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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Letter from Publisher: The Crucible That Is Racism

As I write this, we are four weeks removed from the murder of George Floyd.

I distinctly remember four years ago when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed on consecutive days; it was one of those rare times when I was depressed and angry for days on end. Of course, nothing changed.

But now, it feels the ground has shifted. What’s different? White people.

Nothing changes until those in power decide to change or change is forced upon them. Far better that change happens by choice rather than by force.

Since I’m not white, I thought I would offer this space to someone who is—and someone who’s actively working on his racism. I’d like to introduce Fred Stevens, my housemate. He started reading about racism last summer and then joined two discussion groups on how to combat it.

For Fred, addressing his own racism is a spiritual undertaking as much as it is a social justice endeavor. For that reason, his contribution seems particularly fitting for Natural Awakenings.   

Paul Chen is the owner/publisher of the Natural Awakenings Atlanta franchise.

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I am a white man born ’n’ bred in the Old South. I grew up in a family whose wealth was built on the backs of cheap black labor. I never questioned that our “negro” servants were called by their first names while all other adults were known by their last name. Only in looking back have I come to understand that this social distinction was based in white supremacy. I was successfully trained in the most virulent racism, and I was also taught to deny my complicity in it. This genuinely confused the sensitive child I once was. 

Nevertheless, I learned to say “I’m not a racist” while basking in the comforts of the white privilege that made a lie of that claim. I laughed along with my buddies at racist jokes. I bought into all the stereotypes about black people. While I may have flinched hearing racial epithets, I never questioned the immorality of it. I mean, I really had this thing down. I even knew a couple of blacks I called my friends. I was a poster boy for complicity-in-racism, which, in innumerable ways, has come to be racism at its worst.

I call myself “spiritual but not religious.” I was raised to be a Christian, but when I started questioning what that really meant, along came a host of other faiths, each bidding for my devotion. The quest has taken me into churches, cathedrals, synagogues, temples, dojos, masjids, ashrams, sweat lodges and friendly meeting houses.

Over the years, I’ve come to see how racism and anti-racism are deeply spiritual issues. I noticed that most of my spiritual mentors, from Jesus Christ to Indian yogis, from Dakota spiritualists to Buddhist monks, are not white. Again, any ideas I had about white superiority got run over by the facts of life.

One day, deep in meditation, I found a door into the stillness that I call my home away from home. On the door were the words: “Your racism.” I figured I better take a closer look into it; it might have something to do with my spiritual growth. Sure enough, I was led to see that, although I’m not in the KKK, my racism is just as real. Opening that door, I learned about denial around what white people have done and continue to do.

Over the years I’ve come to call myself an “anti-racist wannabe.” I say it this way because racism is so insidious and subtle a poison that I don’t ever expect to detoxify myself of it completely. Getting to this point brought me face to face with the unspoken secret agreement that white people have made with one another to live in horrific and destructive denial of systemic racism. Breaking through the denial has—and I know it sounds cheesy to say it—begun to set me free. I now have a slightly better understanding of the spiritual teaching that I cannot be free until we are all free.

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Fred Stevens, father and author of the forthcoming book Bless Yourself and Get the Life You Want. Currently a handyman, before that a schoolteacher and a counselor at Spirit Recovery Services, LLC. Contact Fred at [email protected].
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