While the recent murder of George Floyd by police has evoked a new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement, racism against Black folks is nothing new (including in Canada). How do we sit with the challenging feelings we may be experiencing and mobilize ourselves to help dismantle our culture of white supremacy?
In this episode, Janice shares a bit about her background in understanding the racism that exists both in Toronto/Canada and the self-development/wellness space. She also shares about her own shame, fears, and uncertainties with doing what’s really required of us to dismantle our culture of white supremacy, and discusses what has helped her so far in continuing this work despite all of the uncomfortable feelings.
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Please note that I am NOT an anti-racism educator. The purpose of me sharing about this topic on my podcast is to encourage other non-Black folks to do the work despite the challenging feelings we might be experiencing. Please learn about doing the anti-racism/anti-bias work first and foremost from Black educators.
As mentioned in the episode, remember that if you are going to follow Black folks online to learn about how you can do the anti-racism work, also learn how they would like people to respect and engage in their space.
Intro + Black Lives Matter
Hey everyone, how is it going for you today? Or not going? It is June 3, 2020, and as you probably, hopefully, know there is an immense amount of public discussion happening right now around police brutality and racism against Black people, George Floyd’s murder, Amy Cooper weaponizing her white privilege against Christian Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery’s death, Breonna Taylor’s death, and we can name so many more.
And you’ve also likely been seeing all of the posts on social media, as well as articles coming out, with calls to action to white folks to unpack their privilege to do their part in dismantling this system and culture of white supremacy that we do live in; to Asian people to be better allies to Black folks; to all non-Black people in general to do the anti-racism work, to take action, in standing with our Black brothers and sisters.
And yes, while much of this conversation is happening in the U.S., it also applies to Canada, without a doubt. And I’ve definitely been seeing a lot of Canadians that I know really taking on this issue as well. And of course, there are people who aren’t, and some of those people are basically denying that racism exists or are minimizing Black voices and the experiences of Black folks, despite all of the atrocities that are happening, and have been happening for hundreds of years. But we will talk more about those people another time.
So, of course, I want to take a pause from some of the other things I had planned to talk about on the podcast, to speak on this topic right now, because it’s definitely front and center in my mind. And today's episode is more of an introduction for this particular series – #Asians4BlackLives – that will be recurring on this podcast.
And I've chosen to call it that versus something like BlackLivesMatter, because I feel it's more reflective of the discussion that I'll be having here really being about my personal experience as one East Asian, more specifically a Korean, person who is working towards being a better ally to Black people.
And I'm also leaving it as the hashtag Asians4BlackLives because I want people to know, if they don't already, that there are many individuals and orgs in the Asian community speaking out about this on social media, sharing resources, showing their solidarity with Black folks. They may or may not be posting under that hashtag, but if you go and take a look, you will inevitably go down the rabbit hole of finding a lot of great resources and content.
But obviously, anyone can listen in – you don't have to be Asian. And a lot of the things I share about my personal journey with this will, I think, be relatable to other folks who are white or non-Black POC.
But – and I will probably say this a million times – I adamantly request that you always keep in mind as you are listening that this is my one personal journey navigating and doing my own anti-racism, anti-bias work. Please know that I am not an anti-racist educator. And while I’ll always be bringing the research and content that I’m reading and reflecting on into these episodes, please know that I am not an expert in these matters.
I may miss talking about certain important resources. I may mess up, no matter how careful and thorough I’m trying to be. And I might talk about something I’ve learned that maybe later on I have to qualify because I’ve learned something else. And also, keep in mind that we are all different––so what “the work” looks like for me might not look exactly the same for you. Although I do believe that the inner work regarding our unconscious biases is something that applies across the board, I really do. But you know, part of your work might be educating your children. I don’t have kids, so that’s not going to be mine. But maybe I’ll be using my communication skills to write letters to politicians or to speak out on this podcast.
So please just take what you hear from me bearing all of that in mind. And also know that I'm not going to share every single detail about my journey with this, because I do need to maintain my boundaries and privacy as well. And also, it’s not meant to all be shared anyways, right?
And most important of all, do listen to and learn from Black educators, activists, and authors first and foremost when doing this work. Because they are the ones who know their lived experience and what they require of us for their healing, for them to truly have equality and a fair chance at life, for them to receive the justice they deserve for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them and their ancestors.
And just a reminder that if you are going to start following Black activists, educators, authors, and others who are speaking out about this, providing education, etc, on social media and other platforms – as floods of people have been doing recently – that you take some time first to learn about how we should respect their space and engage with them.
There are some basics that we should all learn – like what white fragility means, what white tears mean, white centering, tone policing, spiritual bypassing, performative allyship. Learn what all of these terms mean before you post even one comment. And then listen and learn about how each individual would like their boundaries respected. I know that a lot of Black folks are posting that they are getting DM’d – by white people, in particular – being asked for resources and to have questions answered, and that asking them to do that emotional labour is incredibly harmful.
