Love Isn’t Complicity With Racist/Sexist Systems.
Let’s start the relationship-oriented year of 2020 by talking about love. To be more specific, something that love is not. And that’s complicity.
Let me explain.
Several years ago, I was living in Ireland during the successful marriage equality campaign. When the Yes vote came through, I celebrated with LGBTQ+ friends and clients. There was a phrase that came up a lot at this time, and although I put it out of my mind, something about it sat a little uncomfortably with me. Nothing that I disagreed with, but something about the use of the phrase as a really simplified slogan.
The phrase was: Love Wins.
I mean, it was technically true, and yet… something felt off.
I decided to sit on it, and I did, for several years. When I think about a thing, I really think about a thing.
Because so much of my work is centered around BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color), anti-racism, anti-sexism, intersectional feminism and anti-capitalism in the spiritual/personal development/wellness industries, something I see a lot of is the following category of responses and comments.
“Why can’t we all just get along?”
“Talking about these things creates more division between people.”
“Negativity doesn’t help anybody.”
“Getting angry is just blaming others and staying stuck in the past.”
“Why are you discriminating against white/wealthy/privileged people? Aren’t you being unfair? They have feelings too.”
“Arguing doesn’t solve anything.”
“Lets just focus on love.”
Respectfully, let me unpack this for you. I hope, by the end of this post, you have a more rewarding understanding of the beautiful thing that is love.
Something that you’ll know deeply, personally, if you are a BIPOC or marginalized in society (being disabled, poor, fat, chronically ill, LGBTQ+, female, descendants of diaspora/civil war/refugees, et al — this list isn’t inclusive), is that your personal/cultural history is fraught with trauma and conflict.
This isn’t to say that if you’re a white, middle-class cisgender person, you haven’t suffered personally in life, it’s pointing out that for minority sectors their entire history is defined through systemic pain and loss.
For every tiny bit of safety, recognition and financial stability, there has been a generational path of slavery, death, ownership, back-breaking labor, protest, danger, stress, trauma. Never once — not once — have these basic human rights been provided to these people without decades or centuries of struggle.
Even now, as, say, a female or a POC (person of color), the amount of constant vigilance and effort required to be able to be safe and healthy is tantamount for many to a full-time job, much less learning to love yourself, respect your body or to safely and reciprocally love another.
Statistics show that CV’s with ethnic-sounding names are five times as likely to be disregarded than white names, even with identical qualifications. Statistics show that doctors, even female doctors, frequently underestimate women’s pain and dismiss medical issues. One in five women are sexually assaulted before they turn 15 years of age. One in four people will never make it out of debt in their lifetime.
Black and indigenous women and babies have a triply high childbirth mortality rate than white women. Two-thirds of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetime.
Trauma has been biologically proven to be present within the nervous system for two generations or more, meaning that if your grandparents experienced poverty, violence, war or discrimination, you are likely to bear painful physical and neurological impacts in your genes, even if you never met them. I could continue.
If this is your history, and indeed your current reality, your understanding of love looks nothing like the whitewashed, green heart-chakra, Hallmark-movie, The Notebook, IG Relationship Goals version.
Self-love is the belief that you deserve to stay alive, even if society places a zero value on you. Love is the belief that others do too, and the courage to act on it.
So our histories have been defined by our love, by the fight for every inch of safety and value.
In the spiritual and wellness industries, a concerning trope I see often (and you can see in the comments above) is that love is only a state of peacefulness, harmony, romance, non-conflict. Sounds nice, but for a huge portion of the community, that’s not true. It precludes most of us.
And it’s deeply unfair to promote, sell and present this dangerous idea to people — that love means complying with harmful people and systems, just to get along.
I realized that this is what made me uncomfortable about the Love Wins tagline. It’s not that it wasn’t true. Love did win. It’s that I didn’t feel that it did the LGBTQ+ community justice in representing what sacrifices had been made by so many, for so long, in order to win marriage equality. Of course, it was just one slogan of many, but it was a doorway into further thinking.
Love wasn’t LGBTQ+ people holding hands and softly singing Kumbaya to their conservative heterosexual neighbors until the love in their hearts bloomed and they marched off to the Courts of Justice happily.
Love was gay people being forcibly outed, attacked, ostracized and shamed by their churches, jobs and communities, but staying alive, alone and truthful despite the frequent resulting lack of work, safety, even health treatment.
Love was trans people deciding to be their true selves in public despite the very real risk of being literally murdered (trans people are disproportionately likely to be the victims of more targeted hate attacks, specifically murder, especially trans sex workers, than cisgender people).
Love was protesting, petitioning, being cast out from families, doing the work despite being openly discriminated against, without legal or financial support. It was people choosing to spend their time and money to fly home to Ireland and vote instead of taking their annual holiday.
It was all done with love, sure, but I felt that perhaps a more accurate slogan would have been Unstinting Effort, in the Face of Years of Discrimination, Wins.
Love in the form of harmony, romance and non-conflict (that most people understand love to be), wasn’t what won the marriage equality vote — it was also, perhaps more importantly, the trauma, work and physical/mental/emotional labor of many, many LGBTQ+ people and allies, over a long period of time.
