opportunity to teach spiritual lessons to a person who has experienced racism (i.e. “but our experience is coming via thought” or “your not neutral”)
  • Denying racism all together
  • Getting defensive 
  • Making it about their comfort of lack thereof 
  • Having a lack of understanding of history or of systemic racism and arguing intellectually or saying something hurtful without meaning to
  • Being silent all together

Of course there were some conversations happening with some depth and love and understanding, but I have to say they seemed few and far between. 

As I listened, and intervened as best I could to counteract racism, however innocent it was, and to take the emotional labor off of people who were already deeply hurting and the ones impacted by racism, I saw a connection to what my Black, Indigenous and friends of Color were telling me about being within these mostly white spiritual communities: "I’m dismissed when I talk about racism" or "I don’t feel I can talk about it at all", "I don’t see any teachers who look like me", or "what’s being taught is not from a deep understanding and it’s creating more harm than healing". 

These conversations so closely matched what I saw happening outside of these communities, and from seeing that a way forward became clear.  

Anti-racist educators had bravely and clearly laid out a path and it exactly matched what my friends were telling me. 

Pass the Mic - Center the Voices of People who have been Marginalized

We don’t do this as a fad, from a place of obligation or to feel better about ourselves. We do this because we honor all people, and we understand that without all of us at the table, oneness is merely conceptual. We also do this because of the richness, healing and common sense it makes to de-center ourselves and follow the leadership and wisdom of other cultures.

One thing I saw way more deeply is that our understanding of psychology can only be so deep if we have only ever looked at it through a white perspective. 

Listen Deeply

In these conversations, it’s a privilege to have people who have been negatively impacted by racism share their insights and experiences with us. This takes emotional labor to do, and in all reality it’s an education we can provide ourselves through the myriad of books, movies and conversations that already exist and have existed for hundreds of years.

But when we are privileged, as we are in this series, by being together, we have the opportunity to listen deeply as we would to anyone who was sharing their lived experiences with us and to be changed.

It’s in the listening that our invisible conditioning illuminates itself and with spiritual maturity we see this is an issue of contaminated thought in white culture and not a problem for people who have been marginalized to solve. 

Seeing this alone changes what we see spiritually. 

Using Privilege / Social Capital

Once I saw that together we can challenge the status quo, I decided to co-create this series with Rohini and the Speakers and to use the social capital I have from privilege to invite people to join and share this conversation who I know care deeply, and have a lot of privilege and influence themselves. 

The more we are all educated, the faster the invisible culture changes. 


In seeing the patterns of policy that have created inequality and inequity for marginalized communities for centuries and in present day, we can look at our spiritual communities and see how this gets perpetuated here as well: via a lack of speakers who represent the global majority, a lack of scholarships for people who have been disadvantaged by these systems, and a lack of paying people who have been marginalized for their labor and work (to name a few). 

Insights to Action

As these insights emerge, it only makes sense to be in action whether by getting engaged politically, creating change within our sphere of influence by speaking up, creating our programs differently, or any other aligned action that helps to dismantle the invisible culture that keeps racism and bigotry in place. 

While this is only the tip of the iceberg, and not everything there is to see, I do hope it points in a direction of inquiry for how we can come together and make changes. Together, we can do anything, and I believe that diversity and our spiritual understanding are truly our greatest assets.