So, basically, I would suggest to not only learn about – and do, of course – the anti-racism/anti-bias work that we all need to do, but also learn about how we should be learning and engaging, and how we should not. And this applies to me too, for sure – like, I’m still learning every day, and sometimes it feels like I’m never getting it exactly right. And oh, shit, should I have asked for permission first before reposting something? Oh, shit, did I use the wrong language or terminology in my post?
But I do know from already having seen a lot of these conversations play out – on social media in particular – over the past maybe couple of years, that we just have to keep doing our best to learn. It gets easier. Know that it’s a learning process, know you’re going to mess up sometimes. Learn how to apologize if needed, and then do better. We might need to swallow some pride every now and then, but it’s a small price to pay. Because at the end of the day, this isn’t about us right now. It’s so much bigger than us. But it does absolutely take each and every one of our efforts to make a change.
So this series, #AsiansForBlackLives, will be about me sharing some of my learnings, reflections, and actions in my journey to do this anti-racism work in standing for the liberation of Black folks. And I’m sharing this – as I do with everything on this podcast – simply as a way to hopefully help people feel less alone in their own journeys – whether it relates to this or alcohol dependency, or trauma, which I'll also be talking a lot about in Season 2 – and to potentially serve as a jumping off point to do more of your own research and learn from people who are way more educated about these things than I am, in order to further your own healing, your own self-development, your own breaking down of oppression.
And so, it’s my hope that in joining me on this journey, you might be encouraged to know that you too can endeavour to do the self-work, to have these hard conversations with yourself and with others, to know it is, yes, really uncomfortable at times, but it's doable. So, let’s get uncomfortable together.
My background knowledge about racism
Now, I wanted to give you some info on what my background and knowledge up to this point is on matters of racism and white supremacy and the oppression of Black folks, because I think it’s important that you have that context. And in the next episode, I'll be speaking more to the various identities I hold.
So a huge part of what shapes my perspective towards everything that’s happening right now is my education studying sociology and criminology in undergrad, and then doing a Master’s of Criminology, and the work I did in the criminal justice field for eight years, which was my first career, until the end of 2016.
And it was through those experiences that I learned to look at our social systems, such as our criminal justice institutions – the courts, the police, our jails and prisons – as well as our laws, and so forth, through a critical lens. To look critically at the way media portrays crime and the way media portrays people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
I learned about how, yes, racism very much exists in Canada. I learned about the occurrences of police brutality and racial profiling of Black people in my city, Toronto. I learned that Black people are overrepresented in our criminal justice systems, child welfare systems. That they experience higher rates of unemployment, and many other disparities that exist between the white population and Black population in Toronto, in Canada, and the systemic racism that has led to those disparities. And I also learned about a lot of the things that have been going on in the U.S. at a systemic, structural level to keep Black people oppressed.
And in my first career, I was mostly doing work in research and evaluation, a little bit in policy. I sat in a courtroom everyday for three months collecting data for the Department of Justice, and seeing with my own eyes how the justice system really operates, and how it’s not what our stereotypical ideas of “justice being served” looks like.
I worked for several criminologists on their research and evaluation studies, and then for two non-profit organizations that served very high-needs individuals by providing housing supports, employment services, court diversion programs, open custody housing, and so on. I volunteered in a jail for several months to provide information to inmates who were seeking supports and resources, and got to see how that system worked.
Some of my work during that time involved working towards reforms for the criminal justice system and our social and community service systems. And during almost my entire career, Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister of Canada, so it was all a fucking uphill climb. He wasn't as blatantly fucked up as Trump, but he did do things like silence information and research that went against his Conservative political agenda. He was the type of person who wanted to bring back the death penalty. He took away funding from community organizations that were serving the most marginalized groups, instead wanting to pass so-called "tough on crime" bills that would ultimately just further marginalize oppressed groups.
And all of this helped to shape my worldview, my perspective, that our justice systems, social systems, economic systems remain problematic. I have not been able to fully be proud of being a Canadian because I know this shit exists. I know how we have treated our First Nations communities, as well, and how that remains a largely hidden problem from most Canadians. And that the government has known about it and been called to action on it for so fricking long, but the situation hasn't been rectified.
So, the next level of learning that happened for me in the area of racism was when I was coming into the self-development/healing/wellness space that is now very much a big thing online, on social media, as you may know.
And the first things you tend to see when you enter this space are things about meditation and yoga and positive affirmations and mindset work, and quite frankly, you see a lot of white women talking about this stuff, right? But the more I kept exploring and learning, I came across Black educators like Layla Saad, Leesa Renee Hall, and Desiree Adaway on Instagram; and I joined Leesa Renee Hall’s Patreon page (she is a fellow Torontonian, by the way). And these folks were already talking about the things that many people are just coming across now. And definitely, these folks were also already talking about it long, long before I started to learn from them.