For all the rights that women (still mostly white/privileged) have, millions have fought, protested, been jailed, locked in institutions, raped, sold into marriage, discriminated against, trolled, doxxed, violently attacked, mispresented, sexualized and more.
For the freedom of simply existing and being acknowledged as people rather than literal cattle, BIPOC have been enslaved, worked to the bone, protested, marched, rallied, organized, forced into diaspora, and even in the most safe Western societies, forced to exist in spaces where there is zero representation, acknowledgement or accessibility for them.
And still, as the great Maya Angelou said, we rise.
No dictators in history have ever been deposed through being loved enough that they change their mind of their own volition and step aside to atone. No rainforests or animals have ever been saved by sending love and light at poachers or logging companies. No police have ever come knocking on the door of a rape victim, pledging their support.
No clothing brand CEO ever received a hug that made him decide to stop using sweatshop/child labor. No lawmakers have extended rights and privileges to minorities after being smudged with sage. Few abusive partners come to their senses and commit to rehabilitation, punishment and healing of their victim just because their heart chakra was magically cleared.
Society doesn’t change on its own. It changes because it is forced to evolve.
If you are someone who has made the above comments in response to a BIPOC or other person expressing their desire for justice, rage or trauma, take notice. Love is a different beast than what you’ve been conditioned to believe.
Love sometimes looks like conflict. Love looks like anger and frustration. Love looks like allying with, and standing up for, and providing platforms for, people who aren’t like you. Love looks like being challenged on your old beliefs and privilege because there’s a healthier path for all. Love looks like growth and effort.
Love looks like stepping away from ease and comfort and pretty spiritual aesthetics and cute Pinterest quotes, in order to demand what is right. Instead of dismissing, bypassing or trying to help these people (or indeed, yourself) with positivity, listen to them.
Telling us to be nicer, politer, friendlier, quieter, swear less, use less CAPS or more formal language, is called tone-policing and it’s a tool of the gaslighter. Don’t use it, even inadvertently. People don’t need to jump through social-hierarchal hoops in order to have the right to exist.
Someone else has fought for the rights that YOU have to even exist right now, much less speak. You wouldn’t be here, if they had been more loving and just vibrated higher, instead of meeting conflict head-on in whatever way they could.
Love only wins because many, many people, are brave enough to GET ANGRY. To SPEAK UP. To HAVE CONFLICT. To BECOME A TARGET. To DEMAND AND EMBODY CHANGE. To WALK A BETTER PATH EVEN WHEN IT MEANS GOING IT ALONE.
And to do these things when people who consider themselves advanced spiritually or politically are telling them to be quiet, comply, get along, be nice, be friendly, raise their vibration, buy more rose quartz… factually, statistically, probably, this only CONTINUES oppression. It’s not being enlightened. It’s Stockholm Syndrome.
A fact? Often people who are afraid of conflict or anger, are the ones with the most repressed rage about their own unhandled issues. If this is you, turn your energy away from trying to shut up or derail people, and lean into the CORE of your own oppression. What are you really scared of? Loneliness, poverty, ageing, danger? They’re justified fears to listen and deal with in your own life.
You have nothing to be afraid of by the empowerment of others. “I put up with this, so they should too” isn’t acceptable either. Don’t attack those who are brave enough to speak up and demand what they’re owed. It takes nothing from you for others to be empowered. Other, regular, humans just trying to go to work and get paid fairly and live safely are not the ones taking money outta your pocket.
The people who are brave enough to engage in conflict, power struggle, labor and effort are the ones who know HOW TO TRULY LOVE. They aren’t blocked, angry, or causing division. The division was already there. The blocks are already in place. The anger is justified. All of it is an expression of love.
If you are someone who struggles because in your life/work/relationship/marketing/art you’ve stood up for yourself, your ancestors, demanded a space at the table or accessibility or better representation — and you have been hit with the false spiritual bypassing that is shaming you for not being spiritual enough — THANK YOU. Love is not complicity.
Love is not maintaining harmony with abusers, oppressors or racist/sexist/harmful systems, relationships or governments. That’s cowardice.
At the core of your discomfort, rage and confusion is pure unadulterated LOVE. You beautiful thing, you.
Don’t let faux spiritual arrogance or fear tell you that being complicit — whether with an unsupportive partner, unreasonable beauty standards, environmental abuses or accepting racist laws — will guarantee you or anybody more love and safety. When you see people out there getting MAD AF in 2020, don’t shrink away, enlighten yourself enough to see it as the truest expression of unconditional love there is.
I get mad to protect my joy. I get mad because I know my worth and that of other people. I get mad because I am so deeply in love with life, the environment and humanity itself, and that deserves my effort. And at the core of your anger or madness too is that same love.
Kelsey Avalon is a Maori writer, spiritual counselor and life coach. She is committed to decolonization of the wellness industry, and is an advocate for trauma recovery, body neutrality, environmental sustainability and intersectional feminism. A practising witch, professional astrologer and tarot reader, Kelsey writes at The Korero, and is based between the UK and Australia.