Love is grasped fiercely in white, spiritual circles, and many white women, myself included, use love as a soothing balm when racial discomfort arises. I sense an urge inside myself to divert conversations on racism to a topic I am more comfortable with: love. When I engage in diversion I am not loving though, I am tone policing, silencing and losing an opportunity to unpack ways racial stress and whiteness live inside me by using love as a weapon of white supremacy.
What is love? “Love does not lead to an end of difficulties, it provides us with a means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth,” bell hooks says in All About Love. When I use love to move away from difficulty and growth I am spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypass, a term created by John Welwood, is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. The conditioning of white supremacy and other forms of supremacy (i.e. male, able-bodied, Christian, cisgender, etc) are unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds that impact bodies, minds and hearts. Love for the sake of maintaining comfort and privilege will not heal those wounds. “Dreaming that love will save us, solve our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love-which is to transform us,” Welwood shares.
I, along with many other white women, have been conditioned through internalized sexism to be conflict avoidant. I am also conditioned to expect to be comfortable most of the time due to internalized racial superiority. Conflict avoidance and an inability to tolerate discomfort can turn love into a weapon. These ways of enacting conditioning assure white women do not have to feel uncomfortable while at the same time feeling superior. In times of racial stress I feel the desire to use love to shut conflict down, and when I use love instead of anger I feel an internal pat on the back for “keeping the peace.” This “peace” upholds white supremacy and my complicity in it.
Conflict, like love, can be transformative and generative. Conflict is a necessary part of true and radically honest love, and conflict does not mean violence. When a person of color sets clear and direct boundaries with me that is an act of love. Saying no can be an act of love. “To be loving we willingly hear each other’s truth, and most important, we affirm the value of truth telling,” bell hooks continues. My white conditioning has taught me that discomfort and conflict feels unsafe and learning to tolerate these can increase my capacity to hold myself and others with a truer and broader sense of love. When I can stay with my own and someone else’s discomfort and pain I can potentially do the loving act of holding and honoring the pain instead of causing more harm though the weaponizing of love.
“Getting in touch with the lovelessness within and letting that lovelessness speak its pain is one way to begin again on love’s journey,” bell hooks continues. In the largely white yoga and spiritual communities I am a part of I feel the collective desire to not focus on things that are perceived as negative, which can include anger, oppression, aversion, hate and lovelessness. For a long time I would say, “I don’t hate anyone. I love everyone.” This is not true or honest as lovelessness, racism, othering and hate live inside of me. How can we as white women use love to transform the conditioning we have inherited? The first step can be awareness. When ways I am loveless are pointed out I attempt to share gratitude for the gift being offered to help me show up in the world in a more humane way. Instead of denying lovelessness what if I turned towards that pain in order to transform it rather than push it away and onto another human being? This is my spiritual work, to deepen what love means and to connect to a radical way of loving.
Radical love is deeply honest, courageously vulnerable and willing to go into the depths with myself and others in order to move toward transformation. Radical love does not need to be sugar coated, tone policed, silenced or have a veneer of niceness. Radical love does not deflect discomfort but moves towards it and it knows the difference between violence and discomfort. Radical love is open to conflict as a useful source of change and growth, and it celebrates boundaries, directness and truth. What if my fellow white women and myself can connect not only with the beautiful and blissful aspects of love but also the uncomfortable, conflict generating love that will not only challenge us to grow but transform us?