But at that particular time, which I guess was in 2017, 2018, I started becoming more aware of the racism that exists within the self-development/wellness space; the cultural appropriation by many white spiritual women from BIPOC; the spiritual bypassing that is often promoted by white spiritual “leaders”; the either exclusion or tokenism of BIPOC spiritual leaders on panels or in conferences in the self-development/wellness space; and so on.
And I was also just starting to learn more about what I think should be termed Asian feminist works. And in that brief time of exploration, I was learning that while there was the side of, yes, I as an Asian – or rather, East Asian – identifying woman have experienced oppression because of my race and gender, there were still ways that I might be upholding our culture of white supremacy.
So, I was looking back at my Instagram posts from July 2018. And in my July 3, 2018 post, I wrote that I planned for Season 2 of the podcast – because I was just about to end Season 1 around that time – to share more about the inner work I was starting to do more deeply regarding those privileges that I hold and need to unpack. Which, yes, it is Season 2 of the podcast now, and I’m sharing, but it is almost two years later.
And as I mentioned at the start of this season, I took a break at that time from podcasting because I felt I really needed to go do the work versus share about the work. But the self-work that was most front and center for me at that time was exploring and learning about and attempting to heal my experiences with trauma for really the first time in my life. And it was an incredibly emotionally and mentally draining process. And of course, there were times when I was more deeply in it and literally all-consumed by it, unable to even do my paid work some days, and often in total freeze mode, and crying a lot; and there were other times when I needed long breaks from the work because it was too painful to revisit it.
So I know I was going through my stuff, and I know how hard it felt for me to hold space for, and to have the emotional capacity to do, anything else that was like self-work for a really long time. But regardless, I do want to share that I am sitting here trying to reconcile what I could have done more of in that time to speak out and act against racism, and what more I could have done long before that time. We are privileged, as non-Black folks, to get to shut ourselves off from these issues whenever we want to. That is the reality.
Sitting with the shame and fear around doing the anti-racism work (or not doing enough)
So, I wanted to share these feelings I have because I think a lot of people are feeling this way, right? The shame or guilt of knowing that we’ve allowed this to go on, even if it’s been in implicit ways, by simply not doing anything or not doing enough, not speaking out when we should have. As well as the fear of messing up or being judged if we do start speaking up now and taking action.
You might already sense the cloud hanging over your head of potentially having to see yourself as holding racist beliefs, as having done racist things in your life. No one wants to see themselves in that light, right? Especially, if you truly have seen yourself all this time as not racist, as a generally good person. And maybe you have this feeling that it might be better to just stay silent – you know, maybe you’re going to like a few anti-racists posts, share the ones that everyone seems to be sharing, and then kind of quietly fade into the background as the rest of life takes over for everyone.
You're not alone if you feel these things. I think the majority of people do. I feel fear and uncertainty sometimes about what to do. I sometimes feel a lot of doubt about what I share on my social media, how I post things, what I say, the terminology I use. I’m always worried that I’m going to say the wrong thing and offend the very people I’m trying to uplift and support. I worry that I'm not going to do enough to help.
And these emotions were really starting to overwhelm me a couple of days ago. It had all really accumulated after several days of really having my head in all of this. And what I ended up doing was to take my own advice from Episode 2 of this season, and I paused to sit there with all of those feelings, instead of pushing them to the wayside so that I could just keep on going, or instead of allowing them to build up inside and implode on me.
So, I placed my hand on my heart, because that felt comforting and grounding, and I identified what those feelings were. Shame and guilt at what could I have done more of, and sooner. Grief at the tragedies that have been happening to Black lives, and witnessing the trauma that it’s been inflicting on Black folks – as an empathic person, I definitely take that in at a very deep level. Overwhelm at this sense of, there’s so much to do, and how am I going to it all, and where am I going to start? Fear of not doing it right, of potentially offending someone.
And I just acknowledged that it was normal to feel all of those ways, and specifically why it was understandable for each of those things to be felt. Whether it’s because there’s still so much to learn, and the unknown can feel scary. Or because we all want to see ourselves as the good person we’ve believed ourselves to be, and it can create this sense of dissonance to possibly uncover that we’re part of a very terrible problem that’s hurting people – so, yeah, that’s going to feel overwhelming and scary.
And as I said a couple of episodes ago, it's not really about fixing any of those feelings for me. It’s literally just about acknowledging that they are there, and that it’s understandable that I feel them, and specifically why, so that it's addressed, and I can then make space for the actual work at hand.
And so, I would invite you to maybe do the same, if that’s something you feel can help you. Especially if you really want to do the work, but the shame and other hard feelings are so overwhelming that they're keeping you stuck from genuinely doing the work––i.e. doing the work because you know it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel guilt-tripped into it, which I don't believe is sustainable.
