Step Zero, pt II: The Road Less Traveled
Updated: Mar 18
We committed ourselves to addressing our inner whiteness and racism (WAR) and waking up from The Dream.
In part one of this series, we introduced Step Zero, and began to learn that the key to divesting ourselves from the destructive patterns of whiteness and racism was through what Baldwin keenly described as "learning how to accept and love ourselves and each other."
We in WA are here because somewhere along the way (for many of us in our childhoods), we became committed to whiteness and the myth of race, which effectively blocked our love circuits and from our knowing the truth of our interdependence. Before we dive into the complex aspects of that blockage in Part Three, let's pause around this Step's use of the word "committed" for a moment using a quote from M. Scott Peck:
Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves, does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. (The Road Less Traveled, 1978)
Ultimately, this Step helps us to create the container where we will learn to love, and be loved, more deeply. We will learn the essential steps to getting out of love's way, diligently taking them on faith rather than passively standing by waiting for the mood to strike. Instead of being tossed about by our fears and forces outside of ourselves, we will become tethered by our decision, our commitment, to love.
Some of us may feel as if we are allergic to commitment, thinking it to be more like a self-imposed prison. Others of us may be "commitment junkies," where we devote ourselves to people or things without asking if its something we are ready, willing, and able to do. Step Zero asks us to find ourselves in the middle of these extremes and to approach the work we are about to do with courage, purpose, thoughtfulness, and full consent. Too many of us have either avoided anti-racism work altogether or thrown ourselves into it without spending much time thinking about what we were doing and why we were doing it. Either way, we are helping absolutely no one, likely causing harm we don't mean to be causing, and burying ourselves in the process.
In WA, we have learned that if we start down this path but are not devoted to the work of learning to love more deeply, then it is very likely that we will quit or sabotage any and every effort at the first sign of trouble or when we feel our first vibrations of discomfort. We may not yet comprehend how our capacity for love has been greatly diminished by the forces of whiteness and the legacy of racism, we may still want to believe that we have somehow escaped this consequence just as we may have believed ourselves to be "colorblind" or "not racist."
Quitting and sabotaging are part of what has been labeled as our "white fragility," and can happen in mixed race and all white spaces. That's because these behaviors of collapse and high emotional reactivity emerge from complex forces within us and our relationship to other, outside complex forces--primarily, our body and our nervous system interacting with other bodies and other nervous systems.
There is much we can learn about true embodiment and caring for our nervous system. It is recommended that we get outside help for this as soon as we are ready. Acting out behavior fueled by a highly disregulated nervous system, regardless of the context that body is in, isn't just likely to hurt others; it erodes our self-esteem and inner security, and ultimately feeds our dis-ease. Part of our Step Zero is to begin to gather the resources we need for an embodied recovery, if we haven't done so already.
Once we make the commitment to look inside of ourselves--to our mind, heart, body, and spirit--for the key to unlocking our resilience in the work to divest ourselves from whiteness and the myth of race, The Promises of the Program can begin to reveal themselves. It becomes entirely possible to have our love circuits repaired through the practice of the remaining steps, starting with (One) surrendering our illusion of control and waking up from the "Dream," (Two) coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves can help us stay awake, and (Three) making a decision to yield to that power in our daily lives.
Before we can admit to our inner WAR in Step One, especially those of us who have worked so hard to be "good allies" or "colorblind" all of our lives, we need to first see something that, on the surface, has nothing to do with racism but in fact serves as the ideal environment in which racism can and does proliferate: the intellectualism, externalization, and control that make up our our main strategies for living.
For those of us already accustomed to 12-Step work, we know that changing our fundamental strategies for living is indeed a very tall order, but is entirely doable and recommendable when done in community and when we are connected to a power greater, an intelligence deeper, than ourselves. Amazing things can and do happen regularly in recovery. If we are new and not familiar with this kind of transformation, let us reach out to those who have experienced it. We can start inviting mentors and teachers in and out of the Program who can help us. They can hold a light in dark times and have the experience to remind us to "not to quit five minutes before the miracle."
This is not a disease, or a recovery program, that we get to "figure out." Instead, we are called to take a leap of faith into the unknown using the Steps as our guide. We are asked to cultivate humble curiosity and awareness in place of our compulsion to know and fix. In order to heal and allow others to heal, we need to go to the places we have been cut off and disallowed from. Again, we may think, "But white advantage means we haven't been cut off from anything!" While it is true that many of us have enjoyed free and unfettered access to material and intellectual spaces because of our skin color, at the same time, it is likely that we feel that we have internal boundaries that are brutally defended and insurmountable--we are terrified of building intimacy with ourselves and others.
Many of us may feel that we have already broken down these barriers through therapy, religious or spiritual activities, other recovery, or other self-improvement projects, but until we have included the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual baggage associated with our racial and other intersecting social identities, we will not have accessed the deepest origins of our suffering. When we avoid this work, we also avoid the deepest personal and social medicine and healing that comes with it. Why would we continue to settle for conditional or partial freedom and belonging when we have the map and resources leading us to what we, individually and collectively, most yearn for and need?
These are, without a doubt, very complex and painful truths to see and accept. Some of us reading this right now won't be able to see or accept it. It may not be the right time. We may not yet be ready to stop digging ourselves deeper into the treacherous hole we fell into. We might still believe that avoiding the challenges these truths will bring is the easier, softer way and that connection is had by traveling the well-worn and bustling road of least resistance. We all know this place very well.
Some of us will settle for conditional freedom and will spend the rest of our lives trying to convince ourselves and others that we're free and happy when we're not. We may wish to continue trying every other way (but solutions like this one) to free ourselves, like an alcohol-dependent person switching from hard liquor to beer or wine in an attempt to get their drinking under control. Only we can make the choice, and only when we are fully ready but never before, because it won't last and is likely to cause some kind of harm in the process.
If we want true, eco-systemically sustainable freedom and belonging, our experience shows that these conditions will only become possible when we take the road less traveled, choosing quality over quantity. While we may find less people going this way with us, the feelings of connection with them and the world around us will be undeniable and profoundly transforming. Our sense of belonging will broaden beyond any experience we have ever known and we will feel compelled to act in ways that preserve and honor the sacredness of all life and our interdependence with that life.
So before we move onto a micro-neuroscience-and-history-of-psychology-and-philosophy lesson in Part Three, ask yourself if you have the willingness, or at least the willingness to be willing, to go deeper. Your life will change. Are you ready?
How are you feeling in your body right now? What sensations do you notice? Can you name any emotions? Do you notice particular thoughts? Take a break if you need to, then come back and dive into the Questions for Discovery to learn more.
Questions for Discovery
What typically gets in the way of my anti-racism work?
What has been my response to these obstacles?
What comes up when I think about committing myself to addressing my inner whiteness and racism?
Am I committed to addressing my inner whiteness and racism even when my fear rises or my enthusiasm wanes? If not, why not? If so, what's an example of my commitment?
What kinds of things can I do in order to get the support I need to stay committed through the inevitable ups and downs of recovery?
If possible, name five reasons why I am, or want to be, committed to the work of dismantling my inner whiteness.