Anchoring to the why's + making a plan
And then, after sitting with those feelings, what I found to be really helpful was to then recall what it is, for me, that compels me to do the work and to speak out, despite all of those uncomfortable emotions. So anchoring to the deep underlying reasons that I value doing this work. So I anchor to something I had asserted for myself a few months ago, that the only thing I truly care about doing as a life goal or purpose from here on out, until I leave the Earth, is becoming free of my traumas, and the unhealthy cycles and patterns that have come along with that, and helping others, as much as I can, to become free themselves so they can live their best lives in this world.
I anchor to the love and care and respect I have for the Black folks who have touched my life. I anchor to the image of their faces and to the experiences I’ve had knowing them as incredible human beings. I anchor to the deep knowing in my gut that what is happening, what has been happening for hundreds of years, against Black people, because of the colour of their skin, is so unjustly wrong. I anchor to images I have seen of Black lives being destroyed at the hands of white supremacy that I never want to see being recreated again.
And then, because I know I get easily overwhelmed as a highly sensitive, introverted empath, at the atrocities of the world, the thing I did after that was to start making a plan, something concrete that will act as another kind of anchor for me. And many Black educators are calling for folks to make a plan, in order to ensure that this anti-racism work continues over the long-term, and is not once again just forgotten – and I agree that’s so important.
And also, making a plan really can help to reduce some of that overwhelm you might be feeling, because you are laying out actionable things that you can do, that you have the capacity to do. Although I would say that even if you're getting practical about it, being driven by the emotional is an important piece, if that makes sense.
So, I may share about the details of my own plan a little more down the road – not totally sure yet. But what I will share right now are the things I considered in making the plan. So one, is understanding what my role in all of this is? Because, as I’ve read – and I cannot find the first post I read on Instagram that spoke to this; I have been searching, but I've read so many posts it's hard to keep track – but it was something about you as an individual not having to be everything to this movement, not having to play every single role, because that's not possible.
Sydnei from @hermodernlife on Instagram said something to this point in her May 29 post, that: "We can't all be on the frontline, but we can all be part of the revolution." And her caption said: "A movement only works if EVERYONE is moving." And she gives some suggestions in that post that some people's calling might be to make signs, others might be to be the organizers and researchers, some people may be the caretakers, others the donators.
So, the idea is what are your capacities, your skills, your resources that you can contribute to this movement for the liberation of Black people, for the dismantling of our culture of white supremacy?
And so, I was thinking about what that is for me and looking at the ways in which I've contributed so far and how I want to proceed in continuing with some of those things, and how I want to introduce doing more of other things. And putting some timelines, some more specific than others, because I feel like I'm a bit in testing mode right now to see how my plan actually plays out. And knowing things may shift as my situation changes.
For example, I've donated to a couple of causes so far, but my financial situation fluctuates a lot as a freelancer, and I took a look at my budget yesterday to see, can I contribute more financially? Okay, no, I can't right at this moment. But I can contribute more of my time. I can use my voice and communication and research skills to speak out. And so on.
Again, this might look different for you, and my own plan and my approach to all of this may shift or at least continue expanding and becoming more nuanced. So, again, just keep that in mind and please see my discussion here more as an encouragement that we can at least engage in doing this anti-racism work.
So, even though things can feel extremely bleak some moments, I’m encouraged by Nasimiyu Murumba – I hope I pronounced her name correctly – she is on Instagram @nasimiyu____ (4 underscores) and wrote on her June 2nd 2020 post that: “Allyship does not require you to be perfect, experienced, or to be completely free of internalized racism. It simply requires you to stay curious, keep showing up, and relinquish the need to center yourself in the narrative."
So, I’m calling myself in to continue doing this work, and I’m calling in everyone to do the same. Educate yourself on what you're fighting for. Anchor to the reasons why you're fighting for it. And know that this is going to be an ongoing journey and a process. Something that has been operating for hundreds of years does not get fixed overnight, which means that we have to still be doing it long after the hashtags stop trending on social media, long after people are not paying as much attention to and liking our posts.
So, I am committing to continuing the conversation here on this podcast, and I will share as much as I possibly feel comfortable with sharing to hopefully encourage the dialogue and to let people know that you're not alone in this. We are doing this together.
So, in my next episode, Episode 5, I will talk about identity – specifically, my identities – as it relates to privilege and the model minority myth. So I hope you’ll join me then. Thanks so much for tuning in. You can find all the episodes at https://www.thesoulsworkpodcast.com/ or on iTunes and other podcast directories. You can follow me on Instagram @janicehoimages, where I am most active on social media, and @natureimmersed. And you can follow me on Facebook @janicehocreative.
All right, y'all, until next time, be well, continue the fight for justice. Lots of love and self-love. Peace.